This year, I got votes.
I won't say how or why, but save for a couple of examples that I will point out as this series moves along, my votes for the NBA's end of season awards count this year. And because one should never cast a vote that they're unable to defend, I'm going to be transparent and list each of my picks for the awards I voted on. Have at me in the comments, and in our Wednesday chats, where I answer questions from all comers.
Today, the Coach of the Year.
You might think it a cop-out, or that I'm trying to be all things to all people. But I've kept up the same tone since I used to have to rank coaches for NBAtalk.com a decade ago, and the thought remains the same because the skills remain the same. Every year, there are at least a half-dozen worthy candidates for Coach of the Year. This year, in my eyes, there are a dozen.
So you'll get no argument from me if you want to toss Stan Van Gundy, Nate McMillan, Lionel Hollins, Rick Adelman, Scott Skiles, Rick Carlisle, Gregg Popovich, Mike Woodson, or Larry Brown into this list. I mean that. And those are the gentleman that didn't even make my ballot.
My ballot led off with the eventual winner, Oklahoma City's Scott Brooks.
It was obvious that Brooks was a real talent early into his time as OKC's interim coach last year, and his ability to mold what could be a mercurial cast of youngsters into a team that just reeks of veteran steadiness is well worth the award he'll be receiving tonight.
I submit, it's a lot easier to mold those who want to be molded, and the personnel decisions help, but Brooks has kids playing defense, and I can't tell you what an accomplishment that is. It isn't that younger players don't want to play defense, it's just they just don't know how. Most of the needed instincts aren't there, and too often, the (bad) instincts from years playing at the amateur level are still there. You have to implore younger players to ignore the quick decisions they've been making, defensively, since grade school, and that's not easy.
Especially in this league, with this schedule. And yet, Brooks has turned the Thunder into a 50-win team just a year after it started the season with a 3-29 record. Just a year after ranking 20th in defense. With the addition of, what, a full year of Thabo Sefolosha(notes)? James Harden(notes)? Serge Ibaka(notes)? Important parts, all, but this is mostly internal development, forged during what is supposed to be a rebuilding season before the cap space and draft picks hit. This is gravy time, and they're still taking it to the Lakers. In the playoffs, no less.
And when that sort of internal development hits, you look to the coach. The Coach of the Year.
He also sort of looks like Dave Edmunds.
Second place? Jerry Sloan's team had every reason to take 2009-10 off. They could have waited until the Carlos Boozer(notes) situation was sussed out, until the real forward rotation stepped up. They could have floundered once Ronnie Brewer(notes) was shipped away for financial reasons. They could have given us the usual.
But Sloan had them playing hard nearly every night out. He sustained the team's offensive and defensive marks despite all the turmoil, integrated yet another cast of second-rounders (as anyone ever been better at this? Seriously, it's been decades), and kept the focus.
This team executes, consistently. And when you see that sort of execution, consistently, you consistently look to the sidelines. Where Jerry glares at you.
Third? I gave it to Alvin Gentry, who squeezed absolutely everything he could out of the Phoenix Suns this season.
Now, it nearly goes without saying that the Suns are a pretty coachable outfit. But nearly the same outfit was getting destroyed defensively this time last year, and while the Suns still aren't great guns on that end, they improved every month defensively, finishing the year 24th in defensive efficiency. And let me tell you, 24th is the absolute best you're going to get from this roster.
It's not all Robin Lopez(notes), either, as (save for a few hiccups) the Suns continued to get better even in his absence. Topping that, Gentry managed to get nearly a career year out of Amar'e Stoudemire(notes), who had to come back from a nasty eye injury, work his way into shape, and play wondering if he'd be in Cleveland or Chicago by the end of next week.
54 wins for the Suns this year. Tell me you saw that coming.
Let me also toss a bon mot to Scott Skiles.
I have it out with him quite a bit in these pages, but you cannot deny the raw coaching talent that Scott Skiles brings to the table.
I won't point out the loss of Michael Redd(notes) (or even Richard Jefferson(notes), who did manage to average nearly 20 points per game last year) as some sort of point in his favor. What I will point to is the development of Andrew Bogut(notes) and Luke Ridnour(notes) under his watch, and the way he was able to get rookie Brandon Jennings(notes) and Bogut to worm their way into (who knew?) one of the league's premier screen and roll defending outfits.
With all these points, however, these four men are just four of 12, in my eyes. For as much as we second-guess, the coaching at this level is so, so good.