Head coaches in the NBA don’t work alone -- they rely on a team of assistant coaches to help them strategize, instruct players and condition the team for success. Assistant coaches are commonly called up from the minor league, or D-League, where they may have served as head coaches. Some former NBA players also turn to assistant coaching after they retire from game play. While it’s common for head coaches to earn seven-figure salaries, assistant coaches are often paid significantly less.
The NBA does not disclose coaching salaries for either head or assistant coaches. However, assistant coaches most likely aren’t securing the multimillion dollar contracts of their head coaching counterparts, according to a 2008 USA Today article. The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not compile information specifically for NBA assistant coaches, but it does show that the average salary for all coaches and scouts at the college, university or professional level was $51,550 as of May 2013. This may be on par with the average salary of an NBA assistant coach. For example, when New Orleans Pelicans assistant coach Bryan Gates was called up from the D-League to become assistant coach for the Sacramento Kings, his starting salary was about $50,000, according to CBSSports.com.
Highest-Paid Assistant Coaches
While the NBA does not release salary data, information about some of the highest-paid assistant coaches has made its way to the media. In the 2011-2012 season, for example, Golden State Warriors assistant coach Mike Malone was reportedly the highest-paid assistant coach in the NBA with a salary of $750,000 per year, according to a 2014 TheRichest article. In 2013, Lawrence Frank was offered a $6 million deal over six years to serve as assistant coach for the Brooklyn Nets; and in 2014, the Cleveland Cavaliers made Tyronn Lue the highest-paid assistant coach in NBA history with a four-year, $6.5 million contract, according to Yahoo Sports.
Assistant coaches’ salaries in the NBA are based on a variety of factors, including the team’s individual budget and market, as well as the coaches’ experience and reputation. However, breadth of experience does not always mean a six- or seven- figure salary. When Gates left the D-League, for example, he had many years of coaching experience and multiple coach-of-the-year awards, but was only offered a starting salary of around $50,000. As with all coaching positions, proven success within the league likely leads to salary increases over time.
Comparison to Head Coaches
In the 2013 season, CBSSports.com reports that the average head coach’s salary in the NBA was $3.05 million. However, the league’s highest-paid coaches can earn more than double that amount. As of 2014, the NBA’s two highest-paid head coaches are Boston’s Doc Rivers, who earns $10 million per year, and Detroit’s Stan Van Gundy, who earns $7 million per year. Close behind is San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich, with an annual salary of $6 million.