Coach of the Year: Who and Why?

It’s that time of year when the season is winding down and awards must be decided. Coach of the Year may end up tighter than you or I think.

Photo Credit: Keith Allison

Photo Credit: Keith Allison

I can personally guarantee that if the Miami Heat break the win streak record, Erik Spoelstra will win coach of the year. In fact, even if they don’t he is still a likely candidate. However, the problem with coaching such a phenomenal squad is the inescapable claims of dispersion. Sure the Heat had the best record in the East by a wide margin, but who led who? It’s almost unfair. It could very well be that Erik Spoelstra is a mastermind that harnesses the abilities of every Miami asset and carefully crafts them into one pristine unit, but it can just as easily be speculated that James, Wade, and Bosh are too big to fail, regardless of Spoelstra’s involvement. I don’t think the latter can be true, as I can still envision a failed Miami team under the direction of a Keith Smart or a Dwayne Casey, but it’s not entirely false. With so much fire power, the coaching requirements are merely patience and adequacy. While that may be an oversimplification of what Erik Spoelstra brings to the Miami Heat, discerning his legitimate contributions from the raw talent of his players is no easy task in the shroud of stardom.

Photo Credit: JMTimages

Photo Credit: JMTimages

Perennially in the discussion for COY is Spurs coach, Gregg Popovich. The Spurs’ core has shifted very little under the steady course of his leadership, but they haven’t had to. Pop’s rapport with his players has made him one of the most widely admired coaches, by players and fans alike. When the Spurs are in a tight spot they trust him to make the right call, and when it’s his turn to listen, he trusts his players’ judgment and allows for flexibility. That mutual respect is what elevates him above so many others that struggle to fill a coach’s shoes. However, from an award winning standpoint, his seemingly static approach to adaptation lacks flash. San Antonio is the NBA’s silent dynasty, and although “If it aint broke, don’t fix it” is advice to live by, it’s unlikely to bring Gregg Popovich the 2012 repeat he probably deserves.

Photo Credit: Keith Allison

Photo Credit: Keith Allison

Scott Brooks and the Thunder have been impressive this season. The story that has been discussed ad nauseum this year (seriously, it’s mentioned during every Thunder or Rockets telecast) is the James Harden trade. I always admired Brooks for using Harden the way he did. It’s difficult to replace the bench commander, 6th man of the year, and smartest facilitator you have, but Brooks has seamlessly sewn Kevin Martin into the fabric of OKC. The Thunder now sit a game and a half behind #1 ranked San Antonio in the West, despite losing the bearded chemist that bonded the team together. It is no coincidence that Brooks’ players continue to improve under his instruction. Westrbrook’s assists are up, his turnovers are down, Ibaka is in the talk for Most Improved, and Durant is teetering on the cusp of an all-elusive 50/40/90 season. If the Miami Heat’s streak is broken soon, I can see Scott Brooks stepping into the spotlight for Coach of the Year.

Now, you may be thinking, “But you only looked at the coaches with the best records!” and you’d be right. The smart money is on the coach of the most successful team, and I can say without sarcasm that I feel a little unclean for hopping on board the speediest gravy trains. So here’s a nod to the little engine that could still get it done, and my personal vote for Coach of the year…

Photo Credit: David Herrera

Photo Credit: David Herrera

George Karl. The Denver Nuggets took a while to get going, but I had them finishing the regular season as a 3 seed when I first looked at this year’s setup (I also had the Lakers ranked above them, but that’s beside the point. I’m not a psychic). I have to commend Karl for his creativity and foresight. He could have planted the physical freak JaVale McGee in the starting lineup the second he was acquired last season; instead he went with the steady and increasingly effective play of Kosta Koufos. Karl accommodated McGee’s asthma while using him as a stopper off the bench. He also recognized the potential of Kenneth Faried. Now, that’s not exactly difficult, but he also didn’t pigeon-hole the Manimal into a role he wasn’t meant to play. George Karl lets Faried hustle; no plays called for him, no restraints. Just play hard and stay out of foul trouble. Not to mention his trust in Lawson and Iguodala to run the offense and defense respectively. If you can’t tell already, I am very high on Karl’s ability to recognize his player’s strengths and bring them to the forefront to the benefit of the team. The way in which he uses the unique skill set of each player is why I think he deserves coach of the year. Of course, winning games doesn’t hurt either.

Before I put a nice little bow on this piece and call it a night, I’d like to remind the readers (before you remind me) that there are other worthy candidates on the rim of this discussion; most notably Mike Woodson and Vinny Del Negro. So here is my short explanation of why neither of them made my cut. I hope it is satisfactory, and if it isn’t, tough toenails. My word isn’t law.

The New York Knicks are in the position they are in largely because of an incredibly hot start. Granted, they have dealt with injuries all year, but they have not been the only team to do so and their production has suffered both in totality and percentages. I can’t in good faith sign off on a coach for a team that has been on the decline since day one, even if they started on top.

The Clippers record is fantastic and shows marked improvement from last season. But do you remember when Chris Paul missed that stretch of games about halfway through? The Clippers were out of control. Technicals, fines, ejections, suspensions, and games lost that should have been won. CP3 runs that team, not VDN. He’s just in the right place at the right time.

Aaand THERE! The bow is firmly in place; ribbons and all. Good night folks. Keep your eyes on the court. The season may be ending but the discussion has just begun.

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