Back in December, the NBA reaffirmed that wins accumulated by interim coaches are to be credited with to a team's "head coach of record," ruling that victories achieved by the Golden State Warriors would be tacked onto the tally of head coach Steve Kerr rather than interim coach Luke Walton, who had led the Dubs to an undefeated start to the 2015-16 season while Kerr recovered from offseason back surgery. The message: yes, someone else was on the sideline, but the Warriors were still Kerr's team, so he's to be credited with their success.
That message evidently made its way through to the voting public, as the NBA revealed Tuesday that Kerr had won the league's Coach of the Year Award following a campaign that saw Golden State set a new standard for regular season excellence by winning 73 games.
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Kerr received 64 first-place votes from the panel of 130 North American writers and broadcasters, amassing 381 total award "points." (You get five points for a first-place vote, three points for a second-place vote, and one for a third.) Terry Stotts of the Portland Trail Blazers finished second, receiving 37 first-place votes and 335 points. The San Antonio Spurs' Gregg Popovich, one of three coaches in league history to win this award three times, finished third, receiving 10 first-place votes and 166 total points.
Other coaches receiving first-place ballots included Brad Stevens of the Boston Celtics, Steve Clifford of the Charlotte Hornets, Dwane Casey of the Toronto Raptors and Dave Joerger of the Memphis Grizzlies. Walton, who led the Warriors to a league-best 24-game unbeaten streak to start the season and a 39-4 mark before Kerr's return to the bench in late January, received one second-place vote and two third-place votes to finish with five points, tying him with Doc Rivers of the Los Angeles Clippers for eighth place in the final voting. A full voting breakdown can be found here.
As ever, there are plenty of valid reasons to have cast a ballot for any of a number of tremendous candidates. Stotts led a Blazers team that replaced 80 percent of its starting lineup to 44 wins and the Western Conference's No. 5 seed. Clifford transformed Charlotte's offense into a top-10 attack while still leading the Hornets to a top-10 defensive finish despite missing top stopper Michael Kidd-Gilchrist for nearly the entire season. Popovich burnished his reputation as the game's best coach by spearheading the Spurs' run to a franchise-record 67 wins and one of the half-dozen biggest average margins of victory in NBA history. Casey led the Raptors to a third-straight franchise-record-setting win total; Stevens crafted a top-five defense without rim protection to propel Boston to 48 wins; Joerger somehow got Memphis across the finish line and into the postseason despite an apocalyptic run of injuries that resulted in an NBA-record 28 players wearing Grizzlies uniforms this season.
Strong cases could also be made for those who finished on the lower reaches of the leaderboard. For the second straight season, Erik Spoelstra had to completely reorganize the Miami Heat at the All-Star break following the loss of Chris Bosh due to blood clots, and he did so by revamping his offense and rotation en route to locking up the No. 3 seed. Quin Snyder continued the Utah Jazz's steady development, weathering lengthy absences for key contributors Rudy Gobert, Derrick Favors, Alec Burks and Dante Exum and drawing within one win of a postseason berth. Rick Carlisle — somehow, yet again — turned Dirk Nowitzki and a collection of flawed/mostly past-their-prime veterans into a top-10 offense and a playoff berth for the Dallas Mavericks. There were an awful, awful lot of really good coaching jobs this season, such that it's impossible to properly recognize them all on a ballot with three slots on it.
All that being said, it's difficult to argue with placing the coach of the Warriors — a team that set the NBA record for wins in a season, wins on the road and consecutive home wins, that went 39-2 at home for the second straight season, that became the first team ever to avoid losing consecutive games over the course of a full season, that led the NBA in offensive efficiency and placed fourth on the defensive end, and that earned a place in the conversation as one of the single greatest teams in the history of the sport — at the top of the ballot. It's just that the NBA made the decision-making process on that choice perhaps a bit wonkier than was necessary:
That said, while it was Walton at the head of the bench for more than half the season, Kerr remained involved in the Warriors' operations during his recovery period, consistently staying around the team when they were at home, attending and speaking up during video sessions and practices, and leading Golden State to a 34-5 mark after his return. Since taking over in the Bay last year, Kerr has helped instill a culture and an approach of shared responsibility and accountability that — thanks to the remarkable gifts of players like Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson — has turned the Warriors into the NBA's premier franchise; that culture and approach (again, thanks to that talent) helped sustain Golden State throughout a lengthy period of significant uncertainty.
ESPN's Ethan Strauss wrote earlier this year that Warriors general manager and UCLA product Bob Myers loves to quote an aphorism popularized by the great John Wooden: "It's amazing what you can accomplish when you don't care who gets the credit." This year's Warriors accomplished something that no other team in NBA history had, thanks in part to two capable leaders who were, as Kerr described it to Ramona Shelburne, "ambitious for the team." Kerr winds up topping the ballot, though he himself would be the first to acknowledge that he's been elevated to that height by the exemplary work turned in by Walton and his staff in his stead. Now all that's left to do is break out that saw, buy the staff a nice gift to say thank you ... and go about earning the honor by figuring out how to survive the next couple of weeks. No resting on those laurels, Coach.
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