When the Cleveland Cavaliers chose to fire head coach David Blatt 41 games into the 2015–16 season, most were surprised. Despite the team going 31-10 in that span, we saw the merit in the decision. The Cavs had gone as far as they could go with Blatt at the helm, and the team desperately needed a fresh voice capable of providing a cohesive message.
Enter Tyronn Lue: Cleveland’s associate head coach and the highest-paid assistant in the NBA. He took over at a difficult time, kept the team moving forward, and showed his toughness by holding players like LeBron James accountable. Confident in his abilities, Lue chose not to sign a new deal when he was promoted to head coach. After remaining calm in the face of a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals, eventually steering the Cavs to an improbable comeback, his decision to remain patient has definitely paid off.
According to The Vertical, Lue and the Cavs have reached an agreement on a new five-year deal worth $35 million. Judging by the words of Cavaliers general manager David Griffin, the organization could not be more excited:
Ty took over our team under very trying circumstances and his calm, confident approach was invaluable as we found our way to success. His vision, leadership and tactical acumen were fundamental to us reaching our goals. We couldn’t be happier to have Ty continue to lead our group into the future.
With this new contract, Lue becomes one of the highest-paid NBA coaches. Of course, he has some ground to make up if he ever hopes to reach the top of the pecking order in terms of coaching salaries. At this moment in time, these three esteemed coaches are the ones to beat.
3. Tom Thibodeau, Minnesota Timberwolves
Average annual salary: $10 million
Despite going 255-139 (.647 winning percentage) and making the playoffs in each of his five seasons as the head coach for the Chicago, Tom Thibodeau was fired after the 2014–15 season. Yet, after sitting out this past year, a season in which his former squad went 42-40 and failed to make the postseason, it’s Thibs who appears poised to have the last laugh. Aside from being hired as the Minnesota Timberwolves’ new head coach, Thibodeau was also named the organization’s president of basketball operations. On top of that, according to ESPN’s Marc Stein, the deal is worth in the $10 million per year range. A fresh start, a young and talented roster, and the chance to shape the franchise in his image — it’s good to be Thibs.
2. Doc Rivers, Los Angeles Clippers
Average annual salary: $10 million-plus
Although Doc Rivers has yet to lead the Los Angeles Clippers to an NBA title, he’s still been quite successful in his three seasons in Hollywood. He’s compiled a mark of 166-80 (.675 winning percentage), kept the Clips competitive in the Western Conference, and continuously has this group on the verge of breaking through. Which is a good thing — because he’s being paid quite a pretty penny to do so. As the Clippers’ head coach and president, Rivers is earning more than $50 million over a five-year deal that runs through the 2018–19 season. With a contract that pays him over $10 million a year, it’s safe to say that expectations for Rivers in Los Angeles are high.
1. Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs
Average annual salary: $11 million
In Gregg Popovich, the San Antonio Spurs have arguably the top head coach in the National Basketball Association and one of the greatest coaches in the history of the game. But the numbers more than reflect that. During his 20 seasons on the bench, Pop has compiled a record of 1,089-485 (.692 winning percentage), led the Spurs to five NBA titles, and been named Coach of the Year three times (2002–03, 2011–12, 2013–14). Is it any wonder the organization pays him in the range of $11 million per year? If you ask us, they’re getting a bargain.