The dilemma of selecting the ten greatest coaches in NBA history is how much is actual coaching, and how much is just having the best players?
14) Jack Ramsay
Ramsay led the Portland Trail Blazers to a World Championship in 1977, and if Bill Walton could have stayed healthy, they may have won a few more. But even after losing Walton, the Blazers were a fixture in the NBA playoffs. Ramsay took over for a short time in Indiana and in 1987 guided the Pacers to the NBA playoffs, where they would win their first-ever playoff game against the Atlanta Hawks before losing the series in four games.
13) Lenny Wilkens
Wilkens led the Seattle Supersonics to back-to-back NBA Finals appearances winning it all in 1979. Wilkens was a solid coach who seemed to coach forever.
12) Red Holzman
Holzman is the only Knicks coach to win an NBA title, and Red won 2. He built the Knicks into a mini-dynasty in the early 70s and is still a beloved New York Basketball history figure.
11) Billy Cunningham
Cunningham is maybe the most underrated NBA coach of all time. He has the third-best regular-season winning percentage of any coach in NBA history at .698. Yet, the Sixers were a team that played more like individuals than a team when Cunningham arrived on the scene. Billy took the Sixers to the Finals in 1980 and 1982 and finally won it all in 1983.
10) KC Jones
Jones never gets the credit he deserves for his time in Boston, and that’s a shame as any man who is a Head Coach in the NBA for ten years and ends up in five Finals deserves credit.
9) Don Nelson
Nelson never won an NBA title, but he revolutionized the sport of basketball with the point forward concept. His times were always fun to watch, and he took a lot of teams to the playoffs with his three-guard offense.
8) John Kundla
Kundla was the head coach of the first NBA dynasty, winning 5 Titles with the Minneapolis Lakers. Kundla coached 12 seasons, from 1947 to 1959. His teams won six league championships, one in the NBL, one in the BAA, and four in the NBA.
7) Larry Brown
Heck, I think a case could be made that Brown is the best basketball coach of all time at any level. The only problem was he never seemed to stay anywhere for more than a few years. Brown is the only coach to have won an NBA title and an NCAA Championship. Both of those championships were won as heavy underdogs also.
6) Alex Hannum
What makes Hannum uniques is the fact that he won NBA titles with two different teams, and on top of that, he is the only coach in history to win a title in the ABA and the NBA. He was the head coach of the 1967 76ers, who many still consider one of the greatest teams in NBA history.
5) Chuck Daly
Daly built a juggernaut out of what was a mess in Detroit in the early 1980s, and he did it at maybe the most competitive time in NBA history. He coached the Dream team, which was the greatest collection of basketball players that ever lived, and if you ask me, the Pistons got screwed by bad officiating in the 1988 NBA Finals and could have easily won three straight titles instead of two.
4) Red Auerbach
Red had an overall record of 938-479 (regular season), 99-69 (playoffs), and he won 9 NBA Championships 9 (1957, ’59-66 Celtics). But get this, he had zero assistant coaches! He coached the team all by himself. Now a lot of people will say that he had all the best players and it was easy to win it all, and that is simply not true! The Lakers had Elgin Baylor and Jerry West, just to name a few. I will give you that the depth of teams is not there, but Auerbach ushered in modern-day basketball.
3) Gregg Popovich
Popovich can be a little bit of a self-righteous asshole, but he is a great basketball coach who has won 5 NBA Titles in San Antonio. If he could somehow get the Spurs back to win another title or two, he would climb up this list even further.
2) Pat Riley
In addition to his five titles with two different teams, Riley won 50 or more games in 17 of the 24 seasons that he coached. What sets Riley apart from some others on this list was his ability to win with different styles of play. He won flashy with the Lakers, and then he turned the Knicks into a contender by playing physical defense and grinding it out. He won an NBA Title later in his career with the Miami Heat also.
1) Phil Jackson
Critics will say he always had the best players on the floor, and well, to be honest, they would be right. Eleven Championships with two separate teams are impossible to ignore, though. It’s been said the addition of players was what won the Bulls titles, but I will equate what Jackson did in Chicago and Los Angeles to what a guy like Sparky Anderson did in baseball in the 1970s in Cincinnati, where he had the ability to control monster egos and get them to put the team before their own self-interests.