Because their rosters are limited to 15, NBA head coaches have more direct personal contact and more influence with their players than do NFL head coaches and MLB managers. That said, there are too many NBA coaches for this particular ranking to only go 10 deep. (other bests: PG, SG, SF, PF, C, 6th men)
1. GREGG POPOVICH
A slam dunk!
2. RICK CARLISLE
A proven takes-no-guff winner, there are times when (like Pop) Carlisle is too honest for his own good.
3. STEVE KERR
Did a terrific job installing a winning, unselfish attitude with the Warriors. However, Kerr was significantly out-coached in the last three games of last spring’s championship series.
4. ERIK SPOELSTRA
Even with his championship-winning troika of LeBron, Wade and Bosh dismantled, Spoelstra’s teams play smart and always compete. He’s one of the league’s most underrated coaches.
5. MIKE BUDENHOLZER
There were several reasons why last season’s Hawks were not the smoothly-operating squad they had been the previous season. Among them, the disjointedness caused by basically having two first-string point guards — Jeff Teague and Dennis Schroder. Plus losing DeMarre Carroll to free agency. Even so, Budenholzer’s game plan is righteous.
6. A THREE-WAY TIE
TOM THIBODEAU is a task-master who (correctly) insists that defense is the foundation of success.
However, Thibs’ previous modus operandi has been to work his players too hard. Some of his ex-players have complained that because of his strenuous practice sessions and the extended playing times he demands, playing for him makes them injury prone and shortens their careers. Still, while the flavor lasts, Thibodeau gets excellent results.
BRAD STEVENS knows what his players are capable of doing and thereby maximizes their effectiveness. His use of matchups and substitutions are at a high level.
DWANE CASEY’s teams are always well prepared and his in-game and between-game adjustments are potent.
7. DAVE JOERGER
Joerger won 42 games last season in Memphis despite losing Marc Gasol, Mike Conley and Mario Chambers for a combined total of 83 games because of injuries. Through it all, his guys always played hard and smart.
8. DOC RIVERS
Rivers shouldn’t be blamed for his overrated Clippers’ lack of ultimate success in recent seasons. Credit him instead for generally making the right substitutions and the right calls.
9. FRANK VOGEL
Vogel did an admirable job with the Pacers but was apparently canned because the team didn’t live up to Larry Bird’s inflated expectations. Still, Vogel is a winner.
10. NATE MCMILLAN
McMillan is a tough, no-nonsense guy who will always hold his players accountable for their sloppy, lazy and/or dumb performances.
TYRONN LUE did a wonderful job taking over for David Blatt and winning a title, but he still has to prove his true value over the course of a full season.
TERRY STOTTS prompted the Blazers to unexpected excellence.
MIKE D’ANTONI’s next, and perhaps most difficult job, is to convince James Harden to play with a semblance of the same unselfishness and optimal decision-making as Steve Nash. Good luck!
JEFF HORNACEK had good success in Phoenix until management traded away his best players. Even though last season’s Suns were undermanned, they always competed and tried to play the right way.