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Posted: Thursday September 20, 2012 12:54PM ; Updated: Thursday September 20, 2012 12:54PM

Roundtable: Assessing the coaches (cont.)

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The Bobcats and Magic both went with first-time NBA head coaches, Mike Dunlap and Jacque Vaughn, respectively. Which coach finishes the season with more victories?

Jacque Vaughn
Jacque Vaughn spent only two seasons as an assistant in San Antonio before landing the Orlando job.
John Raoux/AP

Amick: Vaughn has the edge. These Magic won't look anything like the Howard-led version, but a possible starting five of Jameer Nelson, Arron Afflalo, Hedo Turkoglu, Glen Davis and Nikola Vucevic isn't a bad start.

Forrester: Vaughn may be coaching the decaying carcass of a title contender, but he still has NBA-level talent that understands quality basketball. Afflalo, Nelson, Davis and Harrington may not get Orlando to the playoffs, but that's the makings of a competitive group most nights. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist joins a rapidly improving Bismack Biyombo on a Bobcats team that has more future upside, but there are going to be some ugly offensive performances in Dunlap's first season. Ben Gordon and Ramon Sessions will help an offense that scored an NBA-low 86.9 points per game last season, but neither has shot better than 45 percent in his career. Better days are ahead for the Bobcats -- they can't get worse -- but reviving a wreck at the bottom of the NBA ocean takes time.

Jenkins: Vaughn. Orlando learned how to play without Howard at the end of last season and the Magic did re-sign point guard Nelson. He and Afflalo will form a decent backcourt, but the Magic will still be picking high in the lottery, probably right below the Bobcats.

Mannix: Vaughn, but not by much. He has a few more accomplished veterans with whom to work. Neither team is going anywhere and you can argue that Charlotte -- with fewer cap concerns and a stud in Kidd-Gilchrist anchoring the roster -- is in better position long term. But this year, Orlando will be better.

Thomsen: Dunlap has a better roster, he's been a head coach in college and he has similar NBA bench experience. Dunlap will win more games than Vaughn, and it will mean absolutely nothing to anyone.

Fact or fiction: Gregg Popovich is the best active coach.

Gregg Popovich
Gregg Popovich (left) is 847-399 in 16 seasons in San Antonio, where he has won four titles with Tim Duncan.
John W. McDonough/SI

Amick: Fact. From the culture he built with general manager R.C. Buford to the manner he gets everyone to buy-in to the ways he has reinvented San Antonio's style in recent years, Popovich is one of a kind.

Forrester: Fact. There are a lot of ingredients in the Popovich recipe: Tim Duncan, defense, creative play-calling, adaptation and a front office willing to scour the earth for players. Tying it all together, though, is Popovich's ability to connect to his players because he tells them the truth. No coach can please every player, but Popovich's military-bred candor has won the respect of players as dutiful as Duncan and as strong-headed as Stephen Jackson. NBA players -- or any employees, for that matter -- likely will accept their fate as long as they know what it is and why. That's what Popovich offers, with the hammer of four championship rings to sell it.

Jenkins: I'll say fiction. He's right up there, of course, but the Thunder made key changes in the Western Conference finals, and the Spurs never really adjusted. Based on the past two years, I'll take Chicago's Tom Thibodeau, who did more with less, until he lost Derrick Rose.

Mannix: Fact. With all due respect to Thibodeau and Boston's Doc Rivers, Popovich's ability to formulate brilliant game plans while smoothly managing a locker room loaded with talent puts him at the top of my list.

Thomsen: Popovich is the best coach. He is also the most influential coach, as attested to by the ever-expanding mafia of Spurs coaches and executives who have been hired away by clubs around the league. The one lesson every team can learn from Popovich is this: The Spurs don't make a lot of mistakes in player evaluation because the duties of front office and coach are fused through Popovich. I'm not saying that NBA franchises should hire an all-in-one team president/coach, because very, very few men could handle that role as Popovich has done. Yet rival owners need to understand that their teams can never win unless the coach and GM are on the same page and see the game in the same way and work together. If the owner fails to hire a coach and GM who are true partners on behalf of the franchise, then the franchise itself will fail.

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