Last season in honor of the 75th anniversary of the NBA a list was released of the 15 best coaches of all time, in no particular order. Over the years the NBA has been graced with some incredible coaches who have had a profound influence on the evolution of the game.
This list below pays homage to basketball from its infancy to the present day. Buckle up and get ready for a history lesson. Here is my list of the top 10 coaches in NBA history.
10. Don Nelson
Although he never won a title, he is certainly worthy of being on the list. For 31 seasons with multiple franchises, and in multiple eras, Don Nelson’s influence on the game of basketball cannot be understated. He was the frontman for some incredible teams over the years. In the 1980s, he coached the Milwaukee Bucks during some of their best years in franchise history, making the playoffs nine times in 11 seasons. Unfortunately, they were unable to win a title, and couldn’t get past the powerhouses of the east, like the Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers, Atlanta Hawks, and Detroit Pistons.
His next stop was with the Golden State Warriors where he turned Tim Hardaway, Mitch Richmond, and Chris Mullin into a terrific trio that wreaked havoc across the league with their fast-paced run and gun style offense.
With the Dallas Mavericks, he helped rebuild a team that started off with 16 wins his first year, into a perennial playoff contender for years to come, with players like Dirk Nowitzki, Steve Nash, and Michael Finley.
9. Jerry Sloan
Although he never won a title, he got really close and unfortunately couldn’t beat Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. That’s something that there is no shame in. For 23 years Jerry Sloan was the architect of the Utah Jazz and helped make them a consistent winner for over two decades, missing the playoffs only three times.
When Sloan took over the Jazz in the early part of the 1988-89 season, they were a good team that had been to the playoffs five straight years with a young duo featuring a maestro point guard John Stockton and a jacked-up scoring machine named Karl Malone. Despite their successes, they had failed to get past the second round of the playoffs and had never won more than 50 games in the regular season.
In Sloan’s first full season in charge, they won more than 50 games but were once again eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. The next year, they were able to beat the Phoenix Suns, in the first round, but then were ousted in the second round. The year after that they reached the conference finals but lost in six games to the Portland Trail Blazers.
In the years following the 1991-92 season where Utah was beaten in the conference finals, they were finally able to get over the hump five years later, beating the Houston Rockets in six games en route to the Finals to take on the vaunted Chicago Bulls. Although they could not take down the Bulls who beat them back-to-back years in the Finals in 1997 and 1998.
Despite his failures in the Finals, he helped make Stockton and Malone one of the most dominant duo’s in NBA history and was able to still have success for most of the 2000s with players like Deron Williams, Andrei Kirilenko, Carlos Boozer, and Al Jefferson. Sloan also has the fourth most wins of all time with 1,221.
8. Erik Spoelstra
Since he took over for Riley in 2008, Erik Spoelstra has turned into one of the best coaches not just currently in the NBA, but in NBA history.
He has managed to miss the playoffs only three times during his 14 seasons on the job. He’s made it to the Finals five times and won two, which were back-to-back titles with the big three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh.
He was the coach when James was finally able to win his first title, in his illustrious NBA career. During his time in Miami, he has helped keep a culture that is one of the strongest in the NBA. A culture that is predicated on team basketball, toughness, and defense.
With the big three now gone, Spoelstra has been able to build around a new core with players like Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, and Tyler Herro.
At only 51 years old, it doesn’t look like he’s leaving anytime soon. Who knows how many more wins he will get, or possible titles he may win? Spoelstra’s ability to get the best out of his players, and overachieve with some teams that lacked superstars, is something that he deserves a ton of credit for.
7. Red Holzman
This man won two titles with the New York Knicks, a franchise that hasn’t won a title in nearly 50 years.
Red Holzman’s Knicks were an incredible collection of great players that played team basketball at its best. The 1972-73 Knicks had six Hall of Fame players (Walt Frazier, Earl Monroe, Bill Bradley, Willis Reed, Jerry Lucas, and Dave DeBusschere), and five on the top 75 list (Bradley was not on the list). Holzman had a 2-1 record in the Finals, all three series came against the Los Angeles Lakers.
The season they lost to the Lakers was 1971-72, where the Lakers went 69-13, and had a 33-game winning streak, a team that is regarded as one of the best of all time. The Knicks were no match and lost 4-1. The next year, Holzman and the Knicks were determined to get revenge, and they did, beating the Lakers 4-1 in the 1973 NBA Finals.
The Knicks played a team game, and Holzman won over 600 games as coach of the Knicks. He is a legend, who was able to fend off incredible teams. Since his retirement, the Knicks have for the most part struggled to replicate the kind of success that Holzman was able to achieve.
6. Chuck Daly
When the NBA was flying high in the 1980s with the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics trading off NBA titles, one team snuck in towards the end of the decade but left a massive impact on the NBA.
That team was the ‘Bad Boys’ Detroit Pistons, a name that was more than well-earned. The man who led them into battle was Chuck Daly, who was always dressed for success.
But his teams were rough and tumble, to say the least, players like Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars, Rick Mahorn, Dennis Rodman, and Bill Laimbeer, were the key cogs on those ‘Bad Boys’ teams.
They were the kind of a team that would try to beat you by knocking the crap out of you when you were in the air. Which is exactly what they did to Michael Jordan and the Bulls, and it took the Bulls a few years before they could beat Detroit.
But Daly was the mastermind behind it all, he knew how to handle big personalities and egos better than almost anybody, which is why he was selected to coach the Dream Team in 1992.
After losing to the Lakers in the Finals in 1988, they were able to sweep the Lakers a year later, and then went on to beat the Portland Trail Blazers and win back-to-back titles.