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The art of coaching is one of the more under-appreciated aspects of professional sports. The NBA, in particular, has seen plenty of coaches come and go, yet they don't seem to get the credit they truly deserve. Yes, it is a superstar driven league, but having a guiding force is instrumental in winning NBA championships.
Historically, most of the dynasties in NBA history have, unsurprisingly, had some of the best tacticians leading the charge. While the league has changed from the early days of Red Auerbauch, and even since Phil Jackson's reign of terror over the league with the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers in the 90s and 2000s, great leadership is still instrumental in overall team success.
Some of the best coaches in the NBA today, for the most part, might not have the same clout of the aforementioned names, but that is simply because they are still writing their own stories. Still, it's important to know the names of the best in the biz.
LeBron James' former coach with the Miami Heat is arguably one of the most underrated head coaches in the league, which is a direct correlation to the talent he had while he was winning championships with the big three. While the back to back chips are impressive, perhaps Spoelstra's greatest coaching performances have been in the years following James' departure. He's adequately built the Heat back to relevance, despite having no true superstar on the team. Currently, they're fighting for their lives in the Eastern Conference playoff picture, but the fact that they're even in the discussion speaks volumes for Spoelstra's performance from the Heat bench.
Quin Snyder of the Jazz also doesn't get enough love around the league, and that's probably due to the fact that he coaches in a small market like Utah. Regardless of the Jazz's under-the-radar status, the team has flourished under Snyder, particularly over the past couple of seasons. Last year's drafting of Donovan Mitchell certainly helped tip the Jazz's fortunes, but that shouldn't take away from Snyder's coaching performances. He led the Jazz to a commanding first round series win over an ultra-talented Oklahoma City Thunder team, before flaming out against Golden State. Losing to a stacked Warriors team, though, shouldn't take away from Snyder's acumen as a coach thus far.
Brad Stevens has solified himself as one of the best NBA head coaches in the league, and it's not difficult to see why. When he took over the Boston Celtics back in 2013, they were expected to be in a full scale rebuild following the departure of veterans Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and, eventually, Rajon Rondo. Despite the turnover, Stevens has more than keep the Celtics afloat—he's made them legitimate title contenders. They came one game away from the NBA finals last year, and despite an up-and-down 2019 campaign, they still remain right in the thick of things in the Eastern Conference. Sure, GM/President Danny Ainge deserves a ton of credit for his masterful job turning the roster, but it all wouldn't work without the young mind of Stevens.
Mike D'Antoni found great success as the coach of the Phoenix Suns back in the early 2000s, before flaming out in his stops with the New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers. However, D'Antoni has had a career resurgence of sorts with the Houston Rockets—a team that led the league in wins last season and came a game short of the NBA Finals. Odds are, they probably would have dethroned the Warriors if their point guard Chris Paul wasn't out with a hamstring injury.
While the 2019 campaign hasn't been as stellar, due to the loss of some key players like small forward Trevor Ariza, they're still very much in contention. While their chances of unseating the Warriors are slim-to-none this year, James Harden is in contention for an early NBA award winner spot, currently in line to win his second straight MVP award. D'Antoni's offensive system is a huge reason why.
The Denver Nuggets have taken the league by storm this season, and are currently the second seed in the Western Conference behind Golden State (Considering that the Warriors are essentially an All-Star team, the Nuggets might as well be the first seed, because the Dubs almost don't even count as a team at this point). Denver's resurgence can be attributed to the MVP play of the league's first point center, Nikola Jokic, and the innovative coaching style of Mike Malone, who has allowed his big man to operate like no seven footer ever has in NBA history. Malone is certainly in line for Coach of the Year honors this season, and there is no one around the league that will argue that notion.
Opting to coach the Golden State Warriors over the New York Knicks might have been the single greatest move by a coach in NBA history. The Knicks haven't made the playoffs in six years, while Kerr has amassed three NBA championships, and is basically a shoe-in to win his fourth this season.
There is no doubt that the Warriors are an all-time great team. Kerr's winning percentage during his tenure as Golden State's coach is the best in NBA history, and he's also managed to become the quickest coach to win 300 games—beating the legendary Pat Riley by a large margin. While many attribute Kerr's success to a stacked roster, fans don't give the coach enough credit—the Warriors couldn't make it out of the second round of the playoffs under ex-coach Mark Jackson. Kerr's up-temp, flow offense has unlocked the true potential of splash brothers Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, and has created a dynasty that will be remembered for the remainder of time.
The Brooklyn Nets have been in a pretty precarious spot since mortgaging their entire future for the services of the washed up trio of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Jason Terry. Following what was considered by many to be one of the most one-sided trades in NBA history, the Nets have managed to somehow rebuild their image, thanks largely in part to first-time head coach Kenny Atkinson, whose modern, three-point centric offense has revitalized the franchise. The Nets currently sit at the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference, and look to make their first postseason appearance since the 2014-15 season.
Trusting "The Process" has been the butt of many jokes over the years, but it couldn't have worked out much better for the Philadelphia 76ers. The team has finally reaped the success of its tank-fueled drafts, and now have a legitimate big three in Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, and Jimmy Butler. This all couldn't have been possible, however, without former Spurs assistant Brett Brown, who has helped weather the storm and keep his team's spirit high despite the many years of extensive losing. He's also responsible for making Ben Simmons a full time point guard, which has proven to be as savvy of a move as any. Brown definitely deserves a large chunk of the credit for the team's long and tumultuous rebuild.
Mike Budenholzer, another former Spurs assistant, helped make the Atlanta Hawks one of the better teams in the East for years, despite a lack of star-power. His teams were never able to make it over the hump, mostly because of a dearth of talent, but there's no doubt Coach Bud was a huge reason why they were competitive in the first place. Now coaching the Milwaukee Bucks, Budenholzer has elevated the team to new heights—thanks to his modernized approach on the offensive end of the floor. The Bucks are shooting more threes than ever before, and Giannis is a legitimate MVP candidate (although, James Harden is widening the gap in recent weeks). There is no doubt the Bucks can be a force in the East for years to come, so long as Coach Bud is calling the shots.
Last but not least, we have not only one of the best coaches in the NBA, but one of the greatest coaches of all time—the immortal Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs. With five NBA championship already under the belt and being a lock to make the playoffs every year, Pop is essentially the NBA equivalent of Bill Belichick. Like the Pat's coach, Popovich has instilled a culture within the San Antonio Spurs that is the standard of excellence. When you factor in his masterful rotations, player-friendly offense, and clout amongst the league, he's, without a doubt, under consideration to be the greatest coach of all time.