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Checking in on the NBA’s seven head coaching changes from 2021-22 offseason

The Wizards are flying under new leadership, while the Pacers and Pelicans have floundered early.

NBA: Washington Wizards at Brooklyn Nets
Washington Wizards head coach Wes Unseld Jr. coaches against the Brooklyn Nets during the second quarter at Barclays Center.
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The 2021-22 NBA season is two weeks old, and there’s enough data to make some observations regarding the new head coaches or head coaches who changed teams during the offseason. There were seven coaching changes, with five teams appointing first-time head coaches. Here’s how those teams are doing in this young NBA season.

Boston Celtics: Ime Udoka (2-4)

Udoka came in amid a lot of change in Boston. Brad Stevens was elevated to a front office role while the Celtics let Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier walk in free agency. Udoka was a well-regarded Spurs assistant who also spent time with the 76ers and Nets. He was tasked with elevating this team, specifically around the Jayson Tatum-Jaylen Brown pairing.

It’s been a mixed bag so far. Both stars have been excellent, but there just isn’t a lot around them offensively. Dennis Schroder and Marcus Smart aren’t strong creators or shooters, while Al Horford is way past his best years. This is going to be a process in Boston.

Dallas Mavericks: Jason Kidd (4-2)

The Mavericks went through an “overhaul”, if it can even be called that. The front office basically vanished in one day after a report from The Athletic about a power struggle in the organization. Kidd came in not only to provide a new voice but to elevate MVP candidate Luka Doncic and the Mavericks offense. It hasn’t happened.

Dallas ranks 28th in defensive rating, according to NBA Stats. That’s only ahead of the rebuilding Thunder and the Pistons, who have played all but one game without Cade Cunningham. Doncic is still the odds-on favorite to win MVP, but this cannot continue if the Mavericks want to make noise in the playoffs. Kristaps Porzingis’s injury hasn’t helped matters.

Indiana Pacers: Rick Carlisle (1-6)

There are some nagging injuries ailing the Pacers, with Caris LeVert and Malcolm Brogdon still working to get to 100 percent. Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner are a dominant pairing in the frontcourt, while Chris Duarte is proving a lot of people wrong with his early production. And yet the Pacers find themselves at the bottom of the Eastern conference after two weeks. This is a better roster overall than what Carlisle had in Dallas last season, but there’s still no superstar player. That’s why the Pacers have been involved in Ben Simmons rumors. Indiana does have three losses by three points or less. Once those results in close games regress to the mean, the Pacers should be in the playoff hunt.

Orlando Magic: Jamahl Mosley (1-6)

This is a rebuilding situation in Orlando despite some young players being there for a few years. Jalen Suggs and Franz Wagner have looked solid in the early going, so Mosley and his staff are doing something right. The key will be to figure out the long-term look of the rotation with so many prominent players in the frontcourt. The Magic aren’t expected to do much this season, so avoiding major injuries and developing the players together is the primary focus.

New Orleans Pelicans: Willie Green (1-6)

This is tough for Green, because Zion Williamson is out with a foot injury. You can never judge a coach until his best player is on the floor, and Pelicans fans are hoping Williamson can make a big difference. New Orleans is near the bottom of the league in defensive rating, and the offense isn’t efficient enough to keep up. Players like Kira Lewis Jr. and Jaxson Hayes haven’t shown any progress despite being lottery picks. This is a tough situation for Green right now, and it’s unlikely to improve until Williamson comes back.

Portland Trail Blazers: Chauncey Billups (3-3)

There was a lot of noise surrounding Billups’ hire due to sexual assault allegations from his playing days with the Celtics. The Blazers did a horrendous job attempting to address those allegations in the introductory press conference, and there hasn’t been much coverage during the season. The product on the court is much of the same; electric offense with not enough defense. Billups said his focus would be improving on the defensive end of the floor, but that has not happened in the early part of the season. Until the roster improves around Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, don’t expect much to change in Portland. The problem is that improvement might mean dealing one of the star guards.

Washington Wizards: Wes Unseld Jr. (5-1)

Unseld Jr. spent his early coaching days as an assistant with the Wizards, and most recently picked up experience on the Nuggets bench. The topic of conversation for this team was expected to be Bradley Beal’s pending departure. Now, the question is how far the Wizards can truly go. The rotation pieces acquired in the Russell Westbrook deal are playing at a high level, and the Beal-Spencer Dinwiddie backcourt is clicking. Unseld Jr. has the Wizards 13th in offensive rating and ninth in defensive rating. Teams with that kind of balance usually contend for a title.