Basketball Insiders Managing Editor Alex Kennedy talks with CineSport’s Brian Clark about this season’s Coach of the Year race.
Who Deserves Coach of the Year?
The NBA’s 2015-16 Coach of the Year race is a strange one.
The top teams in each conference – the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers – have switched coaches at some point this year.
Assistant Luke Walton coached the Warriors for the first 43 games of the season while Steve Kerr was battling complications and pain from his offseason back surgery. Walton did a terrific job with the Warriors, making history with their excellent start and turning things over to Kerr with a 39-4 record.
Cavaliers head coach David Blatt was fired despite the fact the Cleveland was the top team in the Eastern Conference with a 30-11 record and the team was coming off of an NBA Finals run. Behind-the-scenes drama and a sense that Blatt wasn’t getting the most out of the star-studded roster led to his ouster, so assistant Ty Lue has stepped into the head coaching gig and inked a multi-year deal.
It’s tough to give the Coach of the Year award to either Kerr or Lue since they didn’t lead their respective teams for the first half of the season. That means this race is much more wide open than usual.
In my opinion, four candidates stand out.
San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich has led his team to a 48-9 record while getting new players (LaMarcus Aldridge, David West, Jonathon Simmons, etc.) acclimated and comfortable in his system. Most people agree that Popovich is the best coach in the NBA – and arguably one of the top coaches of all-time – so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see voters give him the award. And not only is Pop terrific when it comes to Xs and Os, he is great at adapting to his roster’s strengths. He has led defensive-oriented teams, offensive-oriented teams and he deserves credit for making Aldridge work in San Antonio since he played a very different style of basketball (iso-heavy, a lot of shots) before joining the Spurs. If voters want to go with a coach from a top team, Popovich is the no-brainer option.
If voters want to select a coach from one of the teams that have exceeded expectations this season, there are several worthy candidates.
Portland Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts has done a terrific job of keeping his team in the Western Conference playoff picture despite losing four starters (LaMarcus Aldridge, Wes Matthews, Nic Batum and Robin Lopez) over the offseason. Damian Lillard has elevated his game to carry the Blazers, but Stotts has been instrumental in the development of the team’s young core and he has put the group in position to succeed. Entering the season, just about everyone had Portland as a rebuilding, lottery-bound team with a starting lineup of Lillard, C.J. McCollum, Al-Farouq Aminu, Noah Vonleh and Mason Plumlee. More than half of the players on the roster were added this past offseason, making their success this season even more impressive. Stotts has coached this team to a 30-27 record, which puts them in sixth place in the Western Conference. This team has exceeded all expectations and their rebuild is much further along than anyone anticipated. Lillard, McCollum (who should be Most Improved Player) and Stotts deserve the bulk of the credit.
Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens has his team playing tremendous basketball, as they are currently 33-25 and third in the Eastern Conference. Stevens has become one of the best Xs and Os coaches in the league, while also doing a great job motivating his players and developing strong relationships with them. Stevens helped Isaiah Thomas make his first All-Star appearance and exceeded expectations with this Boston squad that lacked a clear-cut star player entering this season. If his career continues as expected, Stevens will be mentioned as a serious candidate for this award for many years to come. (For more on Stevens and the brilliant job he has done with the Celtics, check out this article written by our Ben Dowsett.)
Like Stotts, Dallas Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle has led his team into the Western Conference playoff picture when most pundits thought his squad would miss the postseason. The DeAndre Jordan saga was the biggest story of Dallas’ offseason, and they had to settle for Zaza Pachulia, Deron Williams and Wes Matthews (coming off of an Achilles tear) as their big summer acquisitions once Jordan backed out of his commitment to the Mavs. This group is now 30-28, putting them in seventh place in the West standings. Carlisle is known for getting the most out of the players he has, and this year is no exception.
It’ll be very interesting to see who voters go with in this season’s Coach of the Year race, since there are a number of coaches who deserve serious consideration.
Who do you think deserves the award? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.
Is Kyrie Irving’s Second Opinion a Cause for Concern?
Shane Rhodes breaks down the tough situation the Celtics are in with Kyrie Irving.
The Boston Celtics are in one awful predicament.
With a third of the roster out due to injury, Brad Stevens has been forced into the impossible task of maintaining Boston’s championship aspirations with some subpar talent; while they have performed admirably, the likes of Abdel Nader and Semi Ojeleye wouldn’t see the same run they are currently on with most contenders. Gordon Hayward has missed the entire season, save a few minutes on opening night. Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Daniel Theis are all currently out, some for the year and others not. Key contributors Al Horford, Marcus Morris and others have missed time as well.
It couldn’t get worse, could it?
Well, it may just have. Reports surfaced Tuesday that Irving, who had missed time this season — including the last four games — with left knee soreness, is seeking a second opinion after a lack of progress in his recovery.
My understanding is that Kyrie Irving is getting a 2nd opinion on his left knee, perhaps as soon as tomorrow. Bottom line: he needs the screws out. Knee is flaring up. He will either play thru it going forward or … he will get thee screws out and won’t play at all. Stay tuned.
— Tony Massarotti (@TonyMassarotti) March 20, 2018
With lack of progress on his ailing left knee, Celtics All-Star Kyrie Irving plans to travel for a second opinion later this week, league sources tell Yahoo.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) March 20, 2018
In the wake of the Isaiah Thomas fiasco and his ailing hip last Summer, an injury that lingered deep into this season, the Celtics will likely be more than cautious with Irving, whom they gave up a haul (the rights to the 2018 Brooklyn Nets first round pick, most notably), to acquire. But one can only wonder if these persistent issues — Irving’s left knee was surgically repaired after he sustained a fractured kneecap in 2015, and he reportedly threatened the Cleveland Cavaliers with surgery this offseason before his trade to Boston — are a cause for concern for general manager Danny Ainge and the Celtics.
The situation presents the Celtics with a quandary, to say the least.
Knee injuries aren’t exactly a death-knell, but fans need not look far for to see the devastating effect they can have on NBA players (e.g. Derrick Rose). They can snowball and, over time, even the best players will break down. Regardless of the severity, Irving’s knee issue presents problems both now and in the future.
The problems now are obvious: the Celtics, already down Gordon Hayward, cannot afford to lose Irving if they are at all interested in making a Finals run this season. Boston struggles mightily on the offensive end when Irving and his 24.4 points, 3.8 rebounds and 5.1 assists aren’t on the court. In a playoff atmosphere, especially, the team would sorely miss his scoring prowess.
Looking ahead, if Irving is dealing with these problems at the age of 25, what could the future hold for the All-Star guard? Knee issues, most lower body issues in general, are often of the chronic variety, and constant maintenance can wear on people, both mentally and physically.
Just a season separated from a likely super-max payday, will the Celtics want to commit big-money long-term to potentially damaged goods?
If there is a silver lining in it all, it is the fact that 20-year-old rookie Jayson Tatum must now shoulder the scoring load, something that should go a long way in building on the potential that made him the No. 3 overall pick last June. And, should Irving miss the remainder of this season, exposure to the fires of the playoffs should only temper the Celtics’ young roster. In the event that Irving’s absence isn’t prolonged, time like this could only serve to strengthen the roster around him.
Still, Ainge brought Irving to Boston for a reason: he was meant to lead the Celtics into battle, alongside Gordon Hayward and Al Horford, in their quest for a title. Obviously, he can’t do that from the bench. Without Irving at 100 percent, the Celtics are not a championship caliber squad, healthy Gordon Hayward or not. That fact alone will make Irving’s situation one to monitor going forward and for the foreseeable future.
NBA Daily: Houston Has It All
Deciphering whether Houston is a contender or pretender is tough, but they’re making it easy.
It is very easy to get caught up in the NBA regular-season hyperbole. The past is littered with a plethora of NBA teams that looked like world-beaters in the regular season only to pull up lame in the playoffs and emerge as a bunch of pretenders.
So when it comes to the Houston Rockets, it’s no surprise many pundits and fans of the game fall heavily on one side or the other. The 2017-18 Rockets are a polarizing squad in that respect. On one side of the fence, you have the folks that are struggling to get behind Houston until they see how the franchise performs in the playoffs under the brightest of lights and on the biggest of stages. On the other, folks that place a great deal of weight on the 82-game regular season and the ability to sustain consistency throughout the marathon.
As always, the truth is somewhere in the middle.
At the top of Houston’s lineup are two future Hall of Famers in James Harden and Chris Paul. The latter was a perennial star in his heyday and is still a top-tier talent in the league. Harden, on the other hand, is closing in on his first MVP award and had serious cases for winning the honors in prior seasons, as well. Both Harden and Paul are criticized for their past playoff failures.
Paul entered the league during the 2006 season and has been dogged by the ever looming fact that he’s never reached a Conference Finals. Harden has been to the NBA Finals but has been dogged for multiple playoff missteps and shaky performances that remain etched in everyone’s memory. But something about this season’s Rockets team (57-14) seems different as the duo closes in on 60 wins.
One way to measure the true greatness of a NBA team is evaluating how many ways the roster can win playing a variety of styles. From the eyeball test, Houston checks the boxes in this category. The team sustains leads during blowouts. They have an offense built to erase large deficits quickly. The team possesses the talent to employ an array of versatile lineups to withstand top heat from opposing teams. Head coach Mike D’Antoni has shown the ability to adjust on the fly during certain situations. Houston is seemingly comprised of a bunch of guys that are selfless and ready to sacrifice at this stage of their respective careers.
Time will tell on all of those aforementioned aspects, but the Rockets are built to compete and win now. On paper at least, the team fits the criteria.
Paul has a chance to go down as a top five point guard in NBA history .His court vision is unquestioned and his big men always seem to end up being in the top five of field goal percentage each season (i.e. Tyson Chandler, DeAndre Jordan and now Clint Capela). In years past, the Rockets faltered down the stretch of games because the entire system ran through Harden. But this year’s club has the luxury of taking some of the on-ball expectation away from Harden and by giving the rock to Paul who naturally thrives in this role the squad doesn’t take a step back on the floor.
This is going to be big for Houston which has seen Harden gassed late in playoff games from carrying the entire load.
Small Ball Ready
Presumably standing between the Rockets and an appearance in the NBA Finals are the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors turned the NBA upside down with their free-flowing offense, long range accuracy and the successful ability to push the pace while playing small ball.
At the height of Golden State’s success they employed the “death lineup” which places All-Star forward Draymond Green at center. In different variations this gives the Warriors five guys on the court who can dribble, drive, pass and shoot. Versatility is important and if you look at this year’s Rockets team they have the ability to match the death lineup with their own version. Veteran forward P.J. Tucker would be able to guard Green in this scenario at center or Houston could just rely on the athleticism of Capela.
When it comes to defense, the Rockets will never be confused for the bad boy Detroit Pistons of yesteryear, however, the team has an assortment of individually capable defenders on the roster. Paul has all defensive team honors hanging on his mantle during his time in the league. Small forward Trevor Ariza made his bones in the league by placing an emphasis on defense. Before Capela emerged as a double-digit scorer, he was relied on as a defensive spark off the bench. Luc Mbah a Moute has a reputation and consistent track record of being a very willing defender.
Shooting, Versatility and Experience
All of this success, leads to the variation D’Antoni can put out onto the floor. The versatility to go with a small ball lineup or a lineup heavily skewed toward defenders is a luxury amenity. Houston also features five guys with 125 or more three-pointers made this season with Harden, Eric Gordon, Ariza, Paul and Ryan Anderson leading the way. A sixth, Tucker, should join the +100 club before season’s end. Veteran Gerald Green has only played 30 games with the franchise but has already knocked down 76 attempts from distance.
Experience is key as well. This year’s Rockets team features only one player under 25, receiving 25 or more minutes per night in the rotation. Look at NBA history, title winning teams are full of veterans not second or third year players.
Again, the Rockets will never be confused with the late 80s or early 90s Pistons but the team has more than a few guys that don’t shy away from contact or physical play. The collection of Nene, Tucker, Green and Ariza have had more than their share of shoving matches when things get heated on the floor.
With the start of the NBA playoffs (April 14) under a month away, the Rockets continue to build momentum toward a title run. Will Harden and Paul’s playoff demons from the past emerge or is their first true shot at greatness with a complete team? These questions will soon be answered.
PODCAST: Breaking Down The Western Conference Playoff Race
Basketball Insiders Deputy Editor Jesse Blancarte and Writer James Blancarte break down the Western Conference playoff race and check in on the Los Angeles Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers.