He may have missed the first 43 games of the 2015-16 NBA season but, make no mistake about it, Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr should still be the NBA’s 2015-16 Coach of the Year.
Earlier this week, the National Basketball Association confirmed to Basketball Insiders that Kerr is eligible to receive the award this season, despite the fact that he has missed more than half of it.
Traditionally, the Coach of the Year Award has been one of the more difficult to handicap. Just like All-Star berths, there is always a resulting controversy due to the abundance of candidates who can rightfully argue for votes.
For example, this year, Terry Stotts and his Portland Trail Blazers have shocked and awed anyone that even takes a cursory glance at the NBA standings. The Charlotte Hornets, on the other hand, enter play on April 3 as the third seed in the Eastern Conference. Who in the world saw that coming?
Meanwhile, Dwane Casey has just done his best Stephen Curry impression by leading his Toronto Raptors to a franchise-best 50-win season. It is the third consecutive season that Casey has broken the single-season wins record.
After seamlessly incorporating LaMarcus Aldridge and a few other pieces, the San Antonio Spurs still amazingly have a shot at winning 70 regular season games. Although that’s an endeavor that Popovich isn’t too concerned about, it does underscore the magnificent job that he has done in San Antonio this season.
But still, don’t all of these coaches pale in comparison to the job that Kerr and his staff have done this season?
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As a basketball culture, aside from doing a great job of becoming impatient, we have mastered the art of the double-standard. Head coaches are faulted when things go wrong on their team, in their locker room or with the culture that they help to create. Head coaches are the fall guy when anything goes wrong, but are not often credited enough when things go right.
Do you honestly think that while Luke Walton was leading the Warriors to a 39-4 start to their season that he wasn’t consulting with Coach Kerr about the challenges that he encountered along the way? Do you think that the Warriors somehow became a different team that were marked by principles and procedures other than what Kerr instilled in them?
How much success has Luke Walton has as a head coach without Steve Kerr? Had it been Ron Adams or Alvin Gentry leading the Warriors to their record-breaking start, a better argument could be made for taking credit away from Kerr as the coach that made it all happen.
Walton’s amazing beginning, however, is more of a positive reflection on Kerr’s coaching brilliance than it is an indictment, and if you sincerely believe that Walton helped that team achieve the heights that they have all on his own, you need to wake up.
Entering play on April 3, Kerr has led the Warriors to a 29-4 record. It pales in comparison to the 39-4 that they amassed in his absence, but with a more difficult strength of schedule, the crushing pressure that these Warriors have faced as they have pursued 73 wins and the progressive fatigue that the team has experienced makes the 29-4 record quite impressive.
What’s even more impressive is the fact that since the NBA began giving out the award after the 1962-63 season, we have seldom found ourselves asking these types of questions. Should we consider what a coach accomplishes in the playoffs when considering whether or not to anoint him the coach of the year? Think about it: the Warriors were 67-15 last season, but Kerr ultimately lost the award to another very deserving candidate, head coach Mike Budenholzer of the Atlanta Hawks. Thereafter, the Warriors went 16-5 over their 21 playoff games and captured the 2015 NBA Championship.
After finding themselves trailing the Cleveland Cavaliers 2-1 in the 2015 NBA Finals, the Warriors responded by winning the final three games of the series, meaning that since last June, including the playoffs, they have put together a 71-8 record. They have done that while playing “small-ball,” which many basketball purists doubted could lead to a championship.
And now, that very team, playing with those very same principles, is on the cusp of overthrowing Michael Jordan and his 72-win Chicago Bulls as the single-season record holder for wins.
We do not typically consider what transpires in the playoffs the year prior when making determinations as to whether someone deserves a regular season award, but we have also never really found ourselves in the situation that we are in with respect to whether Kerr “deserves” the Coach of the Year Award or not.
Depending on who you ask, though, some will tell you that Kobe Bryant’s 2008 Most Valuable Player Award and more than a few recent All-Star designations given to other players have been tantamount to “lifetime achievement awards.” In other words, members of the media, when asked, will admit to you that their votes are sometimes swayed by things that have transpired prior to the current season in which they are voting. That’s a fact, and any opponents of Kerr not winning the award simply because of his missing 43 games should take that into consideration.
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Make no mistake about it, with all due respect to Mark Jackson, these Warriors are Steve Kerr’s team. Their thriving in his absence is a testament to their toughness and dedication and if anything, that isn’t an indictment to Kerr’s greatness as a head coach. It’s evidence.
With all due respect to Luke Walton and the other members of the coaching staff out in Oakland, there is reason to anoint Kerr as the coach of the decade. He has accomplished things that no rookie head coach in history ever has. He has taken an undersized jump-shooting team to heights that Mike D’Antoni couldn’t. And now, above all, with six games remaining in the 2015-16 NBA season, he has his team on the cusp of history.
If the Warriors end up falling short and clocking in at 70 or even 71 regular season wins, then one could make an argument that Stotts may be the more deserving candidate. But if these Warriors so much as tie the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls with 72 regular season wins, arguing that Kerr isn’t the Coach of the Year would be as silly as arguing that Stephen Curry’s isn’t the league’s Most Valuable Player.
From where I sit, neither argument would hold any weight.
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