Coach Rankings: Look no further than Popovich

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PostPosted: Sun Oct 07, 2007 8:36 pm
Coach Rankings: Look no further than Popovich
Oct. 5, 2007
By Tony Mejia
CBSSports.com Staff Writer


Ranking head coaches isn't as black-and-white as ranking players for the simple reason that you need talent or you're not going to look good.

At the same time, you can't just pull anybody off the street, put Michael Jordan on his side and watch the jewelry accumulate. That has been a criticism of Phil Jackson, currently even with the late Red Auerbach with nine championship rings for most all-time.

Auerbach actually made that claim about Jackson after he won another three rings with Shaquille O'Neal, but rumor has it Auerbach's teams were pretty good, too. You might have heard of Bill Russell, Bob Cousy and Sam Jones; no one wears any of their numbers anymore.

Both are legends in their profession because it takes a great leader to keep a team focused, juggle egos and minutes and put players in position to be successful. No one style is proven to work. Some coaches are flexible, while others succeed in part because they're so stubborn.

It's really a fine line between overbearing and underwhelming, and the only way to tread safely in the middle is to win.

Jackson coaches the best guard in the game since Jordan in Kobe Bryant, but has acknowledged he doesn't have enough around him for his Lakers to compete for a title. In that respect, he has backed Bryant's claim that the organization hasn't done enough to build a winner. Jackson's reputation has suffered as a result, simply because we've seen him fail. He's human.

Coaches aren't miracle-workers. They can only play the hand they're dealt. Save the genius label for da Vinci and Socrates.

Keeping that in mind, the rankings below take into account a combination of factors, from past accomplishments to present dynamic to overall reverence. Players talk, people, and it's not very difficult to gauge who they respect and who they don't care for. You won't find any first-time head coaches in the top 20, even though I'd be shocked if men like Marc Iavaroni and Reggie Theus flop. They definitely have what it takes.

Here's who did make the cut:

1. Gregg Popovich, San Antonio: Pop's a strong example of what inheriting the right pieces can do for a career. He had a losing record at Division III Pomona-Pitzer, worked his way into the Spurs organization and has won four rings in the past 10 years. He might shrug off his success in a self-deprecating manner, but I've heard it said that no one understands the pulse of his team quite like Popovich. That goes a long way in this league.

2. Pat Riley, Miami: He coached Shaquille O'Neal and Dwyane Wade in the same game only once last regular season, so don't hold the Heat's post-championship collapse against him. He gets every ounce of energy out of his teams, but last year, he felt he failed in that regard. That won't happen again.

3. Phil Jackson, L.A. Lakers: Who knows when his final season might come? Whispers are he's even less inclined to be patient than Bryant, and he really has nothing more to prove. Treasure those two-fingered whistles and nuggets of Zen wisdom, because you never know when they might be gone for good.

4. Jerry Sloan, Utah: The dean of all professional American coaches begins his 20th season with the Jazz, proving that sticking to your guns works. He's not completely inflexible, but his old school approach makes it easy to hone in on that as a character flaw. Andrei Kirilenko obviously views him that way. Deron Williams, who struggled under his tutelage at first, doesn't. Sloan's way works, and ultimately, he'll make you better.

5. Mike D'Antoni, Phoenix: He doesn't just roll the basketballs out there, as some believe. D'Antoni breeds that attractive, fast-break style through active practices and intelligent motivation. He's a player's coach, never getting too high or too low, and you can't argue with the success he has had with the Suns, who have become one of the NBA's elite teams under his watch.

6. Don Nelson, Golden State: The shrewd veteran has won more games than anyone other than Lenny Wilkens, doing it his way, with his system, which he has proven can work anywhere, in any decade (provided you're not trying to run with Patrick Ewing). This will be a big year for him, though, because his Warriors are now saddled with some expectations.

7. Avery Johnson, Dallas: In his first full season, he seemed to be a natural, coaching the Mavericks to their first NBA Finals. Last season, he guided them to the league's top regular-season record, but couldn't solve Golden State, putting a sour note on an otherwise brilliant job bouncing back from heartbreak. He's still learning from mistakes, but his resiliency figures to trickle down to his team and make them even tougher.

8. Rick Adelman, Houston: He won big in Portland and Sacramento by promoting unselfish play, and plans on using the same formula to get the Rockets out of the first round for a change. He has reached the conference finals four times, so history would seem to be on his side. Expect him to post the 10th 50-win season of his coaching career.

9. Mike Brown, Cleveland: For someone who has won 50 games in each of his two seasons and already coached in an NBA Finals, he sure catches a lot of heat. Fact is, he stood up to LeBron James when the young star felt the Cavs should run more often, stuck to his guns and defense-first philosophy and wound up where 28 other teams wanted to be. He's got a bright future.

10. Byron Scott, New Orleans: People forget the Hornets were off to a good start before Peja Stojakovic went down and started an injury parade that would claim Chris Paul, David West and Bobby Jackson for long stretches. He has had to field patchwork squads for two straight years and barely missed the playoffs in spite of the attrition. Scott, a task-master with a personality, got to a pair of NBA Finals with the Nets in his first head coaching gig.

11. George Karl, Denver: One of the knocks on him as a younger coach was that he rubbed people the wrong way, but a person can't change his personality. Karl is fiery and forthright, and regardless of whether you love him or hate him, you can't argue that he gets results. Although he hasn't been able to get out of the first round with the Nuggets, he has led them to three consecutive winning seasons, extending his personal streak to 15 straight years at .500 or better.

12. Scott Skiles, Chicago: Considering he was a coach on the floor while he played, he was always cut out to lead. His act has grown more refined over the years, but demanding will always be one of the first words used to describe him. Successful is another.

13. Flip Saunders, Detroit: He has won 50 games in five of the past six seasons, and has won 10 playoff encounters in three of the past four. You don't fluke into that kind of success, but what keeps him from being further up this list is that players have tuned him out when it mattered most in both Minnesota and now Detroit, and that adversity threatens his employment despite the wins. He hasn't won the big one, so he's not immune from mounting criticism that he doesn't have the right personality to win with the Pistons' veteran core. He gas won 117 games in two seasons and still has little room for error considering demanding Detroit fans have been calling for his head for well over a year.

14. Sam Mitchell, Toronto: Anyone who tells you they expected to see Mitchell still coaching the Raptors when last season began is a liar. He was as lame-duck as they come, unlikely to be retained with new GM Bryan Colangelo set to bring in his own guy, probably former Suns assistant Iavaroni. Instead, Mitchell wound up the NBA Coach of the Year, leading a young Toronto team filled with international players to a surprise Atlantic Division title. Players respect him as a straight shooter who works as hard as he expects them to.

15. Nate McMillan, Portland: The Blazers' rebuilding project continues, but improvement is coming steadily. Preaching defense and fundamentals, "Mr. Sonic" has helped revitalize the other franchise in the Pacific Northwest. Although it would have helped to have Greg Oden, he'll guide his team to another step forward.

16. Lawrence Frank, New Jersey: He has come a long way since his days as Indiana University's student manager, and again has job security after getting his contract extended in July. Still the youngest head coach in the league, he'll be the beneficiary of more brain power around him with former Magic coach Brian Hill coming on board as an assistant and 39-year old Darrell Armstrong signing on as a player. Armstrong, who you should expect to see on one of these lists in the future, is two years older than Frank.

17. Eddie Jordan, Washington: No one can blame him for wondering what if, given how last season ended for the Wizards. Atop the Southeast Division most of the way, they were besieged by injury down the stretch, losing All-Stars Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler. Up to that point, he had done his best coaching job ever, despite butting heads with Arenas over leadership issues.

18. Mike Dunleavy, L.A. Clippers: His momentum with the Clippers stalled last season. Getting back on the right track doesn't seem to be in his immediate future given the absence of Elton Brand and Shaun Livingston. He has enjoyed a couple of memorable seasons, but his career winning percentage lingers just under .500 and doesn't figure to improve in the coming months.

19. Doc Rivers, Boston: Thanks to the arrival of Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, he has a new lease on life. It's in his best interest to make the most of this situation, considering the Celtics have been on a downward spiral since he took over. He has never won more than 45 games or tasted victory in a playoff series. If the personable Rivers fails this season, he'll have some explaining to do.

20. Stan Van Gundy, Orlando: His controversial exit in Miami was a raw deal anyway you look at it, so he deserves this new opportunity in Central Florida. There's a reason he was a finalist for so many vacancies this past offseason, and if the Magic hadn't ended up with his services, there would be much more apprehension about Billy Donovan's change of heart than there currently is.

_____________________________________________________________


I agree that Popovich is the best coach that gets alot out of his players by working a great team system. I never have thought the Spurs had loaded teams as Parker was a nobody coming to the Spurs so young and played so well given a great opportunity by Popovich. Ginobili was no star when he arrived either and was a bench player that got limited court time his first season. Popovich has used Duncan surrounded by great role players and has won championships with that.

Sloan to me has always been probably the best coach there is because he has had less to work with than Popovich ever has. Even when he has Stockton and Malone, he had next to nothing around them. Now he has Deron and Boozer, sort of like the next version of Stockton and Malone, and has a couple of good players around them with Okur and AK but not much else. Slaon gets so much out of his players by using his great team system.

Great to see Nelson up there but he could have been higher since last season's success was accomplished with Baron and JRich injured for long periods of time
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PostPosted: Sun Oct 07, 2007 9:00 pm
Huh.... Mike D'Antoni ahead of Nellie? That surprises me. Nellie has been consistantly wining for a long time.
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PostPosted: Sun Oct 07, 2007 10:07 pm
sfsfsfgiants wrote:Huh.... Mike D'Antoni ahead of Nellie? That surprises me. Nellie has been consistantly wining for a long time.



Think it's going by last season's performances more than anything else
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 08, 2007 12:22 am
migya wrote:
sfsfsfgiants wrote:Huh.... Mike D'Antoni ahead of Nellie? That surprises me. Nellie has been consistantly wining for a long time.



Think it's going by last season's performances more than anything else


That's the problem. Coach ratings are always based on results, but some of them do not have much to work with. It's a bit unfair, if not downright ridiculous.
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 08, 2007 1:15 am
TMC wrote:
migya wrote:
sfsfsfgiants wrote:Huh.... Mike D'Antoni ahead of Nellie? That surprises me. Nellie has been consistantly wining for a long time.



Think it's going by last season's performances more than anything else


That's the problem. Coach ratings are always based on results, but some of them do not have much to work with. It's a bit unfair, if not downright ridiculous.



The article does state that but it makes a good ranking. Some coaches, even with talent on their team, can't get it together
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 08, 2007 1:17 am
migya wrote:The article does state that but it makes a good ranking. Some coaches, even with talent on their team, can't get it together


Flip Saunders...
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 08, 2007 1:26 am
TMC wrote:
migya wrote:The article does state that but it makes a good ranking. Some coaches, even with talent on their team, can't get it together


Flip Saunders...



I like Flip Saunders. A shiit coach wouldn't take a TWolves team with Garnett and poultry to the playoffs every year. He arrived in Detroit and they won more games than ever before :wink:
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 08, 2007 1:38 am
migya wrote:I like Flip Saunders. A shiit coach wouldn't take a TWolves team with Garnett and poultry to the playoffs every year. He arrived in Detroit and they won more games than ever before :wink:


They also lost more playoff games than ever before... Flips is great at certain things, like preparing for rivals, but can't react during the games. He just freezes and goes for the same plays over and over again. Probably one of the easiest coaches to beat in playoffs ever.
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 08, 2007 9:16 pm
migya wrote:
TMC wrote:
migya wrote:The article does state that but it makes a good ranking. Some coaches, even with talent on their team, can't get it together


Flip Saunders...



I like Flip Saunders. A shiit coach wouldn't take a TWolves team with Garnett and poultry to the playoffs every year. He arrived in Detroit and they won more games than ever before :wink:


Flip Saunders is one of the worst playoff coaches in the league.
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 08, 2007 9:55 pm
tHe_pEsTiLeNcE wrote:
migya wrote:
TMC wrote:
migya wrote:The article does state that but it makes a good ranking. Some coaches, even with talent on their team, can't get it together


Flip Saunders...



I like Flip Saunders. A shiit coach wouldn't take a TWolves team with Garnett and poultry to the playoffs every year. He arrived in Detroit and they won more games than ever before :wink:


Flip Saunders is one of the worst playoff coaches in the league.



He coached a lousy TWolves team to the playoffs for years, always falling in the 1st round to the likes of the Spurs (who became champions) and the loaded Blazers team (with RWallace, Stoudamire, Wells, Pippen etc) and Lakers (who were a dynasty). When he finally had a DECENT supporting cast to KG (included the aging and regressing Cassell and Sprewell), he tookthem to the Western Conference Finals!

He then took over the Pistons and took that team (that never used more than the first five guys really) to the East Finals, where they lost to a determined Heat team with two superstars and momentum!

Not such a bad display in the playoffs and not many coaches would have done better than that
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