Throughout the Offseason, we will rank the top 15 coaches in NBA History. Want the whole list? Click here.
Total Seasons: 11
Total Championships: 2
Regular Season Record: 552-306
Regular Season Winning Percentage: .643
Playoff Record: 81-61
Playoff Winning Percentage: .570
Why he’s great: Pride is the downfall of many great coaches. Jones’ predecessor in Boston, Bill Fitch, was arguably a more accomplished coach than him. But he had to run the Celtics his way, and it eventually cost him the team. Jones’ best trait as a coach was his least noticed: he knew how to stay the hell out of the way.
There’s something to be said for that. How much coaching does Larry Bird really need? Jones was smart enough to keep a steady hand on the Celtics without becoming overbearing, allowing them to operate as adults without risking an undisciplined locker room because he knew the veterans would keep it in line. Pat Riley was never able to do that. Phil Jackson is struggling with it right now. No matter how great a coach is, he has to know when to trust his team to figure things out naturally.
His reputation could’ve been much greater. He was fired after only three seasons coaching the Washington Bullets despite winning 155 games and making the NBA Finals. Had he been able to coach them through the decade, he likely would’ve been there to win the 1978 championship instead of Dick Motta. Had he won a title with an aging Wes Unseld instead of Bird, he might get a bit more respect from casual fans. Still, I’m not sure Jones is complaining about winning two rings and leading arguably the greatest team ever in the ’86 Celtics.
Why he’s not higher: Coaching Larry Bird is a double-edged sword. He doesn’t need much coaching, but he also doesn’t need much coaching. How much credit are we going to give someone who sat at the head of the best organization in basketball? He always had great players and, if anything, probably should’ve won at least one more championship.
The peripherals on most of his teams are also questionable. Every one of his Celtics teams won more games than their Pythagorean expectation would suggest, meaning they likely received an unsustainable amount of luck through things like bad bounces, 50/50 balls, officiating and so on. Not one of his non-Boston teams ever finished higher than 9th in offensive efficiency, and his short tenures with Seattle and Washington indicate potential discord we weren’t aware of.
If Jones had a more distinctive brand of coaching we might be able to overlook that, but there just honestly isn’t much evidence to suggest he was a particularly great coach outside of his great players. So by accomplishment he has to make this list, but it’d be unfair to rank him any higher than this.
For the whole list, click here.