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Shaun Powell

The Celtics may be aging, but that didn't stop Doc Rivers from returning for another season.
The Celtics may be aging, but that didn't stop Doc Rivers from returning for another season.
Jeff Gross/NBAE/Getty Images

Taking a closer look at the Eastern Conference coaches

Posted Aug 4 2011 12:30PM

How do you prepare for a season that might not be? That's a question being studied by plenty of folks around the NBA, but especially by coaches, who have nobody to teach, whine about, encourage or hug.

There's no telling when the NBA lockout will end and the season will begin, or even how teams will look. But what won't change is the coaches, who are already in place, with Minnesota stubbornly and confusingly abstaining.

We take a look at the status of the 29 coaches, starting with the busy East, and including three recent hires:

Doc Rivers, Celtics

Rivers defied conventional wisdom and decided to return to the Celtics rather than chill for a year or test the free-agent market. Given that the aging Celtics as constituted aren't built for the long haul, Rivers is either incredibly loyal to Danny Ainge, knows something we don't, or is nuts. Or maybe he just wants to see this Big Three thing through. Whatever, Rivers has more security than a sitting president and as much respect as anyone in the game, so he can't lose.

Mike D'Antoni, Knicks

The man who hired him is gone, and the heat has intensified, so the upcoming season looms as a potential make-or-break for D'Antoni. He has the benefit of two stars but not much else, and therefore no realistic shot at a title. But when did that ever create a cushion for a New York coach in any sport? In order to survive the hounds, D'Antoni needs to teach his team to play defense, not exactly what he's known for.

Doug Collins, Sixers

The young Sixers learned a thing or three when Collins helped turn around the franchise last season, his first on the bench. And now, not only must the Sixers deal with expectations in a tough town, but Collins must keep his players happy, no easy task when so many of them play the same position.

Avery Johnson, Nets

The good news, and the bad, for Johnson is that nobody expects anything from the Nets for a while, so he'll lose a bunch of games and still keep a job. At least until the move to Brooklyn.

Dwane Casey, Raptors

Should his 53-69 stint with the Wolves be held against him? Apparently not; Casey's name surfaced in a few openings since then, and now the desperate Raptors hope he's the answer. Casey did a solid job as the lead assistant in Dallas but the Raptors are a work-in-progress, still looking for respectability after losing two franchise players in six years.

Frank Vogel, Pacers

After an encouraging interim stretch, highlighted by a sparkling first-round series with the Bulls, it was nice to see Vogel get the job. Now, of course, comes the hard part: proving it wasn't a fluke. With the Pacers seemingly on the up-and-up, this is a good position for a guy like Vogel, a longtime assistant who gets his shot.

Lawrence Frank, Pistons

Newly hired Frank has plenty to prove; his coaching career can really be whittled down to this: The Nets' franchise player liked him in New Jersey. Until the roster is re-worked, nobody knows what Frank will be working with in Detroit, but our hunch is the roster will be more Edsel than Cadillac.

Scott Skiles, Bucks

Management didn't do Skiles any favors last season when odd-fitting pieces were added to a team seemingly headed to better days. Skiles couldn't motivate certain well-paid veterans or overcome injuries, and the Bucks crashed, falling from 46 wins to 35 and no postseason. More important, is this the year Skiles wears out his welcome in the locker room? Because you know it's coming, sooner or later.

Byron Scott, Cavaliers

When he retires and his career is assessed, will the 2010-11 season come with an asterisk? A 26-game losing streak. Only 19 wins. But ... an excuse! Scott is the first coach in history to see one of his seasons destroyed by a TV show.

Tom Thibodeau, Bulls

Tom Terrific was a smash in his first year on any bench and, after all these years as an assistant, looks to be a head coach for quite a while. There aren't too many coaches who are equally liked and respected by players and management, and right now, the honeymoon period is a blissful one for Thibs.

Stan Van Gundy, Magic

His brother walked away from jobs in New York and Houston just when things turned sour, proving Jeff knows about timing as well as basketball. So don't be surprised if Stan looks for an exit if times get tight in O-Town, always a possibility with The Big Fella nearing free agency and Van Gundy saddled with trying to spark a few over-the-hill types.

Erik Spoelstra, Heat

How many coaches who fall two wins from a championship are subjected to heat about their job? As long as expectations are higher than humidity in Miami and Pat Riley is in the front office, Spoelstra might as well get used to it. Here's the thing, though: Riley has no desire to coach, and it wasn't Spoelstra who vaporized in those fourth quarters.

Larry Drew, Hawks

All season long, as the Hawks sputtered in stretches, Drew was looked upon as a cheap knockoff of the guy he replaced, Mike Woodson. And then the playoffs began and the Hawks represented themselves well against the Bulls. Still, his status will always come down to how well he connects with his better players.

Flip Saunders, Wizards

Unless this young but somewhat dysfunctional crew turns things around rapidly, the end is probably near for Saunders. He was hired two years ago to coach a playoff team, not the project the Wizards are now. (But then somebody had to bring guns to the locker room, and you know the rest of the story.)

Paul Silas, Bobcats

It was a nice little story, when Silas came to the rescue at midseason and brought respectability and dignity to Charlotte. But let's not forget, this is a coupon-clipping franchise still on a superstar search. Any long-term coaching stability will be tough to come by until that changes.

Next week: The West coaches.

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

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