Who’s a good coach and who’s a bad coach? We are all armchair quarterbacks when it comes to this nebulous determination of grading the leaders of men without ever having witnessed a locker room speech or having sat in a team meeting discussing the x’s and o’s on a whiteboard.
Let’s face it, if a team is good, the coach is good. He has to be, right? If that is the criteria then we must assume Tyronn Lue is headed for the Hall of Fame for his masterful job coaching the Cleveland Cavaliers to three NBA Finals appearances, winning one in 2016 but falling to the Warriors in 2017 and 2018.
Oh, and one little piece of information missing was that those three Eastern Conference titles including one world championship came with LeBron James in a Cavaliers’ uniform. But after the 2017-2018 season, the King bolted for Los Angeles leaving Lue all by his lonesome in Cleveland where ownership fired him shortly after he went 0-6 to begin the following season. Perhaps Lue just lost the knack for getting his team focused after Lebron left for La-La Land?
But this is not peculiar to basketball. If we may stay on topic but switch sports, isn’t it startling that the greatest coach in NFL history, Bill Belichick, would coincidentally have his first losing season in 20 years after his future Hall-of-Fame quarterback, Tom Brady, left New England for the sun-splashed environs of Tampa, Florida? There, Tom Terrific took a team that hadn’t sniffed the playoffs in a dozen years, all the way to the Super Bowl. Must we assume Belichick just coincidentally lost his mojo?
Let’s face it, you can be the greatest jockey the world has ever known but unless you have a fast horse nobody will ever understand how good you truly are. And let’s face it, the oddsmakers that set the NBA lines don’t create them based on the coach but rather the talent on the court. So, with that as a precursor, let’s do our best to determine who the best coaches roaming the sidelines are today.
- Rick Carlisle, Dallas Mavericks – Coaches normally don’t have a long shelf life as the honeymoon period gets shorter and shorter while winning is expected sooner than later, despite what is often a lack of talent on the roster. However, Carlisle has been the man in charge of the Dallas Mavericks for over a dozen years and seamlessly led the transition from one future Hall-of-Famer in Dirk Nowitzki to another budding superstar in Luka Doncic. Carlisle has guided the Mavs to one NBA title (2011) and has four 50 or more-win campaigns.
- Brad Stevens, Celtics – The Celtics’ brass watched carefully as unheralded Butler University made back-to-back college basketball championship appearances. Within a few years, the Green would come knocking for their coach and it was a decision they haven’t regretted with Stevens taking Boston to six consecutive playoff appearances with an average of over 49 wins per season.
- Steve Kerr, Golden State Warriors – The teams that Kerr led to the NBA Finals may have been the greatest collection of talent ever assembled. Over the course of five years, the Warriors were Western Conference champions each and every season while winning three NBA titles over that span. Of course, the case could be made that anyone could coach a team of All-Stars but Kerr made it look easy, winning a stunning 70 percent of his games during that time in both the regular and postseason.
- Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs – The Spurs were playoff entrants for 22 consecutive years under Popovich’s mentorship but the run abruptly ended last season. Nevertheless, longevity means something and so does winning. Popovich merits a Top 5 on anyone’s list because of it, and it wouldn’t surprise us to see the Spurs back in the postseason sooner than later as long as Pop is behind the bench.
- Erik Spoelstra, Miami Heat – The 50-year-old Illinois native has been the man with the plan in South Beach for a dozen years and has a pair of NBA titles to show for it and five Finals appearances. Last year was the Heat’s latest appearance in the championship series where they ultimately bowed to the King and his Lakers. However, nobody got more out of their charges than Spoelstra did last season. Miami was considered merely a stepping stone on the road to the Finals but wound up shocking the world before they melted under the withering heat of LeBron James and Anthony Davis.