View Full Version : Ranking top 20 coaches: Riley's recent title rings true - Tony Mejia / SportsLine.com

10-10-2006, 06:08 PM
Ranking top 20 coaches: Riley's recent title rings true

Tony Mejia Oct. 10, 2006
By Tony Mejia
CBS SportsLine.com Staff Writer
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It's been said that in the NBA, talent rules and coaching is overrated.

You've heard it. Millionaire players run the asylum and the guys drawing up X's and O's ultimately play sacrificial lamb when things go wrong. It's the circle of life.

At 61, Pat Riley still gets out on the practice court to show his players how it's done. (AP)
At 61, Pat Riley still gets out on the practice court to show his players how it's done. (AP)
That explains the constant turnover in coaching. This summer's three changes definitely hit the under on the norm, in part because of the seven made in 2005.

It's true, coaching professional basketball is a swallow-you-up-and-spit-you-out profession, but the elite manage to persevere. That's why NBA coaching isn't overrated. In fact, it's vital. Coaching in the NBA is as much about earning your players' respect as teaching is.

The psych job Pat Riley did on the Heat last season, getting every bit of fight out of them when it looked like all was lost, had as much to do with his team winning as Dwyane Wade's heroics. It was Riley mastery, setting the bar high for his brethren the coming season.

Every NBA coach seems to do his job reasonably well. Some just get better results, and they make the difference when intangibles come into play.

1. Pat Riley, Miami: He put the team together, then came back after a two-year hiatus and coached it to a championship. Riley is one of the few whose motivational ploys -- like his "15 Strong" philosophy -- can be taken seriously by veteran future Hall of Famers like Shaquille O'Neal and Gary Payton. Players revere him in a manner few coaches will ever know. Rightly so. Riley has won five championships and should win his 1,200th game at some point this season. O'Neal calls him the greatest coach he has played for. It's hard to disagree.

Gregg Popovich (Getty Images)
Gregg Popovich (Getty Images)
2. Gregg Popovich, San Antonio: He won more than 70 percent of his games over the past nine seasons, hanging three championship banners in the process. Although he has benefited from the presence of Tim Duncan, consider how well the Spurs persevered when transitioning from the old supporting cast (David Robinson, Avery Johnson and Sean Elliott) to the new (Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker). Pop inspires an ego-less atmosphere and wins big by exposing weaknesses while recognizing his team's own limitations.

Phil Jackson, L.A. (Getty Images)
Phil Jackson, L.A. (Getty Images)
3. Phil Jackson, L.A. Lakers: The job he did in 2005-06 was one of his best, coaxing a playoff appearance and a near upset of second-seeded Phoenix in a first-round series that went the distance. He mended his relationship with Kobe Bryant, who bought into creating opportunities for teammates in time for the postseason. Jackson's staff also worked to improve Kwame Brown and helped Lamar Odom get a better understanding of his role in the triangle. The titles won with Michael Jordan and O'Neal will always be what Jackson is remembered for, but he proved his brilliance as a coach by significantly improving a team that had glaring holes.

Avery Johnson (Getty Images)
Avery Johnson (Getty Images)
4. Avery Johnson, Dallas: Falling short of an NBA title in his first full season as head coach will always sting, but you can expect he'll be better for it. The coaching prodigy was outdone by Riley after taking a 2-0 win in the Finals, learning valuable lessons that he'll employ in future championship endeavors. Count on there being a lot of those for Johnson; you don't win more than 75 percent of your games right out of the gate unless you're born to coach.

5. Mike D'Antoni, Phoenix: The marriage of his philosophies and Steve Nash's talents generated 116 regular-season victories and consecutive trips to the conference finals. For those who call D'Antoni's relentless pushing of the basketball gimmicky, take into account what he accomplished last season without Amare Stoudemire. If that's gimmicky, the gimmick works.

6. Jerry Sloan, Utah: He should win his 1,000th game by early 2007, but what makes Sloan great isn't numbers or longevity, but rather a tenacity that remains infectious. In a coaching career that spans three decades, his no-nonsense style still resonates. It's also worth recognizing that Sloan could've gone out with the Mailman and John Stockton, but instead has stuck around to see the team's next generation off and running. After a rough 2005, Utah is headed in the right direction.

7. Byron Scott, New Orleans/Oklahoma City: Critics will say he feuds with his players and is too heavy-handed. Supporters will argue that he's the ultimate players coach for guys who work hard for him. It's difficult to argue with his results. After going 26-56 in his first season with New Jersey, he doubled his win total in Year 2 as the Nets reached the NBA Finals. Then in 2003, he took his team back to the Finals. Vast improvement has also come with the Hornets, who he nearly took to the playoffs last year before his team ran out of gas in the season's second half. Between a 25-15 postseason coaching record and the jewelry earned with the Lakers as a players in the 1980s, you can only come to one conclusion about him. The man is a winner.
Date Position
Aug. 29 Center
Sept. 5 Small forward
Sept. 12 Power forward
Sept. 19 Point guard
Sept. 26 Shooting guard
Oct. 4 Top 50
Oct. 10 Coach

8. Mike Dunleavy, L.A. Clippers: Aside from a dreadful four-year period in Milwaukee in the mid-1990s, Dunleavy has found success at each of his stops, reaching the Finals once with the Lakers and the Western Conference Finals twice with Portland. Success has found him again in Clipperland, where he has progressed from a 28-game winner in his first season to a 47-35 mark last year. It wouldn't be at all surprising if the Clips top the 50-win mark this season, setting a franchise record. Dunleavy got the most out of a Sam Cassell many thought was washed up, and worked wonders making up for the absence of injured swingman Corey Maggette with unheralded players like Quinton Ross, Daniel Ewing and James Singleton.

9. Don Nelson, Golden State: He's promising to bring excitement back to the Bay Area by turning back the clock with the same M.O. that brought the Warriors success more than a decade ago. Though he never reached the Finals, Nellie has been a winner and innovator at each of his spots and enters his latest challenge No. 2 on the all-time win list (1,190).

10. George Karl, Denver: Injuries have been a large part of his latest endeavor, but he's 2-for-2 winning division titles and you get the feeling he's only a piece or two away from really building a power. Controversy still swirls around him regularly, but you take that as part of his candid personality and hope he finds a nucleus he can connect with, like he managed to do for such a prosperous period in Seattle.

11. Jeff Van Gundy, Houston: Coming off the first losing season of his career, JVG is working on the final year of his current deal. That would be bad news for most coaches, but Van Gundy isn't going away. Last year's struggles can be hung on disastrous injuries, while this year's team is loaded with quality role players he can shuffle around his superstars.

12. Rick Carlisle, Indiana: Thriving in both Detroit and Indiana, he joined Riley as the only coaches to notch 50 wins and a division title in his first three seasons. Over the last two, he has seen his Pacers punished by suspensions and injuries, yet managed to Krazy Glue the remaining pieces into playoff teams. He has been tasked with speeding up the tempo to make the most of an athletic bunch with the team seeking a new identity.
Who is the NBA's best coach?
Pat Riley
Phil Jackson
Avery Johnson
Mike D'Antoni
Gregg Popovich

13. Scott Skiles, Chicago: He had initial success in Phoenix, but you can really see consistency setting in with the Bulls. He raised this team from the depths of a 19-win season in which a genuine toughness started to develop. The Bulls are gritty, and should be even stingier with Ben Wallace and P.J. Brown coming on board. Skiles' challenge this year is to live up to heightened expectations.

14. Mike Fratello, Memphis: Although he hasn't been able to end the Grizzlies' dry spell in the postseason, he has won consistently with them in his return to the bench. He has posted a .500 or better winning percentage in 12 of the last 13 seasons during stops with Atlanta, Cleveland and now Memphis.

15. Lawrence Frank, New Jersey: Last year's division title was nice, but Frank has lofty goals and is often his harshest critic. You have to give it up to him for what he accomplished before his 36th birthday, reaching the conference semifinals twice and integrating superstar Vince Carter without a hitch. If Nenad Krstic keeps progressing, Frank has a nucleus in place that he can make to the top.

16. Flip Saunders, Detroit: He took the blame for last year's playoff exit, but at least now these revised Pistons will carry his stamp. It was difficult for him to succeed last year, when it was basically championship or bust after taking over Larry Brown's team. Playing his reserves more should keep the starters fresher for the postseason, where Saunders at least has to reach his second career conference finals to keep the Motown faithful at bay.

17. Nate McMillan, Portland: He quietly built a team in Seattle that became really strong for a single season, then chose long-term security with the Blazers, signing on to play foreman on a lengthy rebuilding job. If the young talent keeps coming, he'll get them molded into shape, offering no alternative to teamwork and defense.

18. Bernie Bickerstaff, Charlotte: There was talk that he would head upstairs and surrender coaching responsibilities, but that never materialized. Good for the Bobcats. They continue to blossom under his guiding hand and should move into playoff contention if they can stay healthy.

19. Mike Brown, Cleveland: He didn't get a chance to put a significant dent into Cleveland's defensive deficiencies because Larry Hughes was out so long, but Brown fared nicely in his rookie season. Although the playoff series against Detroit ended badly, no one expected he'd have the Cavs one win away from the conference finals. The quicker he and LeBron James grow into their roles, the faster Cleveland gets a champion.

20. Brian Hill, Orlando: He quickly got the Magic's prospects looking up, hoping to win with young prodigy Dwight Howard the way he once persevered with Shaquille O'Neal. Those were the glory days, before the big man was dealt and chaos ensued in the form of a Penny Hardaway-led revolt. It's been a long road back, but Hill is a good fit to restore Orlando's winning tradition.

10-10-2006, 06:20 PM
I've got Carlisle above JVG, Karl, Byron Scott, and Dunleavy.. otherwise the list looks about right.

10-10-2006, 06:22 PM
A suprisingly decent list coming from Tony Mejia.

10-10-2006, 06:37 PM
Nellie is a better coach than a lot of the ones in front of him on that list

10-11-2006, 07:44 AM
Riley can suck it!

10-11-2006, 01:31 PM
lists blow...

but......I think AJ is probably not yet in the top 5...

10-11-2006, 02:12 PM
Sloans better then Avery and D'antoni. I'd put Carlisle below or above one Byron Scott. But the list seems fine. Dont know if one year can put Avery above the rest though, but i'm not complaining.

10-11-2006, 03:10 PM
i do not have riley the #1

10-11-2006, 03:29 PM
Ranking coaches is so freaking stupid.

10-11-2006, 03:30 PM
Ranking coaches is so freaking stupid.

We should rate the NBA's top towel boys!

10-11-2006, 04:22 PM
Ranking coaches is so freaking stupid.

10-11-2006, 05:12 PM
It's supposed to be for fun..

10-11-2006, 07:30 PM
I would swap Nellie and AJ in the rankings.
Simply because Nellie actually put together AJ's team. From nothing.

10-11-2006, 08:30 PM
I would swap Nellie and AJ in the rankings.
Simply because Nellie actually put together AJ's team. From nothing.

That makes him a good GM.. not necessarily a better coach.

10-12-2006, 01:47 AM
I would swap Nellie and AJ in the rankings.
Simply because Nellie actually put together AJ's team. From nothing.
Ok, Dirk...and who else does Nelle get any credit for? Donnie has been the man around here for a long time...

most of the team has had ZERO to do with Nellie.

10-12-2006, 08:03 AM
I agree with the no.1, 3, and 4th spot. But I think Nelly should be at the 5th spot or the 6th.

Edit: I disagree with Pop being second, but I agree with the fact that Pop is a great coach.

10-14-2006, 02:45 AM
this is my top 5 list AS OF NOW:

1. Pops - cmon all you have to do is look what he has done past several years. and look at his protege who is running our team
2. Phil Jacks - Where were the Lakers two years ago? and where were they last year? from missing the playoffs to almost knocking off the suns. also his 9 rings are pretty nice. everyone says "He had jordan, kobe, shaq" ... did they win anything before phil got there? nope.
3. AJ - is there a better young coach in this league?
4. Sloan - tohugh the ring still eludes him...there is a reason why he is still with the jazz. he is that good. if AK/Boozer werent so injury riddled...they would make the playoffs
5. Byron Scott - Turns teams from obscurity to good. look at the Nets before his arrival...granted they did have stephon...and got kidd...but he took them to a new level. and now with the hornets. everyone counted them out last year during 1st day of training camp and look how he did.

people who did not make the list and why...
Riley - i dont think he is that good of a coach as he was in his years with the lakers...with the lakers he had an all star cast...Magic Johnson, James Worthy and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, plus important role players such as Michael Cooper, Byron Scott, A.C. Green, Mychal Thompson, and Kurt Rambis...just look at the teams he coached later...knicks, heat version 1?...win anything? nope? but there is of course the jordan factor....
...and anyone couldve won the championship last year with wade getting preferential treatment...stan van gundy got the crap end of teh stick

D'Antoni - great for regular season, playoffs? gotta win 'ship to me...for such an offensive minded coach

10-14-2006, 03:23 AM
nikeball, I don't think Byron Scott is top 5, and even though we hate him, Riley is.

10-14-2006, 04:04 AM
^^ that is why he isnt top 5 q=( bc i hate him

i dont really respect him like i do the other coaches. that is why i have the other coaches higher. id rather have them coaching my team.

10-14-2006, 01:36 PM
Makes sense to me...

10-14-2006, 02:31 PM
i dont really respect him like i do the other coaches. that is why i have the other coaches higher. id rather have them coaching my team.

I see your point, and agree, but the list is list of best coaches, so it'd be slightly different than lists for the most respected coaches or coaches we'd most want coaching our team.

10-14-2006, 03:15 PM
And I see your point too... makes sense.