The Most Likely Candidates
The two current coaches that are not anywhere near the record both show some promise. Erik Spoelstra has found immense success as the face of Florida basketball. He is not quite halfway to 1,336 wins but could get to that magic number by 2039. That seems very far away, but by then Spolestra will only be 68, the same age as my Doc Rivers projection. Even if the Heat slow down a little, Spoelstra could easily get there before he turns 70.
The only thing standing in his way of ever getting to 1,400 wins is an uncertain future. The Heat are very good right now, but when Pat Riley finally steps down, they might collapse. Spoelstra could find coaching work elsewhere, or he might just decide to hang it all up before he gets there.
Tyronn Lue is by far the youngest coach on this list at only 44 years old. He’s only racked up 211 wins but is on pace to hit 1,400 by 2051. By then, he will be 73. Again, that’s younger than Pop is now.
This season and offseason will be very telling for Lue’s future. If the Clippers can get their stars back and make a deep playoff run and retain their talent for next season, Lue will be the golden boy in the league. If not, I expect him to have a long and illustrious career as an assistant on a very good team or as a head coach on several mediocre teams. With only four and a half seasons under his belt, it’s way too early to really see if he will ever break the record.
My money is on Erik Spoelstra, which would be very fitting, in a way. He had two legendary Finals series against Popovich and orchestrates a team-oriented game centered around solid defense. In a way, he is a Popovich disciple despite never crossing paths as co-workers.
Doc Rivers also has a very realistic chance, but I have faith that James Harden will be the fall of Rivers as a respected head coach. Harden can be blamed somewhat for the decline of Scott Brooks, Mike D’Antoni, maybe Steve Nash in the near future, and perhaps Doc Rivers.
At worst, Popovich’s record will be safe until the middle of the century. At best, the coach who will eventually dethrone him has not started their career yet and might not even be in the league right now.