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Ranking the Best NBA Head Coach Openings in 2021

| June 25, 2021 11:47 am PDT

The NBA Playoffs are in full swing, but there’s a lot going on off the court, as seven teams are currently without a head coach.

Those teams are the Washington Wizards, Portland Trail Blazers, Orlando Magic, Dallas Mavericks, Boston Celtics, Indiana Pacers, and New Orleans Pelicans.

When looking at potential head coach openings, you must be aware of the roster, cap space, and market. The big thing is how can you build up your team and contend for a title?

Each prospective coach will look at a new job differently, but they can clearly see where teams rank in terms of competitiveness, talent, and so on.

To gauge which teams are the most appealing, here’s a ranking of the best NBA head coach openings in 2021.

7. Orlando Magic

Since the Magic fired Stan Van Gundy in 2012, they’ve had five different coaches. Not one of those coaches left Orlando with a winning record.

Steve Clifford is the most recent casualty. The Magic fired him after compiling a 96-131 record over three seasons. He did, however, lead the Magic to a playoff spot in his first two seasons.

The Magic have struggled mightily since Van Gundy’s firing. They have the worst record in the NBA in that span. A big reason for that is their inability to attract big free agents.

I honestly can’t think of one big name free agent they’ve signed in a decade. I don’t think it’s a cap issue, as much as Orlando isn’t a big market. Big names don’t want to play there.

The best thing the Magic can do is build their team through the NBA Draft. Over the years, we’ve seen them draft guys like Victor Oladipo and Aaron Gordon. The problem is, they can’t build a team around those guys. Then, they have to trade those guys because they’re unhappy.

Orlando has two top 10 picks this season, as well as two first-round picks next season. They already have young pieces in Cole Anthony, Jonathan Isaac, and Markelle Fultz.

If they hit on their draft picks, they could have a couple of young guys that maybe will entice a big-name free agent.

It’ll be interesting to see if the new head coach can sway those top free agents. It certainly doesn’t hurt that they have the seventh most cap room.

6. Washington Wizards

The Wizards and Scott Brooks mutually agreed to part ways after not agreeing to a new contract. Brooks led the Wizards to three playoff appearances in five seasons, but he really struggled over the last three seasons.

In that span, the Wizards have the sixth-worst record in the league. That’s not ideal considering they made the playoffs in four of the prior five seasons.

The big question in D.C. is what is Bradley Beal’s status? He stated multiple times that he wants to stay with the franchise for the remainder of his career. But as the losses stack up, people believe he could eventually want out. For the record, I don’t think he’s going anywhere.

Beal recently took home All-NBA Third Team honors, and didn’t sound like a guy looking to exit D.C.

“I am humbled and honored to be named to the All-NBA Third Team. I would not be able to achieve this honor without my coaching staff, teammates, and our great fans. I am excited to get back to work this summer and building on what we were able to accomplish.

Washington can tentatively put the “superstar isn’t disgruntled” feather in their cap.

A backcourt of Beal and Russell Westbrook is among the best in the league, but do they have enough pieces to be a legit contender? The Wizards looked like a top 10 team when they finished the 2020-2021 season at 17-6, but we can’t forget they started the season 17-32.

They have young pieces in Daniel Gafford, Thomas Bryant, Rui Hachimura, and Deni Avdija. The new head coach will need to play an instrumental role in the development of those players.

A big issue with the Wizards is their money. They have 85% of their salary cap tied to Beal, Westbrook, and Davis Bertans. It’s possible they trade Bertans in a salary dump, but I don’t think that’s an option right now.

The Wizards may have to go into the luxury tax but sometimes, that’s what it takes to become a championship contender.

5. Portland Trail Blazers

The Trail Blazers fired Terry Stotts after nine seasons with the team. Stotts missed the playoffs his first season with the team but made it the following eight seasons. While that’s great, they only made it to the Western Conference Finals once.

On paper, the Trail Blazers look like a great team to lead. They have a top 10 player in the league in Damian Lillard. Alongside him is superstar C.J. McCollum. However, the situation in Portland is eerily similar to Washington.

Lillard has expressed desire to stay in Portland, but there are rumbling with every playoff disappointment. It’s gotten to the point where you can bet on where Damian Lillard will get traded. Here’s a quick look at five landing spots that could make sense.

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I think he stays in Portland, but I also think he has a better chance of getting traded than Bradley Beal.

If Lillard stays, the Trail Blazers have the potential to take the next step. Along with McCollum, the Trail Blazers have Jusuf Nurkic, Norman Powell, and Anfernee Simons. Simons is a free agent this offseason, so they’ll have to determine if they want to re-sign him.

No matter who the Trail Blazers pick up, they’ll need the right head coach to take them from playoff contenders to championship contenders. Something Stotts could never do.

The Trail Blazers may need another star, but can they afford one? Lillard and McCollum take up 70 percent of their salary cap. Then you have Robert Covington, Nurkic, and Powell taking up the remaining 35 million.

While Portland isn’t the biggest market, I think they could sway a star. However, it’ll probably have to be in a sign-and-trade.

4. Indiana Pacers

The Pacers lost in the first round of the playoffs four straight years under Nate McMillan. They fired him after the 2019-2020 season. His replacement, Nate Bjorkgren, lasted just one season with the Pacers before they fired him.

Bjorkgren failed to connect with his players and staff. Meanwhile, McMillan led the Hawks to the five seed in the East and a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals.

Indiana probably would’ve made the playoffs this season if not for a rash of injuries. I believe they possess a roster that could compete for a top five spot in the East. Caris LeVert and Domantas Sabonis are two rising stars in this league.

They’re making under $20 million in each of the next two seasons. That’s pretty good value for players of their stature.

On the flip side, Myles Turner and Malcolm Brogdon are each earning over $18 million for the next two seasons. Brogdon is good enough to justify his contract, but Turner may be on his way out.

With all that, they still have the eighth-most cap room available.

The big thing with their next head coach is how quickly can he take control of the locker room. They can’t go through another coach that can’t connect with the players. I honestly don’t think this team is far away from competing. But they can’t waste their time with bad coaches.

Indiana’s duo of LeVert and Sabonis has serious potential. I think the Pacers need to look at more mid-level players to fill their bench. More depth could be what they need to become a serious contender.

3. New Orleans Pelicans

The Pelicans are onto their third coach in three years after firing Stan Van Gundy. Van Gundy lasted just one season with the team.

New Orleans has arguably the most exciting young star in the league in Zion Williamson, but it doesn’t stop there. Brandon Ingram is one of the more underrated superstars in the league.

Williamson is still only 20 years old while Ingram is 23. They’re both under contract for at least the next two seasons. If the two stay together, they can become one of the best duos in the league.

That “if” is a serious factor after a report came out that some of Williamson’s family members want him to leave the Pelicans.

So far, there’s no reason to believe Zion himself wants out, but it could be something to monitor for whoever takes over as head coach.

I think the big issue is the Pelicans have yet to make the playoffs with Williamson and Ingram. They had a roster capable this season, but it didn’t come together.

Steven Adams and Eric Bledsoe take up $35 million of the cap room. They’re both good players, but they can’t be making that much.

The team has the firepower to entice a third star, but who will it be, and can they afford them? It’ll probably have to be a sign-and-trade involving Adams and/or Bledsoe.

I think they need to hire a head coach with a good track record. They can’t risk hiring someone that will only last a year or two.

2. Dallas Mavericks

Dallas’ situation is a bit more controversial. Rick Carlisle stepped down as head coach after 13 seasons with the team. His decision came just a day after their President and GM Donnie Nelson left the team.

The Mavericks have a 22-year-old superstar still on his rookie deal. Luka Doncic is enough to entice any head coach to Dallas. But who is the second star of this team?

It should be Kristaps Porzingis, but he severely underperformed in this year’s playoffs. He still has three years and over $100 million on his contract.

There are some Kristaps Porzingis trades that could happen in 2021, but who wants that contract? I could see them doing what the Celtics just did with Kemba Walker. Trading a bad contract for a bad contract. They would have to take on one that has less money and less years.

Regardless, moving on from Porzingis is something Dallas has to consider.

Tim Hardaway Jr. showed out in the postseason but he’s a free agent this offseason. They definitely want to re-sign him, but he’ll be pricey. I’m honestly not sure it’s worth the cost, but their championship window is open now.

Their cap space is going to go down soon with Doncic likely signing an extension that will pay him over $200 million.

If the Mavericks can acquire a legit second star, they could become a top three team in the West. Whether it’s the head coach or GM, I’d like to see them hire a guy who will be aggressive in acquiring elite talent.

1. Boston Celtics

Boston surprised everyone when they announced head coach Brad Stevens would transition to a front-office role.

The Celtics have had a lot of success with head coaches recently. Before Stevens, Doc Rivers coached the Celtics nine seasons before the Clippers acquired him in a trade. Stevens has run the team the last eight seasons.

One of the reasons the Celtics are the most desirable destination is their success. They’ve only missed the playoffs once since 2007. They lost in the Eastern Conference Finals three times since 2017. They’re on the cusp of competing for a championship.

The other big factor is the young superstar duo the team possesses.

Jayson Tatum, 23, and Jaylon Brown, 24, are already an elite duo. Brown is under contract through 2024 while Tatum’s contract runs through 2026. Going to a team that’s had success with a young superstar duo is one of the best pitches you can have.

While the Celtics don’t have a ton of cap room, they did just free up over $35 million by trading Kemba Walker, but they took on $27 million of Al Horford’s contract. Both players have two years left on their deal.

I don’t think the Celtics aren’t far at all from competing for a championship. They don’t have the money for a third star, but they can continue to work up their roster through the draft and free agency.

The new head coach will come in with high expectations. They need to hire someone who can handle the pressure.

Betting on the NBA Head Coach Vacancies in 2021

The head coaching carousel should begin to take shape soon. We’ll see if teams go with more experienced veterans or first-time coaches.

Either way, each team’s new coach will need to play an instrumental role in making them a championship contender.

You can bet on who NBA teams hire to be their new head coach, too. Ranking the best NBA head coach openings in 2021 is fun but making money by predicting coach landing spots is even better.

Ideally, this breakdown of the top 2021 NBA head coach vacancies is helpful, but we didn’t stop there.

Check out some of our NBA head coach opening predictions below.

Nicholas Sterling

Nicholas has been a Sports Writer with GamblingSites.com since May 2021. He has a rich sports background, writing about NASCAR, NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, Golf, etc. Nick is always ready for a new challenge.

He enjoys rooting on D.C. sports teams, including the Commanders, Wizards, and Capitals.

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