October 05, 2009
OK, we know the first decade of the 21st century doesn't really end until 2011. We think. But we also know there have been 10 full NBA seasons played since the phrase "Y2K" was on all of our lips (1999-2000), and here at Ball Don't Lie we've decided to use this as an offseason excuse to rank some of the best and not-so-brightest of the 10 campaigns in question. The result? Why, top 10 lists!
(Bill Sharman's the greatest coach that nobody ever talks about. Look him up.)
Sure, there are ways to judge a great coach. You could look at overall winning percentage or Coach of the Year awards or championships. You could also remember that players win games, lose games, and that TV guys get to vote on the Coach of the Year awards.
This has to be a personal list. Really, I'm going with the 10 coaches that, since the 1999-00 season, I'd want running my favorite team were:
1. The starting point of that team, or,
2. The general manager of the team.
I'd prefer to be playing, obviously. And while those who have seen me play basketball or remember what I said about the 2005-06 Clippers before their season started might not want me in either position, I have to take a vested interest in the rankings in order to come up with a ranking I feel comfortable with. It sure beats ranking them on winning percentage, alone.
Also understand that every season the Coach of the Year award is the absolute hardest to vote on because there are so many deserving candidates each season. There are plenty of fireable offenses given from the sideline each season, but the top half is so, so good. Which makes this list about the hardest to put together because what's wrong with Rick Adelman? What's wrong with Rick Carlisle? George Karl or Jim O'Brien or Nate McMillan (geez, I left off Nate?) or even Don Nelson?
These are the men that didn't even make the cut, and I couldn't tell you why. So, for now, let me tell you about the 10 that did.
10. Larry Brown
He abhors the 3-point line, even after years of data and sound play have revealed the 3-point stripe can be used as a dangerous, dangerous weapon when applied properly. He takes the air out of the ball, sometimes falls in love with the wrong player and his work as de facto GM often kills his own team's chances.
But watch any Larry Brown team, and there have been many, execute a play after a timeout. Nobody's better at it. For all his warts, Brown is a fantastic, effective, coach.
He's also ... won an ESPY.
9. Pat Riley
Riley the GM often destroys his team's chances. He doesn't like rebuilding, he doesn't like coaching rebuilding efforts, and we should probably stop talking about Riley the GM.
Because Riley the coach? He wins games. He milks the absolute most he can out of the players he's traded for, and despite his exacting style, players still like playing for him. And as soon as the Heat get pretty good again, sorry Erik Spoelstra ...
8. Jerry Sloan
You look at Sloan's rotations sometimes and wonder just how he's managed to make it to 50 wins, again. No shooting guard, no center, injuries or thin bench or whatever. That's what he'd say. "Whatever," and then he'd go out and beat the Trail Blazers in Portland by 12.
There are holes. Sloan sometimes hands minutes to players who don't deserve them, and his "no layups" rule is more of a reality than a clichéd throwaway line. He sends teams to the line, endlessly, putting his Jazz behind the 8-ball by giving the opposite side easy points. Oh, and he's also been winning, pretty much nonstop, since 1988. So I'll be quiet now.
7. Scott Skiles
A few brief reasons why. Because that's how Skiles likes to answer things.
The team would run.
As a player, I'd be ticked off at Skiles, but I'd also be running through the proverbial brick wall for him, and I wouldn't know why.
6. Mike D'Antoni
It's not just the "we'd-get-to-run-and-shoot-at-give-defense-a-lick-and-a-promise" ideal. That's the wrong ideal, idea, anyway.
D'Antoni stresses defense. He works at it, and his teams have been underrated defensively. He's also been outfitted with some pretty small, pretty quick teams with short rotations. Mike loves his short rotations, and if you'd seen the end of his bench in some seasons, you'd know why. And he wins. Last year's Knicks weren't a 32-win team, but somehow they were.
5. Flip Saunders
Nobody seems to like this guy but me, and I know players have tuned him out and his teams don't get to the line often enough. But he also puts together fantastic offensive seasons for his team, he's a very sound defensive coach and he gets his teams in the playoffs.
And, silly me, I don't think it's his fault that he hurt Ben Wallace's(notes) feelings by not giving him low-percentage looks that never went in during Wallace's contract year (a year that saw Flip's presence take the team from 17th to fourth overall on offense), and I don't think it's his fault that Rasheed Wallace(notes) hates referees so much.
4. Stan Van Gundy
It may seem like SVG has a slim resume working for him, but I don't know if there is any other coach working today that has as sound a take on how the modern pro game works as much as Van Gundy.
The results speak for themselves. The Magic have been working to the absolute peak of their potential since he took over. That's gotta be coaching. Every year, he makes the best-case scenario come true.
3. Hubie Brown
Hubie didn't coach much in this decade, 168 games plus one playoff turn. But you know you'd absolutely have the time of your life playing for him.
He cuts to the core of you, Baxter, and as a GM you know you wouldn't be wasting a roster spot with Hubie. He'd get the most out of whoever you bring in.
2. Phil Jackson
The two and the one spot are so interchangeable, and the difference actually came down to a rather boring distinction — Phil Jackson took 2004-05 off, but Gregg Popovich coached. Therefore, Pop was just as brilliant, for just a bit longer.
Either person works, though. Jackson's ability to weave a free-flowing offense with few plays alongside stifling defense and stern (if not, yes, we'll break out the 35-year-old clichés regarding Phil ... unorthodox) leadership qualities have his teams constantly working in top gear. Yes, he's gotten to coach Kobe and Shaq, but last I checked, Coach Pop has had a pretty good roster or 10 in his lifetime.
1. Gregg Popovich
He's just the perfect coach for our times. He gets on with the stars and slumpers, he piles on the self-deprecating tone without making it seem like an act, and he's honest and direct about a game that needs more of, "well, no. They just made more free throws than we did" without seeming like a smart-ass. OK, he kind of seems like a smart-ass sometimes.
Pop's also won heaps of games, four titles overall and the respect of just about everyone who's ever played for him. Bruce Bowen's(notes) kind of angry at him, right now, but you watch. Bowen'll probably be assisting Popovich on the Spurs bench by 2013.
Questions? Comments? Furious and righteous anger at a world, not to mention top 10 list, gone wrong? Swing by later today at about 3 p.m. Eastern for a BDL mini-chat regarding this very list.