Best NBA Coaches Of All Time: The Greatest Head Coaches According To The League

Top NBA Coaches Of All Time: The Greatest Head Coaches According To The League

When it comes to the best NBA coaches, there are a lot of different opinions out there. Some people believe that the best coaches are the ones who have the most wins, while others believe that the best coaches are the ones who are able to develop their players and help them reach their full potential.

Best Coaches In NBA History

John Kundla

John Kundla

Kundla was the coach of the Minneapolis Lakers for 11 seasons. He had a total record of 423-302. Most importantly, he was the coach of the first dynasty in the NBA, as he led the Lakers to five championships in six years. He was also one of the youngest coaches ever when he took over the Lakers at age 31. He coached six Hall of Famers and was elected to the Hall of Fame as a coach.

Tyronn Lue: 205-139 (.596)

Tyronn Lue: 205-139 (.596)

1X NBA Champion

1X All-Star Game Coach

Tyronn Lue has only been a head coach for six-and-a-half years, but he’s notched three Eastern Conference titles and one NBA championship during that short time as head honcho. Lue’s coaching style was influenced most by his mentor Doc Rivers, but he’s also taken facets of Gregg Popovich and Phil Jackson’s ethos.

Lue has had the luxury of coaching some of the best NBA players in the league, like LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard, and Paul George, but he never let his superstars run the show or slide by in practices. He’s consistently treated all his players the same, reaching an even level of accountability, and that’s what ultimately landed Lue on our list despite coaching under 400 total games.

Tyronn Lue’s players, from top to bottom, have consistently professed their respect for him, and it’s easy to envision the former Cavs head coach finishing his career with several chips in his pocket.

Rick Adelman: 1,042-749 (.582)

Rick Adelman: 1,042-749 (.582)

3X All-Star Game Head Coach

Rick Adelman made it to the championship round twice in his early career with the Portland Trail Blazers, losing to the Pistons and Bulls.

He’s probably best remembered for his time in Sacramento coaching Chris Webber and Mike Bibby at the turn of the century and producing some of the most memorable playoff series in the NBA’s history against the Lakers and Timberwolves. He lost against both squads in a hard-fought seventh game, but he was inches away from making the championship round both times.

Rick Adelman’s players universally loved him because he gave them the freedom to be themselves. While other coaches boxed their athletes into specific pre-prescribed roles, he allowed them to break free.

Sacramento forward Chris Webber wasn’t constricted to post up plays by the basket; he played across all levels of the court. Similarly, Brad Miller often worked as a facilitator instead of a back-to-the-basket pounder at the King’s center.

Adelman was never named Coach of the Year, and he never won a title. Still, he topped 1,000 career wins and was an expert in bringing out the most from his rosters.

Mike Budenholzer: 411-286 (.590)

Mike Budenholzer: 411-286 (.590)

1X NBA Champion

2X NBA Coach of the Year

2X All-Star Game Head Coach

Mike Budenholzer comes from the Gregg Popovich basketball school, attending class in San Antonio as an assistant coach for 16 years. It’s safe to say Budenholzer learned his lessons well.

Mike Budenholzer stormed into Atlanta, helping morph the hapless Hawks into title contenders. In the process, he led the charge for one of the great one-season swings in the league’s history, taking Atlanta from a 38-44 record during his first year as head coach to a 60-22 regular season, winning his first NBA Coach of the Year Award along the way.

Budenholzer moved onto the Milwaukee Bucks in 2018, winning his second Coach of the Year Award and the NBA title last year. Budenholzer has the Bucks in prime position again this season to take home their second consecutive championship. If he manages to secure another banner, we’ll have to move him up our list of best coaches.

Rick Carlisle: 856-729 (.540)

Rick Carlisle: 856-729 (.540)

  • 1X NBA Champion
  • 1X Coach of the Year

Rick Carlisle has been an NBA head coach for 20 years, and during that span, he’s steered his teams into the postseason 14 times. Carlisle is a no-nonsense coach who always seems to find the most out of his squads.

Carlisle won one title in Dallas during the Mavs’ magical playoff run in 2010-11, beating LeBron James and the Miami Heat in the finals. He’s also claimed one Coach of the Year award for his work on the 2002 Detroit Pistons.

With Rick Carlisle at the helm of your favorite squad, you’re guaranteed to see a well-coached group of players who work together to secure wins and always play tough, disciplined defense.

George Karl: 1,175-824 (.588)

George Karl: 1,175-824 (.588)

1X NBA Coach of the Year

4X All-Star Game Head Coach

George Karl has coached six different NBA teams and two CBA squads, and he even did a stint in Spain. Karl never won a title on his journeys across America and Europe, but he racked up eight division titles and three 60-win seasons.

George Karl is best known for his ability to alter his coaching styles. While he led the Seattle Supersonics during the mid-90s, he pushed All-Stars Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp into running a pick and roll-oriented offense.

Later, when he took over in Denver, he empowered a young Carmelo Anthony to work out of isolation sets beyond the key, drawing in double teams and then swinging the ball around the perimeter for an open look.

George Karl suited up for only 264 games during his playing career, but he spent nearly the rest of his life coaching hundreds of professional basketball players and teaching them the ins and outs of the game he loved.

Tom Heinsohn: 427-263 (.619)

Tom Heinsohn: 427-263 (.619)

2X NBA Champion

4X All-Star Game Head Coach

Tom Heinsohn was a fiery shot-making guard as a player, and he brought that same edge to his coach’s seat. Heinsohn became famous as the captain of the Boston Celtics, pushing his players into playing pressure defense and constantly hounding the opposing team for the entire court length.

It took Heinsohn a few years to get his players to create the type of passionate, hounding D he envisioned when he took over, but after only his fourth season, he helped the Celtics won the title in 1974 and then again in 1976, giving opposing point guards fits.

Tom Heinsohn’s coaching career was a short eight years, but during that span, he helped create the type of aggressive, switching D many teams use today.

Dick Motta: 935-1,017 (.479)

Dick Motta: 935-1,017 (.479)

1X NBA Champion

1X NBA Coach of the Year

1X All-Star Game Head Coach

Dick Motta is the only coach on our list with a losing record for his career. He took over some unenviable coaching positions throughout his time in the NBA, but he made the playoffs 14 times with three different teams and won one of the most surprising titles ever.

He coached the underdog Wizards, who finished the 1977-1978 regular season 44-38 before shocking the world, stomping through the playoffs, and eventually winning the championship against the Seattle Supersonics behind Wes Unseld who dominated the postseason.

Billy Cunningham: 454-196 (.698)

Billy Cunningham: 454-196 (.698)

1X NBA Champion

4X All-Star Game Head Coach

Billy Cunningham was one of the fiercest competitors as a player. He brought that same intensity to coaching, helping the 76ers reach the NBA finals three times, winning the championship in 1982-83.

Cunningham stopped coaching after only eight seasons, choosing the less stressful joys of the broadcasting booth. Still, while running things in Philadelphia, he compiled the second-highest winning percentage ever, at an astronomical .698.

There’s no doubt that Cunningham’s attention to detail and fiery attitude would have led to many more playoff appearances and championship opportunities if he’d walked farther down the coaching highway.

Bill Russell: 341-290 (.540)

Bill Russell: 341-290 (.540)

2X NBA Champion

Bill Russell won two titles as the Celtics player/coach. Yes, you read that correctly. Bill Russell acted as Boston’s best player, playing incredible two-way basketball nightly. He was also their head coach, responsible for game management, running practice sessions, scouting, and all the other head coaching responsibilities with no assistants, you know, to assist him.

Bill Russell also holds the honor of the first Black coach in American professional sports, paving the way for coaches of all different races and nationalities to stalk the sidelines.

Bill Russell only won 341 total games as a head coach, with a .540 winning percentage, but that doesn’t matter. He broke barriers and won two titles, doing much of his damage while still playing at an incredibly high level.

Rudy Tomjanovich: 527- 416 (.559)

Rudy Tomjanovich: 527- 416 (.559)

2X NBA Champion

1X All-Star Game Head Coach

Rudy Tomjanovich was a five-time All-Star player for the Rockets, and he brought his two-way mentality to the same Houston team as a coach. Rudy doesn’t have the same type of extended career that Jerry Sloan or Don Nelson, but he gets ultimate bragging rights with the back-to-back titles he won in the early 90s.

The Houston Rockets’ second title run was like a made-for-TV cheesy sports film, dripping with the type of comebacks and sports magic Americans love. The Rockets fell behind in the first round to the Jazz before coming back, then they trailed the Suns 1-3 in the semis, eventually winning three in a row to make it to the next round. You guessed it in the Western Conference Finals; they trailed the Spurs before winning and advancing to the Finals, sweeping the Orlando Magic.

The Houston Rockets’ incredible second title run was inspiring, and it gave way to one of the greatest sports quotes ever from Tomjanovich, “Never underestimate the heart of a champion.”

Don Nelson: 1,335- 1,063 (.557)

Don Nelson: 1,335- 1,063 (.557)

3X NBA Coach of the Year

1X All-Star Game Head Coach

Don Nelson never won a championship, but he has the most regular season wins in the NBA’s history (Gregg Popovich is only a handful of games behind him and is expected to surpass Nelson this season).

Don Nelson was one of the most creative coaches to grace the sidelines. Long before small-ball became commonplace, Nelson introduced the idea of “Nellie Ball” to the basketball world. Nelson often ran out three-guard lineups, trying to run the opposition off the court, and his teams were known to spend entire halves driving and kicking instead of dumping the ball into the post for their hulking center, an idea that was deemed crazy at the time.

Today’s modern offenses feature two-way wings, shooters who spread the floor, and a center standing behind the arc, much of which can be directly attributed to Don Nelson. “Nellie Ball” never made it to the NBA finals, but it left a lasting impression on the league.

Jack Ramsay: 864-783 (.525)

Jack Ramsay: 864-783 (.525)

1X NBA Champion

Jack Ramsay coached the 76ers, Braves, Trail Blazers, and Pacers during his 20-year head coaching career, winning a title in 1977 in Portland.

He is credited with changing the game of basketball in two ways.

He was one of the first coaches in the NBA to empower his starting center, Bill Walton, to become a playmaker, pushing Big Red to pass out of the post and setting up his teammates for easy looks. Before Ramsay unleashed Walton in Portland, centers were only used to score baskets, rarely swinging the ball once they got their paws on it, which seems crazy, but is true. There’s a reason Wilt Chamberlain dropped 50.4 points for an entire season.

Jack Ramsay was also one of the first coaches to take conditioning seriously. Ramsay was a Navy man who learned the value of being in great shape while he served the U.S. He pushed his squad hard during practice, helping them build up their wind, so they could run over opposing teams during real contests.

Red Holzman was a steady presence in New York. From 1968 to 1982, he coached the Knicks for 14 straight seasons. Holzman won two titles and a Coach of the Year Award in New York City between 1970 and 1973.

After Holzman, no other coach in NYC won a championship, and it wasn’t because the team wasn’t good enough. The city of New York is like a pressure cooker. No city in America gives a coach as much attention from the media and ridicule from fans as The Big Apple. People break into this city.

The great Pat Riley almost got to the top of the mountain, but even he couldn’t get a chip for the Knicks, which is why Holzman is so special. He didn’t flinch when his team, the Knicks, had to deal with the stress of being in the biggest media market in the world. He always had a laid-back attitude and treated the officials, the media, and his players respectfully. His players liked how calm he was, which helped them win two championships.

Jerry Sloan: 1,221-803 (.603)

Jerry Sloan: 1,221-803 (.603)

Did Jerry Sloan have nightmares every week about Michael Jordan yapping and beating his Utah Jazz teams in the finals after he retired?

Gregg Popovich was Jerry Sloan before Gregg Popovich started winning in San Antonio. He coached almost all of his career in Utah. From 1989 to 2003, he led the Jazz to the playoffs 15 times a row. Like “Pop,” Sloan was happy to coach in a small market. He wasn’t interested in the excitement that L.A. or NYC could offer.

Jerry Sloan never won a championship, but in a league where best NBA head coaches get fired like deer bones from a troll’s mouth, he stayed with one team for over 30 years and helped them win many games by being good at defense, knowing how to use the pick-and-roll. If Sloan hadn’t played against Jordan, the best player to ever put on a uniform, it’s safe to say he would have won at least one banner for Utah.

Steve Kerr: 418-187 (.691)

Steve Kerr: 418-187 (.691)

Three NBA titles.

1x Coach of the Year in the NBA

2x Coach of the All-Star Game

Yes, our top four coaches have at least twice as many regular-season wins as Steve Kerr, and that’s important. But Kerr hits hard where it matters. He is fifth all-time in the number of championships he won with three chips in his hand, and his winning percentage of.694 is third best. To give you an idea of how good Steve Kerr’s overall record is, the Miami Heat are first in the Eastern Conference and have a winning percentage of.636, nearly 100 points lower than Kerr’s.

Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, and Draymond Green are some of the best players of our time, and Steve Kerr has been their coach. Still, he led the Warriors to five straight finals, which is nearly impossible considering how hard it is on the body and mind.

Kerr is a genius because he can keep things fun and upbeat even when his players are fighting in some of the hardest, most stressful situations a person can go through. Without Steve Kerr’s ability to make his players enjoy just playing basketball and tell them to enjoy the moment instead of breaking down, the Warriors would have never won three titles, no matter how good they were overall.

Pat Riley: 1,210 to 694 (.636)

Pat Riley: 1,210 to 694 (.636)

5 NBA Titles

Three times, he was named NBA Coach of the Year.

Head Coach of 9 All-Star Games

In the 1980s, Pat Riley led the Lakers to four championships. Twenty years later, he won another championship with the Heat. In the middle, he led the New York Knicks to the finals in 1993-1994, but they lost to the Houston Rockets in a tough series.

Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Patrick Ewing, Shaquille O’Neal, and Dwyane Wade are some of the best players we’ve ever seen. Pat Riley had the chance to coach them.

Still, no coach has changed the way they play the game as much as Riley did. He let Johnson take charge of the Showtime Lakers and let them run wild and fast. Then, when Riley moved to New York in the early 1990s, he played a slow-paced style of basketball called “grinding it out,” and he used Ewing as his main offensive player.

Last, in Miami, Pat Riley played a style of basketball that focused on the half-court. This let Shaq and Wade pick apart teams for the whole 24 seconds.

Throughout the history of the NBA, coaches like Mike D’Antoni had failed because they stuck to one system even when it didn’t work for their team. Pat Riley is praised all over the NBA for his ability to change.

Gregg Popovich is 1332-689 (.659)

Gregg Popovich is 1332-689 (.659)

5 NBA Titles

Three times, he was named NBA Coach of the Year.

4x Coach of the All-Star Game

Gregg Popovich’s interviews from the sidelines are well-known. As a kid, I loved seeing him make fun of the poor in-game reporter who got the short end of the stick. When they got close to “Pop,” their knees would shake, and their eyes would fill with fear. Half the time, it was more entertaining to watch Popovich prank some ducking analyst who was just trying to do his job.

Pop might not like being asked silly questions during the game, but he is a good coach. The numbers he gives are shocking. He led the Spurs to the playoffs for 22 years in a row. They won five championships, and now all coaches worldwide try to reach his level of consistent success.

Popovich’s success has nothing to do with wins and losses. Some people think he has had more influence on today’s game than anyone else alive. Eleven of “Pop” Popovich’s former assistants have coached their teams. They brought Popovich’s coaching style and playbook with them, so their former boss’s style and Xs and Os are now part of every team they coach.

Red Auerbach: 938-479 (.662)

Red Auerbach: 938-479 (.662)

9 NBA Titles

1x Coach of the Year in the NBA

Head Coach for the 11th All-Star Game

Red Auerbach is best known for winning eight championships in a row in Boston, where he stomped up and down the sidelines while smoking a cigar and wearing a great hat. People don’t know that he was one of the best at getting people to work hard in sports.

Auerbach got his Boston teams, which had some of the best players in the NBA at the time, to play team basketball instead of worrying about their stats.

Bill Russell was in charge of his game and made whatever it took to win, while Wilt Chamberlain was becoming one of the most famous athletes in America because of how many points and rebounds he got. Russell has said that Red Auerbach’s way of coaching helped him put the team first.

Oh, and most of it was done by Red Auerbach by himself. Today’s NBA teams have dozens of coaches, trainers, nutritionists, and massage therapists coming and going from the practice facility, but the NBA’s second-winningest head coach had no head coaches to help him during his entire time in Boston, let alone trainers and the rest of what we see in the league today.

Zero assistant coaches to the head coach!!!!

Phil Jackson: 1155-485 (.704)

Phil Jackson: 1155-485 (.704)

11 NBA Titles

1x Coach of the Year in the NBA

Coach of the NBA All-Star Game four times

Phil Jackson has won 11 NBA titles, more than any other coach in the league’s history. Jackson has won three straight titles. He won three titles in a row with the Chicago Bulls from 1991 to 1993, and then he did it again in Chicago from 1996 to 1998, winning three more titles. He then took his coaching skills to Hollywood, winning three more titles with the Lakers from 2000 to 2002, giving him a clean triple-triple in three-peats. In 2009 and 2010, he won two more titles in a row in Los Angeles. This was the last championship he won.

Phil Jackson isn’t just a coach who makes it to the playoffs. He has the best regular season winning percentage of all time at.704 and has won a huge 1,155 games. In 1995-96, when the Chicago Bulls finished with a 72-10 record, it was the second-best regular season ever.

Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Kobe Bryant, and Shaquille O’Neal were some of the best players in the NBA. Jackson was a master of psychology and was able to control them.

As a head coach, he set fires weekly and helped Dennis Rodman and Metta World Peace play their best basketball. He also held out dozens of olive branches for Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal to grab before they killed each other.

Best Coaches In The NBA Entering The 2021-22 Season

Tom Thibodeau

Best Coaches In The NBA Entering The 2021-22 Season

Highest rank: 8

Lowest rank: 14

Last season, the Knicks suddenly became important again. They made the playoffs for the first time in seven years and finished with the fourth-best record in the Eastern Conference. Tom Thibodeau deserves a lot of credit for this.

This taught the Knicks to put defense first, and they brought the physical, hard-hat style back to MSG. They had the fourth-best defense in the league, and Julius Randle became an All-Star because of it.

Everyone on the team agreed with what Thibodeau was trying to do, and it worked immediately. The Knicks are here to stay now that they have a better team for the 2021-22 season.

Frank Vogel, Los Angeles Lakers

Frank Vogel, Los Angeles Lakers

Highest rank: 6

Lowest rank: 13

Last season, the Lakers lost in the first round, but injuries were a bigger reason for that than anything the coaches did. Let’s not forget that Vogel just led the Lakers to the NBA title last year.

Now that LeBron James and Anthony Davis have set the groundwork, Vogel has a veteran team to work with. Most players are new, so it will be interesting to see how they all fit together in 2021-22. Can he get them to buy into the defensive identity that helped them win a ring in 2020?

Quin Snyder, Utah Jazz

Quin Snyder, Utah Jazz

Highest rank: 5

Lowest rank: 12

The Jazz lost in the second round of the playoffs last year, but they were by far and away the best team during the regular season. They finished with a 52-20 record, the best in the league.

Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell helped the Jazz win games and did well on both sides of the court. They had the third-best defense and the fourth-best offense.

The Jazz has improved every year since Snyder has been in charge and has shown that he can win games during the regular season. In 2021-22, Snyder will try to turn that into success in the playoffs.

Ty Lue, LA Clippers

Ty Lue, LA Clippers

Highest rank: 4

Lowest rank: 11

Even though the Clippers haven’t won an NBA championship with superstars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George yet, Ty Lue deserves a lot of credit for getting them to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history.

Last season, Leonard was hurt a lot, which could have made things different for Lue. This season, though, the Western Conference is wide open, so I expect the Clippers to be in the mix again at the end of the season.

Nick Nurse, Toronto Raptors

Nick Nurse, Toronto Raptors

Highest rank: 2

Lowest rank: 6

Nick Nurse has done a good job in Toronto with all of his creative Xs and Os, in-game management, and box-and-ones. He has gotten players like Fred VanVleet and OG Anunoby to play better than they are, and he has let younger players like Chris Boucher do their own thing.

I’m excited to see what Nurse does with talented forward Scottie Barnes in his first season as the Raptors try to get out of the lottery and back into the playoffs.

Erick Spoelstra, Miami Heat

Erick Spoelstra, Miami Heat

Highest rank: 1

Lowest rank: 2

There were only two second-place votes for the Miami Heat coach in our NBA coach rankings, so it’s easy to see why he got 46 percent of the votes for the best head coach in the G.M. survey from last season.

Spoelstra is very consistent and already has one of the best coaching records in the league. After leading the Heat to the NBA Finals in 2020, they look like the best team to beat the Milwaukee Bucks and Brooklyn Nets at the top of the East this season.

Spoelstra’s teams have done better than expected in recent years, but the current roster has the most talented players he’s had since the days of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh. Even though there are a lot of new pieces to put together, Spoelstra has a history of making things work in his system.

Monty Williams, Phoenix Suns

Monty Williams, Phoenix Suns

Highest rank: 2

Lowest rank: 14

Monty Williams took the Suns from 19 wins to the NBA Finals in just two seasons, which is a big deal considering how bad things were for the team.

With the addition of Chris Paul and the continued growth of Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, and Deandre Ayton, the Suns are now real contenders for the NBA championship, and they may even be way ahead schedule.

Now that they’ve played on a big stage, the young Sun players are more confident because Williams put his faith in them during the playoffs. Even though Paul will be a year older, I think Phoenix will show that last season wasn’t just a fluke.

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FAQs

Who is the best NBA 2022 coach?

Monty Williams is named NBA Coach of the Year for 2022 because he led the Suns to the best record in the league. Monty Williams discovered on Monday that he was the 2021-22 Coach of the Year. Devin Booker, a guard for the Phoenix Suns, told everyone on social media.

Who is the best coach in NBA history?

Phil Jackson has won 11 NBA titles; he is one of NBA greatest coaches, which is more than any other coach in the league’s history. Jackson has won three straight titles.

Top Coaches In NBA History

Who is the NBA’s best coach for defense?

Spoelstra has shown he is among the best defensive coaches in the NBA. His teams should be in the running for the NBA title every year for the next five or six years.

Conclusion

The top NBA coaches are the ones who can make their teams play at their best and win consistently. They also have to be able to motivate their players and get them to buy into their system. There are many great coaches in the NBA, but the ones who stand out the most are the ones who have been able to build successful teams.

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