2010 NBA Playoffs: Power Ranking the Postseason Coaches
The 2010 NBA Playoffs feature 16 head coaches each with varying levels of experience and success. Only four of the 16 can lay claim to ever guiding a team to an NBA title.
Some, like Larry Brown and Phil Jackson, are definitely on the back nine of their careers.
Others, like Scotty Brooks, Scott Skiles, and Nate McMillan look like they'll be coaching for at least the next 15 years.
Where does each of them rank when measured against the others? Here's my list. If you're not happy with it, chime in and tell me where you think I'm wrong.
16) Vinny Del Negro, Chicago Bulls
Perhaps no coach is luckier to be in the playoffs this season than VDN. If not for a late-season injury to Chris Bosh, it could very well have been the Raptors who would have won the privilege of losing to the Cavs in the first round.
Just when it looked as if Del Negro was going to get fired last season he saved his job by presiding over the Bulls seven-game series with the Celtics.
Then the rumors began popping up around Christmas that Del Negro would soon be out of a job but again he managed to dodge a bullet and finish out the season.
Del Negro's Bulls have finished 41-41 in both of his seasons in Chicago. With the Bulls hoping to woo a top-tier free agent this summer Del Negro might need to avoid a sweep if he wants to keep his job.
15) Scott Brooks, Oklahoma City Thunder
In just his first full season as the Thunder head coach Brooks has already guided the league's youngest team to a 50-win season and a first-round match-up with the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers.
It's hard to rank Brooks any higher than 15 given the Thunder's unimpressive 2-4 record down the stretch—including a loss to Golden State last Sunday that knocked the Thunder down to the bottom of the Western Conference playoff seedings.
Given that these will be Brooks' first playoffs as a head coach, don't get used to seeing him near the bottom of the list in the years to come.
14) Erick Spoelstra, Miami Heat
Spoelstra is one of three coaches in the postseason who has yet to win a playoff series. That's a little unfair considering this is only his second full season as a head coach.
On the flip side, Spoelstra hasn't nearly received the credit he deserves for the job he's done these past two seasons.
Compare what the Heat have done to what the Knicks have done. Both teams have had their eyes on this summer's free agent market but the Heat are the only one that's made the playoffs.
I know the Knicks don't have anyone on their current roster the caliber of Dwyane Wade but you can't honestly tell me the Knicks don't have a more talented roster top to bottom.
In his first trip to the playoffs, Spoelstra's Heat took the Hawks to seven games. This season he will have to knock off the Celtics—something that no longer seems unrealistic.
That has more to do with the job Spoelstra has done than it does with how poor the Celtics have played the second half of the season.
13) Alvin Gentry, Phoenix Suns
So far in his career Gentry has coached four different teams for a total of 516 regular season games. But he's only coached one team into the postseason and that was the Detroit Pistons during the strike-shortened 1999 season.
It's only taken 11 years but Gentry is back in the playoffs.
But this time things should turn out much better for him than they did back in 1999 when his Pistons lost to the Atlanta Hawks in five games.
His Suns finished the season 54-28 including a 14-2 stretch to end the regular season—a run which saw them ascend all the way to the third seed in the West.
With the Lakers struggling during the last month of the season the Suns have suddenly become a trendy pick to make it to the Finals.
12) Mike Woodson, Atlanta Hawks
Of the top-four teams in the Eastern Conference Woodson's Hawks are the only one to improve upon their record from last season.
Not only did the Hawks improve by six games in the standings but this season they are the three-seed after finishing fourth a year ago.
Even the team's impending free agent Joe Johnson told AOL Fanhouse that whether or not Woody is brought back to coach the team, next season would play a role in whether or not he decides to re-sign with the team.
11) Nate McMillan, Portland Trail Blazers
McMillan has been an NBA head coach for 10 seasons and this will only be his fourth trip to the playoffs.
Of those four previous appearances, only the 2004-05 Seattle Supersonics managed to get past the first round of the playoffs.
Last season's Trail Blazers finished fourth in the Western Conference but were upset by the Houston Rockets. This year McMillan's team is ranked sixth and will have to play the third-seeded Suns without All-Star Brandon Roy who will have surgery to repair a torn meniscus.
Roy's bum knee is just the latest in an injury-plagued season for the Blazers that will most likely be remember for how the team never quit in the face of adversity.
That strength can be attributed to McMillan. The Blazers might not make it past the first round but McMillan it would be crime if McMillan didn't walk away with his first Coach of the Year Award.
10) Scott Skiles, Milwaukee Bucks
The Bucks are the third team that Skiles will be taking to the playoffs following the two trips he made while coaching the Suns and the three trips he made as head coach of the Bulls.
In 35 career playoff games, Skiles teams are a combined 15-20—four of which came in a first-round upset of the defending champion Miami Heat back in 2007.
Don't expect Skiles to add too many wins this postseason—not without the injured Andrew Bogut manning the middle.
9) Rick Carlisle, Dallas Mavericks
Jim Carrey lookalike Carlisle is one of the most experienced and successful of all the coaches involved in this season's playoffs.
In fact, Carlisle's playoff record as a head coach is 35-37, including five series wins with three different teams—the Pistons, Pacers, and Mavericks.
Only once in his eight seasons as a head coach has a Carlisle-coached team finished the season with a losing record and five of the eight won at least 50 games.
Carlisle and the Mavs should have their work cut out for them in the first round against the San Antonio Spurs.
8) Mike Brown, Cleveland Cavaliers
Mike Brown is the only Coach of the Year Award winner of the last six years who is still coaching the team he won the award with.
But if his Cavs fail to win a title this year, you can all but guarantee that Brown will be joining Byron Scott, Sam Mitchell, and Avery Johnson in the unemployment line.
While GM Danny Ferry has given Brown the most talented roster in the league the true test will be in how Brown figures out how to make it all work once the team is completely healthy.
In his first five seasons as a head coach, Brown has amassed an impressive 272-138 record. He has one Eastern Conference championship under his belt and his Cavs have had the best regular season record in both of the last two seasons.
Brown has often been praised for his defensive strategies and criticized for his offensive game plans.
The Cavs are the clear-cut favorites to win the NBA title. Anything short could result in LeBron James leaving town as early as July 1. The man who will be held responsibly by many if that happens won't be Ferry or owner Dan Gilbert.
It will be Brown.
7) Stan Van Gundy, Orlando Magic
Last year Shaq labeled Van Gundy "The Master of Panic" and the nickname has kind of stuck to him.
Forget that he looks like he shops for his clothes at airport lost and founds or that he's kind of segued from looking like Ron Jeremy to looking more like the WWE's Paul Bearer.
This year's Orlando Magic team will be the fifth that Van Gundy has led to the playoffs and the previous four have won a combined seven playoff series.
There's no denying that those are pretty impressive numbers.
But it seems like Van Gundy's decisions at crucial times have only helped to feed his reputation as a coach who isn't good under pressure.
It was Van Gundy who instructed his team not to foul in Game 4 of last year's Finals with his team up by three points late in the game. The result was a Derek Fisher three-pointer with 4.6 seconds left which sent the game into overtime where the Lakers won 99-91 and took a commanding 3-1 series lead.
But that shouldn't take away from the job that Van Gundy did in upsetting the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals. Van Gundy came up with a game plan that caused havoc on the Cavs.
6) Doc Rivers, Boston Celtics
Doc Rivers has received much of the blame for the Celtics struggles this season. After winning a championship in 2008 he was given a pass for last season's team due to the fact that Kevin Garnett missed the playoffs with a knee injury.
It's hard to believe that the 2008 Playoffs were the first time that one of Rivers' teams advanced past the first round.
But Rivers deserves to be this high on the list for the job he did in 2008. He found a way to mesh his three superstars and incorporated rookies and veterans in a way that led to a championship in their first season together.
He ran circles around Hall of Fame coach Phil Jackson in that series by frustrating Kobe Bryant and utilizing all of his bigs to beat up on Pau Gasol.
This year's Celtics only won nine games all season against teams with winning records. And while Rivers has said that the Celtics performance in these playoffs won't be a deciding factor in whether or he decides to return to Boston next season, you can't help but think that if the team loses to Miami in the first round that Rivers won't want to come back to a team that will be another year older.
5) George Karl, Denver Nuggets
George Karl got his first NBA coaching job with the Cleveland Cavaliers when he was just 33 years old.
Since then Karl has amassed a coaching record of 986-671.
But what Karl's legacy up to this point has been based on is his ability to turn things around quickly once taking a job—a trait he shares with another Tar Heel on this list.
Here's a list of Karl's record in his first season as a coach compared to their under their previous head coach:
1984-85 Cleveland Cavaliers 36-46 +8 wins
1986-87 Golden St. Warriors 42-40 +12 wins
1991-92 Seattle Supersonics 27-15 +12 wins
1998-99 Milwaukee Bucks 28-22 +16 wins
2004-05 Denver Nuggets 32-8 +32 wins
While Karl has only made it to one NBA Finals you could make the case that no coach came closer to beating Michael Jordan's Bulls than Karl's 1995-96 Sonics.
Karl will miss the first round of the Playoffs and his team's first-round series with Utah because he is dealing with throat cancer. But his doctor is optimistic that if the Nuggets advance then Karl could be back for the second round.
Get better, Coach!
4) Jerry Sloan, Utah Jazz
How could you not love a coach who is now on his fifth United States President since taking over for Frank Layden back in 1988?
Sloan was promoted to head coach two months before one of his current players, Kosta Koufos, was born.
Sloan's career coaching record is 1,190-780. His teams have made it to two NBA Finals and six Western Conference Finals.
And still he's yet to win a Coach of the Year Award. Go figure.
3) Larry Brown, Charlotte Bobcats
Larry Brown is the only head coach to lead a team to both an NCAA and NBA championship.
While his legacy has been tarnished by skipping from one job to the next (Peter Vecsey dubbed him "Next Town Brown") there's no denying Brown is one of the greatest coaches in basketball history.
You could make the case that Brown's 2000-01 Philadelphia 76ers were the least talented team to ever make it to an NBA Finals. This was a team that started Tyrone Hill, Aaron McKie, and Eric Snow.
That was a testament to Brown's ability (with the exception of the 2005-06 Knicks) to get the best out of every team he's ever coached.
Brown's professional coaching record, including his four seasons in the ABA is 1318-992. It's no wonder that Brown was elected to the Hall of Fame back in 2002—two years before he won his first and only NBA championship with the Detroit Pistons.
2) Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs
If I could have dinner with one NBA coach it would be Pop. Not just because he's led the San Antonio Spurs to four titles but because he's a true citizen of the world. That might explain why he's had so much success molding the most international team in NBA history into champions four times.
It's crazy to think that Popovich has 736 coaching victories when you consider that he kind of stumbled into the job.
Popovich was the GM of the Spurs back in 1996 when the team started out 3-15 under Bob Hill. So Popovich fired Hill and took over coaching duties on an interim basis.
It's 14 years and 102 playoff victories later and he's still on the job.
1) Phil Jackson, Los Angeles Lakers
If you ever want to see why Phil Jackson is the greatest active coach in the NBA then watch the fourth quarter of Game 7 of the 2000 Western Conference Finals (unless of course you're a fan of the Portland Trail Blazers).
While Jackson's critics have diminished his accomplishments by crediting the players he's had the privilege of coaching it's a disservice to him not to mention that none of those great players won a championship until Jackson became their coach.
There's a calmness about Jackson that oftentimes works for him and sometimes works against him. But it's hard to argue with any of his techniques considering he's won 10 championships, more than any coach in NBA history.
The Lakers trailed by 15 points in the fourth quarter of that Game 7 against Portland in 2000. Between the third and fourth quarters Jackson told his team not to look at the scoreboard and just play their game.
Players from that team talk about how Jackson spoke to them as if he knew they were going to win the game and that allowed them to play loose.
Compare and contrast Jackson's style in that situation with how Stan Van Gundy would have reacted in the same scenario. Chances are Van Gundy would have already been ejected for threatening to strangle and official or shattering his clipboard all over the hardwood.
Besides his amazing 1098-460 regular season Jackson has an even more impressive postseason record of 209-91.