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NBA Power Rankings: Larry Bird and 10 Coaches Who Should Return to the Sidelines

Shane DePutronCorrespondent IFebruary 3, 2011

NBA Power Rankings: Larry Bird and 10 Coaches Who Should Return to the Sidelines

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    With the firing of Indiana Pacers' head coach Jim O'Brien on Jan. 31, the NBA coaching carousel continued to rotate in the 2010-11 season.

    Now coaching in O'Brien's place is former Indiana assistant Frank Vogel, albeit on an interim basis.

    However, although the Pacers' management have stated that he will finish the season as head coach, many people believe that Indiana does not believe that Vogel is the long-term answer for that position.

    Further fueling this speculation are the recent rumors that the Pacers may be considering a few other outside candidates to take over the head coaching position after the season.

    Therefore, if not Vogel, who will fill the Indiana job for the next few years?

    Furthermore, given the expectation that there will be a number of other head-coaching vacancies following the conclusion of the season, which individuals will step in to will fill those spots?

    The following slides will take a look at some former NBA head coaches, all of whom could be potential candidates to take over as coaches for the 2011-12 NBA season and beyond.

Honorable Mentions

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    John Calipari

    Success at the collegiate level does not always translate to success in the NBA.

    John Calipari's short NBA stint from 1996-1999 is a perfect example of that.

    During the course of just over two seasons, Coach Cal accumulated a lowly record of 72-112 (39.1 winning percentage) as head coach of the New Jersey Nets.

    However, the dribble-drive offense which Calipari has mastered in the NCAA would most likely, in fact, work well at the professional level.

    Therefore, it wouldn't be surprising if a professional team gave the 61-year-old a call, although he would have no glaring reason to leave his cushy, well-paid position at UK.

     

    Lawrence Frank

    During his 2004-2009 tenure as head coach of the New Jersey Nets, Lawrence Frank earned four playoff appearances—each time finishing with a record of .500 or better.

    However, during his final few seasons as coach, he was forced to deal with an extremely depleted roster, and consequently, his overall record fell to 225-241 (48.3 winning percentage).

    Nevertheless, Frank was always able to achieve a moderate level of success when given some talent, so it would come as no shock if the 40-year-old gets another shot in the near future.

No. 10: Don Nelson

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    Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

    Don Nelson is the winningest coach in NBA history.

    However, with a career spanning from 1976-2010, the 70-year-old has also coached the second-highest number of games.

    And following his departure from the Golden State Warriors after last season, it's hard to imagine Nelson and his Nellie Ball returning to the sideline.

    However, with five NBA Championship rings, three Coach of the Year trophies, a record of 1335-1063 (55.7 winning percentage) and a unique and exciting brand of basketball, it seems very likely that a team would at least reach out to him, requesting his head coaching services once again.

No. 9: Mike Brown

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    At this point, it is unclear how good of a coach Mike Brown actually is.

    Although he has an impressive 272-138 record (66.3 winning percentage) and he won a Coach of the Year award, he managed to achieve of that while coaching one of the all-time greats in LeBron James.

    Consequently, the jury is still out on Brown.

    However, he has been rumored to be one of the favorites to take over the Indiana Pacers job after this season.

    Therefore, it appears that as relatively successful 40-year-old, another team will likely give him a shot soon.

No. 8: Billy Cunningham

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    After a successful career as a player, Billy Cunningham made a very smooth transition to coaching.

    Leading the Philadelphia 76ers from 1977-1985, he compiled an impressive 454-196 record (69.8 winning percentage), earning three trips to the Finals and winning one NBA Championship.

    However, he abruptly retired, became a basketball commentator, and then was a part-owner of the Miami Heat for a short period of time.

    Nevertheless, should the 67-year-old ever decide to return to the sideline, his past successes would certainly motivate a club to pursue him.

No. 7: Mike Fratello

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    Doug Benc/Getty Images

    Serving as a head coach for three different teams, over the course of 17 seasons, Mike Fratello earned a very respectable 11 playoff berths and a Coach of the Year award.

    Moreover, he compiled a record of 667-548 (54.9 winning percentage), most recently coaching the Memphis Grizzlies from 2004-2006.

    During this time span, he led the team to two winning seasons and playoff berths, only losing the position when the team suffered because their star, Pau Gasol, missed the first 23 games of the season, causing them to lose 18 games.

    So with his penchant for winning, expect the 63-year-old to be in consideration for a number of jobs in the coming years.

No. 6: Larry Brown

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    After a career as a standout ABA player, Larry Brown went on to become a three-time ABA Coach of the Year.

    However, after the NBA-ABA merger, Brown continued coaching, going on to have a 26-year NBA coaching career.

    During this time, he earned a record of 1098-904—the sixth-highest win total in NBA history—a win percentage of 54.8, a Coach of the Year award and an NBA Championship.

    Moreover, Brown succeeded as a college coach, where he won a National Championship and a Naismith College Coach of the Year award.

    And with such a long history of success, expect the 70-year-old to pursue a coaching opportunity with a proven team, since he has struggled coaching young, inexperienced squads, at some point during the next few years.

No. 5: Rudy Tomjanovich

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Rudy Tomjanovich was a standout player for the Houston Rockets and, naturally, he went on to become the long-time coach of the Rockets.

    Throughout the course of his 13-year coaching career, Rudy T. earned a 527-416 record (55.6 winning percentage) and back-to-back NBA Championships. 

    Yet while the 62-year-old is not currently coaching and has experienced some health problems, he still does do some scouting work for the Los Angeles Lakers.

    And with Lakers' Phil Jackson planning to retire following the 2010-11 season, maybe Tomjanovich could, once again, replace him.

    But regardless of whether of not that occurs, so long as he remains involved in basketball, teams will certainly contact him about any vacant coaching positions.

No. 4: Jeff Van Gundy

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    Brian Bahr/Getty Images

    Coaching two franchises during the course of 11 seasons, Jeff Van Gundy managed to rack up a record of 430-318 (57.5 winning percentage).

    Moreover, Van Gundy made the playoffs nine times, only once had a losing record, and helped to lead an eighth-seeded team to an NBA Finals berth.

    And although he is now working as a commentator for ESPN, the 49-year-old has been quoted as saying that he will, someday, coach again.

    Consequently, one could reasonably expect a new coaching gig for him soon, especially since he has been rumored to be a candidate for a few openings in the recent past.

No. 3: Danny Ainge

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    During just over three seasons with the Phoenix Suns in the late 1990s, Danny Ainge established himself as a successful NBA head coach.

    His teams made the playoffs during every season that he was there, and along the way he earned a record of 136-90 (60.2 winning percentage).

    However, he abruptly retired and, since then, he has assumed the position of president for the Boston Celtics—where he has put together an impressive body of work.

    However, with current Celtics' coach Doc Rivers in the final year of his contract and debating as to whether he should return or spend more time with his family, there may be an attractive coaching opportunity close to Ainge very soon.

    And given that he is only 51 years old, another coaching stint wouldn't be out of the question should he ever elect to leave his front-office position.

No. 2: Larry Bird

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    After a Hall of Fame playing career, Larry Bird eventually accepted the head coaching position with the Indiana Pacers.

    Here, he won a Coach of the Year award, never missed the playoffs, and compiled a record of 147-67 (68.7 winning percentage) during the course of three seasons.

    However, Larry Legend then stepped down as coach, only to return to the Pacers' organization a few years later as their president.

    And with the Pacers' coaching situation currently up in the air, it's shocking that Bird's name hasn't been mentioned as a possible solution. 

    Nevertheless, with his outstanding coaching resume, it would certainly come as a surprise if we don't see the 54-year-old on the sidelines again.

No. 1: Pat Riley

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Pat Riley is undoubtedly one of the best coaches in NBA history.

    Over the course of 24 seasons, he has made nine NBA Finals appearances, won five NBA championships, been awarded Coach of the Year three times and earned a record of 1210-694 (63.6 winning percentage)—good for the fourth-highest win total of all time.

    Furthermore, the 65-year-old is currently presiding over one of the best teams in the NBA, the Miami Heat.

    However, Riley is currently the team president, not the head coach.

    And seeing as though their current head coach Erik Spoelstra is doing a decent job leading the team, don't expect to see Riley taking the reins too soon.

    But if Spoelstra ever does do something which would reasonably justify his firing, Riley would naturally be his most likely successor.

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