The great teams in any sport rely on far more than just the skills and reputations of their players. Their success also hinges on just how good their coach is too. This is the person who not only has the eye to spot great players, it’s also their responsibility to ensure that they can perform at the peak of their ability.
A good coach also has to foster genuine team spirit to ensure that everything can gel.
The results are then there for all to see – as amply demonstrated by coaches like the Denver Nuggets’ Michael Malone and the Milwaukee Bucks’ Mike Budenholzer. But there’s much more to being a good coach than just being called Michael, as the following examples prove.
Miami Heat’s head coach since 2008 typifies what makes a great team leader, and it shows in the achievements that he’s masterminded over the 15 years he’s been in the hot seat. They currently stand at two championships, over 600 winning games in charge and three Eastern Conference crowns, with many more accolades perhaps on their way.
Observers believe that his particular skill is making the very most of the resources at his disposal, turning players other teams reject into valuable squad members and changing tactics to suit the specific game situation. He’s also a defensive expert so equally good at neutralising the opponents’ offense.
There were considerable doubts about Nurse’s ability when he was first promoted from assistant to the head coach of the Toronto Raptors back in 2018. But he did all he could to silence the doubters by taking the team to their very first championship wins back in 2019.
He’s another coach who appreciates the value of having a rock-solid defence to see off the toughest opposition. He’s also shown that setbacks that might shake other teams, such as when star player Kawhi Leonard departed for the LA Clippers, don’t phase him at all.
Although his coaching days are over and he now serves as the Boston Celtics’ President of Basketball Operations, Stevens remains one of their most respected coaches of all time.
His real skill always lay in his superb strategic vision which worked alongside a real knack for player development. It seems a little unfair that all his efforts largely failed to result in any of the big titles in the sport. But he did retire from the role having taken the team to no less than three Conference finals and one semi-final – all that was lacking was that final push to win them.
Doc Rivers has certainly proved to have itchy feet over his coaching career with stints at the Magic, Celtics and Clippers before finding himself at his present home with the 76ers.
In his very first season, at the turn of the millennium, he clinched the Coach of the Year award for his work with the Magic. Now, two decades on, the NBA betting odds suggest he’s also in the running for it again. Obviously, this is going to depend on how the 76ers perform this season, but it’s a distinct possibility.
He’s a true players’ coach with a real ability to connect with the different personalities in the locker room – the result is always a team that will put everything on the line for him.
Now in his second stint at the Indiana Pacers, Rick Carlisle has held coaching roles for over thirty years now. He has also spent time with the Pistons, but it was with the Dallas Mavericks that he enjoyed the true purple patch of his career.
It was there that he led them to their first and only championship title, powering past the Miami Heat in the process. That was in 2011 and four years later he also claimed the title of being the coach with the most wins in the team’s illustrious history.
A brilliant tactician, he also has the ability to lift a team to perform at its very best even when the odds are stacked against them.
No list of the coaches’ GOAT would be complete without this man. Now President of San Antonio Spurs, Popovich’s coaching tree is now legendary as is his record as the winningest coach of all time. He broke the record in March 2022, notching up his 1,336th victory to beat Don Nelson’s record.
Over his career he’s picked up three Coach of the Year awards as well as ensuring the continued existence of the Spurs in a sport dominated by bigger and richer rivals. So, they may not be enjoying such a good season right now, but that will never detract from his achievements.
As for the next generation of potentially great coaches, there’s quite a list to choose from. We’ll just have to wait and see which ones truly make it.
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