The best NBA coaches get credit for motivating their basketball players and helping them to new heights. On the opposite end of that spectrum are the worst coaches who don’t understand what it takes to communicate with athletes or teach the game at a high level. Surprisingly, some of the worst NBA coaches ever have played in the NBA, went to All-Star games, and even successfully coached college teams.
1. Magic Johnson
Magic Johnson only coached 16 games for the Los Angeles Lakers, winning just five. While the sample size doesn’t give a complete picture of his lack of coaching skills, Johnson was in over his head and decided never to sit on the bench again. Magic would have needed more time to hone his coaching personality and potentially sit in as an assistant coach first.
2. Derek Fisher
Derek Fisher was woefully underqualified to coach the New York Knicks when he was hired in 2014. Fisher only got the job because he was one of Phil Jackson’s favorite players on the Lakers in the early 2000s. He finished his time in the Big Apple with a 40-96 record.
3. Isiah Thomas
Isiah Thomas has been a coach, executive, and even a business owner after retiring from the Detroit Pistons. His time coaching the New York Knicks and Indiana Pacers ended with fans making fun of Zeke’s lack of awareness and narcissism. Thomas never took coaching seriously. Instead, he thought he could run the team based on his reputation as a legendary point guard. That's probably why he ended his career with the Knicks with a .341% win record.
4. Steve Nash
Steve Nash made the playoffs a couple of times as the head coach of the Brooklyn Nets, with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving leading the team, but he often hired other former head coaches to help him on the sidelines. Nash never served in any sort of coaching role before Brooklyn, and it showed in his inexperienced playcalling and need to rely on the help of others.
5. Sidney Lowe
Whether it was due to poor coaching or just plain bad luck, Sidney Lowe’s record as a head coach is one of the worst in basketball lore. Lowe won only 79 games compared to 228 losses in a little more than four seasons coaching the Wolves and Grizzlies.
6. Brian Winters
Brian Winters was dealt a bad hand when he was hired to coach the expansion Vancouver Grizzlies in 1995. He went a putrid 23-102 in his two seasons in Canada before following that up with a terrible 13-46 season in Golden State. Winters never got another NBA head coaching gig.
7. Vinny Del Negro
Vinny Del Negro has a winning record in his coaching career, but his teams always did better when a successor took his job. Del Negro was replaced by Tom Thibodeau in Chicago and Doc Rivers in Los Angeles, and both times the teams went further in the playoffs without him. Del Negro didn’t have the fire or leadership skills to coach a high-level team.
8. Kurt Rambis
Kurt Rambis has long relied on friend nepotism to get jobs in the NBA. Ties to the Buss family in Los Angeles and Phil Jackson in New York got him hired by the Lakers and Knicks. His record of 56-145 doesn’t begin to show how unqualified Rambis remained once he started coaching these franchises.
9. John Beilein
John Beilein exemplifies the college coach who can’t transition properly to the NBA. After a very successful career with the Michigan Wolverines, Beilein turned to the pros and coached the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 14-40 record before resigning amid allegations he said a slur with racist connotations. He referred to his players as thugs during a meeting, something his players obviously didn’t appreciate.
10. D. Vitale
Vitale is another brilliant college basketball mind who didn’t understand how to teach the NBA game to young athletes. Vitale coached the Detroit Pistons to a 34-60 record in the late 1970s before taking his famous role as a college basketball television analyst. He’s been livening up NCAA broadcasts ever since.
11. Stephen Silas
Stephen Silas was brought into Houston to help develop young players in the aftermath of the Mike D’Antoni, James Harden, and Daryl Morey years. Instead, he went 59-177 and was fired in three seasons. Ime Udoka replaced Silas in Houston and has brought the team back to relevancy in his first year. It’s not a good look for Silas.
12. Randy Wittman
Not many coaches get the leash that Randy Wittman has. Wittman went to the playoffs only twice in nine-plus seasons with the Cavs, Wolves, and Wizards. It’s honestly puzzling why teams kept hiring him when the evidence became clear that he wasn’t someone who could elevate a team.
13. Wes Unseld
Wes Unseld got progressively worse each year he was in Washington. He started out winning 30 out of 55 games in 1988, but he won less than 30 games in his final three seasons. Unseld received a lot of slack due to his impressive playing career with the Washington franchise, but his coaching left something to be desired.
14. Bob Weiss
Bob Weiss didn’t really have the temper to be a head coach. Weiss liked to play good cop as an assistant, and he went a mere 223-299 with the Spurs, Hawks, Clippers, and Sonics as a head coach.
15. Luke Walton
Luke Walton filled in admirably for Steve Kerr on the Golden State Warriors in 2016, but that gave other teams the idea that Walton could coach a team with worse talent than the dynastic Dubs. Walton failed with the Kings and Lakers and had to go back to being an assistant coach with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
16. Jason Kidd
Jason Kidd has tried many tactics to get his teams atop the mountain, most famously asking a player to hit him so he could spill a drink and get an extra timeout while coaching Brooklyn. Kidd’s most significant accomplishment was getting the Dallas Mavericks to the 2022 Western Conference Finals, but the team has stagnated since.
17. Rick Pitino
Rick Pitino has a lot of black marks on his resume both on and off the court, and coaching the Boston Celtics is one of them. Pitino consistently missed the playoffs in Boston after a successful time in college with the Kentucky Wildcats. There’s definitely a spotlight on anybody who coaches the C’s, and Pitino folded under it.
18. Tim Floyd
Tim Floyd had the misfortunate fate of coaching the Chicago Bulls immediately after Michael Jordan retired and Scottie Pippen was traded. He went 49-190 in three and a quarter seasons in the Windy City, followed by a mediocre 2004 year with the New Orleans Hornets.
19. Scott Brooks
Scott Brooks coached the Oklahoma City Thunder to the playoffs every year during the early 2010s, but the talent at his disposal didn’t coalesce the way it would have under a better coach. Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and Serge Ibaka should have been enough to win a championship, but Brooks led the team to only one Finals.
20. P.J. Carlesimo
P.J. Carlesimo’s claim to fame came when he antagonized Latrell Sprewell until the small forward nearly suffocated him to death in 1997-1998. Carlesimo’s style suited the college basketball ranks more, and he usually won many games with Seton Hall. He should have stayed at the NCAA level.
21. Byron Scott
Despite going to two NBA Finals, Byron Scott has lost almost 200 more games than he’s won. He oversaw one of the worst stretches in Lakers history and Cavs history, and hasn’t gotten another job since 2016.
22. Jerry West
Jerry West had three mediocre seasons as head coach of the Lakers. While that may not be enough for some people to consider him a bad coach, West is held to a very high standard. His careers as a player and executive glowed. In comparison, his coaching resume looks like an outlier of average performance.