The NBA is definitely the pinnacle of basketball. No other league in the world comes close to the same peak of talent. It attracts the best players from all over the globe. But elite players need equally brilliant coaches to guide them to success. Without them, all the talent in the world is not enough.
Of course, not all coaches are good enough to cut it at the top. Sometimes they have the ability but struggle to react under the bright lights of the NBA. Others come from college programs and just weren’t able to adapt to the elite level. It’s beyond difficult to make it at the top.
So today, we’re going to look at 25 of the least effective coaches in NBA history. They came in looking smart and confident in their slick suits. But by the end of their reigns, they were quite the opposite. Check out the list below.
25. Wes Unseld
Hiring a franchise legend is a risky move for both the team and the player. Unfortunately for Unseld, that’s what a generation of fans remember. He’s the Washington Wizard’s greatest-ever player, but definitely not their best coach. In fact, you could make a case that he’s their worst ever.
Unseld took over in 1997 and led the team to six seasons of mediocrity. He averaged over 53 losses a year and only made the playoffs once. This is a team that went very stale during his time in charge. Things didn’t get much better when he was general manager, as they still averaged 47 losses per season.
Since joining the Rockets, D’Antoni has proven that he is an excellent coach. Indeed, in 2018, the NBA handed him the Coach of the Year award. But it hasn’t been easy for him up until this point. His time with the Knicks and the Lakers were both very difficult. Let’s just say that Carmelo Anthony won’t be on his Christmas card list.
The pair constantly clashed during his tenure in New York. He actually resigned midway through the 2011-12 season because he couldn’t implement his style on the team. Later he went to Los Angeles in tough circumstances. He finished his first and only full season 27–55. This was the worst 82-game record in franchise history.
You don’t have to be a bad coach to be ineffective. Pitino became a massive hero in New England with his college coaching success. He took Boston University and Providence far in the NCAA tournament. The Boston Celtics decided that he was perfect to revive their fortune.
However, he struggled under the pressure of the major league and posted three losing seasons. His tenure saw him leave a 192-220 record behind. Finally, he got sick of the negativity around him and quit. Insanely, this meant walking away from a $20 million contract with six years left.
PJ Carlesimo got fired and the Golden State Warriors were desperate. Did they really think they were going to get it from a man who endured five boring years with the Sacramento Kings? Apparently so. That’s how St. Jean arrived as head coach of the Golden State Warriors.
His record with the team was absolutely shambolic. After going 13-42, the Warriors finished with the second-worst record in franchise history. St. Jean was so bad he couldn’t even be the worst. Unsurprisingly, he never coached again in the NBA, not even as an assistant.
Brown isn’t a bad coach. He was excellent with the Cleveland Cavaliers, even winning the NBA Coach of the Year award. But ultimately he fell short multiple times with the Cavs, failing to reach the finals with LeBron James and the best record in the NBA. This was enough for the Cavaliers to fire him.
However, his move to the Lakers was terrible. He only lasted five games – the third-shortest tenure in NBA history. The Lakers had Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Ron Artest, and Pau Gasol. So why did he remain committed to the Princeton offense? It just didn’t work out.
The Milwaukee Bucks thought they had unearthed a gem in Krystkowiak. But instead of finding a diamond, it was more like a hot piece of coal that burnt everything he touched. Confidence quickly turned into horror as a potential playoff squad collapsed in dramatic fashion.
They regretted handing him a four-year contract after winning his first game. In short, he didn’t win much more, as he led them to a deeply disappointing 26-56 season. That’s bad by anyone’s standards. Milwaukee hired John Hammond as their new general manager. His first action was to fire Krystkowiak.
Fisher looked like a good hire for the Knicks but it turns out that you just can’t predict the future. He had a good relationship with Phil Jackson and it looked like a match made in heaven. However, that didn’t turn out to be the case. Knicks fans had their hopes and dreams typically crushed.
The Knicks ended his first season with a 17–65 record, the worst in franchise history. They were consistent but consistently bad. The owners gave him a chance to turn things around but he couldn’t manage it. They fell dramatically out of playoff contention and the Knicks fired him.
College coaches dream of making it big in the NBA. Unfortunately, not everyone is capable of making that massive leap. Calipari is one of the most infamous cases of this. He had a reputation for developing some of the best young talents in the country. But when you do this in the NBA team, it feels like favoritism.
During his time with the New Jersey Nets, there was contempt for his treatment of Sam Cassell. It all escalated behind the scenes until a full-blown mutiny in the locker room. This spilled onto the court after a 3-17 start to the 1998-99 season. This was a harsh lesson but one for all college coaches to learn from.
The collapse of the Sacramento Kings is one of the most dramatic in recent NBA history. They had gone to the playoffs in 2006-07 and looked like they were going to be contenders under their new coach Musselman. But they didn’t count on the drama he would bring to the franchise and the toxicity it created.
Police arrested Musselman for DUI. This got a lot of negative media attention and there was a very memorable press conference where he tearfully apologized. This low point didn’t help his image at all and failed to endear him to his players. The Kings fired him after a 33-49 season.
Larry Brown had surprisingly turned the Los Angeles Clippers into a winning team before retiring after taking them to the playoffs for two years. Weiss took the torch from Brown. Basically he dropped it and burnt all of their hopes and dreams. Attendance levels dropped to record lows as the Clippers finished 27-55 in his first season.
It took him ages to get another head coaching position. The Seattle Supersonics decided to give him another shot. Once again, he took over a team with high expectations. But they totally collapsed as decades worth of issues turned into a 13-17 start to the season. The Sonics kicked him out the door.
The fact that Lowe got a head coach job in the NBA shows how desperate the Timberwolves were in the first place. He had very little experience and it showed on the court as they continued to underperform. Lowe couldn’t make an impression but remained at the franchise behind the scenes.
He had a chance for redemption with the Vancouver Grizzlies. The franchise’s fifth head coach in its five years of existence, Lowe brought them the highest win records of their young existence. However, we’re talking about back-to-back 23-59 seasons. Finally, an eight-game losing streak in his third season saw his professional coaching career ended.
Here’s another college coach who couldn’t make it with a big team. There was a time when the Detroit Pistons were one of the best teams in the league. That feels like forever ago now. Kuester is one of the biggest reasons behind their fall, because he just wasn’t good enough. Indeed, he once had a 1-27 season in the NCAA with the GWU Colonials.
The big question was why did the Pistons think this was the man to lead them to glory? His veteran-filled team openly mocked and disrespected him. After two seasons the Pistons fired him with an overall record of 57-107. It was truly a disastrous appointment that was never going to work.
Jackson’s time with the Knicks was an absolute shambles. To be fair, the Knicks and shambles are two words that often go together. But this was a particularly bleak time in the New York franchise’s history. When he took over they were actually decent and coming off of a playoff appearance.
The expectation was that they would at least match that, if not go on to win the title. But instead, he blunted their attack, turning them from a fast team to a half-court team. After going 7-8 in his second season, the Knicks fired him. They went on to make 10 straight playoff appearances without him.
Some people make excellent coaches, but just don’t have the capacity to be a great head coach. Bach is a prime example. He’s a brilliant mind but just couldn’t cut it on the biggest stage of them all. After a brief spell as interim coach of the Golden State Warriors, they gave him the full-time job.
In short, they failed to post a winning season during his time in the Bay. A 22-60 record in his second season summed up how truly awful they were. Then his last year in charge saw them finish at the bottom of the Western Conference. Finally, he jumped ship for a supporting role with the Bulls.
Another superb college coach, Floyd’s two attempts to make it in the NBA were miserable. First of all, he had the thankless task of trying to replace Phil Jackson. That’s like using salt instead of sugar when you bake a cake. Not very good at all. After three seasons with an overall record of 90-231, the Bulls fired him.
Floyd admits he wasn’t a good NBA coach. Just check out his time with the Charlotte Hornets, which was equally mediocre. He posted a record of 41-41 in his only season there. This wasn’t good enough for management, who made the decision to get rid of him.
We’re kinder to expansion team coaches on this list because it normally takes some time for them to get going. But Winters was just next-level dreadful in charge of the Grizzlies. Seriously. This is definitely one of the least successful reigns in NBA history.
Winters led them to an NBA-record 23 consecutive losses. They also reached 100 losses faster than any other franchise in the league. In 1995-96 they recorded a dreadful 15-67 record, the worst expansion mark ever. No wonder the franchise failed in Vancouver.
College coach with a phenomenal record goes to the NBA and absolutely flops is an all-too-common scenario. Hamilton is a prime example of this stereotype. He’s a two-time ACC Coach of the Year and regularly leads teams into the NCAA tournament. But when it comes to the NBA, he was a disaster. His sole season with the Washington Wizards was one of the worst in their history.
Washington got off to a 7-34 start before ending the season with the third-worst record in the league. Needless to say, the Wizards’ ownership wasn’t too happy with this. They showed Hamilton the door and told him to close it on his way out. But he’s been in charge of Florida State University for the past 18 years.
Hanzlik’s tenure is one of the shortest on this list. A decent player, he spent most of his career with the Denver Nuggets. Then he decided to take the step into coaching. After serving as an assistant in Charlotte and then with Atlanta, he replaced Dick Motta as head coach of the Denver Nuggets.
This turned out to be a disastrous decision. His overall record was 11-71, which is frankly grim reading. The Nuggets’ longest winning streak during this miserable season was two games. In contrast, they had losing streaks of 12, 16, and 23. This entry belongs in infamy.
The Grizzlies weren’t terrible in 2007. They had decent players on their rosters like Rudy Gay, Mike Conley, and an up-and-coming Pau Gasol. But then Iavaroni came and ran the franchise into the ground. Memphis had the makings of being a young and exciting team. Iavaroni saw it differently.
He remained in charge for less than two horrible seasons. First of all, he led them to a 20-62 finish in 2007-08. That’s just horrific. Imagine playing for a team that loses multiple times a week. It’s relentlessly draining and depressing. He then followed it up with an 11-30 start to the next season. At least he was consistent.
It’s fair to say that Vaughn didn’t cast much of a spell on the Orlando Magic. He’s officially the worst coach in the history of the franchise. When the Magic hired him, they were in a rebuilding phase. However, they didn’t plan on him knocking the whole building down.
They won just 15 out of 52 games before the Magic finally lost patience with him. It included a 10-game losing streak and multiple five-game losing streaks. Now he’s working as an assistant coach with the Brooklyn Nets. There’s time on his side to try again with another franchise in the future.
How did Wittman keep getting jobs in the NBA? For some reason, franchises kept hiring him despite his shambolic overall record. The Cavaliers and Timberwolves were decent when he took over. But then he ran them into the ground despite exciting young players and playoff form.
Somehow he got another job despite a then-overall record of 100-207. The Wizards hired him and he somehow managed to swing four years out of them. They made the playoffs twice but in his final season missed out. That was enough for the Wizards to cast him out on the street.
Montgomery is an icon at Stanford, where he led their basketball program for 18 years. He also had success with the University of California after a short stint in the NBA. That was with the Golden State Warriors, and it’s fair to say they won’t want to remember it too much.
In sum, he was on borrowed time for all of his tenure there. He finished the 2004-05 season at 34-48. The Warriors’ GM Chris Mullin was ready to drop the ax then and there. However, the ownership gave him another season. They posted the exact same record. Mullin fired Montgomery and his replacement Don Nelson brought them to the playoffs.
Kruger is a phenomenal college coach. He’s one of only two men to lead five programs to the NCAA tournament. That’s an outrageous record. However, his one and only tenure as a professional team coach ended in disaster. Kruger spent three seasons in charge of the Atlanta Hawks and they didn’t go well.
He had some room in his first two seasons to rebuild the team. Results weren’t as important as a sense that the team was progressing on and off the court. By the third season with a record of 58-106, he was under more pressure. So he promised fans a refund of $125 each if they failed to make the playoffs. An 11-16 start to the season saw him fired.
Rambis was excellent for the LA Lakers, winning four NBA Championships with them during his playing career. After spells playing for other NBA franchises, he came back to the Lakers in an assistant coaching capacity. He did get one season effectively as interim coach and this was enough for the Minnesota Timberwolves to swoop him up.
That was a massive mistake. Rambis was one of the worst coaches in their history and the Timberwolves have had some bad ones. He didn’t have a clue how to get the best out of his young inexperienced squad. After establishing a dismal record of 32-132 over two seasons, Minnesota finally fired him.
Some players just can’t cut it as a head coach. That was exactly the case for Thomas, who is a Pistons legend. A 12-time All-Star and a two-time NBA champion, there weren’t many players out there with his level of experience. But both of his NBA coaching jobs – with the Pacers and the Knicks – ended in disaster.
His time with the Knicks was especially bad. They had the highest payroll in the league, but the second-worst record. As well as that, he lost an $11.5 million sexual harassment lawsuit. Meanwhile, his actual coaching was disastrous. After 59 losses in the 2007-08 season, the fans hated him. Finally, the Knicks cut their losses and fired him.