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Phil Jackson and the Knicks are changing the coaching-salary game

Jun 9, 2014, 7:30 PM EDT

Jackson and Fisher celebrate Getty Images

Want to become a highly paid coach? There are two routes.

1. Coach very effectively, win a championship and get rewarded for your success.

2. Convince Phil Jackson to like you.

The Knicks drove up the price for Steve Kerr, who, depending on the source, signed a five-year contract worth $21.25 million-$25 million with the Warriors. Spurned, New York just hired Derek Fisher for five years, $25 million.

Gregg Popovich (Spurs), Doc Rivers (Clippers) and Stan Van Gundy (Pistons) are the only known higher-paid coaches, though Rick Carlisle (Mavericks) and Tom Thibodeau (Bulls) might be ahead of Kerr. Popovich, Rivers and Van Gundy serve dual roles as president/coaches, and Popovich, Rivers and Carlisle have won championships.

Kerr and Fisher have championships, playoff wins, regular-season wins, a single game coached… Jackson’s seal of approval.

Apparently, that’s enough.


A few notes on the listed salaries: Coaching salaries are sometimes not publicly available. Exact terms, including levels of guarantees and incentives, are rarely available. Most of the above data comes via Other League.

The two teams without head coaches, the Lakers and Cavaliers, have their previous head coaches – Mike D’Antoni and Mike Brown – listed.

I couldn’t find data for Mike Budenholzer (Hawks), Kevin McHale (Rockets), Monty Williams (Pelicans), Jacque Vaughn (Magic), Brett Brown (76ers), Terry Stotts (Trail Blazers), Quin Snyder (Jazz). Based on their perceived value when hired, it’s unlikely any of those eight is making $5 million per year.

I also couldn’t find Flip Saunders’ salary, but it’s possible  but the Timberwolves’ new coach will be paid at least $5 million per year. Saunders – like Popovich, Rivers and Van Gundy – is also the team’s president.

One more reminder: Not only are Kerr and Fisher just coaches, they’ve coached a combined zero games as a head coach or assistant.

Some more-established coaches must see this and expect raises. Jackson and the Knicks won’t have to pay those bills themselves, but they’re changing the market.

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  1. grantgoodman93 - Jun 9, 2014 at 7:35 PM

    Lol Phil. Fisher and Steve Kerr belong nowhere near the pay ranks of Pop, Rivers, Thibs, Carlisle.

  2. MTArider - Jun 9, 2014 at 7:56 PM

    Clearly the Warriors changed the game since they gave Kerr this deal first.

  3. sportsfan18 - Jun 9, 2014 at 8:07 PM

    of course…

    ANOTHER way to look at this is that while James Dolan has mismanaged the franchise for the past 15 yrs, it continues to print money…

    So, he can screw up over and over and the pile of loot he’s sitting on grows bigger and bigger…

    THAT is how he may change the coaching salary game…

    It’s funny money to him because he doesn’t have to “earn” it… he’s given it even while NOT producing…

    Most companies, when they think about trying something and then they do it and it fails spectacularly they are in a world of hurt or maybe go out of business. At the least they have to think much more carefully going forward…

    Dolan does something and it fails badly and costs him a lot of money… then he checks his bank account and what do you know, X-mas came early, a lot more money in there even though they did something stupid and lost money.

    So, he does something again and it blows up, costs him money and yet, the Knicks print him more money, MSG prints him more money…

  4. k3nn3k - Jun 9, 2014 at 8:28 PM

    Spoelstra is grossly UNDER paid. How do you go to the Finals 4 straight years in a row and get paid less than the average?

    Everyone’s going to say “well when you have Lebron and Dwade and Bosh you don’t need to coach a lot”. BS! He deserves at least what Kerr and Fisher get…given that none of them are acting as President either like Pop and Rivers and now Van Gundy.

    Having said that…Pop is getting the short stick too! He should be getting paid more than Rivers and Van Gundy.

    • eugenesaxe1 - Jun 9, 2014 at 8:46 PM

      Pop should be making ALL the money.

      • antistratfordian - Jun 10, 2014 at 3:53 AM

        Pop is overpaid.

    • savvybynature - Jun 9, 2014 at 10:42 PM

      Agree about Spo, and Vogel seems grossly underpaid too.

      • helixro14 - Jun 10, 2014 at 9:33 AM

        Agree, too, about Spo – and Fisher should be making Jason Kidd money.

  5. eugenesaxe1 - Jun 9, 2014 at 8:45 PM

    And if Kerr/Fisher bomb, it’ll swing back the other way. No-experience coaches will have a harder time finding positions (and won’t be making anywhere near those numbers), more so-so retreads will make so-so retread money, and 3-4 guys will rise to the top.

    • Kevin S. - Jun 9, 2014 at 9:22 PM

      Nah, they’ll still hire them. It’ll be the smaller deals (smaller even than Kidd’s), but teams will always be willing to take a shot on new guys if the deal’s small enough to walk away from.

  6. jzone954 - Jun 9, 2014 at 8:45 PM

    Interesting to see how this turns out. If you were Anthony would this be heading in the right direction ?

  7. whitwarren - Jun 9, 2014 at 8:54 PM

    Pop is the best coach coaching today.

    • antistratfordian - Jun 10, 2014 at 3:55 AM

      he’s good, but insanely overrated

      • hickoryhigh - Jun 10, 2014 at 7:26 AM

        Wow, I didn’t know you were a troll? Did you not see on your stat sheet that Pop’s team has won 50 games for the past 15 years straight? And he did that without LeBron James.

      • antistratfordian - Jun 10, 2014 at 7:51 PM

        Cool story. But you’re talking to a guy who thinks a coach earns his paycheck in the playoffs and the Pop of recent vintage has lost in the first round more often than he has won anything.

        Pop’s poor decision making was a major reason why the Spurs lost in the Finals last year – and that wasn’t the first time he’s been out-coached in a playoff series.

        As we saw in Game 2, Pop has absolutely no answer if his offense isn’t working – and he doesn’t realize that it’s too complicated to be reliable – and when it becomes unreliable what does he do? Well, he does what he did in the Finals last year and says, “we’re not good enough to do anything else.”

      • hickoryhigh - Jun 11, 2014 at 9:39 AM

        Lost in the first round more than won anything? Last 5 years – 1 first round playoff loss, 2 conference championships. Last 10 years – 2 first round losses, 4 conference championships, 2 NBA Finals championships. Is that a cool story, bro?

        See, I don’t normally think you troll, but this time you clearly did. And the problem with that is you wind up making baseless arguments just to try to agitate people, rather than your standard confident Heat statements. Look, the Heat are great, can’t deny it. But Pop is great too, you can’t deny that. His record, like the Heat’s, speaks for itself.

        You can’t win an NBA championship every year, even Phil and Red didn’t. But Pop has produced a legacy of winning that is unprecedented in this era of salary caps and free agency. 6 Finals appearances, 4 championships (maybe 5), in the playoffs every year, and his players love him.

      • antistratfordian - Jun 11, 2014 at 6:20 PM

        They lost in the first round in 2009 and 2011. There is no point in bringing up a championship from 2005 when we’re talking about how a coach is performing today. That’s a lifetime ago in the NBA. That person doesn’t even exist anymore.

        This is not about trolling. This is about touchy fans getting defensive and emotional. But there are even Spurs fans who have called Pop overrated – typically after he blows a series.

        • “Pop getting out coached is nothing new. He’s also been out coached by Scott Brooks, Alvin Gentry, and Lionel Hollins.”

        • “It’s discouraging that Spoelstra can outcoach him and run a system without Lebron/Wade that beat Pop’s team at full strength, tbh..”

        • “Father Time is undefeated even against coaches.”

        That’s from a Spurs board. So hey, you think I’m trolling. Whatever… I can’t control your thoughts and I don’t care.

  8. geejon - Jun 9, 2014 at 9:37 PM

    It’s not only the salary it’s the years. 5 year deals for coaches with zero coaching experience? At least if it was 3 years you could cut your losses but with 5 yr deals you can realize by the 3rd year that it’s not working and still have to pay another 2+ years. Madness.

  9. campcouch - Jun 9, 2014 at 9:39 PM

    Non-stop gravy train for D-Fish! This dude has had one fantastic NBA life. Not bad for a guy out of Arkansas-Little Rock.

    • chicitybulls - Jun 9, 2014 at 10:00 PM

      Second best player out of that school. Next to Scottie Pippen.

      • bigrele - Jun 9, 2014 at 10:06 PM

        Scottie Pippen didn’t play for Arkansas-Little Rock he played for Central Arkansas, not the same school playa………………

      • chicitybulls - Jun 10, 2014 at 5:24 PM

        You’re right. My bad.

  10. mogogo1 - Jun 9, 2014 at 10:50 PM

    In Phil’s defense (well, kinda, anyway) the money isn’t going to be an issue. If Fisher succeeds it will look like an okay deal. If he fails Phil would still be roasted even if Fisher was coaching for free.

    And Phil pretty much got himself stuck because of the mishandling of the Kerr situation. Could he honestly of told Fisher he was worth less than what Kerr would have gotten? If Fisher had turned them down it would have been a full-blown disaster with it looking like absolutely nobody wanted the job.

  11. smoothaswilkes - Jun 9, 2014 at 11:00 PM

    You guys have this all wrong. Phil Jackson was paid $12 million per year to coach the Lakers, which, by the way, is what he also get as President of the Knicks. I’m pretty sure Phil looks at $5 million per season as a relative bargain.

  12. harshedmellow - Jun 9, 2014 at 11:17 PM

    Sure is a different world. Most of us will never sign an emoyment contract for $50k a year guaranteed for 5 years. Much less $500k/yr. now try to wrap your brain around 10x that- 5 mil a year, 5 years, guaranteed.


  13. csbanter - Jun 9, 2014 at 11:28 PM

    If Fisher is worth $5 mil per what should coach Spoelstra get.

    • ezzz2the - Jun 10, 2014 at 8:42 AM

      He gets LeBron in other words he has a job as long as Bron is on his team. Easy to look like a genius with the best player in the world on your team. Even Mike Brown looked good

  14. beagle11 - Jun 9, 2014 at 11:29 PM

    Might as well be an infinity year deal worth infinity dollars,. Doesn’t go against the cap so who cares? It’s not your money!!!

  15. rajbais - Jun 10, 2014 at 11:22 AM

    Steve Kerr’s hiring did it?

    What about Brad Stevens?

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