In today’s NBA, we cherish those coaches who win. Not only that, but coaches who win the Big One: a Gregg Popovich, a Phil Jackson, an Erik Spoelstra. If a coach is ring-less, they’re somehow lacking something — usually unquantifiable. So we thought it only fair to bring you five current NBA coaches (sorry George), without a — capital T — Title on their coaching resume, but who fans should be happy to see patrolling their team’s sideline.
Part of the problem with ascribing coaching “talent” to only those coaches who win titles is the dearth of title-winning coaches. Here is the entire list of title-winning coaches dating back to 1980: Popovich, Spoelstra, the Zen Master, Rick Carlisle, Pat Riley, Doc Rivers, Larry Brown, Rudy Tomjanovich, Chuck Daly, Bill Fitch, Paul Westhead, Billy Cunningham, K.C. Jones, and…that’s it. In the last 33 years of the NBA, 13 coaches — total — have won an NBA Title.
A lot of this is due to the monopoly by Popovich, Jackson and Riley over the last 33 years. Combined, they’ve won 20 of the last 33 titles. Of those 13 coaches that have led their teams to the Promised Land in the last 33 years, 6 of them have, as-yet, failed to win a second: Carlisle (still active), Westhead, Cunningham, Doc (still active) Brown and Fitch. The point of this little trip down memory lane? It’s really hard to win an NBA title, and those that do generally do again if they’ve got the same squad to work with.
That last point isn’t exactly a revelation. There are 30 teams in the NBA today, in 1980 there were 22, but only one gets to win each year. And for those other coaches who captured more than one title, they had all-time greats to help. The only coach who could legitimately make the claim they won a title without a superstar, was Brown with those tough early 2000s Pistons teams, but even he had Rasheed Wallace in the vicinity of his prime. Even one-timers like Carlisle, Fitch, Doc, Westhead and Cunningham had some of the finest players in the NBA’s history to implement their game plan.
Compounding the simple numbers game that provides very few coaches (only 30 in the entire history of NBA) with a ring, is the fact that coaching in today’s NBA is a subjective game. Most teams run similar sets, and players are provided veritable tomes of data on their next opponent in a scouting report before each game. Plus, the public — even the tireless beat reporters — don’t get to actually see a coach, well, coaching. Sure, you see him screaming on the sideline or gesticulating in a silly manner as sweat stains their face and button-down shirts, but the ins and outs of coaching are largely esoteric. Because fans don’t really know what coaches do, exactly, the only way to judge them is on win-loss record. If a coach has a bad team around him (paging Brett Brown), they’re not likely to hold up well under that sort of half-formed scrutiny.
So it’s worth looking at everyone else. Here are the top 5 coaches, presently in the league, who have yet to win an NBA Title.
may will definitely disagree with these choices, so feel free to reprimand me in the comments (you will anyway).
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5. Mark Jackson
A coaching newbie, but one who still somehow commands the respect of his players. In just his second year as a coach — not just as the coach of the Golden State Warriors — Jackson led them to their best season in franchise history since Rick Barry was scowling his way to the Warriors’ only NBA title in 1975 (the Run-TMC era didn’t ever do better than win a single Western Semifinal game in 1991). Sure, some of Jackson’s platitudes sound trite taken out of context, the proselytizing can turn some off and he wasn’t the best analyst for the YES Network or ABC, but the Warriors responded to him last season.
That’s half the battle when you’re an NBA coach. Most of the roster is making a lot more money than coaches are, and they’re liable to sabotage a coach if you’re not playing them as much as they believe their contract demands. Jackson — as a former player — is able to navigate the rocky terrain inherent in the job description of an NBA head coach. Plus, he’s got some of the best reactions to what’s happening on the court.