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.
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