The dawn of a new season is upon us and that brings lofty expectations from team officials and fans after the annual draft, free agency whirlwind and offseason trades have revamped rosters and hopes.
Making the list of head coaches under the magnifying glass for the upcoming season is the all-time winningest coach in league history, a young coach with three studs in their prime and a couple of rookie sideline generals faced with towering challenges.
Tightening of the Collars
The following coaches will undoubtedly feel immense pressure if they get off to a rocky start, encounter any sustained losing streaks or fail to turn their respective teams' fortunes around quickly.
Erik Spoelstra, MIAMI HEAT
Name a head coach that has won big consistently without elite talent? Dominant players have routinely throughout the course of history catapulted coaches and their philosophies from the background to the forefront.
After compiling a 90-74 record and leading Miami to the playoffs in his first two seasons, mainly on the shoulders of Dwyane Wade, the 39 year old Spoelstra has been given even more firepower with the addition of two-time reigning MVP LeBron James and five-time All-Star Chris Bosh.
The influx of superstar talent will serve as a gift and a curse.
On the bright side almost every NBA franchise would love to have one of the James, Wade and Bosh trio headlining their lineup, but the addition of arguably three of the top 10 players in the game today has already raised the stakes to sky-high levels with season tickets sold out within hours of James' decision.
Current ABC/ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy and Bulls vice president of basketball operations John Paxson believe the new look HEAT have the talent to challenge the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls 72 win season and the Los Angeles Lakers' 33 game winning streak set in 1972.
From the moment James announced his decision to head down I-95 south, the rumors started flowing around HEAT team president Pat Riley, winner of five NBA titles as a head coach, eventually stepping down from the office to replace Spoelstra.
Riley has constantly denied his desire of returning to the bench, but if Miami gets off to a rocky start with the raised goals already in place, Spoelstra could be an early scapegoat.
Mike D'Antoni, New York Knicks
Knicks fans patiently waited for the "summer of LeBron" that supposedly would lead the king to the Big Apple in his quest for global stardom. That didn't happen and instead the organization added the talented Amar'e Stoudemire and steady point guard Raymond Felton via free agency to run D'Antoni's frenetic paced offense.
While those additions are solid building blocks toward future success, they in no way guarantee a return to the playoffs where New York hasn't appeared since 2004.
D'Antoni, who has amassed a 61-103 record in his first two seasons with the club, was hired by Knicks team president Donnie Walsh and both men are under contract through 2012.
However, with reports circulating that the 69 year old Walsh may retire due to health concerns, D'Antoni may be on shaky ground if that scenario plays out and Walsh's replacement wants to roll with one of their guys.
It's also important to note that D'Antoni's former club, the Phoenix Suns, have won 100 games since his departure two seasons ago and made a Western Conference Finals trip this past campaign showing no ill impacts after his departure.
If the Knicks aren't on a playoff trajectory by the All-Star break with a near $100 million deal handed to Stoudemire, who already has familiarity with D'Antoni's system, the coach's job security will likely deteriorate rapidly.
Jim O'Brien, Indiana Pacers
The Pacers have gone 104-142 in O'Brien's tenure with the franchise. Admittedly the team has been devoid of elite level talent, with the exception being forward Danny Granger, as the club has been bogged down by hard to move bloated contracts the past few years.
Expectations for the Pacers this upcoming season were relatively low before last week's trade that brought in 2010 rookie surprise Darren Collison in exchange for Troy Murphy's expiring contract.
Now, as HOOPSWORLD's Yannis Koutroupis wrote, the Pacers are suddenly expected to make a strong playoff push with Collison presumably supplanting T.J. Ford as the team's starting point guard.
With fans anticipation building at receiving a player with Collison's potential even more pressure is on O'Brien to come out of the gate strong. Problem is the Pacers play ten playoff teams from last season in the first sixteen games (San Antonio, Charlotte, Milwaukee, Denver, Houston, Atlanta, Orlando, Miami, Oklahoma City and Los Angeles Lakers). Compounding the bad news is Collison recently fracturing his finger. Although he's expected to be ready by training camp you can never assume that the injury won't turn into a nagging ailment throughout the year.
Don Nelson, Golden State Warriors
Nelson became the all-time winningest coach in NBA history last season, but has generated only 54 victories over the past two seasons. The Warriors will be operating under new ownership and that group will eventually want to place their imprint on the organization. The three-time NBA coach of the year is in the final year of his contract and at 70 years old isn't the likely candidate to lead the charge in Golden State's rebuilding efforts.
Add into the mix, the numerous run-ins Nelson has had with players over the past few seasons (Al Harrington / Stephen Jackson) and you'd be hard pressed to find many that believe the coaching legend will be on the Warriors' bench for the 2012 season.
Jay Triano, Toronto Raptors
Triano went 40-42 in his first full season with Toronto (he's 65-82 overall) and had to deal with a plethora of issues such as managing team chemistry and inexperience in 2010.
Last summer, Raptors president and general manager Bryan Colangelo made a slew of moves to compliment Bosh by acquiring Hedo Turkoglu, Jarrett Jack Amir Johnson, Antoine Wright and Sonny Weems which didn't go as planned. Turkoglu would eventually demand (and secure) a trade, while Bosh headed for greener pastures by departing in free agency.
This summer, Colangelo signed Johnson to a much criticized $30+ million free agent deal that will have Triano under pressure to play the young forward big minutes and justify the lucrative contract. The Raptors also added former Nuggets forward Linas Kleiza.
Fans in Toronto still expect to compete even with the loss of Bosh and there has been rising skepticism over the fact the club has had to break in a new roster yearly.
If Colangelo starts to feel the pressure during a early season slow start he could go the Joe Dumars (Pistons president of basketball operations / six coaches in 10 years) route and replace his coach early to deflect blame.
First Year, First Impressions Count
The following coaches through no fault of their own must come out of the gate quickly and clearly establish their scheme and philosophies.
Monty Williams, New Orleans Hornets
Williams will enter his rookie season having to deal with the potential circus surrounding All-Star guard Chris Paul's happiness in New Orleans. After a meeting with the club's front office and Williams last month, Paul emerged and said he was "happy" with the direction the franchise was going. Even with that temporary endorsement, Paul's focus is on winning and that's something the Hornets aren't expected to do a lot of even with the recent addition of forward Trevor Ariza in the Collison deal.
Paul is coming off of an injury plagued campaign and his backup (Collison) that filled in admirably in his absence is now running the show in Indy. Any significant time missed by Paul if he's not fully healthy without Collison will immediately put the team at a big disadvantage. The Hornets currently do not have a legitimate backup point guard on the roster.
Keep an eye on these stresses placed Williams, a rookie coach, to overcome.
Byron Scott, Cleveland Cavaliers
It's basically unfair to place Scott on this list after losing a player the caliber of James, but Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert has stuck to his comments that Cleveland will win a championship before Miami.
While Mo Williams and Antawn Jamison are steady complimentary players that have achieved All-Star status in the past, their game as frontrunners would barely push the Cavaliers to contention for an eighth seed let alone a title.
With lofty expectations coming from the top, Scott may be feeling the heat early.
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Problem is the Pacers play ten playoff teams from last season in the first sixteen games (San Antonio, Charlotte, Milwaukee, Denver, Houston, Atlanta, Orlando, Miami, Oklahoma City and Los Angeles Lakers)
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