Coaches are as important as the best player on the court, though their contribution to the team is not always recognized and appreciated. T
here are clear examples of coaches that optimized the talent of their players and took their game to the next level.
Over the years, the NBA has seen some of the greatest coaches in the history of the sport, but fans often ask the question; who is the best NBA coach of all time?
Gregg Popovich is arguably the best NBA coach of all time. What makes Popich different from other coaches is his ability to shift and adapt. This is a man who said, “I hate three-pointers,” and yet that 2014 championship team shot a lot of threes that season, not because that’s his preference of how the game should be played, but that’s his acceptance of the reality of the way the game is played.
Tracy McGrady says, “Pop is the greatest leader ever. To me, what stands out about him is that when you have a player of Tim Duncan or David Robison’s caliber, and you see how he coaches these guys, he doesn’t let these guys off the hook. He holds these guys accountable, and I was blown away by how they handle being yelled at by Pop.”
However, some people might have a different opinion as to who deserves to be called the best coach of all time given how many great coaches have played a role in making the game what it is today.
Let’s delve deeper into the career stats of some of the best coaches the league has ever seen, and you can decide for yourself who is worthy of being called the best in NBA history.
Here is a list of some of the best NBA coaches in no specific order so that you can make an objective decision about who according to you is the best.
Red Auerbach is a sports icon of the 1960s. Whenever you talk about some of the best coaches, he has to be in the top three. He started coaching for the Washington Capitals, a BAA team, in 1946. But he’s better known for his days coaching Bill Russell and the Boston Celtics from 1950 to 1966. He helped Russell get nine of his eleven rings. Auerbach was one of those coaches who prioritized defense over offense, and it paid off.
Back when the offensive style of play was all the rage, Auerbach understood the utility of defense, which led him to the pre-draft trade of Bill Russel, who is to date considered the best defensive center the game has ever seen.
He was someone who focused way more on conditioning compared to his contemporaries and developed a team-first dynamic within the squad.
He couched 1417 games professionally and had a winning percentage of 66.2 percent. Auerbach had a record of 823-426 and a career playoff record of 91-60.
He won the NBA Coach of the Year Award in 1965 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1969.
Brown has accomplished so much in the coaching field overall. He is the only coach to win a championship in both the NCAA and the NBA. He took the 2004 Pistons, who had been swept in the Eastern conference finals the year prior to a championship, to winning the NBA finals in five games.
He and Allen Iverson took a roster that wasn’t even conference finals worthy and formed it into one of the top defenses in the league, even reaching the NBA finals.
He won coach of the year four times. Thrice in the ABA and once in the NBA.
He coached the SMU Mustangs for four years before resigning in July 2016. He also went to Spain with the USA East Coast team as their head coach.
He has a reputation for turning any team into a competent one, if not a championship-caliber one. Larry Brown is the only coach in NBA history to take eight different teams to the playoffs. He has more than 45 years of experience on a resume that just keeps reaffirming that he is a winner.
Younger fans of the game recognize Pat Riley as the face of the Miami Heat’s front office. Unlike any other coach, he has been very successful as the president of basketball operations, winning two championships, but he mostly will be remembered as a great coach.
For 24 seasons, Riley had a record of 1210-694.
He was one of the key components of the showtime lakers.
He started as the assistant coach the season the Lakers won their first championship with magic Johnson leading the way.
He was promoted to head coach in the 1982 season and won a championship as a rookie coach.
After nine years and four titles with the Lakers, he went on to coach the Knicks, who reached the finals in 1994. Then he took over the Miami heat and built the culture of excellence we all have come to expect from that team. He won the championship in 2006 with Miami, and two years later, he retired with a winning percentage of 63.6 percent. For his first twelve seasons coaching, he never won less than 50 games.
Phil Jackson has not been held in high regard for the past few years, but we won’t let his terrible track record as an executive make us forget what he accomplished as a coach; he has the most championships as a head coach with 11 rings and has the second-highest winning percentage in the NBA history at 70.4%.
Jackson implemented the triangle offense on all the teams he coached, and with it, he achieved things no one could have seen coming. Like three three-peats.
To discredit his work by saying he always had great personal would be unfair since he led the iconic teams he was in charge of with an unorthodox philosophy. And it worked time and time again.
The spurs are the most successful franchise in the modern NBA. They have won five world championships in less than 18 years.
They had the third-longest playoff appearance streak at 20, and it seems like it is going to keep getting longer.
If there is someone to thank for the perfectionist mentality of the San Antonio spurs, its head coach Gregg Popovich. He started his career at the Air force academy in 1973 as an assistant coach, but he didn’t join the staff of an NBA team as a head coach until 1996.
Popovich is one of the strongest personalities in the basketball world, and that has been his key to the success with San Antonio.
He keeps every player on the roster accountable for his actions on the court, and if you don’t buy into his systematic share of the ball type of basketball, he won’t even bother with you.
He has five rings, six finals appearances, and is a three time coach of the year award winner. He hasn’t won less than 50 games per season in 18 years. That’s pretty much all that needs to be said.
Some players can only dream of being inducted into the hall of fame. Lenny Wilkens has been inducted three times, once as a player, once as a coach, and once as part of the 1992 Olympic dream team.
Wilkens was a former NBA player and was the sixth overall pick in 1960.
He played on nine different NBA all-star teams and coached four times.
He was the NBA’s 1993 coach of the year’s winner and the head coach of the 1996 US men’s basketball team, which won Olympic gold in 1996. He won the NBA title in 1979 as the coach of the Seattle supersonics.
His 1332 total coaching wins in the NBA was the record for most wins when he retired but is now second all-time behind Don nelson.
What made Wilkens so successful was his calm and infallible personality.
He always stayed calm when he was playing on the court or was on the sidelines as a coach.
That’s why he is one of only three NBA players to make the hall of fame both a coach and a player.
Prior to his arrival, the Detroit Pistons had never had back-to-back winning seasons.
During his time there, he took the Pistons to the playoff in each of his nine seasons and led them to back to back NBA titles in 1990 and 1999. After transferring to New Jersey and then Orlando, he led both teams to the postseason.
However, his most notable achievement was being the head coach of the dream team in 1992, which won gold in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona and re-established the united states as the top basketball powerhouse on the planet.
Daly retired with an NBA record of 638-437.
Don Nelson was a five-time champion during his playing days in the NBA, but he never won an NBA title in the league as a head coach. However, his total of 1335 wins as a coach is still the record for most wins under an NBA coach.
He turned the Milwaukee Bucks into one of the NBA’s elite teams during the 1980’s and then instigated the run and gun offense with the Warriors in Oakland. He led the Warriors to one of the biggest playoff upsets in NBA history during the 2007 NBA playoffs. When the 8th seated team toppled the top seated Dallas mavericks
William Red Holzman coached the New York Nets from 1967 to 1982. He led the Nets to two NBA titles in 1970 and 1973. As a player, he was a point guard for the Rochester Royals.
The team won the title in Holzman’s first season with them, and he was also a part of the Rochester 1951 NBA title-winning team.
After becoming a scout for the nets, he took the coaching job in the big apple, with Willis Read leading his team. Holzman gave them one of the best seasons in franchise history.
He was named the coach of the year in 1970 and was the coach of two NBA all-star teams. He retired with a record of 693-603.
In total, more than 300 people have served as head coaches in the NBA. Most of them lasted for short stints. In a league where franchises change their coaches on a regular basis, very few coaches have had careers spanning over more than a decade. If anyone serves for such a long period of time, they certainly deserve to be amongst the best in the business.
With some of the very best coaches from the past few decades mentioned above, it’s up to you now to decide who deserves to be called the best the NBA has ever seen.