The NBA coaching carousel over the last few seasons has been spinning out of control. The life of an NBA coach has become more like that of a professional gambler — hoping to land in a city with a roster or salary cap space that can keep their spot the table.
The days when a coach was given the time to build and shape his team are gone. In today’s NBA, the only coaches that are safe are the two conference champions.
In any sport, the best teams that win the most championships all have one thing in common: quality leadership.
Eight of the last 10 NBA champions have had coaches who were at least in their fifth year.
Erik Spoelstra was only with the Miami Heat as a head coach for four seasons when they won the 2012 Finals, but Spoelstra had been an assistant on the team since 1997.
Spoelstra — along with Gregg Popovich, Phil Jackson and Pat Riley — had the time to build and grow their teams for at least five years before taking home a banner to hang in the rafters.
The other two championships came to Rick Carlisle and Doc Rivers, who were in their third and fourth seasons with their teams, respectively, and who had senior leadership on the court in Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Garnett.
Since 1990, 16 of 26 championship trophies belong to two coaches: Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich. In the last 26 seasons, the majority of the titles have been split between three teams: the Bulls, the Lakers and the Spurs.
Each team also had two things in common: an iconic superstar player and a hall-of-fame coach who commanded their star’s respect.
Phil Jackson led Michael Jordan to six titles with the Bulls and helped Kobe Bryant win five with the Lakers, becoming the molder of two of the greatest players in the sport.
Gregg Popovich has a relationship with Tim Duncan that may be that closest player-coach pairing the NBA has ever seen.
The last three seasons have all seen at least one coach lose his job after taking his team to the playoffs. The Warriors, Nets (twice), Hawks, Celtics, Clippers, Grizzlies, Nuggets and Magic have all separated themselves from coaches that had made it into the top half of the league.
With the exception of the Celtics, all of these teams were left out of the playoffs, often before they picked up these coaches.
In an age where superstar players are causing teams to leverage millions of dollars in cap space for a chance to court them, head coaches are an afterthought. But the greatest teams in history have all had the best coaches.