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NBA Coach Salary Comparison

 Title image for the NBA salary analysis

A good manager can make or break a workplace.

The best managers motivate their team to work harder, which leads to success for the larger company,. However, the importance of a good manager isn’t just limited to the office. Professional sports coaches are essentially managers of their teams; acting as mentors for their players, they’re there to help drive them to achieve wins and support them during defeats..

Here at Moneypenny, we know what it takes to make a team work. We also know that effective leadership is a vital resource for our customers. There’s so much to be learned from leadership – even in places you might not expect, such as on the basketball court – that can be applied to regular workplaces. With this in mind, we decided to take a look at how NBA coaches’ win records compare to their annual salaries, to see who was proving to have the most effective leadership, and earning their keep.

Once a largely American pastime, basketball has become one of the most popular sports on the planet in recent years, with the NBA being one of the key components to the overall popularity of the sport. It is not unusual to see people wearing the jerseys of their hardwood heroes in places like Europe and Asia, where the sports landscape was formerly dominated by soccer fans.

The NBA is a personality-driven league that has become a year-round commitment as salary controversies, trade demands, and coaching and management changes fill the headlines, even in the offseason. We decided to look at which coaches and teams are actually worth all of the attention, not to mention their hefty paychecks.

To do so, we looked at coach salaries, team payrolls, and win and loss records over the last five full seasons of play to determine how much each win costs different NBA franchises in that time. Keep reading to discover our findings.

Graph showing the cost per win of each NBA coach

Firstly, NBA coach salary data is not always made publicly available the same way that player contracts are. However, there were enough official sources out there for us to find reliable data on how much 16 of the league’s 30 coaches make per season.

With that data in hand, we found out how many seasons over the last five years that each coach has been in charge of their franchise and multiplied their annual salary by that number. By analyzing how many regular-season games they have won as coach in that five year period and dividing it by their salary, we were able to find out how much different NBA teams are paying their coach per victory.

Of the 16 coaches evaluated, the average win costs an NBA team $118,504 toward their coach’s salary, with 6 coaches earning more than that amount per win and 10 earning less. Rick Carlisle, coach of the Dallas Mavericks, is paid the most per win, at an even $200,000 per victory.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Boston’s Brad Stevens and Houston’s Mike D’Antoni have proven incredible bargains for their teams, winning 59% and 70% of their games, respectively, in the last five years while earning more than $50,000 less than the league average for each win. In fact, Stevens clocks in at less than half the average per win cost.

D’Antoni and Stevens also each represent examples of teams taking unconventional routes to find the best leaders for their organizations. D’Antoni formerly made waves by introducing a fun, up-tempo style of basketball in the early 2000s that saw his Phoenix Suns team win several games in the regular season, but never live up to lofty expectations in the playoffs. After his mediocre stints in New York and LA, the Houston Rockets would have been justified in staying away from D’Antoni,however, they decided to take a chance on him.

While the Rockets have yet to win the ultimate prize under D’Antoni, they have been among the best teams in the entire league since he took over. D’Antoni has proven to be the ideal leader for the Houston Rockets, making them a perennial title contender, something that would not have happened had the Rockets held previous results against him. They decided to look past those struggles and focus instead on the attributes he possessed that made him a good fit for their organization, and as a result they have found a coach that is one of the best bargains in the entire league.

Brad Stevens’ story is one of the Boston Celtics looking at the success a young coach had leading on a lower level of competition and correctly believing in his abilities to replicate that success at the pinnacle of his field. Stevens was named the head coach of Butler University when he was just 30 years old, and in just four years he took the tiny mid-major school to back-to-back national championship game appearances, becoming a household name following some truly miraculous runs through the NCAA tournament.

Still, at the time Stevens was hired by the Boston Celtics, he had only 5 years as a head coach, all at a level decidedly below that of major programs, with well-respected coaches like Mike Krzyzewski at Duke. The Celtics overlooked this lack of experience and instead decided to focus on the incredible results he had gotten out of the players under his leadership and believed in his ability to replicate that success in the NBA. So far they’ve been right on the money, as the Celtics have been a constant presence in the playoffs under Stevens, including making runs far deeper into the postseason than experts thought possible. And not to mention, he’s done it all while making half of what the average NBA coach does per win.

Graph showing the most overpaid NBA coaches

It’s a decidedly mixed bag for those coaches earning the most per win. Rick Carlisle is a coaching legend who has been with the Dallas Mavericks since 2008, going on to win an NBA title for the franchise in 2011. Despite those accolades, however, he has only been able to produce wins in 44% of games in the last five years and hasn’t made the playoffs since the 2015-2016 season.

Taken together, those two facts explain his large contract, but also make his cost per win in the last five seasons the highest in the league. While Carlisle has delivered in the past, his current results don’t fully justify what he is costing the team. His appears to be a case of a leader retaining his position due to past success instead of current results, with the organization failing to properly evaluate if his management style and its costs fits their present as well as it did their past.

By contrast, the coaches with the second and third-highest costs per win have had much more success recently, as Gregg Popovich and Doc Rivers are both title-winning coaches who have helmed teams that have been in the title hunt for most of the last five years. While these coaches command sums in excess of $70,000 above the league average for every win, we would be hard-pressed to say they didn’t deserve it!

Both of these coaches have proven themselves adept at transforming their gameplans and management styles to best suit the rosters they have at their disposal, and as a result they have both found great success despite experiencing rapid and sometimes drastic change in their team compositions. Having leadership with those qualities is invaluable in almost all settings, and the contracts of Popovich and Rivers are testament to that idea.

Chart identifying the most overpaid NBA teams

Of course, coaching can only get a team so far, as the players on the court have to do all of the physical work of playing basketball. To find which teams get the most and least out of their payroll, we looked at combined team salaries for every NBA franchise in the last five years and found out how many regular-season games each team won in that span and divided the two to calculate how much every one of the 30 teams in the league pays in player salary per win.

The five teams that pay the most per win can be seen in the graphic above, and anyone who follows the NBA probably isn’t surprised at the names on the list. Each of these teams pays more than a half a million dollars more per win than the league average of $2,345,163, with the New York Knicks paying an extra $1.5 million above the league average for every win.

In second place are the Los Angeles Lakers, another of the league’s premier franchises. The arrival of LeBron James a season ago certainly inflated their payroll numbers, but even before the King landed in LA, the Lakers were throwing money at any free agent with a recognizable name they could find, often to disastrous results.

Of the final three teams in the top five in terms of cost per win, the Phoenix Suns are a true disaster from the front office on down, so it comes as no surprise to find them on this list. Even at an average team payroll, the franchise has won so few games recently that their average per win would have to be high.

The upheaval and high costs of these mistakes also demonstrate just how important it is for management to put together a cohesive team that makes sense together, as opposed to simply shelling out for big names regardless of how well they fit within a team or system. Very few coaches would be able to get these kinds of results out of those rosters to justify their costs.

Graph presenting the cost per win of each NBA team

For fans of the other 25 NBA franchises, we created the above graphic that covers the entire league using the same methodology. It should come as no surprise that the three teams paying the least per win in the last five years are the Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs, and Houston Rockets. These teams have three of the four highest winning percentages in the league from the last five years, with the Warriors appearing in every single NBA Finals in that stretch (playing Houston and San Antonio in the conference finals at least once each).

Coming in at the fourth cheapest cost per win is a name many casual fans might not expect – the Utah Jazz. They’ve quietly found an efficient winning formula that sees them spend less than $10,000 more than Houston per win, despite a winning percentage 10 points below that of the Rockets.

The defending champion Toronto Raptors round out the bottom five in per win costs, thanks to the work of a top-notch front office that built a cost-friendly team over the last five years that finally reached a peak last year.

No matter who you root for, we hope that NBA fans enjoy a season that looks more wide-open than any in recent memory (well, not for the Knicks), and we can’t wait for all the memorable moments coming our way on the journey to The Finals. And while some teams overpay their players and coaches for wins on the court, your company or business can rest easy knowing that the phone answering services offered by Moneypenny are a surefire win that won’t break the bank!

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