Power Ranking All 30 NBA Head Coaches Heading into Training Camp
If you're a head coach in today's NBA, you shouldn't expect to keep your job for long.
Since the spring of 2013, 13 coaches have either resigned, been fired or didn't have their contracts renewed. That includes George Karl, the league's 2013 Coach of the Year, and Lionel Hollins, who helped lead the Memphis Grizzlies to a surprising berth in the 2013 Western Conference Finals.
"At the moment, your average NBA coach seems to have the career tenure of an NFL running back," writes NBA.com's Steve Aschburner. "Longevity has turned into short-evity."
Heading into 2013 training camp, nine teams have rookie head coaches: the Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets, Charlotte Bobcats, Denver Nuggets, Memphis Grizzlies, Philadelphia 76ers, Phoenix Suns and Sacramento Kings. Four others—the Cleveland Cavaliers, Detroit Pistons, Los Angeles Clippers and Milwaukee Bucks—have new head coaches leading the way, too.
All that upheaval in one six-month span leads to an ungodly amount of uncertainty among the NBA coaching ranks. Nearly half the league's head coaches are a complete and total mystery at the moment.
With those question marks in mind, I set out to sort through the league's best and worst coaches. These rankings are predominantly based on three factors: a coach's career win-loss record, his recent success with his team and whether he's exceeded or fallen short of expectations, based on expected win totals.
Note: Unless otherwise noted, all statistics, point-differential figures and win-loss records come from Basketball-Reference. Expected win totals from the 2012-13 were calculated based on this formula from Justin Kubatko.
30. Jeff Hornacek, Phoenix Suns
Career record: 0-0
We start off our NBA head coach power rankings with Jeff Hornacek, one of the league's major coaching unknowns.
Before being hired as head coach of the Phoenix Suns in late May, Hornacek served as an assistant coach for the Utah Jazz for three seasons. He's going to need to bring everything he learned in Utah to Phoenix, as the Suns need help just about everywhere.
In the 2012-13 season, the Suns ranked 29th in the league in offensive efficiency, averaging only 101.2 points per 100 possessions, and were 23rd in defensive efficiency, allowing opponents to score 108.1 points per 100 possessions. That's a recipe for disaster, which Hornacek openly admits.
"With the team we have in Phoenix, with young guys, they had a rough year last year or last couple years, I guess," said Hornacek to NBA.com's Steve Aschburner. "So for me the biggest thing is to be positive. Try to teach 'em as much as I can, as far as the little things."
In an August interview with Grantland's Zach Lowe, Hornacek shone some light on certain aspects of his coaching philosophy. He specifically mentioned his analytic inclinations (bringing up effective field-goal percentage!) and told Lowe that the Suns need to divert focus from long two-point jumpers this coming season.
Hornacek stands little chance of turning the Suns around this season, but he could still rocket up these rankings with a better-than-expected performance from Phoenix.
29. Randy Wittman, Washington Wizards
Career record: 147-291
With so many unknown coaches in the NBA today, most of the truly terrible ones have yet to be revealed.
Washington Wizards coach Randy Wittman could certainly use some company in the basement of the league's coaching fraternity, though.
Of all active coaches with at least 100 games under their belt, Wittman by far touts the lowest winning percentage (.336). He's never guided a team to a .500 season, despite stints in Cleveland and Minnesota before Washington.
Most of the Wizards' struggles in 2012-13 can be traced back to John Wall missing the first 30 games of the season due to a stress injury in his left kneecap. When he returned in the middle of January, he transformed the Wizards into a decidedly stronger team.
If the Wiz could avoid the injury bug, they'd have a realistic shot at one of the final few playoff spots in the East, despite Wittman's previous track record. However, starting center Emeka Okafor has already been declared out indefinitely due to a herniated C4 cervical disc.
Wittman is now facing an uphill battle just to get his team to .500, much less a playoff berth. At the moment, nothing in his previous coaching history suggests he's capable of elevating his injury-ravaged team to either of those accomplishments.
28. Jacque Vaughn, Orlando Magic
Career record: 20-62
Is it fair to have Jacque Vaughn ranked so low here with nine first-time head coaches prowling the sidelines this season? That remains to be determined.
The Orlando Magic coach is essentially a victim of his own circumstances. When the team traded away Dwight Howard last August, it condemned Vaughn to a rebuilding project that not even the likes of Phil Jackson could prevent.
With that said, we can only judge Vaughn on the merits of what he's accomplished to date as a coach. And given the results from his rookie season in 2012-13, the reviews aren't stellar thus far.
Vaughn got his coaching career started with the San Antonio Spurs in 2010-11, serving as an assistant coach to Gregg Popovich for two seasons. The Magic hired him following the 2011-12 season, then traded Howard only a few months later.
Leaving Vaughn to sort through the remaining flotsam on the roster, the Magic got off to a shockingly decent 12-13 start through the first 25 games of the season. The wheels fell off from there, though, as the Magic only recorded eight more wins over the next 57 games.
The Magic shouldn't be expected to make major strides forward in Vaughn's second year as head coach, as they're still largely relying upon first-, second- and third-year players to anchor their rebuilding effort. Their continued development will be the litmus test for Vaughn's success as a coach this season, not the team's win-loss record.
27. Michael Malone, Sacramento Kings
Career record: 0-0
Michael Malone has a tall task ahead of him as the rookie head coach of the Sacramento Kings.
With the Maloof family finally out of the picture, Malone could begin building a positive culture around a franchise that has struggled in recent years.
Malone comes to the Kings from the Golden State Warriors, where he was the lead assistant to head coach Mark Jackson for the past two seasons. Players credited him for being extremely defensive-minded, just like Jackson, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
The Warriors went from allowing opponents to score 109.1 points per 100 possessions in 2011-12 (27th in the league) to 105.5 points the following season (14th in the league). It's unclear how much responsibility Malone can take for that defensive transformation, but it bodes well for Sacramento regardless.
"That's the beauty of being a first-time head coach, you can take everything you've been around and learned," said Malone to NBA.com's Steve Aschburner. "Now you can use it, you can tweak it, you can bring in your own thing. I think you'll see a mixed bag on that."
The Kings, who ranked 29th in defensive efficiency during the 2012-13 season, could certainly use his acumen on that side of the ball. If he's able to transform DeMarcus Cousins into even a league-average defender, it could be key to restoring the Kings to relevance for the first time in nearly a decade.
26. Steve Clifford, Charlotte Bobcats
Career record: 0-0
If rookie head coach Steve Clifford plans on bringing the Charlotte Bobcats out of the dregs of the NBA, he'll have to do it on defense first.
The Bobcats ranked dead last in defensive efficiency during the 2012-13 season, allowing opponents to score 111.5 points per 100 possessions. The team also touted the worst point differential in the NBA, scoring an average of 9.2 points fewer per game than their opponents.
No team can experience sustained success with such skewed defensive statistics. That's why Clifford makes such sense as the Bobcats' new coach.
As an assistant with the New York Knicks and Houston Rockets throughout the early- and mid-2000s, Clifford carved out the reputation as a defensive expert. With Yao Ming manning the middle, his Rockets squads consistently ranked among the league's top five in defensive efficiency.
Of course, he won't have Yao or anyone similar in Charlotte. His starting center, Al Jefferson, openly admitted to Grantland's Zach Lowe earlier this summer that he still struggles with pick-and-roll defense.
That's the challenge that awaits Clifford this upcoming season. His ability to navigate that particular landmine will go a long way toward determining how successful he'll be early in his coaching career.
25. Jason Kidd, Brooklyn Nets
Career record: 0-0
It didn't take long for Jason Kidd to shift to the next stage of his basketball career after retiring as a player. It only took 10 days, actually.
Kidd announced his retirement after 19 seasons in the league back on June 3, alluding to coaching or broadcasting as a logical next step. The Brooklyn Nets took immediate heed, bringing him in to interview for their head coaching vacancy.
Brian Shaw was initially seen as the front-runner to replace P.J. Carlesimo, whose contract wasn't renewed by the Nets, but ultimately the franchise opted for Kidd, despite his lack of any coaching experience.
"He got up on the board and drew up plays and showed he had command of what he wanted to do on offense," a source with knowledge of Kidd's interactions with the Nets told ESPN. "He had good knowledge of the personnel, and explained his philosophy."
Kidd hasn't shied away from admitting he needs experienced assistant coaches to help guide him through the transition from player to coach. He hired former Nets and Detroit Pistons coach Lawrence Frank as a top assistant for that very reason.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, who coached Kidd on the 2008 U.S. Olympic team, gave a ringing endorsement of Kidd to Nets general manager Billy King, according to ESPN New York's Mike Mazzeo. He told King that "with the right staff and with his basketball instincts, he would be good at this."
24. Brad Stevens, Boston Celtics
Career record: 0-0
After Doc Rivers and the Boston Celtics parted ways in June, the C's made an even more shocking coaching splash by hiring Brad Stevens away from Butler University.
The track record of collegiate coaches jumping to the NBA is spotty at best. CBSSports.com's Matt Norlander did the math on the list of men who jumped straight from college to the pros in the past 20 years: They've compiled a composite 559-900 record over 22 seasons.
Legendary college coaches like Rick Pitino and John Calipari, the winners of the two most recent NCAA tournaments, both couldn't cut it in the pros for very long.
What makes Stevens any different? For one, he didn't rely on luring top talent to thrive in college. At a mid-major like Butler, you make do with whatever players you can recruit, fully aware that you're likely striking out on McDonald's All-Americans.
Stevens' attention to detail and emphasis on analytics should also serve him well in today's NBA. He'll leave no stone unturned when it comes to strategy, which should endear him to his players.
Of all the league's rookie head coaches, Stevens comes in with the highest range of variance. He could easily prove to be a top-15 coach within a year if he hits the ground running, but the track record of former college-to-pros coaches is reason enough to pump the brakes on any supremely optimistic projections.
23. Brett Brown, Philadelphia 76ers
Career record: 0-0
Brett Brown filled the NBA's final coaching vacancy in August after new Philadelphia 76ers general manager Sam Hinkie conducted an exhaustive search.
What makes Brown the right man for the Sixers job? For one, he inked a guaranteed four-year deal with Philadelphia, ensuring that he won't be canned due to poor short-term results.
With the Sixers all but openly tanking this upcoming season for the shot at a top draft pick in 2014, no coach in his right mind would willingly sign on to the job without that sort of guarantee. Brown now has the peace of mind to know he can go about doing things his way with little fear of upper management.
Brown began his coaching career in Australia, where he spent 15 years as either an assistant coach or a head coach. He joined the San Antonio Spurs as the team's director of player development in 2002, then was promoted to assistant coach in 2007.
It's that background as a player development expert that makes him such an intriguing fit for the Sixers. Wins and losses won't define the success of this upcoming season; the development of their young potential building blocks, Michael Carter-Williams and Nerlens Noel, will be far more important.
Brown is all but a lock to accrue one of the league's worst records in 2013-14. When the Sixers are 10-45 in a few months, keep in mind that it's by design and is by no means a reflection on Brown's ability to coach.
22. Brian Shaw, Denver Nuggets
Career record: 0-0
Thanks to the Denver Nuggets, Brian Shaw finally gets to shed his "always a bridesmaid, never a bride" reputation among NBA coaches.
After retiring as a player following the 2002-03 season, Shaw worked as a scout for the Los Angeles Lakers for a year before being promoted to assistant coach under Phil Jackson. He worked next to Jackson for the next half-decade and was seen as a favorite to replace Jackson once he retired.
Instead, despite an endorsement from Kobe Bryant, the Lakers passed over Shaw to hire Mike Brown. Shaw jumped ship to the Indiana Pacers, where he helped develop Lance Stephenson and Paul George into legitimate building blocks for the franchise.
With George and Stephenson both singing Shaw's praises throughout the 2012-13 season, the Nuggets couldn't help but be intrigued. After firing 2013 Coach of the Year George Karl in early June, they swooped in and hired Shaw three weeks later.
“I think there are some young bright coaches who are starting to get an opportunity, and that’s not to knock any of the established coaches who have been around," said Shaw to NBA.com's Steve Aschburner. "We have some very young players in the league that do things a different way, from a completely different culture. I personally benefited this go-around because I wanted to show I'm able to connect with them and push the right buttons."
Don't expect to see a resurgence of Jackson's triangle offense in Denver this coming season. Instead, expect to see Shaw build the foundation of his franchise on defense and grittiness.
21. David Joerger, Memphis Grizzlies
Career record: 0-0
David Joerger, the rookie head coach of the Memphis Grizzlies, admittedly earns the benefit of the doubt here.
His only experience as a head coach came in the now-defunct International Basketball Association and Continental Basketball Association (with the Dakota Wizards) and the NBA Development League. He twice won the CBA's Coach of the Year award, but that's not exactly indicative of how he'll fare as a head coach in the big leagues.
He was hired as an assistant coach for the Grizzlies in 2007-08 by then-head coach Marc Iavaroni. After Lionel Hollins took over the head coaching duties, he promoted Joerger to the lead assistant coach in 2011-12, tasking him with improving Memphis' defense.
The Grizzlies quickly became one of the league's most ferocious defensive teams, anchored by 2013 Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol. They allowed opponents to score a paltry 100.3 points per 100 possessions in 2012-13, which ranked second in the league behind the Indiana Pacers.
So how will Joerger lead the Grizzlies now that he's in charge of both offense and defense? From the sound of things, he's going to put his trust in his players and hope they do the same with him.
"To me, in my situation, it's all about your best players letting you coach them," said Joerger to NBA.com's Steve Aschburner. "That gives you credibility. Without credibility, it can be a tough road."
20. Terry Stotts, Portland Trail Blazers
Career record: 148-217
If there weren't so many unknowns among the NBA coaching ranks this year, Portland Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts would almost assuredly rank lower here.
Nothing about Stotts' head coaching career to date should inspire much confidence in his ability to lead a team to the promised land. He failed to last more than two years in both of his previous coaching stints in Atlanta and Milwaukee; time will tell if he'll go 3-for-3 in Portland.
The Blazers were appreciably worse on defense during Stotts' first year in 2012-13 than they were the season before. After allowing opponents to score 106.4 points per 100 possessions in Nate McMillan's final year (23rd in the league), they dropped even further under Stotts, conceding 109.2 points per 100 possessions (26th in the league).
To Stotts' credit, little was expected out of the 2012-13 Blazers. They actually surpassed their expected win total (32) by one win, finishing with a 33-49 record.
They likely won't be much better in 2013-14, but they do have an intriguing core of young talent, with Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard leading the way. Stotts' ability to connect with his young players will make or break his chance of lasting past this season with the Blazers.
19. Mike Budenholzer, Atlanta Hawks
Career record: 0-0
Mike Budenholzer is the highest-ranked rookie head coach featured here. That's what spending 17 years as an assistant head coach with the San Antonio Spurs earns a guy.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich hired Budenholzer as a video assistant prior to the 1994-95 season, a role which he filled for two years. Before the 1996-97 season, Pop promoted him to assistant head coach, then made him the No. 1 assistant in 2007-08.
"As anyone who's been part of this program knows, he has been more of a co-head coach than an assistant for a long time," said Popovich in a statement. "His knowledge of the game as well as his ability to teach and develop relationships with players are all special."
It's impossible to predict exactly how he'll run the Atlanta Hawks in his first year as head coach, but one can only imagine the depth of knowledge he's picked up from serving under Pop. One thing's clear: He's got his head on straight about the gig.
"The NBA is about the players and their abilities and what they can do," said Budenholzer to NBA.com's Steve Aschburner. "The coaches play a small role in it, but I think it's really about them. I think the fans will still see a great product and hopefully we don't screw 'em up."
It hasn't been all sunshine and rainbows for Budenholzer since being hired, however, as he was arrested for driving under the influence back in August. He'll need to exercise far better judgment moving forward to engender confidence from his front office.
18. Dwane Casey, Toronto Raptors
Career record: 110-160
Dwane Casey might not be a household name outside of Canada, but he's been a sneaky good coach since taking over the Toronto Raptors in June 2011.
Casey took a Raptors squad that ranked dead last in defensive efficiency in 2010-11 (112.9 points allowed per 100 possessions) and transformed it into a relatively solid defensive squad the next season (104.5 points allowed per 100 possessions).
The Raps somewhat regressed defensively during the 2012-13 season, but that's often what happens when you start a rookie center (Jonas Valanciunas) for 57 games. With a full season of experience and a dominant 2013 summer league performance under his belt, the Raptors should be back to a middle-of-the-pack defensive team in 2013-14.
Before taking over the Raptors, Casey served as a head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves for a season-and-a-half before being canned in January 2007. He then spent three years as an assistant coach with the Dallas Mavericks, with whom he won an NBA championship in 2011.
Casey's record as a head coach isn't stellar by any means, but the Raptors made clear strides during his first two seasons in Toronto. So long as Casey continues emphasizing the defensive side of the ball, don't sleep on the Raptors as a sleeper 2014 playoff team.
17. Tyrone Corbin, Utah Jazz
Career record: 87-89
Does having Ty Corbin ranked as the NBA's 17th-best head coach feel too high to you? That's what happens when you have nine first-time coaches prowling the sidelines.
After hanging up his basketball shoes following the 2000-01 season, Corbin took an assistant coaching job under then-Utah Jazz head coach Jerry Sloan in 2004. He spent six years in that position before Sloan abruptly resigned in the middle of the 2010-11 season.
Corbin was put in the impossible position of replacing Sloan, who spent 23 seasons and racked up 1,127 wins as head coach of the Jazz. No matter what Corbin does, he's virtually guaranteed never to live up to Sloan's legacy.
He hasn't been too shabby since taking over for Sloan, though. He helped guide the Jazz to the playoffs in 2011-12 and fell only a few games short of a repeat playoff berth in 2012-13.
This upcoming season will be a true test for Corbin, as the Jazz allowed two of their best players, Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, to walk as free agents. Corbin has a plethora of young talent at his fingertips, but molding them into a championship contender won't by any means be an overnight process.
16. Monty Williams, New Orleans Pelicans
Career record: 94-136
Monty Williams could easily be five spots too low on this list. Allow me to be the first to admit that.
Long story short, we just don't know enough about him as a coach to vault him into the upper echelon of the league's head coaches. His record doesn't appear to be indicative of his talent, but this upcoming season will go a long way toward revealing just how strong of a coach he can be.
In Williams' rookie season of 2010-11, his one and only season with Chris Paul under his wing, he helped lead the Hornets to a surprisingly competitive first-round playoff series with the two-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers.
Once the then-New Orleans Hornets traded Paul to the Los Angeles Clippers right before the start of the 2011-12 season, everything fell apart for Williams. Eric Gordon, the Hornets' biggest prize in the trade, battled chronic injuries for the next two seasons, leaving Williams' cupboards relatively empty.
With the now-Pelicans' offseason acquisitions of Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans in 2013, Williams' excuses will run dry this upcoming season. They should have enough talent to compete for one of the Western Conference's final playoff berths, but Williams will have to shore up the team's D (it ranked 28th in defensive efficiency last season).
15. Mike D'Antoni, Los Angeles Lakers
Career record: 428-371
Mike D'Antoni's tenure as head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers got off to an admittedly rocky start.
The Lakers fired Mike Brown five games into the 2012-13 season, instantaneously creating the NBA's most intriguing job opening. After a weekend of heavy flirting with Lakers legend Phil Jackson, the team abruptly reversed course and hired D'Antoni instead.
Many Lakers fans were visibly distraught by the franchise's about-face and never bought into the D'Antoni hiring. According to former ESPN reporter Ric Bucher, Dwight Howard fell strongly into that camp, as he reportedly wanted D'Antoni fired if he were to sign an extension with the Lakers this past offseason.
The Lakers rightfully didn't bend to the demands of Howard, who also reportedly wanted the team to exercise its amnesty on Kobe Bryant. This upcoming season, with the year-long distraction of Howard in the rear-view mirror, D'Antoni and the Lakers can get back to focusing on what really matters: winning as many games as humanly possible.
Don't be surprised to see the Lakers stay in the thick of the playoff race in 2013-14. Defense might not be a strong suit for D'Antoni-coached teams, but it's hard to imagine a squad with Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol struggling on offense again.
14. Larry Drew, Milwaukee Bucks
Career record: 128-102
After nearly two decades of toiling as an assistant coach around the NBA, Larry Drew got his first big break as a head coach with the Atlanta Hawks in 2010-11.
Under Drew, the Hawks continued their string of upper-echelon mediocrity that Mike Woodson initially ushered in. They comfortably qualified for the playoffs in each of Drew's three seasons as head coach, but only made it past the first round during his rookie year.
To Drew's credit, he found ways to maximize the talent he had. The Hawks surpassed their expected win total (42) in 2012-13 by two wins, despite losing key bench guard Lou Williams to injury for most of the season.
Following the 2012-13 season, the Hawks opted against renewing Drew's contract and hired San Antonio Spurs assistant Mike Budenholzer in his place. Drew wasn't fazed, however, as he jumped ship to the Milwaukee Bucks three days after Budenholzer was hired by Atlanta.
"I feel very good about who I am as a coach," Drew said during his introductory press conference. "You give me some guys who are willing to play hard every night, who are committed to playing for one another, who are committed to playing for the city, I guarantee you I'll give you a group you can be proud of."
It remains to be seen what Drew can harness from the Bucks' mish-mashed roster in 2013-14. One thing is clear, though: He's not going to let his team go down in the playoff race without a tooth-and-nail fight.
13. Maurice Cheeks, Detroit Pistons
Career record: 284-286
Maurice Cheeks hasn't been in charge of an NBA team since the 2008-09 season, but that shouldn't be held against him here.
He experienced his greatest success as a head coach with the early-2000s Portland Trail Blazers, whom he brought to the second round of the Western Conference playoffs in 2002-03. Cheeks' Blazers fell apart two seasons later, however, resulting in him being fired midway through the 2004-05 season.
Cheeks jumped to the Philadelphia 76ers that next season to help the franchise with its transition from the Allen Iverson era. Much like his time in Portland, the front office effectively set him up to fail, and he was fired only 23 games into the 2008-09 season.
Do these two experiences in Portland and Philadelphia suggest that Cheeks is a bad coach who can't mesh with upper management? Not quite.
Oklahoma City Thunder head coach Scott Brooks, whom Cheeks worked under as an assistant for the past four seasons, said he was an "integral part" of the Thunder's development, according to The Oklahoman.
He'll have a plethora of riches in Detroit with Brandon Jennings, Josh Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond. The question is, can he figure out how to make those pieces fit cohesively and keep everyone happy?
12. Mike Brown, Cleveland Cavaliers
Career record: 314-167
Despite his shockingly strong career record, Mike Brown hasn't been able to shake the reputation of being a bad coach.
His time as the head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers is mostly to blame for that. Brown's best offense with the Cavs often devolved into "hand the ball to LeBron James and have everyone else clear out."
When you've got the best player in the NBA, that's an understandable inclination. He often fell into the same trap with Kobe Bryant while coaching the Los Angeles Lakers.
That doesn't mean he's a bad coach, though, despite his offense's typical late-game woes. Sure, he's likely to be outcoached by one of the league's truly elite game managers, but the Cavaliers shouldn't be blamed for hiring him back this summer.
Few coaches emphasize the defensive side of the ball as well as Brown, whose Cavaliers often ranked among the league's top 10 in terms of defensive efficiency. For a young team looking to force its way into the playoffs for the first time since losing James, Brown makes sense as a culture-establishing leader.
11. Kevin McHale, Houston Rockets
Career Record: 118-124
Heading into 2013 training camp, this will be the last preseason when Kevin McHale's career coaching record sits below .500.
With the addition of Dwight Howard to the Houston Rockets' lineup, the team is rightfully expected to be among the most legitimate threats in the Western Conference.
Even without Howard, McHale presided over the darling of the analytics community in 2012-13. The Rockets began eschewing inefficient shots (long two-point jumpers) for open three-pointers, transition buckets and shots in the paint.
Not coincidentally, the Rockets ranked first in the league in pace, averaging 96.1 possessions per 48 minutes, and averaged the sixth-most points per 100 possessions (109.7). With a true low-post threat in Howard now on the roster, there's a strong chance that the Rockets' offense will only grow more efficient in 2012-13.
With one of the best big men in NBA history as his coach, Howard should experience a career renaissance in Houston this year. If Howard's game does grow by leaps and bounds, it'll only make McHale look better as a coach, too.
10. Scott Brooks, Oklahoma City Thunder
Career record: 234-147
With Scott Brooks, it's important not to conflate his career win-loss record with his talent as a head coach.
He's clearly among the top half of NBA coaches heading into 2013 training camp, but despite his sterling win-loss record, he's not anywhere near a top-five coach. His inexplicable commitment to playing Kendrick Perkins nearly 30 minutes per night bumps him down a few spots on its own.
Brooks is blessed to be coaching two of the league's most unguardable talents, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, which makes him look like a coaching genius at times. In his five seasons with the Oklahoma City Thunder, he's only improved his win-loss percentage each year.
In 2012-13, however, the Thunder fell four wins short (60) of their expected win total based on their point differential (64). Brooks was also somewhat exposed in the 2013 playoffs when Westbrook went down with a torn meniscus.
To Brooks' credit, he has the fifth-highest career win percentage (.614) of any active head coach. The question that lingers: Would the same be true without him having two top-10 players on his roster?
9. Mike Woodson, New York Knicks
Career record: 278-320
Then-New York Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni hired Mike Woodson as an assistant before the 2011-12 season to fix the team's lackluster defense.
While D'Antoni insisted Woodson was a "basketball coach" instead of strictly a defensive coach, according to ESPN New York, he tasked Woodson with fixing one of the worst defenses in the NBA. The Knicks allowed 110.1 points per 100 possessions in 2010-11, ranking 22nd in the league in defensive efficiency.
With the simultaneous arrival of Woodson and center Tyson Chandler, the Knicks fixed their defensive woes almost overnight. In 2011-12, they allowed only 101 points per 100 possessions, fifth best in the league.
D'Antoni famously clashed with Anthony throughout the 2011-12 season, leading to his sudden resignation in March 2012. Woodson took over and led the Knicks to back-to-back playoff appearances, something which hadn't happened in over a decade.
In Woodson's first full season as Knicks coach in 2012-13, the team earned one more win (54) than its point differential suggested it would (53). However, the team's defense regressed significantly, which could be a major concern with the Eastern Conference only looking stronger in 2013-14.
8. Mark Jackson, Golden State Warriors
Career record: 70-78
Don't let Mark Jackson's career record as a head coach fool you: He's one of the best new leaders in the game today.
In the two seasons since he's taken over the Golden State Warriors, Jackson has transformed them from one of the league's laughingstocks to a legitimate threat in the Western Conference.
Before Jackson joined the Warriors in 2011-12, the team was one of the worst defensive squads in the league. It finished 28th, 29th and 26th, respectively, in defensive rating between the 2008-09 and 2010-11 seasons.
Things didn't get much better in Jackson's first season, as the Dubs allowed 109.1 points per 100 possessions (29th in the league) en route to a 23-43 record. In 2012-13, however, Golden State made major strides defensively, ranking 14th in defensive rating.
Since day one with the Warriors, Jackson has emphasized the importance of defense, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. With the arrival of Andre Iguodala in free agency this offseason, the Warriors D should only grow more stout in the coming year.
7. Rick Adelman, Minnesota Timberwolves
Career record: 1,002-707
With George Karl now out of the league, Rick Adelman takes over as the NBA's current coaching wins leader.
Adelman cracked the 1,000-wins barrier in 2012-13 with the Minnesota Timberwolves. He currently sits eighth all-time in total wins, behind only Don Nelson, Lenny Wilkens, Jerry Sloan, Pat Riley, Phil Jackson, Karl and Larry Brown.
His greatest success as a coach came back during his first head coaching stint with the Portland Trail Blazers in the late 80s and early 90s. With Clyde Drexler leading the way, Adelman's Blazers made it to the NBA Finals in 1989-90 and again two years later.
Adelman won't be mistaking his Timberwolves squad for those Blazers teams, but assuming they stay healthy, he could coax a playoff berth out of them in 2013-14. With Ricky Rubio, Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic leading the way, the Wolves have a strong young three-man core to lead the way.
Health concerns for his wife raised questions about whether Adelman would be able to coach this season, but those have since been put to rest, according to ESPN. Now, he'll just have to impart his two-plus decades of coaching wisdom upon his young players and pray they can run with it.
6. Frank Vogel, Indiana Pacers
Career record: 111-74
A year ago, the thought of Frank Vogel being anywhere close to a top-five NBA coach was laughable.
Now that he's fresh off nearly upsetting the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals? It's not so implausible.
Vogel took over the Indiana Pacers in late January 2011 and was solid yet unspectacular for his first season-and-a-half. The Pacers made the playoffs in each of Vogel's first two seasons, but they failed to take advantage of an injury to the Miami Heat's Chris Bosh in the 2012 Eastern Conference Semifinals.
The team only built upon its surprising playoff friskiness during the 2012-13 season. Paul George's breakout season helped mitigate a slow start from Roy Hibbert, which allowed Vogel to record a career-high 49 wins.
Under Vogel, the Pacers have made defense and toughness their calling cards, which was fully evident throughout the 2013 playoffs. During the fourth quarter of the series-clinching Game 6 in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, Hibbert eviscerated a dunk attempt by the New York Knicks' Carmelo Anthony, propelling Indiana to victory.
Vogel and the Pacers can't rest on their laurels now, but given the offseason the team just had, there's little chance of that. As long as Vogel, George and Hibbert are around, the Pacers should be considered a true championship threat in the East.
5. Rick Carlisle, Dallas Mavericks
Career record: 520-366
Amazingly, with just over a decade of head coaching under his belt, Rick Carlisle is one of the most experienced coaches in the NBA today.
The Dallas Mavericks coach currently ranks fourth in total number of games coached (886), behind only Rick Adelman (1,709), Gregg Popovich (1,328) and Doc Rivers (1,060). He's tied with Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra as the league's second-longest tenured coach (394 games with his current team), trailing only Popovich (1,328).
After a few assistant coaching stints throughout the 1990s, Carlisle got his head coaching career started with the Detroit Pistons in 2001-02. He helped the Pistons secure two straight Central Division titles, winning the 2002 Coach of the Year award in the process, but was canned after the 2002-03 season.
He jumped to the Indiana Pacers after being fired by the Pistons, but his time there was marred by the "Malice at the Palace" incident in November 2004. He stepped down as the Pacers' head coach following the 2006-07 season and spent a year working with ESPN as an NBA analyst.
Carlisle came to the Mavericks in May 2008 and experienced immediate success, with the team making the playoffs in each of his first four seasons. The highlight of his tenure with Dallas came in 2010-11, when he helped guide Dirk Nowitzki and Co. to their first NBA championship by beating the hated Miami Heat.
4. Erik Spoelstra, Miami Heat
Career record: 260-134
Is it sacrilege to consider the winner of the two most recent NBA championships as only the fourth-best coach in the NBA? Probably.
Erik Spoelstra's fourth-place spot here isn't an indictment of his own coaching acumen. He's one of the league's most forward-thinking and least risk-averse leaders, proving time and time again that he's unwilling to allow conventionality to dictate his team's style.
After falling short against the Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 Finals, the Miami Heat coach went back to the drawing board. He began taking advantage of his team's positional versatility by emphasizing "position-less basketball," which allowed LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to play to their strengths.
"Thinking conventionally that first season with LeBron—that was my biggest regret as a coach," Spoelstra told ESPN's Tom Haberstroh. "I put LeBron in a box. And that's the worst thing I could have done."
Once James began harnessing his power in the low post, all bets were off. The Heat steamrolled their way to two back-to-back championships in 2012 and 2013.
Having James, Wade and Bosh leading the way unquestionably makes Spoelstra's life easier, but don't be fooled into thinking any simpleton could lead this team to two straight titles. He might not be able to coax a title out of any old roster, but he's done a marvelous job with this particular Miami squad.
3. Doc Rivers, Los Angeles Clippers
Career record: 587-473
Few coaches in today's NBA have undergone as dramatic a transformation as Doc Rivers.
Rivers began his coaching career in 1999 with the Orlando Magic, winning the 2000 Coach of the Year award as a rookie head coach. He helped guide the Magic to three consecutive postseason berths from 2000-01 through 2002-03 but was fired early in the 2003-04 season after a miserable 1-10 start.
He jumped to the Boston Celtics that next season, but didn't engender much love from Celtics fans early on. In January 2006, ESPN's Bill Simmons led a column with this zinger: "Doc Rivers stinks as an NBA coach."
Everything changed in the summer of 2007 once the Celtics traded for Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. Rivers and the C's churned out a 66-16 season in that first year of the Big Three, won the 2008 championship and fell one game short of a repeat in 2010.
Things got messy this offseason, though, when the Celtics and Los Angeles Clippers began negotiating a de facto trade for Rivers. Since coaches can't be traded like players, the C's eventually agreed upon releasing Rivers from the final three years of his contract in exchange for a 2015 first-round draft pick.
Chris Paul was the driving force behind the Clippers' acquisition of Rivers, according to Simmons, as CP3 told the team he'd leave as a free agent if it couldn't land the coach. The Rivers acquisition makes perfect sense for the team, as he, unlike Vinny Del Negro, possesses the cachet to demand accountability from all players on his roster, even stars like Paul and Blake Griffin.
2. Tom Thibodeau, Chicago Bulls
Career record: 157-73
Before getting his head coaching gig with the Chicago Bulls in 2010, Tom Thibodeau toiled for two decades as an assistant coach with the Minnesota Timberwolves, San Antonio Spurs, Philadelphia 76ers, New York Knicks, Houston Rockets and Boston Celtics.
In his latter three assistant coaching stints, Thibodeau made his name as a defensive specialist. The Boston Globe's Peter May referred to Thibs as the Celtics' "minister of defense" back in 2007, before he helped the C's become an elite defensive squad.
Since becoming the head coach of Chicago in 2010, Thibodeau hasn't abandoned his reputation as a defensive mastermind. With Joakim Noah anchoring the Bulls' D, the team ranked second, second and sixth in defensive efficiency during his first three seasons, respectively.
The 2010-11 Bulls won 62 games with a rookie Thibodeau, tying the most number of wins accrued by a first-time head coach in league history. That surprising run to the top of the Eastern Conference helped Thibs take home the 2011 Coach of the Year award.
Watching the Thibodeau-led Bulls, you get the impression his players would run through a brick wall for him. Despite missing Derrick Rose for the entire 2012-13, Thibs and the Bulls wrangled 45 wins in the regular season and a first-round triumph over the Brooklyn Nets in the playoffs.
To date, Thibs' biggest flaw has been his distribution of playing time, namely his reliance on heavy minutes for his star players. During this year's Las Vegas Summer League, however, he suggested that Noah and Luol Deng won't be playing as many minutes this coming season, according to ESPN Chicago's Nick Friedell.
1. Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs
Career record: 905-423
Identifying the best coach in today's NBA isn't a difficult exercise: San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich runs away with the honor and it's not even close.
Pop's Spurs haven't finished with fewer than 50 wins in a season since 1998-99. That's 14 straight years of 50-plus wins, which includes four NBA championships and a fifth appearance in the Finals, too.
He's a master tactician who knows exactly how to maximize the strengths and weaknesses of his players. Take Danny Green, for instance, who went from being waived by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2010 to setting an NBA Finals record for most three-pointers made (27) in 2013.
Coach Pop also isn't afraid to chew out his top stars, as Tim Duncan and Tony Parker will readily admit. That only engenders more respect between him and his players.
"With the rest of the guys watching Pop coach the way he did, they knew that, Hey, if you're the third-best player or the seventh-best player, you'd better be able to take it because the No. 1 player on the team did, and he took it like a pro," said former Spurs assistant and current Cleveland Cavaliers coach Mike Brown to ESPN's Elizabeth Merrill in June.
If you were starting an NBA franchise from scratch, there's no question that Pop would be the first coach you called. The two-time NBA Coach of the Year is a living legend among the league's coaching ranks.