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Shaun Powell

Pat Riley -- and his championship rings -- will be looming over Erik Spoelstra's shoulder all season.
Doug Benc/NBAE via Getty Images

Don't be surprised by some sideline drama this season

Posted Aug 4 2010 8:45AM

Is it possible that the all-time winner among coaches has the job security of a perennial loser?

What's the ideal situation for a rookie coach: Being handed a team not expected to contend right away, or a team that fans and management believe is a strong favorite for the playoffs and a division title?

And would you want to coach LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh?

Those are the questions and issues currently dominating the NBA coaching picture as a new season approaches. As usual, some coaches will be feeling a tightening of their collars during a losing streak, and others will be hailed for turning a team around. It happens every season, although a number of circumstances will put a unique twist on 2010-11.

Here are the 10 most intriguing coaching situations of the upcoming season.

10. Jim O'Brien, Pacers. He often takes hits for the dreary condition of the franchise, which isn't totally his fault, but still. Only a few coaches could do wonders with the Pacers' slapstick roster, and O'Brien isn't one of them. He has averaged only 35 wins in his three seasons with the club. In his last five seasons as an NBA coach, he's been fired from one job, resigned from another and appeared in the playoffs once. This year won't be much different, since the Pacers are tapping their toes while waiting for some ghastly contacts to vanish next summer. His future likely depends on the future of GM Larry Bird. If Bird goes, O-B goes.

9. Flip Saunders, Wizards. After watching his first season in Washington go up in flames, no thanks to a pistol-packing Gilbert Arenas, Saunders must cope with a rebuilding project -- not what he initially signed up for. Is he a better fit for a playoff team instead? Perhaps. The big chore for Saunders is dealing with three potential headaches: The development of rookie point guard John Wall, the rehabilitation of Arenas, and the outsized ego of emerging big man Andray Blatche, who believes he's an All-Star. No pressure for Flip to win right away, but the Wiz expect a more polished product and polished Wall come spring.

8. Monty Williams, Hornets. Welcome to the coaching biz. Neophyte finds himself juggling a live grenade, in the form of a (potentially) unhappy franchise player, Chris Paul. He also must find a spark for sleepy big man Emeka Okafor, if one exists. Good luck with that. Given the mood of Paul, the roster makeup and the transition to new ownership, the potential for a queasy season is large. By midseason, Williams might be putting out brush fires, in addition to drawing up plays.

7. Mike D'Antoni, Knicks. Luster as an A-list coach took a hit when his former assistant, Alvin Gentry, took Phoenix to the Western Conference finals last season -- with an older Steve Nash than Mike D ever had. Anyway, his high-octane offense will come under greater scrutiny in New York, given the added pieces and roster upgrade. His relationship with new Knick (and old Sun) Amar'e Stoudemire, supposedly not hunky-dory between the two in Phoenix, bears watching. Even though the Knicks didn't get the grand prize (LeBron), restless fans will demand nothing less than a playoff appearance.

6. Doug Collins, Sixers. Once again, a superb broadcaster believes he's just as good as a coach, so he leaves the cushy TV gig for the bench. Stop us if you've heard or seen this before from Collins. That didn't work out so well when he bolted the broadcast booth for the Pistons and Wizards, but the itch tells Collins the third time will be a charm. The Sixers are a mess, however, and in no shape to make a generous leap this season. The challenge for Collins is to ignite overpriced big man Elton Brand and put rookie Evan Turner in position to succeed. If nothing else, as a former Sixers star, Collins will go over well with fans and the media, this season anyway.

5. Tom Thibodeau, Bulls. Long-time assistant, first-time coach. There is no time for learning on the job, however, because Bulls are built to win immediately. The temperature in the room rose once they signed Carlos Boozer, Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer. "Tibbs" must somehow get the Bulls to embrace defense the way the Celtics did in his time with Boston. That's harder to do with young players, who'd rather get their points and highlights instead. It will be interesting to see how Tibbs reacts at the first hint of adversity, or when he must soothe a player who's unhappy with minutes, two things that an assistant never had to deal with.

4. Byron Scott, Cavaliers. Um, nice timing. Departure of LBJ left the franchise broken, and it could take years to repair. Owner Dan Gilbert didn't help matters when he said the Cavs would win a title before LeBron did in Miami. That's no pressure on a coach, is it? Good luck, Byron.

3. George Karl, Nuggets. Cancer and subsequent rehab cut short his season and put his future in jeopardy. Karl has far more important things to do than coaching; namely, being in the company of family, talking long walks in the park and enjoying a good laugh. As for the Nuggets, they're at a crossroads of sorts, given the potential free agency of Carmelo Anthony and Kenyon Martin next summer. The Nuggets certainly missed Karl on the bench during the postseason, but how much did Karl miss them?

2. Don Nelson, Warriors. It's just a matter of time before new ownership puts its stamp on the club, and the easy way is by naming a new coach. Nellie is smart enough to know his future belongs on the beach near his home in Maui, not on the bench with the rebuilding Warriors. The need for a fresh start looms and the franchise will move forward once a bench change is made, either during the season or next summer.

1. Erik Spoelstra, Heat. He has received assurances (whatever that means) that he will coach the season, but that won't stop the buzzing should the Supreme Team go on a three-game slide. Just ask Stan Van Gundy. The stakes in Miami are higher than the anger in Cleveland, and complicating matters is the presence of Pat Riley, proven championship winner, hovering in the president's office. Spoelstra was sold to LeBron and Bosh by Wade, so all is well right now. But this is August.

Shaun Powell is a veteran NBA writer and columnist. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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