Doc Rivers has an NBA championship and more than 500 career victories on his resume, so making a case for him as the league's top coach isn't difficult. Way back in 1999, though, Rivers was just a rookie coach with one of the least star-studded rosters in NBA.
At 38 years old and just three years removed from his last season as a player, Rivers guided the 1999-2000 within a game of the playoffs and earned the NBA's Coach of the Year award. The Magic posted winning records under Rivers in each of the next three seasons despite star forward Grant Hill's constant injury troubles, but Rivers was unceremoniously let go 11 games into the 2003-04 campaign.
It didn't take long for the Celtics to scoop him up. Rivers came to Boston the very next season, and four years later the Celtics celebrated their 17th NBA championship.
Now, Shaquille O'Neal calls Rivers the best coach in the NBA. A few other coaches could make the same claim.
Phil Jackson's retirement left Spurs coach Gregg Popovich with the most championships among active coaches, with five. Although the Spurs have aged since their last title in 2007, they mustered the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference last season and are in contention to do the same this season despite losing Manu Ginobili to injury.
Rick Carlisle finally received the credit he deserved when the Mavericks won the crown last season. Although Carlisle directed the Pistons during two 50-win seasons, Detroit didn't secure a title until Carlisle was replaced by Larry Brown. The former Celtic has since made a name for himself in Indiana and now Dallas.
It seems like the name at the top of everyone's list this season is George Karl. The Nuggets don't have a superstar player, but they have the second-best record in the West playing Karl's up-tempo style.
Like Rivers, Nate McMillan was known as a steady guard during his playing days, and after serving as a coach on the floor he made a seamless transition to the bench. McMillan has yet to win a championship or earn a coach of the year award, but opponents and former players express admiration for how the Portland coach keeps the Trail Blazers winning every year despite roster turnover and a sea of injuries.
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