Coaches Come and Go: A Look at This Decade's Most Underrated Coaches
Ex-college coach Tim Floyd took over for Phil Jackson and led the team in its most infamous post-Jordan era. A successful college coach, Floyd has one of the lowest winning percentage in NBA history. He was given a second chance by the Hornets, but was also mediocre. A return to the college rank rebuilt his rep somewhat, but he was ousted from USC earlier this year due to recruiting violations.
Bill Cartwright is a seven-foot coach who was the starting center for the Bulls during their first three-peat in the early '90s. The Bulls improved somewhat under Cartwright, but he lasted less than two seasons in total.
Former Suns head coach Scott Skiles is the guy who really pushed the young Bulls back to the playoffs. They even made it to the second round under his watch. However, his abrasive personality got the best of him as young players regressed and tuned out to Skiles.
The Vinny Del Negro hire was highly questionable given that Del Negro has no coaching experience. The result so far has been mixed.
Winner: Scott Skiles
Los Angeles Lakers
Acclaimed former Chicago Bulls head coach Phil Jackson came out of retirement to take over the underachieving Lakers. He immediately won another three-peat with Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant. A slow start in 2003 and the constant feud between Shaq and Kobe resulted in the end of their run.
By adding Karl Malone and Gary Payton, the Lakers were hailed as the greatest team ever. Injuries and more feuds between Shaq and Kobe resulted in the Lakers imploding in the finals.
Long time Rockets boss, Rudy Tomjanovich, was tapped as the replacement. Tomjanovich did okay considering the fact that Shaq was gone, but was driven out by Kobe Bryant in half a season.
Phil Jackson was lured back with a record setting contract the next season and won one more championship this year.
Winner: Phil Jackson
Rudy Tomjanovich had a brilliant run with the Rockets in the '90s including winning two rings. However, the rebuilding Rockets failed to advance to the playoff under his watch from 2000-2003. He left voluntarily due to health issues (though he did resurface with the Lakers later).
Renowned former Knicks head coach Jeff Van Gundy was brought in. He made the playoffs three out of four seasons, but was bounced in the first round every single time.
Former Kings head coach Rick Adelman replaced the fired Van Gundy. Adelman did an amazing job despite a depleted roster. Highlights include a 22 game winning streak and nearly upsetting the Lakers in round two this year, despite an injury–ridden roster.
Winner: Rick Adelman
Same song and dance. Despite all the ups and downs after Stockton and Malone left, Jerry Sloan has been at the helm since 1988.
Winner: Jerry Sloan
With the resignation of Danny Ainge, Scott Skiles became the head coach of the Suns. He did pretty well, but a slow start in 2002 forced him to resign.
Frank Johnson, a longtime assistant coach, was promoted. His tenure was nondescript and he was replaced by assistant Mike D'Antoni.
The D'Antoni era was arguably the highlight for the Suns during this decade. His fast paced offense anchored by Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire almost won a ring if not for Robert Horry's dirty play.
Steve Kerr's trade for Shaquille O'Neal and disagreement with the direction of the franchise led to his ousting. Former Bucks coach Terry Porter could not even last a full season before being fired.
The current Alvin Gentry (former Clippers head coach) is a return to the D'Antoni run and gun offense. The result is yet to be seen.
Winner: Mike D'Antoni
Hall of fame coach Pat Riley built this team from the ground up. He made a big splash in 2000 by the sign-and-trade deal of Eddie Jones and Anthony Mason for Jamal Mashburn and P.J. Brown.
Brian Grant was also acquired via free agency. The Heat seemed like the team to beat in the East. Unfortunately, Alonzo Mourning's kidney ailment was discovered and the Heat began to struggle.
It became so frustrating that Riley resigned as head coach in 2003, but remained as President. Longtime assistant Stan Van Gundy replaced him and led the Heat back to respectability.
Acquiring Shaquille O'Neal and the ascent of Dwyane Wade as a superstar again, lead to the rise of the Heat. They lost in the second round despite a great regular season in 2005 and Pat Riley replaced Van Gundy after a slow start in the 2005-2006 season, a magical season in which the Heat won the championship.
The decline of Shaq and the injury to Wade made the Heat gradually fall into decline. It got so bad that the Heat was in last place in 2008. Riley again resigned.
Erik Spolestra, an assistant under Riley, was promoted. His tenure has been promising as the Heat returned to the playoffs with a mediocre roster.
Winner: Pat Riley (I know he had some horrible seasons this decade, but he coached most of the seasons this decade. Plus, the championship says it all.)
New York Knicks
Under Jeff Van Gundy, the Knicks were one of the best defensive teams in the league. His resignation set the Knicks to a downward spiral.
Don Chaney, assistant coach and 1991 coach of the year, had a forgettable stint. After Isiah Thomas took over as general manager, he was fired and replaced by the legendary Lenny Wilkens.
Wilkens led the team to a playoff appearance, but failed to meet the lofty expectation. He was fired midway through the next season and replaced temporarily by Herb Williams.
Isiah Thomas made a splash in 2005 by signing Hall of Fame head coach Larry Brown to a record setting contract. Brown clashed with Thomas and other star players, who in turn quit on the team. Brown was fired at the end of the season.
Thomas was asked by owner James Dolan to clean up his own mess. His two year head coaching stint was a failure that was overshadowed by his sexual harassment case. His team became the joke of the league.
Former Suns head coach Mike D'Antoni was brought in, but with the target set on 2010 free agency, the Knicks are essentially tanking two seasons. The result has not been pretty.
Winner: Jeff Van Gundy
After a horrific season, legendary head coach Lenny Wilkens was fired and replaced by college head coach Lon Kruger.
Kruger's stint was forgettable with no playoff appearance. He was replaced by Terry Stotts, who showed no marked improvement.
Mike Woodson's time started horribly, but the Hawks steadily improved under his watch. They even made the second round this year.
Winner: Mike Woodson
Former Heat head coach Alvin Gentry was fired midway through the 2000 season and replaced by former Pacers head coach, George Irvine.
Irvine endured a trying year with the departure of superstar Grant Hill. He was fired in 2001.
The hiring of Rick Carlisle was a great move. Carlisle made the Pistons one of the top teams in a horrible Eastern Conference. However, he never took them to the finals in his two seasons.
Carlisle was controversially fired after two successful seasons and replaced by Hall of Fame head coach Larry Brown. His led the Pistons to two final appearances winning one and barely losing the second one in seven games.
He was controversially fired due to his public flirtation with other teams, which became a major distraction in the playoffs that year.
Former Timberwolves head coach Flip Saunders was brought in to improve the offense. Saunders' three seasons was marked by regular season success and underachieving during the playoffs.
His controversial firing in 2008 marked the end of the Pistons dynasty.
His replacement, Michael Curry, was incredibly incompetent. In his lone season, long-time point guard Chauncey Billups was traded for NBA superstar Allen Iverson. The Iverson experiment started off strong, but after inserting sophomore Rodney Stuckey into the starting lineup instead of longtime Piston Richard Hamilton, Curry lost the team. Curry responded by benching Iverson, then the whole season was lost.
GM Joe Dumars spent his entire cap room gained by trading Billups on role players such as Ben Gordon, Charlie Villanueva, Chris Wilcox, and Ben Wallace. Longtime assistant John Kuester was named head coach. The result is yet to be seen.
Winner: Larry Brown
Seattle Supersonics/Oklahoma City Thunder
Paul Westphal clashed with stars Vin Baker and Gary Payton. He was fired as former Sonics player Nate McMillan was named head coach.
McMillan compiled several mediocre seasons partially because Gary Payton was traded for Ray Allen. Everything finally came together in 2005 as the Sonics finished No. 3 in the West and made the second round.
McMillan bailed at the end of the season for nearby rival, the Portland Trail Blazers. His replacement, longtime assistant Bob Weiss, proved to be very incompetent. He was fired after less than half a season. However, his replacements, Bob Hill then P.J. Carlesimo, were no better.
Scott Brooks eventually led this team toward the right direction.
Winner: Nate McMillan
Larry Bird led the Pacers to the finals in 2000 before voluntarily stepping down.
Isiah Thomas was his replacement. He began to rebuild this aging team by acquiring Jermaine O'Neal and developing him into a franchise cornerstone.
He was fired after an underachieving season and Larry Bird, his longtime rival in his playing days, returned to the team as President. Bird replaced Thomas with his former assistant, Rick Carlisle, who enjoyed a productive stint as the head coach of the Pistons.
Carlisle's stint started off promising by finishing No. 1 in the East in his first season. But, the infamous brawl at the palace, in which star Ron Artest was suspended for the entire season (also lengthy suspension for stars Jermaine O'Neal and Stephen Jackson) began his demise.
The retirement of franchise icon Reggie Miller further set the team down to mediocrity. Carlisle was fired in 2007 after missing the playoffs.
Former Celtics and Sixers head coach, Jim O'Brien, was named as the new head coach. He has compiled a few mediocre seasons so far.
Winner: Larry Bird
Under Randy Wittman's watch, the Cavs were a below average team with no direction.
The team regressed even more when former Sixers head coach John Lucas replaced him. He was fired midway through his second season.
With the selection of LeBron James in the 2003 draft, former Hornets head coach Paul Silas was brought in to lead the team. The team missed the playoffs both seasons and Silas was fired.
Under former Spurs assistant, Mike Brown, the Cavs had four consecutive playoff appearances including one final appearance.
Winner: Mike Brown
The head coaching position was a revolving door. Gar Heard and Darrell Walker flopped, so management brought in successful college coach Leonard Hamilton in as head coach.
Hamilton was fired after one horrible season and Michael Jordan hand-picked former Bulls and Pistons head coach Doug Collins as his successor as he prepared to launch his comeback.
Collins failed to lead the Wizards to the playoffs in both seasons in which Michael Jordan played. He was fired after Jordan's retirement.
Former Kings head coach Eddie Jordan was brought in. He instilled his unique Princeton offense. His tenure was marked by the signing of Gilbert Arenas as the team's franchise player. With holdover Larry Hughes (later replaced by Caron Butler) and the acquisition of Antawn Jamison, Washington made the playoffs in four consecutive seasons under his watch. He was fired after a horrible start in 2008.
Former Pistons head coach Flip Saunders is the new coach. The result is undetermined.
Winner: Eddie Jordan
Charlotte/New Orleans Hornets
With stars like Jamal Mashburn, David Wesley, P.J. Brown, Jamaal Magloire, and Baron Davis leading the team, the Hornets were an exciting squad. Paul Silas, former head coach of San Diego Clippers, was the head coach. He had some success, even reaching the second round.
Former Bulls head coach Tim Floyd was hired, but lasted only a year despite taking the Miami Heat to seven games in the first round without star Jamal Mashburn.
The new coach was former Nets head coach Byron Scott. After three rebuilding years—made worse by the fact that the Hornets were moved to the stronger Western Conference—the Hornets made the second round in Scott's fourth season, under the lead of Chris Paul.
They are coming off back-to-back playoff appearances.
Winner: Paul Silas (more consistent success, second round appearance)
Doc Rivers was named coach of the year after leading a bunch of role players such as Darrell Armstrong, Ron Mercer, and Andrew Declercq to a .500 record, barely missing the playoffs.
He then led the Magic to three straight playoff appearances with superstar Tracy McGrady with the other superstar, Grant Hill, largely on the mend.
He was fired after a slow start in 2003 and replaced by assistant and former Sixers head coach Johnny Davis. Davis' stint was forgettable.
Brian Hill, who led the Magic to a final appearance in 1995, was brought back. He led the Magic to the playoffs in 2007 for the first time since the departure of Tracy McGrady, but he was fired due to underachieving.
After a bizarre flirtation with college coach Billy Donovan, the Magic settled on their second choice, former Heat head coach Stan Van Gundy. Van Gundy led the Magic to new heights, culminated by making the finals this year.
Winner: Stan Van Gundy
Golden State Warriors
P.J. Carlesimo was fired in the 1999-2000 season. The Warriors had been a struggling franchise since the end of Run TMC. Chris Webber and Latrell Sprewell all had brief stints in the '90s.
Renowned basketball player and former Hornets head coach Dave Cowens was hired, but he did horribly. So did the interim Brian Winters.
Young Eric Musselman, the son of Bill Musselman, led the Warriors back to mediocrity. But he was controversially fired after local Stanford University's longtime head coach Mike Montgomery was hired. Under Montgomery, the Warriors regressed.
The return of Don Nelson was marked by the huge upset of Dallas Mavericks in the first round in 2007. However, it is all downhill after that. Under Nelson, the Warriors have become increasingly more dysfunctional.
Winner: Don Nelson
The decade started with the Kevin Garnett-Flip Saunders era. The T-Wolves made the playoffs each year, then made their annual first round exit.
They finally took it to a new level by the acquisitions of Latrell Sprewell and Sam Cassell in addition to holdovers Kevin Garnett, Wally Szczerbiak, and Troy Hudson. One good year in 2004 led to a horrible year in 2005 when Cassell, Hudson, and Szczerbiak were injury prone and Sprewell's play declined. Saunders was fired midseason as general manager Kevin McHale tried to rally the team himself.
McHale then hired Dwane Casey as Saunders' eventual replacement. Casey compiled some mediocre records and was fired midway through his second season. His assistant and former Pistons head coach Randy Wittman was his replacement. The T-Wolves become one of the worst teams in the league following the trade of franchise icon Kevin Garnett.
McHale fired Wittman and once again tried to rally the team himself to no avail. He was fired. Former Lakers head coach and longtime Lakers assistant Kurt Rambis was hired to implement Tex Winter's famous "triangle offense." The result is too early to tell.
Winner: Flip Saunders
San Antonio Spurs
Same song and dance in San Antonio. Gregg Popovich will coach as long as Tim Duncan is around. The Spurs won three championship this decade in addition to its 1999 run.
Winner: Gregg Popovich
Portland Trail Blazers
The Blazers were the team to beat in 2000 with their star-studded lineup featuring Scottie Pippen, Rasheed Wallace, Steve Smith, Brian Grant, Arvydas Sabonis, Damon Stoudamire, Bonzi Wells, and Detlef Schrempf. Mike Dunleavy was the head coach when they choked against the Lakers in 2000 playoffs.
A strong start in the 2001 season was overshadowed by a horrible finish. It marked the end of the Blazers' status as a contender and Dunleavy was replaced by Maurice Cheeks.
Under Mo Cheeks, the Blazers were never a serious contender and the level of play gradually regressed as the Blazers missed the playoffs for the first time in more than 20 years.
Former Sonics head coach Nate McMillan was hired to rebuild the team from the ground up. He missed the playoffs during his first three seasons (five straight non-playoff years combined), but the Blazers finally made it this year and seem to be on the upswing.
Winner: Mike Dunleavy
The Bucks were led by former Sonics head coach George Karl and the Big Three: Ray Allen, Sam Cassell, and Glenn Robinson. They made it as far as the conference finals, losing to the Sixers in seven games in 2001.
Robinson was traded to the Hawks as Karl wanted to start the promising Tim Thomas. Ray Allen was also traded to the Sonics, so Karl could unite with Gary Payton. Payton bolted for the Lakers in search of an elusive championship after half a season with the Bucks and Karl was fired.
Terry Porter, an assistant with the Kings, was hired. He led a rebuilding team that built around Michael Redd to a playoff appearance, but regressed during his second season and was fired.
His replacement was former Hawks head coach Terry Stotts. Stotts and later Larry Krystokowiak's stints were largely nondescript with the Bucks largely out of the playoff picture.
Former Bulls head coach Scott Skiles was hired, but the Bucks still missed the playoffs.
Winner: George Karl
Rick Adelman led some of the most successful Kings teams in franchise history. They would've won the championship if the game wasn't fixed in 2002. He was fired as the team started to fall off the map.
His replacement was former Warriors head coach Eric Musselman. Musselman's lone season was a complete disaster.
College coach Reggie Theus was hired. His run lasted less than two seasons as the Kings become one of the worst teams in the league.
Former Sonics coach Paul Westphal was hired this offseason.
Winner: Rick Adelman
Famous college coach Rick Pitino's run in the NBA was a disaster. After he was replaced by assistant Jim O'Brien, the team actually improved. O'Brien even led to the team to a conference final appearance with Paul Pierce and Antoine Walker.
O'Brien resigned as the team started to fade into obscurity. His replacement is former Magic head coach Doc Rivers. Rivers endured two horrible seasons, but won the championship in 2008 after the acquisitions of superstars Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen in addition to holdover franchise cornerstone Paul Pierce.
Winner: Doc Rivers
Larry Brown built around franchise player Allen Iverson. Together, they led the team to the NBA finals in 2001.
The team started to fade after Brown, true to his nomadic nature, resigned in 2003 and soon took over the Pistons. His replacement was the largely unknown Randy Ayers.
Ayers' stint was short and a total failure. He was replaced by former Clippers coach Chris Ford, who clashed with superstar Allen Iverson.
Ford was replaced by former Celtics coach Jim O'Brien, who led them to the playoff in his lone season. He was replaced by former Blazers coach and Sixers player Maurice Cheeks.
Cheeks never led the team to a winning record in his three year plus run.
The team hired Eddie Jordan this offseason.
Winner: Larry Brown
New Jersey Nets
Don Casey was not effective as the head coach of the Nets.
He was replaced by Byron Scott. The Nets quickly became a contender under his watch as Jason Kidd was acquired for Stephon Marbury.
They made consecutive finals appearances, but Scott clashed with Kidd and he was soon fired and replaced by assistant Lawrence Frank.
Lawrence Frank's stint results in the gradual decline of the Nets into obscurity.
Winner: Byron Scott
Butch Carter led the Raptors to the franchise's first playoff appearance in 2000 as Vince Carter emerged as a legit superstar. He was fired after an ugly controversy and lawsuit with former Raptors star Marcus Camby.
His replacement was former Hawks head coach and Hall of amer Lenny Wilkens. Wilkens led the Raptors to new heights, reaching the second round of the playoffs and was one point away from the conference final. Injuries and the unhappiness of Vince Carter led to a steep decline in performance. Wilkens was fired in 2003.
Kevin O'Neill, a longtime assistant with a collegiate head coaching appearance, lasted only one season after clashing with management.
Sam Mitchell was hired as the Raptors tried to rebuild around Chris Bosh. Mitchell led the Raptors to consecutive playoff appearances and was named coach of the year, but his vision clashed with new GM Bryan Colangelo's Euro style basketball and he was let go.
Canadian Jay Triano was named the head coach. His stint has been a quite poor so far.
Winner: Lenny Wilkens
Mark Cuban bought the team and instilled a winning attitude. Under former Knicks head coach Don Nelson, the Mavs gradually became serious contender. He resigned midway through 2005 after clashes with Cuban. Avery Johnson, his assistant, was already the head coach in waiting.
Under Johnson, the Mavs made it to the NBA finals and were robbed of the championship due to poor officiating. He then led Mavs to a 67 win season, but lost to Nelson's Warriors in the first round in dramatic fashion. After another first round exit, he was replaced by former Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle.
Carlisle led the team to the second round in his only season so far.
Winner: Avery Johnson
Los Angeles Clippers
Chris Ford, Jim Todd, Alvin Gentry, Dennis Johnson (r.i.p.). The Clippers head coaching position was a revolving door.
Former Blazers head coach Mike Dunleavy eventually took over, but has only led the Clips to one playoff appearance in his six seasons at the helm (second round appearance). The future isn't looking brighter either. His abrasive personality is wearing the players thin.
Winner: Mike Dunleavy
Former Magic coach Brian Hill had a very successful run as the Grizzlies head coach. Lionell Hollins also had three separate runs as the head coach of this franchise, all of them are epic failures.
Former Timberwolves coach Sidney Lowe also had a horrible stint.
It wasn't until former Knicks coach Hubie Brown took over the team that the Grizz finally made the playoffs. He even won coach of the year honor, but resigned due to clashes with his own players about playing time.
His replacement was former Cavs head coach the "Czar" Mike Fratello. Fratello led the Grizz to back-to-back playoff appearances, but was fired after a horrible start in the third season.
Marc Iavaroni, who tried to instill Mike D'Antoni's Suns offense, and Lionel Hollins, in his third stint, also failed to distinguish themselves.
Winner: Hubie Brown
Dan Issel and Mike Evans failed to distinguish themselves as the Nuggets were one of the worst teams in the league.
Under Jeff Bzdelik, a former assistant and scout, things did not look better until Carmelo Anthony was drafted. They made the playoffs in Anthony's rookie year.
A slow start in the '04-'05 season led to his firing. Michael Cooper, his replacement, did not fare better and was replaced by George Karl.
Karl led the Nuggets to a conference final appearance this season.
Winner: George Karl
Bernie Bickerstaff, former head coach of the Wizards, was given the key to this new franchise. His three years at the helm provided limited results.
Under Sam Vincent and Larry Brown, the team slowly began to move toward the playoff picture.
Winner: Larry Brown
Top 15 Coaches of the Decade
1. Phil Jackson
2. Gregg Popovich
3. Larry Brown
4. Rick Adelman
5. George Karl
6. Pat Riley
7. Don Nelson
8. Doc Rivers
9. Jerry Sloan
10. Flip Saunders
11. Mike D'Antoni
12. Stan Van Gundy
13. Avery Johnson
14. Byron Scott
15. Jeff Van Gundy
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