Even more than MVP, the Coach of the Year award needs a criteria makeover. Because while it’s kind of ridiculous in retrospect that Shaq only has one MVP when he was the most dominant game-changing basketball player in the NBA for several years, it’s patently ridiculous that Jerry Sloan was never deemed the best coach in the League over any of his two decades-plus run in Utah while continually placing his team in the title contending picture.
As of today, the Coach of the Year criteria is something like this: If the media thought your team wasn’t going to be any good, but the team was good, you’re a Coach of the Year candidate. Bonus points if the fans/coaches only voted one (or none) of your players into the All-Star Game. The whole award is based around proving, once again, that the media doesn’t know what it’s talking about as much as we think we do.
In a DimeMag.com poll over the weekend asking which Western Conference coach deserved C.O.Y., Oklahoma City’s Scott Brooks got an overwhelming 40 percent of the vote among six candidates, while in the East version of the poll, Milwaukee’s Scott Skiles got the most votes. In all likelihood, Brooks will win the official award.
Why? Because everybody assumed the Thunder would, if not outright stink, at least still be in “making progress” mode rather than a legit playoff team. And not to downplay what Brooks has done, but how people who don’t watch OKC play every game can really tell you what coaching moves Brooks has made to guide his team to where they are? Isn’t it more the case that Kevin Durant became one of the five best players in the League, and Russell Westbrook cracked the list of elite point guards? Isn’t this year’s OKC success more of a credit to the players and GM Sam Presti than Brooks’ X’s-and-O’s on the bench?
Meanwhile, in Portland, Nate McMillan has been the most deserving Coach of the Year candidate that isn’t getting as much credit as he should. And the main reason he won’t win C.O.Y. is because the media predicted the Blazers would be good this year anyway. The fact that they are good, but not in the West’s Top-5 like most predicted, actually works against McMillan.
After losing his top two centers (Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla) to season-ending injuries relatively early in the schedule, McMillan had to — before the team was able to pick up Marcus Camby at the trade deadline — devise strategy to keep the Blazers in the playoff picture while playing 56-year-old Juwan Howard and little-used youngsters Dante Cunningham and Jeff Pendergraph in the post alongside LaMarcus Aldridge, who needs a tough-guy banger next to him to be most effective.
McMillan had to get Andre Miller, who appeared to be a mistake of a signing in training camp when he reportedly clashed with coaches and teammates, to play along with the system. He had to figure out when to play the veteran ‘Dre (who made it clear he sees himself as an NBA starting point guard and nothing less) as the lead guard and when to hand over the reigns to Brandon Roy, who is used to the role of running Portland’s offense in crunch time. And as the injuries piled up and even B-Roy got nicked up a bit, McMillan had to figure out how to best keep his star player from also physically falling apart while still trying to win games.
McMillan had to juggle playing time between a cast of small forwards — Rudy Fernandez, Martell Webster, Nic Batum — who are all young, who all want to play, and who have a diverse set of skills, and manage to keep them all happy and buying into the system. Keeping Rudy’s tendency to jack shots in check was one hurdle, and McMillan had success playing Webster as his defensive stopper at times during the season, although the book on Webster said he was little more than a spot-up shooter.
Through all the injuries, potential chemistry landmines, personnel juggling and higher expectations (a real factor with a young team like Portland), it’s an astounding feat that McMillan has still guided his team to the playoffs in the tough Western Conference, even if it is as an 8-seed.
But will he be rewarded with the Coach of the Year trophy he clearly deserves? Probably not, because he was supposed to get Portland here anyway. The Blazers are who we thought they were, a playoff team with 1.5 “star” players who either gets KO’d in the first or second round. Maybe if the Blazers stink next year, then make it back to the playoffs in 2012, Nate will have his shot.
Who do you think should be NBA Coach of the Year?