Never let them tell you that it was a crime that one NBA coach won the Coach of the Year award, or that another one didn't. It's my staunch belief that, unlike any other award in the NBA's canon, the Coach of the Year trophy has anywhere between a half dozen and dozen appropriate winners each year; and this is from someone who spends most of October through June doing nothing but criticizing NBA coaches.
Think about it. Tom Thibodeau won the award Sunday, and he's been my runaway pick to take the trophy for months, but was he the only deserving candidate? And not just "candidate," in a way where we can understand how LeBron or Kobe could or should take the MVP award every year, or how you can understand a few votes sent R.C. Buford's way for Executive of the Year. I mean "unmitigated, completely deserving winner," instead of "sound second or fourth-place selection."
Lionel Hollins, everyone's current best moody chum who is currently leading the Memphis Grizzles through the Western Conference playoff bracket, could have us gladly running through a brick wall. Gregg Popovich, and I don't care how you feel about his Spurs team running out of gas last week, did a coaching job this season that merits this award. So did George Karl. In fact, Karl earned this award twice -- for his work with a Nuggets team led by Carmelo Anthony, and for his work with a completely different team led by, well, George Karl.
Doc Rivers? Try trusting someone else to run the last play of your game, or to deal with veterans that have been there before and need a bit of pick-me-up as they take on the Warriors for the second time this season. Speaking of which, anyone think Phil Jackson (in perhaps his final NBA season, only "earning" one Coach of the Year award in the process) didn't deserve the trophy this season? I didn't like the job Erik Spoelstra did with the Heat this season, but how much of that was Spoelstra's fault? Without Pat Riley forcing his playbook down Spo's throat, who's to say he wouldn't have taken the Heat to greater heights in the regular season?
Rick Carlisle squeezed 57 wins out of those Mavericks. Nate McMillan dealt with all sorts of turmoil both on-court (injuries) and off (uh, injuries). Monty Williams, Marcus Thornton or not, is deserving of this award -- because that roster plus an on (though very "on" when he's on) and off Chris Paul should not have even made the playoffs. Doug Collins, anyone?
These aren't pretty good coaches. This isn't Kevin Durant tossed in amongst Derrick Rose and Dwight Howard. Each of these men earned it.
Tom Thibodeau won it.
His work with a re-shuffled Bulls roster was beyond award-worthy, but let's also not forget that a good chunk of this team's rotation and typical lineups were around when Vinny Del Negro was running a .500 team in Chicago. Understand that this was a Quentin Richardson-to-LeBron James upgrade at this particular sideline position, but we can't discount this even as we take in the ascension of Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson alongside the additions of Carlos Boozer, Ronnie Brewer, Kyle Korver and Omer Asik.
In Rose, Thibodeau found a willing on-court partner who is as obsessed with winning as he is. Under Thibodeau, Rose went from possibly this league's worst perimeter defender amongst the under-30 set to a pretty fair to pretty good to (if you were watching the Chicago/Indiana series) a pretty amazing point-guard defender. No Bull batted an eye when Thibodeau would switch up rotations or swap out five players at a time, and no Bull ever questioned his minutes, because the typical result would usually conclude with John Deacon's bassline from "Another One Bites the Dust" playing over the PA speakers as the sideline reporter asked what the keys were to yet another Chicago win.
The team's offense steadily improved. The team's defense steadily improved until it was almost at a saturation point at the top of the NBA. Thibodeau went all out, his voice was gone by Halloween, and because his Bulls could never detect a let-down or any sort of insincerity in that all-out style, they embraced it and took it upon themselves to try and match it. Even the scariest of coaches can't bring the hundred percent every day, and yet Thibodeau did, which allowed his team to believe that this monster was real. It was a startling accomplishment, even with this fantastic group of basketball minds.
Tom Thibodeau did a masterful job with the Chicago Bulls in 2010-11. We know that the pendulum swing could result in something less appealing some time down the line, but for now things are pretty rosy.
Pun unintended, but reviewed upon afterward and allowed. Congrats, Thibs.
- Tom Thibodeau
- Derrick Rose