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The 2023-2024 Nine NBA Coaching Tiers: Part Two

Jamahl Mosley Coaching Tiers
(Jim Dedmon/USA TODAY Sports)

As a fresh NBA campaign rapidly approaches, it is predictions, tiers, and rankings season across basketball media. Back Sports Page has already dipped our toes in the preview game so far, as we have already published our previews for all of the divisions. Additionally, last month, our team collaborated on picking the best games to watch during the first half of the year.

With all rosters decidedly set, a complete and clear examination of teams can begin. What better place to start than with the stewards of the group, the head coaches?

Introducing the 2023-24 Head Coach Tiers List! The tiers are not strictly based on who is good and who is terrible at their job. That would be too simple. Ordering them in tiers adds important context and filters coaches based on their situation.

The tiers can and will change this season. So, these rankings are just the first and are not final. Updates will be published at various points during the season.


Tier 7: Are They Burnt Out?


Billy Donovan

It seems like Billy Donovan has been an NBA coach for over 15 years. In reality, his service time is just eight seasons (entering his ninth), but it might seem like he’s been around awhile because both of his tenures have felt arduous. That has certainly been the case during his time with the Chicago Bulls

Whether it has been a change in management structure around him or players suffering injuries at the wrong time, Donovan’s time in Chicago has been a struggle. Outside of the 2021-2022 season, the Bulls have failed to make it into the playoffs. Even though it’s only been three years on paper, the agony of being average hasn’t gotten any better for Bulls fans. What’s been difficult to understand is how Donovan can get his team to go on stretches of brilliance, only to come crashing back down to earth. 

Again, the downturns have coincided with unfortunate injury luck, and that toll has been noticeable on Donovan. Historically, the former collegiate coach has shown flashes of feistiness, but crowds have seen less and less of that from him in recent years. Just once, let’s hope that his team can have good health this season, or you might see some somber sideline in Chicago. 


Steve Clifford

When Steve Clifford was tapped to be the head coach of the Charlotte Hornets last season, he wasn’t the first choice. Clifford may not have even been the second choice after Kenny Atkinson took the gig, only for the former Brooklyn Nets coach to reverse his decision. The timing wasn’t ideal, but Charlotte couldn’t head into the season without a coach. So, they settled on Clifford. 

No one can blame the Hornets for making a hasty coaching move during that point. However, bringing on Clifford, who had been out of coaching for a year, seemed like a questionable choice at the time. Considering that the Hornets had shown results under James Borrego, it’s not clear why the Hornets went away from a coach whose young personality could keep up with a similarly young squad. Even more puzzling is that after a year when the Hornet’s roster was crumbling on and off the courts, Clifford was kept on. 

A lot has gone wrong in Charlotte, which is not all Clifford’s fault. Things could be changed under new ownership; it’s just that, as a coach, he can’t manage all the different directions this team is going. Add that the Hornets have placed another high lottery pick on the lap of their coach to develop, and it has everyone wondering if Clifford has the patience for that. 


Tier 6: Is He The Right Coach For This Team?


Jamahl Mosley

The Orlando Magic improved their win total by 12 games in Jamahl Mosley’s second year as head coach—an impressive feat for a team whose average age is barely over the legal drinking age. Sneakily, the Magic were only six games out of the last play-in spot at the end of the year. However, there will be no sneaking up on any team this year; most teams will be ready for what the Magic are coming to the court with. 

Due to the hype surrounding this Magic team led by Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner, expectations are much higher than in previous seasons. Mosley is in a unique situation as a coach because the Magic feel like a lock to rise in the standings this year. Add in the fact that the Magic kept their core intact; it’s not crazy to think their trajectory continues to increase. Therefore, the questions fall on Mosley, who is still relatively unproven as a coach. 

It’s a sign of confidence that with all the veteran coaches available this offseason, the Magic stuck with Mosley. The question that doubles as the title for Tier 6 will be known soon enough because, with the amount of talent on the roster, the Magic should leap this year.

Tier 5: Good Coaches? Or Good Teams?


Joe Mazzulla

Last year was a whirlwind of a season for Joe Mazzulla. Taking over a team with title hopes right before the season started and exceeding expectations at the time earned Mazzulla the honor of coaching the All-Star team. That’s where Mazzulla peaked in year one as Boston Celtics head coach.  As things started winding down, the discussion around Mazzulla shifted from praise of “Mazzulla Ball” to questions surrounding his coaching acumen.

After an offseason filled with massive roster turnover, Mazzulla holds the key to unlocking the Celtics’ potential. Still, with all the weapons at his disposal, should blanket confidence be ascribed to Mazzulla? Probably not, but if the worry over Mazzulla is so much that you think he is the thing standing in the way of the Celtics winning a title, be comforted in the belief the organization has in him.

What’s clear in Boston is that Brad Stevens will give Mazzulla every tool he needs to succeed this season. New coaching staff? Check! New starting five? Check! Are former Celtics mingling before the season? Check! Now it’s up to Mazzulla to prove he can get the team to execute over 82 games plus the playoffs. If he doesn’t, the main thing he will be remembered for during his tenure is his addiction to the 2010 crime film The Town. 


J.B. Bickerstaff

The Cleveland Cavaliers finished last season as the NBA’s best defensive team. With a playoff berth as the fourth seed, Cleveland looked poised to win a round, at least. A week later, they were out in five games. Not to point fingers, but the biggest weakness in the series was the head coaching. The New York Knicks and head coach Tom Thibodeau executed a game plan that exposed the limitations of the Cavaliers roster. Adjustments were made by the Knicks and not by the Cavs with J.B. Bickerstaff.

The stench of that series lasted all offseason. The foundation of an excellent team existed, and team needs, like more outside shooting, were addressed by adding Max Strus and Georges Niang. The actual test, however, is how Bickerstaff manages the rotation.

The Cavaliers are loaded with talent on both ends of the floor. But in the current NBA, plenty of teams can argue the same. The thing that separates teams with talent and teams who are talented is coaching. This year, it’ll be imperative for the Cavs to figure out what rotation works best for Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen and iron out who should be their initiator in crunch time between Darius Garland and Donovan Mitchell.


Willie Green

The hardest coach to peg down on the tiers list is Willie Green. On the surface, Green’s performance as New Orleans Pelicans head coach has had highs and lows. Two years ago, Green was praised for his job with the 2021-22 Pelicans without Zion Williamson for the season. Matched up with the Phoenix Suns in the playoffs, Green deployed various tactics that gave Phoenix trouble. Afterward, the success in the postseason was attributed to what Green was able to do.

What transpired last season was a bit weird. The Pelicans were on the path to ascension but hit multiple road bumps. The vibrancy with which they played in the playoffs mysteriously faded. Even though New Orleans’ record improved, they lacked the intensity that carried them the previous year and failed to make it into the postseason. The worry is that the same thing will translate to this season.

In a crowded Western Conference, wins won’t be easy, so games will come down to who can win the margins. The Pelicans have the capacity to be a really good team, but to be a great team, Green has to push all the right buttons. Some might look at this Pelicans team and see that time and patience are running out on them. They haven’t made it past the second round with Brandon Ingram, and Zion has yet to play a game in the postseason. Combining it all up, and that’s a lot for a coach to handle in just his third year.



Matt Strout is a contributor to Back Sports Page. Matt studied Journalism and Sociology at Temple University for four years and graduated in May of 2022. While there, Matt wrote for multiple student and professional publications covering sports and the City of Philadelphia. Matt is originally from Maine and now resides in California. He has written content primarily for the NBA and PGA Tour. You can catch Matt frequently as a guest on the “Cut The Nets” podcast featured on the Back Sports Page network. When Matt is not writing, he enjoys cooking and playing golf. Follow Matt’s social media on Twitter @TheRealStrout or Instagram @matt_strout96. 

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