Jerseys To Dress Suits: 15 NBA Coaches You May Not Realize Played The Game

There seem to be two distinct types of coaches in the NBA, those who played in the NBA and those who did not. Usually the ones who did not, at least played basketball through college, but lacking in the talent to make it in the NBA, they proceeded to move right into coaching. Of the players who do go into coaching, both stars and scrubs have had success. It is often hard to remember which coaches did play though. Some have been coaching for so long that you forgot they had good careers as players. Some had such forgettable careers that you never knew they actually played. Others disappeared for a while between playing and coaching and you forgot totally forgot about them. Read on to find out about 15 current, future, and former NBA coaches who were also NBA players at one point.


15 Scott Brooks: Washington Wizards

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Don’t deny it, the first time you ever heard of Scott Brooks was when the Oklahoma City Thunder went to the Finals in 2012. The young bespectacled coach looked like a non-athletic coach type who had worked his way up as a graduate assistant from the college ranks or something. But believe it or not Scott Brooks was actually a player, who actually made it to the NBA. Sure he was not drafted, and yes he spent time in the CBA and ABA, but Brooks also somehow managed to carve out a ten year career in the NBA. He only averaged just under five points and 2.5 assists per game, and he did get bounced around the league playing for the Timberwolves, Mavericks, Clippers, Knicks, Cavaliers, and the 76ers who he broke into the league with, but he does have a ring from when he played for the 1994 Houston Rockets championship team. It was after he was released by the Clippers in 1999 that he embarked on his coaching career in the ABA and soon was an assistant with the SuperSonics which of course led to his taking over as head coach in 2008.

14 Earl Watson: Phoenix Suns

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Sometimes there is a coach you never knew played in the NBA, who you also did not even realize was a coach in the NBA. That guy is Earl Watson, the second youngest coach in the league behind Luke Walton. Watson took over at the end of last season when the Suns fired Jeff Hornacek. He was well liked enough that the Suns made him their permanent head coach when the season ended. Watson had been a four year starter at UCLA being named to the Pac-10 All-Freshman team in 1998 and first team All-Pac-10 in 2001. He was drafted by the Seattle Supersonics in the 2001 NBA Draft with the 39th overall pick. He stuck around in the NBA for 13 seasons playing for six different teams. He finished his career averaging 6.4 points and 4.4 assists in 2014 and the next thing you know he was head coach of the Suns in 2016.

13 Tyronn Lue: Cleveland Cavaliers

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One guy who people might not know is a former player and also might not know is a current NBA coach is Tyronn Lue. Despite his inexperience as a head coach, Lue’s Cavaliers won the NBA Championship is his very first year. As a player, Lue was taken by the Denver Nuggets with the 23rd overall pick out of Nebraska in the 1998 NBA Draft and traded to the Lakers. He was a small part of two NBA Championships with the Lakers in his first three years before he moved on, eventually playing with six other teams over 11 total seasons in the NBA. He averaged 8.5 points and over four assists per game during his career. After some time on the Clippers coaching staff Lue became an assistant with Cleveland and took over the head coaching job when David Blatt was fired in 2016.

12 Billy Donovan: Oklahoma City Thunder

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Known best for coaching the Florida Gators to back to back NCAA Championships in 2006 and 2007 with future NBA stars Joakim Noah, Al Horford, and Corey Brewer, Billy Donovan did also break into the NBA at one point. He played his college hoops for Rick Pitino with the great mid-80s Providence Friars, leading them to the Final Four in 1987. Donovan was drafted by the Utah Jazz with the 68th overall pick in the third round of the 1987 NBA Draft. He was waived by the Jazz and played in the CBA for a while before Pitino returned to the NBA to coach the Knicks and signed Donovan. He played for one year averaging 2.4 points and two assists per game during his lone season in the NBA. Once he realized he was not going to stick around in the pros, and after testing life as a civilian, Donovan got a job with Pitino with Kentucky which launched his coaching career.

11 Luke Walton: Los Angeles Lakers

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Known best as the son of Hall of Famer Bill Walton, the newest coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, Luke Walton also managed to have a nice little NBA career himself. Walton played for the University of Arizona under legendary coach Lute Olsen for four seasons earning first team All-Pac-10 in 2002 and 2003. Walton was drafted with the 32nd overall pick in the 2003 NBA Draft and remained there for nine of his ten seasons in the league. He only averaged double figures in points once, during the 2006-07 season when he put up 11.4 per game. He only averaged over five points per game one other time but he still managed to be a part of the Lakers back to back championships in 2009 and 2010. He started his NBA coaching career with the Golden State Warriors as an assistant and also took over head coaching duties at the beginning of the 2015 season while Steve Kerr was out. He started the season with 24 straight wins by the time Kerr returned had led the Warriors to a 39-4 record. His success led to the Lakers hiring him as their head coach in 2016.

10 Jeff Hornacek: New York Knicks

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One of the better NBA players who found his way into coaching in the league is Jeff Hornacek who is currently the head coach for the New York Knicks. After being drafted with the 46th overall pick by the Phoenix Suns in the 1986 NBA Draft, Hornacek went on to play 14 years in the league. He spent six seasons in Phoenix before heading to the 76ers for a year before joining the Utah Jazz where he was a key part of the Stockton and Malone teams that went to two NBA Finals in the late 90s. Hornacek averaged over 14 points and almost five assists per game in his career, making the All-Star team in 1992. He worked as an assistant for a few years before being named the head coach of the Phoenix Suns in 2013. He spent three years in Phoenix before being fired and then hired by the Knicks.

9 Steve Kerr: Golden State Warriors

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Over 15 seasons, with six different teams, Steve Kerr managed to win five NBA Championships and has the highest all time three point shooting percentage in the league. Barely recruited out of high school, Kerr played for the Arizona Wildcats and helped them reach the Final Four in 1988. He was drafted with the 50th overall pick in the 1988 NBA Draft by the Phoenix Suns. He played there for a year then Cleveland and Orlando before signing with the Chicago Bulls in 1993. He was part of the second Bulls three-peat and earned his very own four-peat when he was traded to the Spurs who won the NBA Championship in the following year. He added another title with the Spurs after a year with the Trailblazers. Kerr’s first head coaching job was his current gig with the Golden State Warriors who hired him in 2014 and won the NBA Championship in his first year.


8 Rick Carlisle: Dallas Mavericks

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One of the more underrated great coaches in the NBA is Rick Carlisle. After a five year NBA career, he spent over a decade as an assistant under Chuck Daly, Larry Bird, PJ Carlesimo, and Bill Fitch before he finally scored his first head coaching gig with the Detroit Pistons. He did not have a losing season until his sixth year and has not had another one since. His teams have only missed the playoffs twice and he of course won the NBA Championship with the Mavericks in 2011. As a player he was definitely not underrated as he was not really that good. Despite averaging less than three points per game during his career he still was a part of three Celtics teams that went to the NBA Finals, winning one title with them in 1986.

7 Jerry Stackhouse: Raptors 905 (D-League)


The goal of the NBA Development League is of course to develop young inexperienced kids into solid players who can become contributors in the NBA. So far it has had varying degrees of success. Another element of the D-League that is finding success however is in developing young coaches. Just in the past few years five D-League coaches have become head coaches in the NBA. There are of course former NBA players you would not expect to be there either. One guy who you probably did know played in the NBA, but you did not know is a coaching prospect is former Tar Heel great Jerry Stackhouse. Stackhouse played 18 seasons in the NBA and was a two time All-Star. Now however, he is the head coach for the Toronto Raptors D-League team, Raptors 905. With any luck, he will join the ranks of former player who are NBA head coaches before long.

6 Fred Hoiberg: Chicago Bulls

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Known as “The Mayor” in Ames, Iowa where he established himself as a legend for the Cyclones over four seasons as a player, finishing in the top ten in almost every statistical category, Fred Hoiberg returned to the school as a coach 15 years later. After his college playing career he was selected by the Indiana Pacers with the 52nd overall pick in the 1995 NBA Draft. He spent ten years in the league with the Pacers, Bulls, and Timberwolves. He averaged 5.4 points per game as a three point specialist. Once his playing career ended, Hoiberg worked for the Timberwolves for a few years before heading back to Iowa State. Over five years coaching the Cyclones he lead them to the NCAA tournament four times, including one trip to the Sweet Sixteen. Based on his success, the Chicago Bulls hired him in 2015.

5 Jason Kidd: Milwaukee Bucks

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One current coach you probably did know was an NBA player is Jason Kidd of the Bucks. Although you may not have realized he was no longer an NBA player if you have not been paying attention. Kidd played 19 seasons in the NBA and was one of the best point guards ever. He was the second overall pick of the Dallas Mavericks in the 1994 NBA Draft. He was an All-Star ten times, he is second all time in assists and steals in the NBA, he has recorded 107 regular season triple-doubles, and he won an NBA championship with the Dallas Mavericks. He retired in 2013 and less than two weeks later he was named head coach of the Brooklyn Nets. He spent one season in Brooklyn leading the Nets to the conference semifinals before becoming coach of the Milwaukee Bucks in 2014 where he remains as they close in on a playoff spot in 2017.

4 Phil Jackson: New York Knicks (Front Office)

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One of the best coaches ever, who is not officially coaching again yet, but is certainly an important part of deciding how the New York Knicks will be coached going forward, is Phil Jackson. With his 11 NBA championships with the Bulls and the Lakers, it is easy to forget he has two more rings as a player with the New York Knicks. Long before coming in and helping Michael Jordan ascend to GOAT status with two NBA championship three-peats, Jackson was drafted out of the University of North Dakota with the 17th overall pick in the 1967 NBA Draft by the New York Knicks. He stuck around for 12 seasons in the NBA as a key backup on the great Knicks teams of the 1970s. He spent his last two seasons with the Nets. After coaching in the CBA and internationally Jackson finally got his opportunity in the NBA with the Bulls, and when his time ended in Chicago he grabbed five more championships with the Lakers including another three-peat for good measure. Now as President of Basketball Operations for the Knicks he hopes to bring another championship to the Knicks.

3 Nate McMillan: Indiana Pacers

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Another under the radar NBA player who has been a bit under the radar as a coach as well is Nate McMillan who is currently the head man for the Indiana Pacers. McMillan played his college ball for Jim Valvano at NC State helping them to the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament twice. He was drafted with the 30th overall pick in the 1986 NBA Draft by the Seattle SuperSonics. He played his entire career in Seattle helping lead them to the NBA Finals in 1996. Although he was not a big scorer, averaging around six points per game for his career, McMillan was still a key part of those great mid-90s Sonics teams with Shawn Kemp, Gary Payton, and Sam Perkins, as a big time defender and point guard who distributed to the other Sonics stars.

2 Doc Rivers: Los Angeles Clippers

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With a memorable coaching career that included a championship with the Boston Celtics, and his current post with the Los Angeles Clippers, it is easy to forget that Glen ‘Doc’ Rivers was also a pretty decent player for a few years. After three seasons starring for the Marquette Warriors (not Golden Eagles yet) Rivers headed to the NBA and was drafted by the Atlanta Hawks with the 31st overall pick in the 1983 NBA Draft. Rivers spent eight of his 13 years in the league with the Atlanta Hawks making the All-Star team in 1988. He also played for the Clippers, the Knicks, and the Spurs before wrapping up his career while averaging over ten points and over five rebounds per game. Doc’s first head coaching position was with the Orlando Magic in 1999. The Celtics came calling after that in 2004 and with Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, and Paul Pierce he was able to win the title in 2008. Now he has another big three in Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan as coach of the Los Angeles Clippers.

1 Mike D’Antoni: Houston Rockets

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The originator of the Phoenix Suns’ famed 'Seven Seconds or Less' offense, that helped Steve Nash win two MVP awards, and carried the team to two straight Western Conference Finals appearances, Mike D’Antoni is currently the head coach of the Houston Rockets. With James Harden running an even more refined version of D’Antoni’s offense, the Rockets have the third best record in the NBA. His playing career started after he was drafted with the 20th overall pick in the 1973 NBA Draft by the Kansas City-Omaha Kings. He played three years there before a stint with the Spirits of St Louis in the ABA, and then the San Antonio Spurs for a few games. The majority of his playing career was spent in Italy however which is also where he began coaching. After coaching his teams to various international championships D’Antoni returned to the NBA becoming head coach for the Nuggets in 1998. A few years later he joined the Suns and turned them into a contender and now he is hoping he can lead his Rockets team to his first Finals appearance.


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