Don Chaney, Brian Winters and Mike Evans each have been given an unexpected opportunity this season.
Whether they have a chance is another story.
Few jobs offer less security than interim coach, the title Chaney holds in New York, Winters with Golden State and Evans in Denver.
In recent years, Paul Silas in Charlotte, Scott Skiles in Phoenix, Jim O'Brien in Boston and Nate McMillan in Seattle have made the transition from interim to full time. But all acknowledge the precarious nature of their previous status.
"It's the hardest thing you'd ever do -- everything is against you," Silas said. "You hear all the rumors about how certain guys are going to get the job when you want it so badly. It's a horrible position to be in, but that's your shot.
"The players, they'd just as soon say, `Next! Who else is coming in?' You've got to have the hammer [of a long-term contract]. It's awfully tough if they know at the end of the year that you're probably gone anyway."
Resurrection is the key, and a quick one at that. Silas, Skiles and O'Brien promptly got their franchises back on the right track. All understood the clock was ticking.
"Sometimes," Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders said, "the best way to get a job is to come in and do a good job."
Saunders went from an interim role in Minnesota in 1995 to a $20 million, five-year contract. The difference was Timberwolves Vice President Kevin McHale had a longstanding relationship with Saunders.
That's why Winters accepts his vague status with the Warriors.
"Interim is to be expected," the former Grizzlies expansion coach said. "You can't expect the team to commit to me for the long term, sight unseen, so to speak. Let the cards fall where they may. If I don't do well or the team doesn't do well, they'll look for another coach. That's the way it is. I understand that."
In Denver, Evans is working amid a swirl of potential full-time replacements, from 76ers coach Larry Brown to legendary Nuggets coach Doug Moe to University of Cincinnati mad man Bob Huggins.
"I don't know if there are any good situations," Evans said of carrying the interim tag. "The most favorable, I imagine, you could end up like Phil Jackson and walk into a great situation. I have not been that fortunate."
For now, nothing is guaranteed.
For example, asked straight on if Chaney would survive the balance of the season as interim coach, Knicks General Manager Scott Layden offered only a roundabout reply.
"As you know, we have a company policy where we don't discuss our employees' contracts," he said. "But we know Coach Chaney is a fantastic coach, and he's doing everything he can to keep this team competitive. We're confident in our coaching staff, and we're looking forward to getting on to the next game."
The next game. For these three, that is all that matters, all that is assured.
EAST IS LEAST
In the Western Conference, the Blazers, Suns and Jazz all are starting to sweat, barely one-third into the season. The competition is that fierce.
Then there is the Eastern Conference, where Heat coach Pat Riley can talk about making the playoffs -- and not be summarily dismissed.
"Thank God for the East," Magic coach Doc Rivers said last week, as his team stood four games below .500 and was working its way through a series of injuries.
"As bad as the whole thing looks now, it's not all that bad when you think about it," Rivers said. "And we still are going to be a playoff team."
In the East, homecourt advantage in the first round is within reach of the bottom-feeders.
"After all the stuff we've been through, after feeling like we're the worst team in the league, we're still in the playoff hunt," Magic point guard Darrell Armstrong said. "Things can't get any worse. And when it turns, we won't be in that bad of shape."
Raptors forward Vince Carter echoed similar sentiments regarding his team's uneven performance.
"I'm not saying playing bad is a good thing," he said. "But it leaves us a little room to play bad [and] still be in contention."
So exactly what happened when Tim Floyd requested a specific player be acquired during his tenure as Bulls coach, a tenure that ended with last week's resignation?
According to Floyd, the response from General Manager Jerry Krause would be, "that player's not going to help you win."
So what advice did Floyd's predecessor have for Chicago's next coach?
"You've got to give Krause his territory and pretty much be content to just coach," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said.
The coaching fraternity quickly rallied around Floyd.
"Tim Floyd was in an impossible situation," the Magic's Rivers said. "He didn't do anything wrong -- maybe taking the job."
In throwing his name into play after Floyd's resignation, former Hawks and Cavaliers coach Mike Fratello also laid out an impressive resume to perhaps succeed Riley with the Heat. "I see no problem coaching in a rebuilding program with young people," Fratello said.
"I did it twice and enjoyed success. I did it in Atlanta. In my third year, we had five rookies on the team and still won 50 games. We went on to win at least 50 games four straight years. The same thing in Cleveland. We went through rebuilding, and we built a solid, consistent winner." ...
Dan Issel did not walk away empty-handed from the Nuggets, reportedly receiving nearly all of the $3.7 million remaining on his contract for this season and next. It is the second time Issel quit the Nuggets in the middle of his third season as coach. ...
Having taken over for deposed Dave Cowens with the Warriors, and having previously coached the expansion Grizzlies, Winters certainly has a deep appreciation for losing. "I was told once that when you're under-talented, the shot clock is too short and the games are too long," he said.
MONEY FOR NOTHING
Last season, the best the Heat could come up with for the $3.9 million disabled-player exception in the absence of Alonzo Mourning was Cedric Ceballos.
This year, Philadelphia learned how little is available in the early stages of the season, as it allowed the $4.2 million disabled-player exception it received for Matt Geiger's retirement to expire. "Nothing was out there to benefit our team," Brown said. ...
Having made the playoffs 19 consecutive seasons, the longest streak in professional sports, the Blazers stand on the verge of becoming yet another unlikely postseason outsider, potentially joining a stellar lottery lineup that also could include the Heat and Knicks. "We're not the team we're supposed to be right now," forward Ruben Patterson said. "Everybody knows the Trail Blazers should be up with the top-ranked teams, with the Lakers and the Kings and everybody else, but what can I say?" ...
By contrast, Utah appears to have regained its edge. "If anybody thinks that they're not going to be in the playoffs, I think they're nuts," the Celtics' O'Brien said.
Give Celtics forward Paul Pierce credit for his candor. After going for 36 points against Utah in the teams' previous meeting, Pierce did not even attempt a shot until 7:13 remained in the second quarter of last week's rematch. Pierce first said he was "trying to feel out the defense," and then that he was "looking to get other people involved," and then that he was just trying to "feel the atmosphere." Finally, he admitted, "To tell you the truth, I was kind of tired in the first quarter." He regained his legs to go for 28 points on 11-of-19 shooting in the loss. ...
Line of the weak: Celtics center Vitaly Potapenko not only went 1 of 9 against the Jazz but had six of his shots blocked. ...
After going for 53 points in a loss to Dallas, San Antonio's Tim Duncan was more confounded how the Mavericks' Michael Finley went for 28, Steve Nash went for 27 and Dirk Nowitzki went for 26. "They get up and down and are semi-reckless," Duncan said. "They can really shoot it from anywhere." ...
As his center returns from foot problems, Cavaliers coach John Lucas said he will continue to limit Zydrunas Ilgauskas to 24 minutes per game and 40 minutes total in back-to-back sets. Lucas said there would be no change now that Ilgauskas has re-emerged as a starter.
The offensive focus continues to shift in Indiana, going from Reggie Miller to Jalen Rose and now to Jermaine O'Neal, who may just possess the best post repertoire in the Eastern Conference. "He's probably playing the best basketball of any big man in the East," Pacers coach Isiah Thomas said. "He's so quick in the post and he handles the ball so well that it's difficult to guard him down there. He's going to get a good shot or get fouled." ...
Dan Majerle showed last week he still can get it done on the defensive end. After torching Penny Hardaway for most of his 26 points through three quarters, Houston guard Cuttino Mobley shot only 2 of 8 in the fourth quarter when Phoenix turned to Majerle for help. ...
The Grizzlies soon may be in need of some tanking. Still owing Detroit a first-round pick because of its ill-fated acquisition of Otis Thorpe from the Pistons four years ago, Memphis must forward this season's first-rounder unless it is among the first five. If it is, Memphis' first-round pick unconditionally goes to Detroit in 2003.
There is something to be said for Hubert Davis' veteran humility. Needed as a fill-in for injured Richard Hamilton, the Wizards' shooting guard admitted the obvious. "It's totally different. He's better than me," Davis said. ...
In working with Kevin Garnett on his low-post game, the Timberwolves' McHale cut to the essence of pump fakes. "If guys think you're going to make your shot, they'll jump," he said. "If they don't think you can make shots, they ain't jumping. [Jim] McIlvaine can pump fake until the cows come home and no one's going to jump." ...
Dell Curry continues to find inconsistent minutes under Lenny Wilkens in Toronto, often going extended periods before his number is called. "I've stopped trying to figure out when that's going to happen," the veteran guard said.