San Antonio Spurs All-Time Lists

Spurs: Popovich's 5 most successful coaching tree proteges

Miguel De Guzman
Steve Kerr and Gregg Popovich at the Tokyo Olympics
Steve Kerr and Gregg Popovich at the Tokyo Olympics / Tim Clayton - Corbis/GettyImages
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3. Doc Rivers

Doc Rivers spent the last two seasons of his playing career in the NBA with the Spurs when Gregg Popovich was still an assistant. He retired from playing in 1996 and in 1999, he earned his first job as a head coach for the Orlando Magic. No one expected much from the Magic as they were projected to finish at the bottom of the standings during Rivers’ maiden season, but the team surpassed expectations, finishing that year with a 41-41 record. Unfortunately, they fell short of the postseason, but Doc Rivers' incredible efforts to turn the team around was still recognized as he won the Coach of the Year Award.

Since moving on from Orlando, he has become the head coach for the Boston Celtics and the LA Clippers and is currently with the Philadelphia 76ers. Every team that Doc has coached in has enjoyed great success in the regular season and it is quite rare for a team led by him to not earn a playoff berth.

So far, he has enjoyed his greatest success with the Boston Celtics, where Rivers won his first NBA Championship as a head coach in 2008. They also returned to the NBA Finals in 2010 but fell short to the defending champions Los Angeles Lakers.

In its 75th Anniversary, the NBA named the 15 greatest head coaches in NBA history and Doc Rivers received the honor to belong to the prestigious list. With his coaching career still going on strongly, we can expect Doc Rivers to continue racking up wins before he finally hangs up the clipboard.

2. Mike Budenholzer

Mike Budenholzer was an assistant coach with the Spurs for 17 years and had the opportunity to be mentored by Gregg Popovich for a very long time before finally becoming the head coach of the Atlanta Hawks in 2013. During his first season as the team's coach, the Hawks earned the 8th seed, barely making the playoffs during Budenholzer’s rookie season as a head coach.

However, the following season, the Hawks performed one of the best turnarounds in league history as Mike Budenholzer led his team to the best record in the Eastern Conference. During that season, the Hawks played a fast-paced style of basketball that relied on ball movement. They dazzled their way past their opponents with rapid ball and player movement that often resulted in possessions ending with an easy wide open basket for the Hawks. Their team-centric style of play earned them the moniker “Spurs of the East.” The team's success led to coach Bud winning his first Coach of the Year award.

After five years with the Hawks, Budenholzer took over for the Milwaukee Bucks. In his first year with the team, he led them to a league best 60-22 record and won his second Coach of the Year Award. They fell short of the Finals by just two games, losing to the eventual champions. The following season, Coach Bud once again led the Bucks to the best record in the league before falling to that year’s Eastern Conference Champions.

Coming off the heels of two great NBA seasons and with the League MVP on their team, there were high expectations for the Bucks coming into the 2020-21 NBA season, and Budenholzer’s squad delivered. The team finished third in the East and swept the team that eliminated them from the previous year’s postseason. They faced off against the Brooklyn Nets in the second round in a matchup that went down to the wire and then beat the Hawks in six games to finally make the NBA Finals.

They fell into an 0-2 hole against the Phoenix Suns before storming right back to win four straight and the NBA Championship.