The NBA has many talented players but talent can only take a player so far in the league. In order to win games and to have a shot to win the NBA Championship they need a good team and a great coach. A great coach understands his players and puts in a good system to help motivate his talented players to play to their potential. A great coach is also one of the keys to win a championship.
This NBA season there are many great coaches who have done well so far however there are two that stand out. Steve Kerr is the first year coach of the Golden State Warriors who has made the Warriors the no.1 team in a competitive Western Conference. His best player Stephen Curry is in the mix as an MVP favourite. Mike Budenholzer is the first year coach of the Atlanta Hawks and has transformed the Hawks into the NBA’s best team and the no.1 team in the Eastern Conference. His team also recently won a league high 19 consecutive games. The Hawks don’t have any MVP favourites on their team but three players from the Hawks are going to the All Star Game. Both Steve Kerr and Mike Budenholzer will coach for their respective conferences.
There have been many great coaches throughout NBA history. Some have gone on to win many championships or have had great success in the regular season. All great coaches have coached players who are Hall of Famers or NBA stars during their playing careers. With so many choices just exactly who are the greatest coaches of all time? Twenty-five of the greatest all-time NBA coaches are listed below with a brief summary of what they have accomplished in their NBA coaching career.
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25 Al Attles
Al Attles is one of the top NBA coaches of all time with a record of 557-518 during the regular season as the coach of the Golden State Warriors. He made the playoffs six times in his 13 seasons with the team. He had his best coaching season in 1974-75 when Golden State won the NBA championship. He coached a Hall of Famer Rick Barry. Al Attles was a key member of the Warriors organization as a player, coach or team ambassador. He also had his number retired by the team.
24 Larry Costello
Larry Costello is one of the top NBA coaches of all time with a record of 430-300 during the regular season with the Milwaukee Bucks and the Chicago Bulls. The Milwaukee Bucks made the playoffs six times in his nine seasons with the team. He had his best coaching season during the 1970-71 season when Milwaukee won 66 games in the regular season. During the playoffs, the team won 12 out of 14 playoff games and became the NBA champions. Larry Costello also coached two Hall of Famers Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Oscar Robertson. Larry Costello was a great influence on the Milwaukee Bucks organization and for being one of the greatest coaches of all time.
23 Alex Hannum
Alex Hannum coached many teams in the NBA throughout his career. He has a record of 471-412 during the regular season with the various teams. His teams made the playoffs eight times out of 15 seasons as the head coach. His best coaching seasons were with two teams both of which won NBA championships. The St. Louis Hawks won the NBA championship in the 1957-58 season and the Philadelphia 76ers in the 1966-67 season. He also coached seven Hall of Famers Chet Walker, Billy Cunningham, Wilt Chamberlain, Bob Pettit, Cliff Hagan, Ed Macauley and Slater Martin. Despite being not staying with one or two teams, Alex Hannum is the only coach other than Phil Jackson that has won titles with two teams.
22 Bill Russell
Bill Russell is one of the famous NBA legends who had a stellar career as a player and has the NBA Finals MVP Trophy named after him. He had a 341-290 record during the regular season with the Boston Celtics, Seattle SuperSonics and the Sacramento Kings. His teams made the playoffs five out of eight seasons as the head coach. His best coaching seasons was during the 1967-69 seasons in which the Celtics won the NBA championship back to back. He played with and coached Hall of Famer John Havlicek. As a player coach Bill Rusell was successful making him one of the greatest coaches of all time.
21 K.C. Jones
K.C. Jones's winning percentage is outstanding, with a record of 522-252 during the regular season with with the Washington Bullets/Wizards, Boston Celtics and the Seattle SuperSonics. His teams made the playoffs nine out of his 10 seasons as the head coach. He has also never had a losing season. His best coaching seasons were in 1983-84 and 1985-86 when the Celtics won the NBA championship. He coached three Hall of Famers Kevin McHale, Larry Bird and Dennis Johnson. K.C. Jones's tremendous coaching success makes him one of the greatest NBA coaches of all time.
20 Tom Heinsohn
Tom Heinsohn owns a magnificent record of 427-263 during the regular season with the Boston Celtics. The Boston Celtics made the playoffs six times out of his nine seasons as the head coach. His best coaching seasons came in 1973-74 and 1975-76 when the Celtics won the NBA Championship. He also coached two Hall of Famers, John Havlicek and Don Nelson. Tom Heinsohn is one of the greatest coaches of all time. He is also well known to NBA fans as the current TV analyst for the Boston Celtics and is well known for his biased opinions towards the team.
19 Lenny Wilkens
Lenny Wilkens coached in the NBA for 32 seasons and that alone is extremely impressive. He has a record of 1,332-1,155 during the regular season with various teams and holds the second most wins of any NBA coach. His teams made the playoffs 20 times out of 32 seasons as the head coach. His best coaching season was in 1978-79 when the Seattle SuperSonics won the NBA Championship. He has coached many stars and Hall of Famers throughout his NBA coaching career. He also became the second of three coaches to make the Hall of Fame as a player and a coach.
18 Erik Spoelstra
He is one of the youngest coaches in the NBA but he has quickly ascended. His current record is 335-190 with the Miami Heat. The Miami Heat made the playoffs every single year so far in his seven seasons with the team. His best coaching seasons came in 2011-12 and 2012-13 when the Miami Heat won the NBA championship back to back. He also made it to the 2011 and 2014 finals. He coached Miami's big three; Lebron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. All three players will be future Hall of Famers. Erik Spoelstra might not have that many years of experience but is he already one of the greatest coaches of all time.
17 Doc Rivers
Doc Rivers is one of the NBA's top coaches with a current record of 677-514 during the regular season with the Orlando Magic, Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Clippers. His teams made the playoffs 11 times out of 15 seasons as the head coach. His best coaching season was in 2007-08 when the Boston Celtics won the NBA Championship. He also coached future Hall of Famers Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen and currently coaches NBA stars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. Doc Rivers is well known for being one of the best current coaches in the NBA and his coaching success makes him one of the greatest coaches of all time.
16 Rudy Tomjanovich
Rudy Tomjanovich is well known for being one of the top NBA coaches with a record of 527-416 during the regular season with the Houston Rockets and the Los Angeles Lakers. His teams made the playoffs seven out of his 13 seasons as the head coach. His best coaching season was in 1993-94 and in 1994-95 when the Houston Rockets won the NBA championship back to back. He also coached two Hall of Famers Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon. Rudy Tomjanovich is the longest serving coach of the Houston Rockets in their history.
15 Bill Sharman
Bill Sharman has to be on anybody's list. He has a record of 333-240 during the regular season with the San Francisco/Golden State Warriors and the Los Angeles Lakers. His teams made the playoffs five out of seven times as the head coach. He had his best coaching season in the 1971-72 season in which the Los Angeles Lakers won their first of many championships. During the regular season that year, the Lakers won 33 straight games which still stands today as a professional sports record. He also coached five Hall of Famers; Elgin Baylor, Jerry West, Gail Goodrich, Wilt Chamberlain and Pat Riley.
14 John Kundla
John Kundla was one of the early NBA coaches who had great success. His record with the Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers was 379-286. The Lakers made the playoffs in nine out of his 10 seasons as the head coach. His team won multiple championships and were one of the first NBA teams to win consecutive championships. He was also the first coach of the iconic Lakers franchise. John Kundla made the Lakers a strong title contender early, quickly establishing them as a winning franchise.
13 Rick Adelman
Rick Adelman compiled a record of 1,042-749 with several teams. His teams made the playoffs 16 of 23 times. Rick Adelman along with Jerry Sloan are noted as the great coaches who have not won the NBA championship. He also coached many NBA stars such as Clyde Drexler, Chris Webber, Peja Stojakovic, etc. He had multiple winning seasons with the Trail Blazers, Kings and the Rockets. Though his years in Minnesota were underwhelming, his total body of work can't be ignored. Rick Adelman was one of those coaches who really understood the game and his players.
12 George Karl
George Karl has had tremendous success in Seattle and Denver. He has a record of 1,131-756 during the regular season with various teams. His teams have made the playoffs 22 of 25 times. His best coaching seasons came in Seattle, where the Sonics were often in the mix to win the NBA Championship. He coached Hall of Famers Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton. His coaching success over a long NBA career lands him the no.12 spot.
11 Don Nelson
Don Nelson coached for nearly a third of a century, 31 seasons. He holds the record for most wins by any NBA coach. His record totals 1,335-1,063 with various teams. His teams made the playoffs in 18 seasons as the head coach. His best coaching seasons were the 1980-81 season in which the Milwaukee Bucks won 60 games and in 2002-03 when the Dallas Mavericks won 60 games. He also coached many Hall of Famers and NBA stars over the years in his coaching career. Don Nelson had a lasting impact on the teams he coached even though he didn't win a championship.
10 Billy Cunningham
Billy Cunningham won more than double the games he lost, holding a record of 454-196 with the Philadelphia 76ers. The 76ers made the playoffs every single season with him as the head coach. He also never had a losing season. His best coaching season was in the 1982-83 season when the 76ers won the NBA Championship. He also coached Hall of Famers Julius Erving and Moses Malone. His remarkable consistency lands him in the top 10.
9 Red Holzman
Red Holzman is one of the longest serving coaches in Knicks history. He is also the most successful coach in New York's history winning two NBA championships. His record was 696-604 with several teams. His teams made the playoffs 10 out of 18 seasons. His best seasons came in 1969-70 and 1972-73 when the New York Knicks won the NBA Championship. He coached Hall of Famers Walt Frazier, Willis Reed and Phil Jackson. Red Holzman's ability to win championships and achieve great success as a coach earns him the nod here.
8 Larry Brown
Larry Brown enjoyed a long successful coaching career. His record is 1,098-904 with several teams. His teams made the playoffs 18 of 27 seasons. His best coaching season came in 2003-04 when the Detroit Pistons won the NBA Championship. He coached many Hall of Famers and NBA stars over the course of his career. Larry Brown was also successful in Indiana, Philadelphia and Detroit. The way he brought success with him across multiple teams earns him a spot here.
7 Jack Ramsay
Jack Ramsay owns a record of 864-783 with several teams. His teams made the playoffs 17 times out of 21 seasons. His best coaching season came in 1976-77 when the Portland Trail Blazers won the NBA Championship. He coached Hall of Famer Bill Walton. Jack Ramsay is one of the influential NBA coaches who has earned the nod as one of the greatest coaches of all time. His coaching career would end on a sour note, as he resigned in Indiana following a 0-7 start in the 1988-89 season.
6 Chuck Daly
Chuck Daly had incredible success with the Detroit Pistons and won consecutive championships with the bad boys of the NBA. He has a record of 638-437 with several teams. His teams made the playoffs 12 out of 14 seasons as the head coach. His best coaching seasons came in 1988-89 and 1989-90 when the Detroit Pistons won back to back NBA championships. He also made it to the finals in the 1987-88 season.
He coached Hall of Famers Joe Dumars, Isiah Thomas and Dennis Rodman. His coaching success left a lasting impact and it's incredible how he was able to handle the group he did.
5 Jerry Sloan
Jerry Sloan is widely respected and is mentioned as one of the elite coaches who never won a championship. He holds the record for the third most wins by an NBA coach. His record is 1,221-803 during the regular season with the Chicago Bulls and the Utah Jazz. His teams have made the playoffs 22 of 26 seasons.
His best coaching seasons was in 1996-97 when the Utah Jazz won 64 games and in 1997-98 when the Jazz won 62 games. Michael Jordan was all that separated him from two NBA titles. He has coached two Hall of Famers John Stockton and Karl Malone. He also has coached many NBA stars as well. Jerry Sloan is truly one of the best coaches to ever coach in the NBA and is one of the greatest coaches of all time.
4 Pat Riley
Pat Riley is one of the most successful people ever in NBA history, no matter what role he's in. A long coaching career is one of them. His record is 1,210-694 with several teams. His teams made the playoffs 21 times in 24 seasons. He's led both the Lakers and Heat to NBA championships and brought the Knicks to the finals in 1994. He is one of four coaches to have won five NBA Championships. Pat Riley had a great influence on both the Lakers and the Heat organization and has become one of the greatest coaches of all time, and now even a top team president.
3 Gregg Popovich
Gregg Popovich is widely regarded as the best coach in the game today. His current record at this publishing date is 998-461 with the Spurs. The Spurs have made the playoffs 18 times out of 19 seasons with Popovich as the coach. He has been coach of the year multiple times and is one of the few coaches to have won five NBA championships. The Spurs have been constantly mentioned as title contenders every year thanks in large part to Gregg Popovich. He has already established himself as one of the greatest coaches of all time.
2 Red Auerbach
Red Auerbach is often mentioned as the second best coach ever in NBA history, including here. He had incredible success with the Boston Celtics. His record is 823-426 with the Celtics and the Blackhawks. His teams made the playoffs every single season. He won an astounding nine NBA championships with the Boston Celtics. He coached multiple Hall of Famers throughout his coaching career. His ridiculous amount of success easily lands him near the top of the list.
1 Phil Jackson
Phil Jackson is the most successful coach ever. He enjoyed not just success, but dynasties with both Chicago Bulls and the Los Angeles Lakers. His record is 1,140-485 with the Bulls and the Lakers, which marks for a jaw-dropping .704 win percentage. The phrase 'he's a winner' is thrown around often, but this is truly the case for Jackson. You don't have to look far for proof.
Both the Lakers and the Bulls made the playoffs every single season with Jackson as the head coach. He has won the most championships ever by a coach with 11. He has also coached many NBA legends and superstars such as Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant. His very successful coaching career and the most championship success has made Phil Jackson the greatest coach of all time.
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