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Top 10 Coaches in NBA History

The NBA is finally set to resume from Disney World's Wide World of Sports in Orlando. Here are the top 10 coaches in the history of the NBA. These rankings are based on current strength along with history, record, postseason success, leadership, strategy and poise.

1)Red Auerbach, Boston Celtics

He's the pioneer. Red Auerback won nine NBA titles from 1957-66. Think about that. His Celtics dominated that landscape and sure, the NBA was much different back then. But Auerbach, who won 938 games, also became a great general manager. He knew personnel and how to fit them into Boston's way of playing, which meant motion, fast breaks and teamwork. Who knows how many more titles had they won in the 80s and 90s had Len Bias and Reggie Lewis not died tragically.

2)Gregg Popovich

Pops is the premier coach of this era, even if he's slowing down as his teams are in decline due to lack of talent. He was able to surround the great Tim Duncan with talented European stars led by Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, winning five titles and 1,245 games. He has the most wins in NBA history and playoffs.

3)Pat Riley

Riles had the hair and the "Gordon Gekko" look, but the guy could coach. He won four titles in the 80s and one in 2006 with the Miami Heat. He did have Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabaar and future Hall of Famer Dwyane Wade, but you need stars to won. He went on to New York and took them to the NBA Finals, but couldn't win with them. Riley won at Kentucky, won as a player with the Lakers and in 24 years as a coach, won 50 or more games in 17 seasons.

4)Phil Jackson

In some ways, the Zen Master is underrated, because he doesn't get the credit he deserves. It's not like he just rolled the basketball on the floor and told Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant to start balling. But he also had two of the top 10 players of all time and one of the most dominant bigs in Shaquille O'Neal, along with two of the best defensive players in the history of the game (Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman). But Jackson also implemented the Triangle Offense with the Bulls and Lakers, winning 11 NBA titles and 1,155 games.

5)Chuck Daly

Daly went 638-437 in the regular season with Cleveland, Detroit, the Nets and Orlando. But he got the job done with the Pistons, winning the NBA Championship in 1989 and 1990. He was also head coach of the famous 1992 U.S. "Dream Team" and could coach the biggest egos in the game. His teams posted winning records in 11 of 13 campaigns.

6)Red Holzman

Maybe he was the lesser "Red", but William Holzman won two NBA titles with the Knicks in 1970 and 1973. They haven't been the same since Red manned the sidelines. Holzman went just 696-604, which included an early stint with the Milwaukee/St. Louis Hawks in the fifties. He also had an unsuccessful return to the Knicks from 1978-82. That's why the record is 696-604.

7)Don Nelson

There are great coaches who win titles with great players and then there's Don Nelson. The innovator. He spent an incredible 35 seasons as a head coach with Milwaukee, Golden State, New York, Dallas and the Warriors again from 1976-2010, winning 1,335 games. He pioneered the point forward concept and run-and-gun basketball with Golden State. He won NBA Coach of the Year three times and is in the Hall of Fame, despite never winning a title.

8)Larry Brown

One of the best coaches to ever lace it up and he probably should be higher. But he also spent a lot of time in college and a lot of time winning in the NBA and ABA. Brown went 1,327-1,011 and actually won with the New Jersey Nets (1981-83) when they were considered a joke. He also won a title with the Pistons in 2004. The man was never able to stay at one place for very long, but he won just about everywhere he coached, which included 10 teams in the NBA and ABA.

9)K.C. Jones

One of the most underrated coaches, K.C. Jones won two titles win the Celtics, but he lost with the Washington Bullets in 1975 to Golden State in four games when they were expected to win easily. That's what many older fans remember, but you can't forget his stint with the great Boston teams in the eighties. You also can't forget his 522-252 record in the regular season.

10)John Kundla

Have to go old school with a coach who won five championships from 1949-1954. He had a career record of 423-302 and went 60-35 in the playoffs with the Minneapolis Lakers. It's unfortunate that his NBA career last just 10 seasons because the Lakers moved to Los Angeles after the 1958-59 season. Kundla stayed in Minnesota to coach the college team and became the first Gophers coach to give scholarships to black players despite getting hate mail. He retired from coaching and 1981 and died at the age of 101 in 2017.

11)Billy Cunningham

Billy C. has just one NBA title, but he went 454-196 with the Philadelphia 76ers. That's an incredible winning percentage of 69.8%. The Kangaroo Kid didn't last long enough as a coach to be in the same breath as some of the greats, but in a short period of time, he was really good. He never had a losing season.

12)Lenny Wilkens

Wilkens had a very long run with Seattle and Atlanta, coaching 32 seasons. He had a record of 1,332-1,155 and holds the second-most wins of any NBA coach. He won one NBA title in the 1978-79 season with Seattle. His teams made the playoffs in 20 of 32 seasons. Great player who made the Hall of Fame and great coach, who was also a Hall of Famer. One of three people to make the Hall of Fame as a coach and player.

13)Jack Ramsey

Dr. Jack was more than just a bald guy in 70s attire. He went 864-783 with several teams, but he made his mark with the Portland Trailblazers, who won the 1977 title. Other than Bill Walton, he didn't coach a lot of stars and Walton was rarely healthy. He was also one of the most influential coaches of all time.

14)Alex Hannum

Hannum coached from 1956-1974, winning three titles with the St. Louis Hawks in 1958, Philadelphia 76ers in 1967 and Oakland Oaks in 1969. He was the first NBA coach to win 65 games in a season. He won 649 regular season games and has 61 playoff wins.

15)Rudy Tomjanovich

Rudy T. went 527-416 with Houston and the Lakers. While his teams weren't quite as consistent as other great coaches, he did win two titles with Houston in the mid-90s with Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler.

(some stats from NBA.com and info from SportyGhost.com)

Author Profile
Ben Hayes

Ben has been a sports writer for over 30 years, dabbling in college and pro basketball, college and pro football, baseball, college lacrosse, minor league baseball and even college gymnastics. He's also been involved in the gaming industry for nearly 30 years and has been looking to beat the books since he was 13! Ben has had great success in handicapping college football, the NFL, college basketball, the NBA and MLB for 25+ years.

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