The NBA bubble has been great theatre for a sports-starved fanbase, and the basketball has been tremendous. We’ve got a terrific, if unlikely, Finals matchup between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Miami Heat, the latter of which is the first No. 5 seed in NBA history to win a conference title. 

You can see our expert picks for that series here.

But the bubble did not go so well for a handful of other teams. The Clippers, Rockets and 76ers were all major disappointments in the playoffs, and as such, each of those teams subsequently parted ways with its coach. Doc Rivers is out with the Clippers. Brett Brown is done in Philly, as is Mike D’Antoni in Houston. In addition, the Pelicans cut ties with Alvin Gentry, Billy Donovan bounced from Oklahoma City and Nate McMillan was fired in Indiana. 

Jacque Vaughn also lost his interim coaching gig with the Nets, who have since hired Steve Nash to take over. The Chicago Bulls job was also open, but it has since been filled by Donovan, as has the Knicks job with Tom Thibodeau. Do the math, and that leaves six current NBA coaching vacancies, and below is a ranking of those potential opportunities from most to least attractive.

1. Los Angeles Clippers

I hesitate to put the Clippers in the top spot, as my personal preference would not be to go to a team with championship-or-bust expectations — which the Clippers absolutely have, despite what Paul George thinks. It’s also a tenuous situation with the Clips in that both Kawhi Leonard and George are entering the last year of their contracts, so whichever coach comes in is going to have exactly one season to get things to a championship level. If said coach doesn’t do that, they will face the potential of losing one Leonard and/or George, only to be left with a talent cupboard that was largely emptied to lure George in the first place. 

That said, every coach wants as much talent as possible, and there are no coaching vacancies that offer the current talent of this Clippers team. It’s a lot of pressure, and the Clippers have some decisions to make on free agents Montrezl Harrell (restricted) and Marcus Morris (unrestricted), but this is a team that should be able to compete for a title in its second season together on top-end talent alone. Pretty much any coach would sign up for that, even if, again, it wouldn’t be my personal preference. 

2. New Orleans Pelicans

Small-market basketball is a tough NBA road, but whoever lands the Pelicans’ job is going to have a plethora of big-time talent and the assets to acquire even more, all without unreasonable championship expectations in the short term and a really smart boss in David Griffin. Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram are perhaps the most promising young duo in the league outside of Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis. 

Jrue Holiday is either another really good player or an attractive trade chip. Same for JJ Redick. 20-year-old Jaxson Hayes is a supremely athletic big who showed exciting flashes as a rim protector and runner. Nickeil Alexander-Walker is 22. Lonzo Ball showed significant improvement as a shooter this season, and he feels like the perfect complement for Ingram and Zion as a pass-first, up-tempo floor general. There is a ton to like in New Orleans both right now and for the future. 

The Thunder job is a lot like the Pelicans job: Small market without immediate expectations, an emerging foundational player in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and a stockpile of assets — in the form of both attractive veterans and loads of future draft picks — the size of a grandmother’s pantry. Sam Presti is one of the smartest roster builders in the league. He robbed the Rockets bling in flipping Russell Westbrook for Chris Paul (a better player) and multiple first-round picks, and now he’s going to potentially flip Paul for even more on the open market. 

Or the Thunder could decide to keep Paul and Danilo Gallinari and run back a really good team with still assets to spare. Either way, whoever gets this coaching job is in a favorable position to succeed relative to expectations. 

4. Philadelphia 76ers

This is reportedly Mike D’Antoni’s job to lose, but should he want it? Sure, you have two All-Stars in Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, but getting them to fit together while overcoming the debilitating obstacle of Simmons’ absent jumper is starting to feel like a fool’s errand. The Sixers have two of the worst contracts in the league on their books in Al Horford and Tobias Harris. Outside of Matisse Thybulle, they have no young players anyone would want. This team cannot shoot or create halfcourt offense to save its life, and it has no cap space or significant assets to change that outside of trading Simmons or Embiid. 

All the while, there are legitimate title aspirations in Philly. Unreasonable expectations get more coaches fired than just about anything else, and there is no way this is a title team as currently constructed. Whatever coach takes this job, in my eyes, is going to be stepping into the batter’s box with an 0-2 count. The only reason I have them above the Rockets is they have two stars, however ill-fitting they might be, against Houston’s one. 

5. Houston Rockets

Same deal as Philadelphia: Unreasonable expectations for a supremely flawed roster and no flexibility to change the situation. Like Harris and Horford in Philly, nobody wants Westbrook with his $85 million in guaranteed money over the next two years before a $46.6 million player option becomes available in 2022. Houston would probably have to attach draft picks, which they are already short on after trading for Westbrook in the first place, to trade Eric Gordon. Robert Covington and P.J. Tucker would have a bit of value, but to deal either one of them would completely dismantle Houston’s already false hopes of competing as a full-time small team. 

I’m afraid the only way out for Houston is to consider trading Harden, just as I think the only way out for Philly, ultimately, is to trade either Embiid or Simmons. Those are the only assets any other team cares about. Until then, Houston, like Philly, is a team that has convinced itself, and its fans, that it can compete for a championship based on evidence that was gathered in a different time. The Sixers still think of themselves as the team that pushed Kawhi Leonard and the Raptors to the brink of Game 7, but that team had Jimmy Butler. The Rockets still think of themselves as the team that pushed the Warriors to the brink of Game 7, but that team had Chris Paul. Both these teams are stuck in the past, and that is not an attractive starting point for an incoming coach. 

Unlike New Orleans and OKC, Indiana, I’m afraid, is about to enter small-market hell. I believe Victor Oladipo will be traded, but I don’t think he has the value to get back the kind of superstar haul that can sometimes set up a small-market team for the future. I think Myles Turner could also be moved. 

Now, I will say that if for some reason Oladipo isn’t moved, and he decides to stay in Indiana long term, and he returns to his pre-injury ways, there is a decent amount to like in Indiana, where you would be free of championship expectations. But those are a lot of ifs, and I don’t think they all come to fruition. I have a feeling this is a tea, ready for a big falloff. 

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