In today's NBA, there are very few coaches who have endured a career full of success, and there are plenty of up-and-comers who are awaiting their time in the winner's circle.
With sure-fire Hall-of-Famers Phil Jackson and Jerry Sloan presumably out of the league again next year, there are only a handful of names who have accomplished enough to top the list of the NBA's best coaches.
There are names with loads of potential, but when it comes down to it, the league's best teams are headed by the league's best teachers.
Here's a look at how the coaches stack up heading into the 2012-13 NBA season.
Portland Trail Blazers
The Portland Trail Blazers have been without a permanent head coach since the firing of Nate McMillan at last season’s trade deadline. According to The Oregonians’ Jason Quick, the team is down to four finalists, including Elston Turner (Phoenix Suns assistant), Steve Clifford (former Orlando Magic assistant), Terry Stotts (Dallas Mavericks assistant) and last year’s interim head coach Kaleb Canales.
The Orlando Magic remain without a head coach following this summer's firing of Stan Van Gundy. Three candidates have been named as the finalists for the position, and according to the Orlando Sentinel’s Josh Robbins, those names are Jacque Vaughn (San Antonio Spurs assistant), Michael Curry (Philadelphia 76ers assistant) and Lindsey Hunter (Phoenix Suns player development coach).
Consider it rookie hazing if you want, but newly-hired head coach Mike Dunlap earns last place in the rankings until he proves he can coach a young team coming off the NBA’s worst record.
The Charlotte Bobcats have brought in Dunlap following the firing of Paul Silas this offseason.
Dunlap enters the NBA following a season where he was an assistant coach with the St. John’s Red Storm.
According to ESPN, Jerry Sloan and Indiana Pacers assistant Brian Shaw were both originally candidates for the head coaching position. After Sloan removed himself from consideration, the team went with Dunlap, who is a former assistant of the Denver Nuggets.
The Washington Wizards brought in Randy Wittman as their interim head coach last season following a 2-15 start under Flip Saunders.
Wittman had been an assistant under Saunders before his promotion, and in his first season as head coach he finished 18-31 on the year.
On a rebuilding squad, he could prove to be a good influence on a young team, as they went 8-2 in their final 10 games last season, but there were a number of other candidates who were seemingly never considered for the position.
ESPN’s Ric Bucher reported back in June that if the team had won the NBA lottery and selected Anthony Davis first overall, they may have chosen to invest more money in a more high-profile head coach.
Having added Thomas Robinson to next year’s roster, things could be looking up for Keith Smart and the Sacramento Kings.
However, having finished last season with the second-worst record out West, the coach needs to begin utilizing the pieces that will help the franchise succeed.
While the Kings’ roster isn’t one of the most talented of groups in the league, they have a few pieces who suggest this team should be much better than they actually are.
To Smart’s credit, DeMarcus Cousins did see a big turnaround last year.
The focus next season should be on keeping Cousins consistent, getting Tyreke Evans to produce the way he did his rookie season and utilizing Jimmer Fredette’s shooting touch before he becomes completely useless in Sacramento’s rotation.
Mark Jackson’s inaugural season with the Golden State Warriors was a major disappointment.
His team finished with a 23-43 record, and while a good portion of this has to be due to the injuries that sidelined Stephen Curry and Andrew Bogut, he was also unable to implement a true defensive mindset all last year.
Jackson has a high basketball IQ and is a defensive-minded leader, but the Warriors still allowed 101.2 points per game last season, which was only good enough for 28th in the league.
Having a healthy Curry and Bogut—plus newly drafted Harrison Barnes—will drastically help Jackson’s second season, but he’s going to have to preach defense a bit harder to a team that’s been running and gunning as long as most casual fans can remember.
Lawrence Frank’s head coaching career has taken a downward spiral since the conclusion of the 2006-07 season.
Frank began his coaching career with an incredible 13-0 start with the New Jersey Nets back in 2004, setting the NBA record for most wins without a loss by a first-time head coach.
His team went to the Eastern Conference Semifinals three of his first four seasons, but he hasn’t been back since.
An 0-16 start with the Nets in 2009 led to his departure from the team, and he is currently with the struggling Detroit Pistons.
Monty Williams is a young, promising head coach who has a bright future ahead of him.
His first season coaching two years ago was a solid first run, as his New Orleans Hornets went 46-36. Last year’s performance makes you question whether or not he can coach without a superstar player, despite his intensity and clear drive to win games.
Luckily for Williams, Eric Gordon will be healthy next year and the team will have a couple of new additions in Austin Rivers and Anthony Davis.
Williams has shown promise early in his career, and he will certainly climb this list with a solid 2012-13 campaign.
The Milwaukee Bucks made a push for the playoffs last season, but came out short despite a blockbuster trade that brought the team a big-time scorer in Monta Ellis.
The team gave up 98.7 points per game, as Skiles’ defensive mentality has never really fit with the Milwaukee Bucks since his arrival in 2008.
The Associated Press reported in May that Skiles will return as head coach next year (via ESPN), so it should be interesting to see if he can persuade an offensive-minded player in Ellis to commit on both ends of the floor.
Dwane Casey did a decent job with the roster he had last season, but he was never able to get the team over the hump in a relatively weak playoff race out East.
Casey is a great example of a defensive-minded leader. His team wasn’t a prolific offensive squad last year, but they made up for it by allowing the ninth-fewest points in the entire NBA.
If he can get his team to put it together on both ends of the floor, they’ll be a more dangerous unit next year.
Casey should get respect for what he did with what he had last season, but he’ll have to prove his value with a solid showing following the team’s pickups this summer.
Mike Woodson’s 18-6 record last year was impressive, but don’t think the New York Knicks are going to post a .750 record under his leadership throughout an entire season.
Woodson took over the head coaching position in New York following the firing of Mike D’Antoni last year.
He stepped in, won games and got the team into the playoffs despite the absence of then-starting point guard Jeremy Lin.
Woodson has proven throughout the later part of his coaching career that he can be a decent regular-season coach, but a lack of defense has never gotten him out of the second round of the NBA playoffs.
Alvin Gentry has done a decent job as the head coach of the Phoenix Suns, but you have to wonder whether or not he’s hit his ceiling and how much of his success has come from Steve Nash’s leadership.
Gentry has coached four teams over the span of 11 seasons and has a winning percentage of .485 throughout his career.
His offensive mindset has been apparent the past few years, but again, you have to wonder what the team will look like without Nash next season.
Not too long ago, Avery Johnson was considered one of the best coaches in the entire NBA.
He coached his way to two 60-win seasons and an NBA Finals appearance with the Dallas Mavericks and was one of the up-and-coming defensive minds that the league had to offer.
However, a couple of tough seasons in New Jersey have seemingly changed that perception.
Despite his extreme intensity and gritty disciplinary style, he hasn’t gotten much out of the Nets thus far.
We know Johnson can get the job done when he has a solid group to guide, so he could very well end up back in the top half of this list by the end of next year.
Tyrone Corbin may still be unproven at this point in his career, but what he did with the Utah Jazz last season earns the head coach some serious praise.
Following a 2011-12 season where he went 8-20 with the team, Corbin led the Jazz to a 36-30 record last year, which resulted in an improbable playoff appearance.
Nobody gave the Jazz much of a shot at the playoffs a season ago, but the team was able to squeak in despite no real stars and underwhelming performances from point guard Devin Harris.
Corbin proved last year that he can lead a young team to success, as he helped mold Derrick Favors and Paul Millsap into their perspective roles.
He and the Jazz will continue to grow together, and while there may be some growing pains along the way, they should prove to be a solid match further down the road.
If anyone were to sum up the basketball career of Kevin McHale, it would probably mention being a legendary player and a subpar coach.
To his credit, he did have the Houston Rockets in a playoff race for most of last season, but his track record—as small as it may be—has not been the most impressive.
The potential is there, as he has a good basketball mind and he’s coached less than three full seasons in his entire career, but it’s extremely unlikely he’ll ever reach the same success he had as a player with the Boston Celtics.
Putting Vinny Del Negro in the lower half of NBA coaches seems unfair, as he led his team to a 40-26 record and made an appearance in the second round of the playoffs last season.
However, the upper half is seemingly just as unreasonable, as he was handed arguably the league’s best point guard and never quite took control of the team last year.
Right in the middle it is, then, as the 15th best NBA coach.
Del Negro has come across as an average coach since his time with the Los Angeles Clippers. He was on the hot seat for a while, and his future with the team will surely be speculated if the team struggles early next season.
That being said, he showed he can win, as the team got hot toward the end of last year and made a legitimate run into the postseason.
Larry Drew has looked good in his first two seasons with the Atlanta Hawks, but the team is still struggling to advance past the second round of the playoffs.
Heading into next year, the team will look different, and may even take a step back; but they’re beginning to build toward the future and Drew could be the guy who gets them past their postseason struggles.
The Associated Press has reported that the team will exercise their one-year option on Drew (via ESPN). The same report claims that Drew would prefer a long-term commitment, but a one-year deal should keep him motivated despite the team possibly regressing next year.
Criticize Mike Brown if you want, but he has one of the most scrutinized jobs in all of professional basketball.
As the head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers—and the successor of legendary lead man Phil Jackson—Brown is in a position where the cameras are always on and the criticism is always present.
That being said, Brown has been handed two of the league’s best superstars in LeBron James and Kobe Bryant during his career, and his willingness to run the isolation game has yet to produce an NBA championship.
Brown made a postseason run that ended in the second round last season, and while the campaign was an overall disappointment for fans in L.A., he showed he can at least compete year after year.
Byron Scott found a good deal of success when he had a top-tier point guard in Chris Paul to run his offense, and he may be headed in the same direction with Kyrie Irving and the Cleveland Cavalieres.
Scott was given a raw deal when he committed to the Cavs and then had to watch LeBron James take his talents to South Beach, ended up with a .232 winning percentage for the 2012-11 season.
Such a poor season was disappointing for Scott and Cavaliers fans, but it was the best thing that could have happened to the franchise, as they landed Irving in the ensuing NBA draft.
Scott—like most coaches in the NBA—could be looked at as simply a product of the talent on his roster, but when given a great point guard, he knows how to utilize such a fantastic resource.
At just 38 years old, Frank Vogel is one of the best up-and-coming coaches that the NBA has to offer.
The Indiana Pacers made a great run out East last season, challenging the Miami Heat to six games in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
The team improved drastically last year. They gave up only 94.4 points per game, following a 2011-12 campaign that saw them allow 100.9 points per contest.
The Pacers spent a lot of money this season to retain Roy Hibbert and George Hill, but the team is continuing to grow and they should continue to flourish under the guidance of their great young coach.
Lionell Hollins has been a head coach for six seasons, and his team continues to get better and better with each passing year.
The Memphis Grizzles—still located in Vancouver at the time—were an 18-42 team when Hollins took over his first season. Last year they went 41-25 with a winning percentage of .621 percent.
He has dealt with injury troubles on his roster, yet he has made legitimate showings in the playoffs each of the past two seasons.
Hollins has turned around the Grizzlies’ franchise, and if he and the team continue to improve, they’re going to be a group that competes with the best out West every season down the road.
Rick Adelman has been coaching for a long time, and he’s been very good at it every step of the way.
Having coached since the 1988-89 season, Adelman has a career .597 winning percentage and has made multiple deep playoff runs with the Portland Trail Blazers and Sacramento Kings.
Last season, the Minnesota Timberwolves finished with just a 26-40 record, but following the ACL injury to Ricky Rubio, the team lost all the momentum they had to begin the year.
A case could be made that Adleman should be even higher on this list, so it will be interesting to see how he implements Brandon Roy—whose style of play directly contradicts the Wolves’ pace—and what he can do with a healthy Rubio throughout the 2012-13 season.
Scott Brooks and the Oklahoma City Thunder have evolved much more quickly than some anticipated.
The team made a run at an NBA championship last season and they have become one of the best young teams in the entire NBA.
Like Rick Adleman, if you want to put Brooks higher on your list, you’re not going to hear any arguments.
That being said, he was out-coached in the NBA Finals and he still hasn’t mastered how to perfectly blend the scoring abilities of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
He’s not perfect, but he’s a fantastic young coach who likely has championship rings awaiting him somewhere down the road.
Erik Spoelstra made a giant leap this past season with his first NBA championship victory. The Miami Heat put everything together last year and did what they set out to do two offseasons ago.
While it can be argued he still relies too much on his superstars, and still has trouble in half-court sets, he proved his strategy has a purpose last year.
Spoelstra has been one of the most highly criticized coaches over the past two seasons, and while he still has a lot to prove, he can no longer be blamed for the team’s failures.
When the team traded away Carmelo Anthony for a collection of role players, nobody quite knew what to expect out of the Denver Nuggets.
George Karl has been successful throughout almost every portion of his career, and having overcome so many personal endeavors, he is someone to look up to on almost every level.
His career winning percentage is .595, and he hasn’t had a season under .610 since the 2006-07 season.
The major knock on the guy has to be the fact that he has never won an NBA championship in 24 years of coaching.
His record from last year may not show it, but Doug Collins should be considered a top-5 coach in professional basketball.
Having gone 35-31 last year with the Philadelphia 76ers, it can be argued that the team over-performed because of Collins’ ability to get the most out of the young players on his roster.
Having coached the Chicago Bulls, Detroit Pistons and Washington Wizards before the Sixers, Collins brings a ton of experience to the team that he led to the Eastern Conference Semifinals last season.
Rick Carlisle has been an NBA head coach since the 2001-02 season, yet he has only missed the playoffs once throughout his 10-year career.
Carlisle is an NBA champion, has a .596 career winning percentage and has only been eliminated in the first round three times out of his numerous playoff runs.
The Dallas Mavericks went from having one of the worst offseasons this summer to having one of the best, and it will be interesting to see what Carlisle can do with a brand new roster heading into the 2012-13 season.
The Boston Celtics looked like they were down and out at times early last season, but despite the age and injuries that slowed them down, Doc Rivers rallied the troops and got them back to the Eastern Conference Championship.
You can argue that he was nothing before the Big Three arrived in Boston if you want, but part of being a head coach is succeeding with what you’re dealt, and Rivers has done just that.
In his 13 years as a head coach, Rivers has just two seasons under .500—with the exception of his 1-10 start in Orlando that got him fired—and he has only missed the playoffs three times.
The Big Three certainly helped his case, but they more provided him the talent to fully showcase what he can do as the leader of a professional basketball team.
Tom Thibodeau has very quickly become one of the NBA's best head coaches.
With only two years of experience, Thibodeau has shown that he can plug players into certain situations and find success on a regular basis.
The 54-year-old coach could very well have the best defensive mind in the entire league, and his ability to win games has been on display for the past two seasons.
Injuries finally caught up to the Bulls last year, but that doesn’t change the fact that Thibodeau has one of the best basketball IQ’s of any coach out there.
Gregg Popovich has become the best coach in the NBA at getting the best out of his role players.
The long-time coach of the San Antonio Spurs has been blessed with talent, but it’s not just the superstar talent that has produced on a regular basis.
His role players are consistently some of the best in the league, as the depth his bench provided was absolutely astonishing.
His strategies have been unique to say the least—resting star players and running the Hack-A-Shaq technique are the most prominent—and he will easily go down as a sure-fire Hall-of-Famer when he hangs it up somewhere down the road.
His .680 career winning percentage is fantastic, but having coached the Spurs every season since the 1996-97 season, his four championships with the team is the most among all active NBA coaches.