The 8 Debate

Best NBA Coaches
March 18, 2013

Though it isn't quite like the 1980s and the '90s—when Hall of Famers such as Phil Jackson, Pat Riley, Chuck Daly and Jerry Sloan were coaching—the NBA still has its share of sideline visionaries. Here are the top coaches in the game today:

1 Gregg Popovich

Spurs

The even-keeled Popovich treats his superstars the same way he treats his 12th man, a quality that has earned him unflagging respect in the locker room. Pop's ability to adapt—his first 13 years in San Antonio featured defensive-minded teams, the last three years have been more offense-oriented—is his greatest strength. On the job since 1996, Popovich is the longest-tenured active coach in a big four pro sport.

2 Doc Rivers

Celtics

A players' coach, Rivers is a powerful presence on the sideline. Though he often tabs assistant coaches as offensive and defensive coordinators, Rivers is an underrated tactician, particularly at the end of games. He has led the Celtics to six Atlantic Division titles in his eight years on the bench.

3 Rick Carlisle

Mavericks

Carlisle blends an unflappable sideline demeanor with meticulous attention to detail. A student of Daly and Larry Bird, he places a premium on execution with complicated—but effective—offensive sets.

4 Tom Thibodeau

Bulls

Thibodeau, who spent more than two decades as an assistant before finally getting his first head-coaching opportunity, with Chicago in 2010, has thrived using a disciplined system and a relentless defensive mentality. He tied the NBA record for wins by a rookie coach (62) and has the Bulls safely in the playoffs this year, despite playing without '11 MVP Derrick Rose since the start of the season.

5 Erik Spoelstra

Heat

Think coaching superstars is easy? Ask Mike D'Antoni. A Riley disciple, Spoelstra, 42, is a skilled tactician whose greatest gift is a Jackson-like ability to manage oversized egos. And he's not winning only because of his Big Three: Before LeBron James and Chris Bosh arrived, Spoelstra averaged 45 wins in two seasons.

6 George Karl

Nuggets

The venerable Karl is an innovative offensive mind who coaches a player-friendly up-tempo style. Though he can be combative, Karl's candor is respected by players, and his success—he is the only active coach with more than 1,000 wins—speaks for itself.

7 Rick Adelman

Timberwolves

This injury-riddled season in Minnesota notwithstanding, Adelman is a brilliant offensive mind who adapts to his personnel. With youth or experience, Adelman wins: He has made the playoffs in 15 of his 20 full seasons as a head coach.

8 Lionel Hollins

Grizzlies

A strong teacher and motivator, Hollins has come into his own in his second stint with the Grizzlies. Memphis's 13--4 record since trading leading scorer Rudy Gay is a testament to Hollins's ability to adapt on the fly.

When Miami won the NBA title last June, coach Erik Spoelstra (left) joined an exclusive club: He became just the fourth active coach to win a championship. (Blame Phil Jackson, who hogged 11.) The others: Gregg Popovich, Rick Carlisle and Doc Rivers.

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PHOTO ILLUSTRATIONPHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY SARAH ADLER; GREG NELSON (CARLISLE, POPOVICH); AL TIELEMANS (RIVERS); JOHN W. MCDONOUGH (BACKGROUND)CARLISLE, POPOVICH, RIVERS PHOTOMIKE SEGAR/REUTERS (SPOELSTRA)

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