I have this theory that good NBA coaches have a track record of winning--on average--four playoff games per season.
If you take your team to the second round every year and reach the Elite Eight of the NBA Playoffs--on average--then you are probably a good NBA head coach.
So with that in mind, there are 17 NBA head coaches who have led teams in the 21st Century that have met that 4-per-year criteria.
Nine of those men coach NBA teams today (Gregg Popovich, Rick Adelman, Doc Rivers, Rick Carlisle, Mike Brown, Erik Spoelstra, Scott Brooks, Tom Thibodeau and Frank Vogel).
And I would say seven of the other eight coaches deserve strong consideration from NBA squads today in need of a new team leader (the lone exception is Rudy Tomjanovich, who left coaching because of health reasons in 2005).
I decided to rank these seven--along with five other top assistants--to form a short list of NBA bosses who would be ideal to fill some of the coaching vacancies out there today.
1. PHIL JACKSON
229 playoff wins, 20 seasons, 13 conference titles, 11 rings
The Lakers need to get on their knees, beg for forgiveness and offer Jeanie Buss' future husband whatever he wants to coach this team. It is obvious the Lakers are a .500 team without him and only he can lead Kobe and Company to the Promised Land. Also, the 67-year-old Triangle teacher makes it more appealing for Dwight Howard to re-sign. After all, Phil seems to be the only one who can Laker teams to play defense. If the Lakers stay stubborn by rejecting Phil, I would suggest he let the L.A. Clippers know he would be interested in their head coach position, once they make up their mind on Vinny Del Negro's tenuous situation. And don't get me wrong. I know Phil has recently said he is done coaching. But that's what they all say before they get the big job, right?
2. PAT RILEY
171 playoff wins, 24 seasons, 9 conference titles, 5 rings
Riles isn't going anywhere after establishing his kingdom in Miami. So if you want to lure the 68-year-old Heat President away from not one, not two, not three championships, you best be prepared to offer quarter-ownership in your team, not to mention a new Big 3 of his very own to coach. In other words: not gonna happen.
|3. LARRY BIRD
32 playoff wins, 3 seasons, 1 conference title, 0 rings
Bird is one for the Mission Improbable Department. The former Pacers head coach has not stalked sidelines in a suit since the 1999-2000 season, when he led Reggie Miller, Mark Jackson and Indiana to its last NBA Finals appearance. There is no reason for him to suit up again. But if 56-year-old Bird is healthy enough to coach once more, you would have one of the best basketball minds in the biz running your club. Remember, this 1997-98 NBA Coach of the Year retired as Pacers GM for health reasons after being named 2011-12 NBA Executive of the Year.
|4. LARRY BROWN
100 playoff wins, 26 seasons, 3 conference titles, 1 ring
When Brown coached the Charlotte Bobcats in 2009-10, he led them to the playoffs. That one line alone should be enough enticement for any lottery team in need of a coach today. When Charlotte traded away Tyson Chandler for nothing, Brown saw the writing on the wall and rode his own way out of town. But give Gregg Popovich's first NBA mentor a team and a budget, and he will have you in the playoffs within no time. The 72-year-old coaching lifer has the track record for quick turnaround success by doing things--his words--the right way.
|5. JERRY SLOAN
98 playoff wins, 26 seasons, 2 conference titles, 0 rings
Sloan had his fishing line in various coaching holes the past couple of years, but he always seems to pull it out when it is revealed teams are not willing to invest long-term, good money into their new coach. Give Sloan that--some stability and respect--and he will work his butt and your team's butt off to make the playoffs. For a long time, Deron Williams was not the same player he had been under Sloan's tutelage in Utah. Makes you wonder if players like Williams and Dwight Howard (see next) appreciate their former coaches after the firings.
|6. STAN VAN GUNDY
48 playoff wins, 8 seasons, 1 conference title, 0 rings
I think the world has realized who was right (SVG) and who was wrong (DH) in the Stan Van Gundy-Dwight Howard coach-player controversy of a year ago. I am also positive Howard has a newfound appreciation of the 53-year-old head coach who helped make the Orlando Magic annual playoff contenders, especially when a Lakers' Dream Team collabo could not muster one playoff win this postseason. Give Stan a lottery squad this summer and I betcha he'll turn them into a playoff team in no time.
|7. JEFF VAN GUNDY
44 playoff wins, 11 seasons, 1 conference title, 0 rings
It has been six years removed since Jeff Van Gundy last carried the boss title, but Stan's 51-year-old little brother has a lifetime of coaching still in him. Sure, we might be losing one of the funniest TV analysts in the NBA, but in some ways it's a shame to see his former analyst partner Mark Jackson coach a playoff team, while JVG calls Coach Jackson's playoff game for us fans at home--this Sunday on ABC. But you know what? I am really looking forward to that telecast, so I guess it's kinda cool in a way.
|8. MIKE BUDENHOLZER
Coach Bud heads my list of assistant coaches out there who are ready for the NBA head coach spotlight. The 42-year-old Budenholzer has been Gregg Popovich's right-hand man for most of the 21st Century and no suit--outside of Pop and GM R.C. Buford--knows the inner-workings of the Spurs' program as well as Mike Bud. If you are looking to emulate The Program with your young organization, Budenholzer would be my first hire as head coach. That said, I think he also would be San Antonio's first choice to replace Pop, so you would need to offer a pretty enticing package to get Bud to leave Texas.
|9: RON ADAMS
Now, if you would rather emulate The Tom Thibodeau Way, then Ron Adams is your man. The longtime NBA assistant coach is regarded as one of the best defensive coaches in the game, helping lead various teams toward the top of D charts. Who knows whether the 66-year-old teacher wants to take on an NBA head coaching job now. But there is no denying the fact that Coach Adams is one of the best assistants in NBA history. If you want to develop your young star, Coach A is your man (ask Derrick Rose). If you want a Top 5 defense, Coach A is your man (check the resume).
|10. MIKE MALONE
Like father, like son. His father Brendan Malone was able to choreograph the Jordan Rules for the Detroit Pistons' 1989 and 1990 NBA championship teams. Likewise, son Mike Malone has become a hot head coaching commodity after doing such a brilliant job the past two seasons as Coach Mark Jackson's X's-and-O's man. On top of that, the game-to-game adjustments the Warriors made in these 2013 NBA Playoffs have been priceless (new small-ball lineups, new zone defensive schemes, among others).
|11. DAVID JOERGER
The credit for Memphis' stifling defenses goes to Grizzlies Head Assistant Coach Joerger, who won five minor-league basketball championships in seven seasons of coaching in the D-League, CBA and IBA. Memphis, who had the 23rd-rated defense in the NBA before his arrival in 2009-10, has finished Top 10 in the three seasons since (eighth, seventh, then second this season). If you are looking for a 21st Century coach who understands analytics and develops defenders (Marc Gasol, Tony Allen, Mike Conley, among others), then 39-year-old Joerger is your man.
|12: QUIN SNYDER
Coach Synder got his masters by cramming in four different coaching experiences into the last six years: head coach for the D-League Austin Toros for three seasons, assistant coach with the Philadelphia 76ers in 2010-11; assistant with the L.A. Lakers in 2011-12; assistant coach with international coaching legend Ettore Messina for CSKA Moscow of the Euroleague in 2012-13. Now with rave reviews in three different leagues all over the world, the 46-year-old disciple of Pop (Toros are owned by the Spurs), Larry Brown (Clippers 20 years ago) and Mike Krzyzewski (Duke in the late '90s) is a good candidate to land a head coaching job sooner rather than later.