While head coaches are making nowhere near the money that the biggest stars of the league do, coaching in the NBA certainly pays a whole lot better than a real job. Picture it like this: you're in an executive role in an industry where hundreds of millions of dollars are spent as wages for just over 50 people.
A disproportionately large part falls to the players, who're the reason the wages for everyone else exist in the first place, but the few millions left to go around for the front office executives and coaches is usually ample for a job of that magnitude.
Here, we have compiled a list of reportedly the 10 biggest contracts handed out to coaches in NBA history. Do keep in mind that teams can and have chosen to keep coaching contracts clear of the public eye, but we've done the best we can, and the figures we quote in the article are all obtained from reputed sources like ESPN and TNT.
#10 Alvin Gentry - $4.5 million
The Pelicans landed a good coach to run Anthony Davis with, following the disappointments they suffered in the first 2 seasons of Davis' NBA career. Gentry is a proponent of fast-paced offenses and switch-everything defenses, which are tactics in line with the modern NBA. The reason the Pelicans have not been in the top 8 of the Conference for a while this season is primarily injury trouble, but also their extreme lack of depth at the 2 and 3 positions.
Gentry is under contract up until the end of the 2020-21 season, but whether he lasts long in that role or not depends a lot upon how well they fare this season, and what will happen with Anthony Davis' upcoming free agency in 2020.
#9 Luke Walton - $5 million
The Lakers' head coaching role has been one of the most coveted ones in all of basketball for a long time now. Filling in the shoes currently is Luke Walton, who was appointed at the end of the 2015-16 season to turn the losing culture of the franchise around. Walton first made his name as an assistant for the Warriors at the start of the 2015-16 season, when they went on a 24-0 run without Steve Kerr (who was receiving treatment for back troubles).
Since his appointment, Walton has proved to be a hands-on coach, but also one who allows his players free reign. The one thing holding the Lakers back from true title contention is the lack of shooting on their roster, but Walton's scheming allows them to obtain a fairly good number of open 3-point shots. It remains to be seen how long a run he gets with a LeBron-led team.
#8 Terry Stotts - $5 million
The Blazers agreed a contract extension with head coach Terry Stotts that runs through 2020 with an average salary of $5 million following their 2015-16 season, when they made the second round of playoffs. Stotts has been coaching at the NBA level for a while, and this extension came on the back of 3 straight playoff appearances for the Blazers - the 3rd coming despite the departure of franchise player LaMarcus Aldridge.
His first NBA gig came about as far back as 1992, when he was an assistant to George Karl on his Sonics teams. His first two head coaching gigs weren't big successes, but he grew into the role as an assistant with the title-winning Mavericks in 2011 and was offered the Portland job in 2012.
#7 Steve Kerr - $6 million (minimum)
In his fifth season in charge of the Golden State Warriors, Kerr has by now piloted them to three championships, come 48 minutes away from a fourth, and posted the best regular season in the history of the sport. Yet, he’s just completed the fourth year of a $25 million deal. Kerr’s average salary is $5 million per year on his existing contract.
ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski posted an update back in the summer that the Warriors and Kerr had agreed to a contract extension kicking in from the 2019-20 season. Kerr was paid an above-average salary by league standards before, but this new deal will catapult him into top-5 territory apparently (although the figure remains undisclosed).
#6 Billy Donovan - $6 million
Making his name as the coach for the Florida Gators when they went on back-to-back NCAA championship runs in 2006 and 2007, Billy Donovan's first bow in the NBA is his current gig with the Oklahoma City Thunder, reported to be worth $30 million over 5 seasons (the contract ends after the 2019-20 season). During his college career, he was lauded as a defensive specialist, and he mentored the likes of Al Horford and Joakim Noah in college (the duo have been multiple All-Stars in the league).
While many critics lament his poor lineup management in his current job, his influence on the Thunder's defense has been obvious over the past couple of seasons. The future of Donovan's NBA coaching career may be fully dependent on this season. Already, his team seems to be a far cry from the slow, plodding, misfiring, sputtering offense they had last season, though they could certainly do with a sniper or two on their roster this postseason.
#5 Dwane Casey - $7 million
Dwane Casey has had 2 head coaching roles in the NBA prior to his current job. He was first appointed as the Minnesota Timberwolves' head coach from 2005 to 2007 following over a decade as an assistant coach with the SuperSonics. His next job, following an assistant role to Rick Carlisle from 2008-11, was with the Raptors for 7 seasons starting in 2011.
The Pistons hired the former Toronto Raptors coach a couple of weeks into the start of the 2018-19 NBA season. The contract is reportedly a five-year deal averaging $7 million per season with the opportunity for incentives, similar to the five-year, $35-million deal the Pistons reached with Stan Van Gundy in 2014.
#4 Rick Carlisle - $7 million
One of the few people on the planet to have won the NBA championship in both playing and coaching roles, Rick Carlisle has always been one of the very best head coaches in the league alongside Greg Popovich since he first assumed that role for the Detroit Pistons in 2001. He won Coach of the Year honours in his first season coaching the franchise, and led them to consecutive 50-32 records in 2 seasons before Larry Brown's hiring.
In his first season with the Pacers (who he worked for from 2003-07), he led Indiana to one of their few 60-win seasons as a franchise as well as the #1 seed in the entire league. The Malice in the Palace essentially put paid to the Pacers' hopes of running for the NBA title for a long period of time, but Carlisle continued to showcase his exemplary coaching skills.
Appointed as the Mavericks' head coach for the first time in 2008, the 59-year-old was in charge of the franchise's only NBA title (won in 2011). He received a contract extension worth $35 million over 5 seasons from the 2016-17 season onwards, making him the highest-paid head coach without an executive role in the league.
#3 Scott Brooks - $7 million
A former NBA player for 10 seasons, a spell during which he won 2 championships with Hakeem Olajuwon's Rockets, Brooks' first taste of coaching came as an assistant coach for the Los Angeles Stars, a team in American Basketball Association in the year 2001.
His first bow in the NBA came as an assistant coach on the Denver Nuggets' staff for 3 seasons (2003-06). A one-year spell as an assistant for the Sacramento Kings (2006-07) preceded his eventual appointment to the same role with the Sonics.
Brooks was announced as the head coach for the Sonics, now rebranded as the Oklahoma City Thunder, in 2008. He coached the Thunder for 7 seasons, in 5 of which they made the playoffs, including 3 Conference Finals appearances and one Finals loss to the Miami Heatles.
The Wizards appointed him as their head coach in 2016 at his current $7 million salary.
#2 Doc Rivers - $10 million
Glenn 'Doc' Rivers spent his NBA career mostly as a reserve point guard. During his 13 seasons in the league, Rivers played for the Atlanta Hawks (who drafted him and offered him one contract after his rookie deal), the Clippers, the Knicks and the San Antonio Spurs before retiring in 1996.
He began his coaching career in 1999 with the Orlando Magic, whom he coached for four seasons and took home the Coach of the Year award in 2000 - his very first season as a full-time head coach. He was sacked following a lacklustre start for the Magic in 2003-04, but found a home with the Boston Celtics the following season.
It was here that he won his first and only championship thus far, following a trade bringing Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to partner with his franchise player Paul Pierce. The quartet, along with Rondo, parted ways in 2013 when the Celtics traded Garnett and Pierce to the Nets in exchange for 6 million draft picks from Billy King and sent Rivers to the Clippers in another trade the same offseason.
Rivers has been moderately successful during his time with the Clippers, as his teams have grappled with playoff heartbreaks and injuries and dealt with considerable roster turnover. During his time in a dual executive-coach role, Rivers earned a reported $10 million a year. He has now given that role up to Jerry West, but there are no reports yet of Rivers getting a pay cut.
#1 Gregg Popovich - $10 million
The head coach and President of Basketball Operations for the San Antonio Spurs organization, Gregg Popovich has been instrumental to the best small market success story in American sports history. He celebrated his 1222nd win earlier this month, making him 3rd all-time in wins coached during the NBA regular season.
Taking over the team as head coach in 1996-97, which was the last season the Spurs didn't make the playoffs, Popovich has led San Antonio to 20 straight 50-win-pace seasons. 5 of those seasons have culminated in championships during Tim Duncan's heyday, but the modern Spurs embody the same spirit on both ends of the floor even today thanks to Popovich's par-excellence player development skills.
Popovich's last disclosed salary, given his dual role as team executive and head coach, was pegged at $11 million. While his NBA contract runs out at the end of this season, Pop is also in charge of the Team USA Basketball program until the next Olympics, and richly deserves his status as the highest paid NBA coach of all time.