Ranking George Karl with NBA's Best Veteran Coaches
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The times, they are a-changin'.
Nowhere is that more noticeable than in the NBA, where the torch is currently being passed from one generation of coaches to the next.
Recent years have seen legendary coaches Larry Brown, Jerry Sloan and Phil Jackson retire from the game, leaving younger, more exuberant men with different visions to take the reins of teams across the league.
The old-school tactics of the past are giving way to the new-school ideas—ones that are winning games.
Two of the youngest coaches in the league, Scott Brooks and Erik Spoelstra, are leading two of the top three teams in the league in Oklahoma City and Miami. The top team, Chicago, is headed by Tom Thibodeau, who has been in the league as an assistant since 1989 but only a head coach the last two years.
Karl is No. 7 all-time in NBA wins with 1,065 over his 24 years coaching in the Association, and this list takes a look at where he ranks with the other current veteran head coaches.
5. Doug Collins
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Like Karl, Collins broke into head coaching in the '80s, leading Michael Jordan and the Bulls all the way to the Eastern Conference finals in 1989. But they fell short, and he was fired and subsequently took a six-year hiatus from the NBA before moving to Detroit in 1995.
After focusing on a broadcasting career for seven years, Collins came back to the NBA in 2010-11 and has revitalized the 76ers.
Philly was an afterthought before Collins came in, going 27-55 in 2009-2010; he led them to a 41-41 record last year.
This season, the 76ers are even better, at 29-25 and the seventh seed out East. They've done so well due to Collins' hard-nosed defensive approach, allowing a league-low 88 points per game this season while protecting the ball on offense and capitalizing on opportunities.
4. Rick Adelman
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Adelman's in his 21st year as an NBA head coach with a combined record of 970-647.
He's coached for five teams—in the late '80s and early '90s with Clyde Drexler in Portland, where they went to two NBA Finals, at Golden State for two years, with Sacramento for eight seasons during their best years and with Houston the four years before this one.
Now, he's with Minnesota, and the old-school coach is seemingly connecting well with his very young players.
The Timberwolves have some amazing youthful players in Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio, and once those two bought into Adelman's system, so did the rest of the team.
Minnesota was 17-65 last season, which was dead last in the West, allowing it to pick Derrick Williams No. 2 overall.
Williams has played well in his rookie season, with 8.9 points and 4.9 rebounds per game, as has second-year center Nikola Pekovic (13.5 PPG, 7.2 RPG).
But Love is the real story, averaging 26.5 points and 13.6 boards per game as he's flourished this season under Adelman's guidance.
At 25-31, the Timberwolves are still in contention for the playoffs, as they sit five games back of Denver in eighth.
3. George Karl
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George Karl's a veritable NBA lifer, playing with the Spurs from 1973 to 1978 and head coaching from 1984 to the present while taking only five years off from the Association during that span.
He started his career with short stints in Cleveland and Golden State and then was the head man in Seattle for seven seasons—including a NBA Finals appearance—before moving on to Milwaukee for five years, and he's been in the Mile High City for the last eight seasons.
Under Karl, the Nuggets made the playoffs each of his first seven seasons with the team, and the deepest they've gotten was a 2009 Western Conference finals loss to the eventual champion Lakers.
However, it must be pointed out that the team has lost in the first round all six other times with Karl sucking on lozenges on the sideline, winning only six total playoff games those seasons.
Karl is the unique one on this list because he's not only battled the pressure of being a professional basketball coach and the scrutiny that comes along with it—he's also battled cancer, twice.
In 2005, after his first half-season with the Nuggets, he was diagnosed with and beat prostate cancer. Then in 2010, he battled and beat throat and neck cancer to valiantly return to his team late in the year.
Over the last year, Karl has coached three different teams in Denver: one with Carmelo, one just after the trade at the end of last season and the new post-Nene Nuggets as well.
Despite all the turnover, his offensive strategy of pushing the pace and sharing the ball is working brilliantly, as the Nuggets have led the league in scoring, assists and fast-break points all season.
If he could ever get them to buy into playing wholehearted defense, Denver could actually compete for an NBA title.
Until then, Karl and the Nuggets will have to wait.
2. Rick Carlisle
Carlisle with his team and owner Mark Cuban at the White House after winning the title.
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Carlisle is the youngest coach on this list, but with 10 years of experience, he's certainly a veteran.
Right off the bat, he was a winner, taking Detroit to two straight playoff runs in 2002 and 2003. The next year, he led Indiana to its all-time best record of 61-21 before losing to his former Pistons in the Eastern Conference finals.
The Mavs reached the playoffs in each of Carlisle's first three seasons, including winning the NBA championship last year over the Miami Heat.
His coaching is impressive because the team already had all the pieces in place with Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd, Jason Terry and more before Carlisle, but only after he took the reins did Dallas and all those stars win their first title.
This year, the Mavericks are poised to make the playoffs and likely another deep run once again as Rick Carlisle continues to prove he's one of the best coaches in the NBA.
1. Gregg Popovich
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With Phil Jackson retired, Gregg Popovich is now arguably the greatest coach currently in the NBA.
Pop actually began as the GM of San Antonio, firing former head coach Bob Hill 18 games into the 1996-1997 season, taking over for him immediately after.
After Popovich's Spurs went 20-62—17-47 under Pop—they were rewarded a lottery pick, and he selected Tim Duncan, setting up the dynasty that followed.
Duncan and David Robinson formed the “Twin Towers” offense and defense, as they complemented one another and prospered together.
The Spurs went on to win four NBA championships—1999, 2003, 2005 and 2007—and they've never missed the playoffs with Popovich at the helm despite an ever-changing roster and ever-aging Duncan and others around him.
Pop just continues to plug in new players, finding ones that fit his rugged and physical brand of basketball—like Kawhi Leonard—and his system certainly still works.
To prove he's still got it, Pop's Spurs were the No. 1 team in the regular season last year, going 61-21 overall, though they did get upset by the No. 8 Grizzlies in the first round.
This year, San Antonio is in the hunt for a fifth title, as it's currently second in the West at 38-14.
Where Do You Think They Rank?
Karl congratulates Popovich for another win.
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In the end, Karl would likely be honored to have his good friend Gregg Popovich be named ahead of him, and he would agree that Pop is the better coach.
While all the coaches on this list have enjoyed storied careers, it came down to titles, and Pop's four is the most of any current coach in the Association.
Carlisle's single title last season pushes him ahead of the others even though he's got the least amount of coaching experience of anyone on the list.
Collins, Adelman and Karl's storied careers will likely land them in the Hall of Fame one day, but they're still all missing that elusive NBA championship.
Where do you think they all rank, fans?
Let's have some fun and intelligent discussion.
Rich Kurtzman is a freelance journalist actively seeking a career in journalism. Along with being your Denver Nuggets Featured Columnist, Rich is the Denver Broncos and CSU Rams Examiner. Kurtzman also writes for Blake Street Bulletin, Stadium Journey and Mile High Hoops.
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