Time for the NBA Coaches Lottery!

UPDATE – As predicted yesterday (below), Philadelphia 76ers coach Doc Rivers was fired Tuesday, May 16, 2023.


The National Basketball Association is comprised of 30 teams.   All things being equal, each team has a tiny 3 1/3% chance of winning the title at the beginning of every season.  The league plays an 82 game regular season schedule from October through April to eliminate the woeful and hopeless teams from the playoffs.

Three years ago, the NBA added a rather silly new “play-in round”.  The new format pits Teams #7, 8, 9, and 10 in both the East and West against each other.  If your team wins two games, you advance to the quarterfinal round of 16.

With twenty NBA teams participating in the post-season, a full two thirds of the league gets some post-season action.

The other ten teams head to the NBA draft lottery.  On Tuesday night at 7PM Central on ESPN, you will be able to watch this annual event.  The NBA teams which finished this season with the worst record will now have the best statistical chance of receiving one of the top draft picks.

As we have covered here before, the worst teams in the league also have a history of making big errors on draft night, too.  That is another reason why many of the same teams end-up in the NBA Draft Lottery nearly every year.

Below are the lucky losers coming out of the past season and (according to the NBA) their chances of winning the top pick in the 2023 NBA Draft.  The ten teams in BOLD were also in the draft lottery last season, too:

Detroit Pistons (14% chance of winning #1 draft pick)

Houston Rockets (14%)

San Antonio Spurs (14%)

Charlotte Hornets (12.5%)

Portland Trailblazers (10.5%)

Orlando Magic (9%)

Indiana Pacers (6.8%)

Washington Wizards (6.7%)

Utah Jazz (4.5%)

Dallas Mavericks (3%)

Chicago Bulls (1.8%)

Oklahoma City Thunder (1.7%)

Toronto Raptors (1%)

New Orleans Pelicans (0.5%)

The fact that ten of these 14 teams (71.4%) are back in the NBA Draft Lottery for a second consecutive year says a lot about their team’s executive management.

By the way, Detroit, Houston, San Antonio, Charlotte, Oklahoma City, and New Orleans are making their third consecutive trip into the NBA Lottery.  Those faltering franchises have now drafted at least two straight 1st round players who have yet to make a significant improvement to their basketball team.

So, why isn’t the NBA news filled with stories about firings of the executive management staff?  This is usually where the team’s boneheaded decisions generally originate from.

Instead, we are seeing another big year of coaching changes.  Among those hitting the road after this season are the two coaches who faced off in the NBA Finals back in 2021!

Mike Budenholzer led the Milwaukee Bucks to the NBA championship only two years ago.   This year, the Bucks were eliminated in the first round of the NBA playoffs by Miami (4 games to 1).  The team immediately fired him.

His opposing coach in the 2021 NBA Finals was Monty Williams of the Phoenix Suns.

Twice a winner of the NBA’s Coach of the Year award, Williams’ Suns team just lost in Round 2 to #1 West seed Denver (4 games to 2).  After the Suns’ embarrassing 25-point home loss to the Nuggets in Game 6 last week in Phoenix, Coach Monty Williams was fired over the weekend.

Most of us would understand why the 14 teams in Tuesday’s NBA Lottery would dismiss an ineffective coach.  How have two of the NBA’s premier coaches in recent years gone from the penthouse to the doghouse in only two years?

Every professional sports franchise needs a scapegoat so that the fans will keep returning and buying tickets next season.

It is cheaper to blame the current coach rather than accurately fingering the team’s upper management for bad player moves.

The General Manager is responsible for the players being drafted and brought to the team via trades.  It is up to the head coach to take that group of players and attempt to get them to perform at the highest level possible every game.

Most NBA coaches earn about $5 million or more per season.  However, many NBA players on the team’s roster are now earning much more than their coach.

Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer was paid a reported $8 million last year.  According to one source, there were five Milwaukee Buck$ players earning more money than their coach.  In fact, there were 156 NBA players across the league making more than a now-unemployed former world championship coach.

The average tenure of NBA coaches is less than four years.   Though San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich remains the league’s longest tenured coach at 27 seasons, he has earned five NBA Championship rings while coaching in the Alamo City.

As the Spurs visit the NBA’s draft lottery for the third year in a row on Tuesday night, Coach Pop’s retirement ceremony might be coming soon – whether he likes it or not.

On Sunday afternoon in Boston, Philadelphia 76ers’ coach Doc Rivers became the latest NBA head coach to feel the heat from his team’s disappointing playoff end.  Rivers’ former team, the Boston Celtics, rallied to win Game 6 in Philly last week and then stomped the 76ers in Game 7 on Sunday afternoon in Bean Town.

Anyone who watched those two games will tell you that it was the players on the court who deserved the credit or the blame for the outcomes.

Philly’s moody but expensive guard James Harden did another of his “Casper the Ghost” fourth quarter disappearing acts.  He went nearly invisible during the four games the 76ers lost against Boston.

Rather than fans blaming Philly’s players for this year’s frustrating end to the season, some sportswriters and Philly fans now want the scalp of their head coach.

Doc Rivers ranks #9 in NBA history for most wins as a coach.  He hasn’t coached a losing team in 16 consecutive seasons.

On the other hand, Rivers has been the coach of seven playoff teams where the team blew a 3-2 series lead and then lost in Game 7.

That tells me that Doc Rivers is an exceptional coach during the 82-game regular season.  During his 24 seasons as an NBA head coach, Rivers has led his team into the playoffs an amazing 20 times.  That is more than 83% of the time.

His detractors will tell you that Doc Rivers is just one for 20 in winning an NBA championship once his team reaches the playoff rounds.

Here is an interesting idea for the NBA to consider.

Perhaps it is time for the first annual SwampSwamiSports.com NBA Coaches Lottery ® to take place on the night following the NBA Player Draft Lottery.

This Wednesday night, I would allow those same 14 worst teams in the league to have a chance to draft a better coach to go along with next year’s basketball team.

In this unique NBA Coaches Lottery concept, the selection order would be reversed from the Players Draft Lottery Night to allow the teams already on the verge of respectability to upgrade their coaching staff.  For each currently-employed NBA coach selected during the NBA Coaches Lottery, the coach would receive a sweetener to switch cities.  A 50% pay increase and a contract extension for up to four years at the coach’s discretion seems fair.

For example, the New Orleans Pelicans would have the first pick of any current (or fired/unsigned) NBA coach during Wednesday’s NBA Coaches Lottery show.

The Pels also have the right to retain their current coach (and staff) if they choose.  However, the Pelicans better be ready to defend the choice or else they will hear the howls from fans for passing-up a new basketball coach!

“With the first pick in the NBA Coaches Lottery for 2023, the New Orleans Pelicans have selected Miami Heat Coach Eric Spoelstra.  Toronto is now on the clock!” 

Toronto would select second this year while OKC selects third, etc.  This process would continue all the way to the team with this year’s worst record selecting at #14.

For Detroit Pistons fans, your team would still have their pick of nearly half of the NBA’s current (or unemployed) coaches by the time the 14th coaching pick arrives.  How can you lose?

Alas, I think there is a 99.9% chance that the NBA Coaches Association would veto my idea.

You must admit it would be a lot of fun!

If you watch Tuesday’s NBA Draft Lottery, just remember my idea for an NBA Coaches Lottery to take place the following night.  It could quite interesting to see what happens to the coaches, too!

“With the first pick…”