Okay NBA fanatics everywhere, with the 2008-09 NBA regular season getting ready for its annual post all-star break period, it’s time to rank each and every NBA head coach on their past, present and future performances, while commenting on what each leader brings to the table for their respective team.
Although there is clearly no definitive way to decide which coaches are the ‘best’ at their given profession, I call things the way I see it and will stick to my guns on my head coach rankings no matter what anyone else says.
Having said that, in order, here are the best head coaches in the NBA in the 2008-09 regular season.
N/A Kenny Natt: Sacramento Kings: 2008
I liked former head coach Reggie Theus and thought he got a quick hook in Sacramento despite not having much talent on the roster that was ready to compete at a high level. Now, Kenny Natt is finding the same to be true as well. The Kings just don’t have the players anymore no matter who’s on the bench.
N/A Tony DiLeo: Philadelphia 76ers: 2008
I always liked former head coach Maurice Cheeks ever since he was the consummate playmaker for the Sixers during the 1980s, but I’ve always believed he should be a lot tougher on his players as a head coach. Now, DiLeo has quickly turned the Sixers around by going to the same up-tempo style the team used last season. DiLeo may just in this position for the short term – however as Philly GM Ed Stefanski may hire a career head coach with a bigger ‘name’ following the 2008-09 regular season.
N/A Kevin McHale: Minnesota Timberwolves: 2008
I say shame on Minnesota GM, and now, head coach, Kevin McHale who has done absolutely nothing at all to help the Timberwolves improve in his role as a general manager. I fully expect the same to be true of him as a head coach.
N/A: Jay Triano: Toronto Raptors: 2008
Triano inherited a talented team in Toronto that has underachieved all season long even after firing one of my favorite head coaches in Sam Mitchell.
N/A: Scott Brooks: Oklahoma City Thunder: 2008
I really like Scott Brooks and hope he can succeed in Oklahoma City, but he’s got an immense job ahead of him and one that may be too big for any first-time head coach.
N/A: Ed Tapscott: Washington Wizards: 2008
Tapscott replaced the fired head coach Eddie Jordan, the man I thought was the worst head coach in the league. No ranking here for Tapscott as of yet as the Wizards have been beset by injuries since before the regular season started.
Lionel Hollins: Memphis Grizzles: 2008
Hollins has been on the job for a short time now and it’s clear the man knows what he’s doing. Still, he gets no ranking as he hasn’t been in the position long enough to be fairly judged.
N/A Alvin Gentry: Phoenix Suns: 2008
It’s a damn shame Terry Porter got the short end of the stick for the Suns’ players’ failures after just four months on the job, but hey, Gentry’s in now – and he’s clearly got his work cut out for him with the Suns’ head case group of players like Shaquille O’Neal and Amare Stoudemire.
22. Michael Curry: Detroit Pistons: 2008
I’m not really sure what to make of Michael Curry at this point of his first season, but I will admit that I’m not too impressed. Curry has not gotten the Pistons to resemble anything close to a cohesive ballclub so far and may just be a ‘yes man’ that was hand-picked by Joe Dumars for the short-term. Time will tell with Curry.
21. Vinny Del Negro: Chicago Bulls: 2008
While I vilified the Bulls for hiring Del Negro, I will say that his young Bulls have generally put forth a solid effort every night while getting off to a surprising start during the new, Derrick Rose era.
20. Erik Spoelstra: Miami Heat: 2008
Spoelstra hasn’t done anything negative so far in his first season as a head coach and has actually done a better job than some other head coaches with more time under their respective belts.
19. Mike Dunleavy: Los Angeles Clippers: 2003
Dunleavy is a veteran that certainly knows the X’s and O’s inside out. For some odd reason his players never seem to want to run through a brick wall or overachieve for him.
18. Jim O’Brien: Indiana Pacers: 2007
I’ve always liked the ‘old-school’ O’Brien who hails from my native Philadelphia, but I’m starting to believe he’s just about done as a head coach if the Pacers don’t show some marked improvement this season.
17. Mike Woodson: Atlanta Hawks: 2004
It became obvious to a lot of people during last season’s thrilling first round playoff series against the Boston Celtics that Woodson knew how to coach the game, a fact that former mentor Larry Brown has been swearing by for years.
Atlanta’s young players had battled fully buying into Woodson’s defensive philosophies for years, but seem to be embracing it after seeing how defense helped the Celtics beat them and win title last season. The bottom line now is that Woodson could be primed for even more postseason success with the high-flying athletic Hawks this season.
16. Scott Skiles: Milwaukee Bucks: 2008
I like the demanding Skiles and the way he coaches the game. Skiles has had success with Phoenix and Chicago and could achieve similar success with Milwaukee – if he can get his players to learn how to play defense, something the Bucks shown an aversion to in recent years. Skiles is another task master that can wear players out at some point, particularly those that don’t have his same passion for the game.
15. Don Nelson: Golden State Warriors: 2006
I love Don Nelson. I mean, who doesn’t like up-tempo, high-scoring basketball? However, I have to admit that nelson’s lack of interest in having his team’s play anything resembling defense, has hurt him throughout his career. A perfect example is how Avery Johnson took the same Dallas Mavericks ballclubs Nelson coached to the Finals by getting them to play defense when Nelson never required that of his high-scoring Mavs ballclubs.
14. Rick Carlisle: Dallas Mavericks: 2008
I’ve always liked Carlisle despite the fact that I know from firsthand knowledge he can get on his players’ respective nerves at some point with his grating ways. Still, I saw Carlisle out-coach Larry Brown in the 2003-04 postseason just the season before Brown replaced him with the Detroit Pistons and firmly believe he will have another legitimate chance to contend for a title with the Dallas Mavericks at some point in the very near future.
13. Lawrence Frank: New Jersey Nets: 2004
I don’t care what people think, I say the diminutive Frank knows how to coach the game and those in the know will second that fact. Frank has gotten his ‘new-look’ New Jersey nets to succeed despite the loss of perennial all-stars Jason Kidd and Richard Jefferson and could possibly find himself once again, winning important late-season ballgames at some point in the near future. He may or may not be able to get the job done in Jersey, but I like the way Frank has gone about doing his job for the Nets.
12. Stan Van Gundy: Orlando Magic: 2007
I really enjoy Van Gundy’s coaching style and have to admit that the animated head coach knows the X’s and O’s of the game as well. After leading the Miami Heat to a 112-73 record over the course of just over two seasons before giving way to team president Pat Riley in a move that I still question to this day, Van Gundy has reemerged with the Orlando Magic and promptly turned them into winners as well. I also wouldn’t be surprised if Van Gundy wins a title before he’s through.
11. Mike D’Antoni: New York Knicks: 2008
I love the way D’Antoni helped to bring back the free-flowing style that was played years ago, but have to admit that it had to be easy to succeed with two solid all-stars in Shawn Marion and Amare Stoudemire and a Hall of Fame-bound point guard in Steve Nash who orchestrated his symphony flawlessly. I’m hoping D’Antoni doesn’t turn out to be another Don Nelson in the sense that he coached tons of fun teams that scored a bunch of points but never won anything of consequence.
10. Rick Adelman: Houston Rockets: 2007
Adelman is one of the game’s most respected veteran head coaches and a guy that certainly knows the game. However, his failure to get any of his old Sacramento Kings teams into the NBA Finals is a mark I hold against him. If the Rockets don’t begin to come together or win a postseason series this year, he may be on the chopping block and will undoubtedly drop on this list.
9. Nate McMillan: Portland Trail Blazers: 2005
Long before McMillan’s current Blazers team began getting noticed for its blossoming ballclub, McMillan showed he could succeed at a high level with the Seattle Supersonics, leading them to a 52-30 record and a Northwest Division title in 2004-05. I wouldn’t be surprised if McMillan leads the young Blazers to a title some day soon.
8. Byron Scott: New Orleans Hornets: 2004
Scott has shown me a lot in his two stints as a head coach, first with the New Jersey Nets and now, the New Orleans Hornets. I’m thinking it may only be a matter of time before he leads a team to an NBA title although New Orleans has looked sluggish at the start of the 08-09 season.
7. George Karl: Denver Nuggets: 2005
I really like George Karl and think he’s a very good head coach. Unfortunately, he may leave the NBA coaching ranks without ever leading his team to a championship title, though he came agonizingly close with the Seattle Supersonics in the 1990s. Having a real point guard in Chauncey Billups will help Karl and the Denver Nuggets get much closer to winning a title than Allen Iverson ever would have.
6. Mike Brown: Cleveland Cavaliers: 2005
Go ahead and make jokes, I say Brown is one of the best head coaches in the business. The former San Antonio Spurs assistant to Popovich has taken the Cleveland Cavaliers to new heights since he took over back in 2005.
While Brown has the luxury of coaching the game’s best all-around player in LeBron James, Brown’s coaching ability is evident with his clever defensive schemes, which are the reason why the Cavs have overachieved on several occasions in the postseason during his tenure. Of course, having James doesn’t hurt either.
5. Doc Rivers: Boston Celtics: 2004
Rivers leap-frogged several head coaches by leading the Celtics to the league title last season. While some people may want to point out the fact that the Celtics had three future Hall of Fame inductees on their roster, I’d like to say that Rivers pushed all the right buttons all season long in 2007-08 and even more impressively, clearly out-coached his more famous counterpart, Phil Jackson, in their NBA Finals showdown.
4. Jerry Sloan: Utah Jazz: 1988
I don’t care about the fact that Sloan has never won an NBA title in all his years as a head coach. I say the man is one of the greatest strategists in NBA history. Sloan is just one of three head coaches in league history to lead his team to 50 wins in ten different seasons and is just one of two head coaches in league history to post a winning record in 10 consecutive seasons.
3. Larry Brown: Charlotte Bobcats: 2008
Brown is the only basketball coach in the history of the sport to win an NCAA championship and an NBA title and is one of the greatest teachers of the game of all-time in my estimation.
Sure, Brown can often rub people the wrong way and isn’t the most loyal head coach ever, but the man is a proven winner through and through and has left every team except the New York Knicks, in better shape than when he arrived.
2. Phil Jackson: Los Angeles Lakers: 2005
I know Jackson is tied for the all-time lead in championships with nine, but he has been the recipient of having arguably the greatest player in league history, (Michael Jordan) and one of the top 50 players of all-time, (Scottie Pippen) leading him to six of those victories, while also having arguably two of the top five players in league history (Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal) at their respective positions, to help him win the other three.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the way Jackson gets his players to buy into a team system and believe in themselves, I just firmly believe that any coach with the combination of the aforementioned players would have experienced similar success. Besides, Jackson was clearly out-coached in last season’s NBA Finals by Boston’s Doc Rivers.
1. Gregg Popovich: San Antonio Spurs: 1996
Say what you wanna’ say about other coaches that have more championship rings than ‘Pop’ (four), I say Popovich is the undisputed, best head coach in the game. Popovich has won a whopping 67 percent of his games throughout his career and gives his team a better chance to win night in and night out than any other coach in the game and is going to end up in the Hall of Fame before it’s all said and done.