A lot of attention is given to the players but sometimes the guys in the suits don’t get their just due. Great talent is nothing without direction and guidance. I’m going to run down my top 5 coaches of all time. These are the guys I think had the most impact on the game, had the greatest basketball minds and of course had a little bit of success. Let’s get into this list shall we? (SN: This list is limited to the NBA. Accomplishments on other levels of basketball were not considered.)
5. Gregg Popovich
Let’s start with this, he’s won 50 games in each full season he’s been a head coach (Of course excluding the 1998-1999 season which was a lockout year.) He has 5 championships and also has quite an impressive coaching tree. He learned from two of the best to ever do it (Don Nelson and Larry Brown who will make appearances later). He’s been a model of consistency and longevity and has a knack for recognizing players that will maximize their potential under his coaching style.
4. Pat Riley
Riley is a winner. Architect of the Showtime Lakers, led the gritty Knicks in the 90’s, brought a chip to the Heat and groomed one of the best young coaches in the league today (Erik Spoelstra). He has proven that he can win with different personnel. All of his teams have had a different makeup. That is a testament to his ability to adapt, lead and manage all different kinds of talent. Riley is considered one of the greatest coaches ever and is respected by his players and competitors.
3. Larry Brown
Plain and simple, he’s a genius. He maximizes talent. Had a 35 game turnaround in one season with the Spurs (granted he added major talent in his 2nd year but I digress), got the Pacers to the Conference Finals in his first year, took Philly from bottom feeders to the Finals (even stole a game on the road from one of the most dominant playoff teams ever) and won a chip with the Pistons. He gets the most out of his players and was a master strategist.
2. Don Nelson
He is one of the most innovative coaches in the history of the league. He invented the “Point Forward” concept and small ball. All these high tempo offenses we’re seeing are the offspring of “Nellie Ball”. He reversed the fortunes of every team he coached. Probably had one of the greatest eyes for talent in league history. He urged the Warriors to trade for C Webb on draft night, made trades to acquire Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash and of course urged the Warriors to draft Steph Curry because he was the most talented player in the ’09 Draft (everyone laughed by the way). He never won a championship but that does not take away what he contributed to the game.
1. Chuck Daly
He’s the GOAT. He took his team to the promised land (twice) during the toughest era of NBA competition. Led one of the best teams in NBA history. They changed the game. Also pushed the greatest player ever to another level. His team ended Larry Bird’s run, ended Magic’s run and delayed MJ’s ascension to the top. He led the Dream Team as well, no easy feat. He was as good as any at managing personalities and getting the most out of his players.
There you have it. Top 5 coaches ever according to me. What’s your list?
(Honorable mention: Lenny Wilkens, Jack Ramsay, Red Auerbach, Phil Jackson)