Great Player, Lousy Coach?

Posted by Shaun Powell

ORLANDO — Do great NBA players make so-so or even lousy coaches? That’s been tossed around the league in recent years because the evidence seems to support that theory. The only great player (NBA 50th anniversary team) who comes to mind is Lenny Wilkens, and he holds the career record for most losses while only winning one NBA title.



Larry Bird, Isiah Thomas and Magic Johnson coached and received mild results. Dave Cowens could never produce a winner. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar can’t even get an interview. Some great players don’t even bother chasing such a career, given the demands of the job. And on and on. We bring this up because Patrick Ewing wants his shot.

Ewing is finishing up his 3rd season as a bench assistant with the Magic and awaits his chance to move a few seats to his right on someone’s bench. He knows he’s fighting an uphill battle, mainly because of perception. He works with Dwight Howard, and that could be holding him back; some general managers might see Ewing as strictly a big man’s coach.

“That’s true,” Ewing said. “But I can do much more than that. All I want is for someone to give me an opportunity.”

We’ll see. There are vacant jobs in L.A. with the Clippers, and in New Jersey (where Ewing has a home) with the Nets. He’s never even received an interview. Given what he’s done in his career, that’s the least he should receive.



  1. Joe says:

    Great players don’t make good coaches because of how they view and understand the game. For them, the game came easy, and even though they work hard, it was only for a short time. Average players need to understand what it takes to success through practice, then go out there and work extremely hard for a long time. They understand patience, persistent, hard work, and most important the responsibility for following through with what needs to be done to succeed. They have been through the trenches, and when a player comes around like them, they have the patience to nurture them. Great players expect one to get out, work hard one day, come in the following day and produce results. And lastly, most coaches, coach like they played.

  2. Tom says:

    What about Paul Silas? Was a great player with the Celtics, and a very good coach with Hornets, and other teams – never got the shot he deserves to keep coaching at that level.

  3. CJ says:

    Should read “The great player is conditioned to be able to carry the team himself, which is not something he can do as a [coach]”

  4. CJ says:

    Your characterization of Lenny Wilkens coaching career is a bit unfair. He is the coach with the most losses, but he is also the coach with the most wins. That’s important to note.

    Also, I think its pretty clear that it takes an entirely different skill set to coach a team then it does to be a great player. A great coach leads in a different way than a great player. A great coach cannot take the basketball and will the team to a win. So, he (or she) has to be able to demonstrate leadership in other ways. The great player is conditioned to be able to carry the team himself, which is not something he can do as a player. This is quite a significant paradigm shift.

    Ewing would make an excellent coach, as would Abdul-Jabbar.