ERIK SPOELSTRA (Miami Heat)- This might seem high for a relative youngster with zero playoff series' victories on his resume. Not in my book.
He meshed Dwyane Wade and a bunch of spare parts into a first-rate regular season defense. All he did was show how much he could do with proper talent. LeBron James, Wade, and Chris Bosh, paired with an appropriate and useful supporting cast, qualifies as such.
His rich scouting background showed in how the Heat prepared for most opponents. Miami suffered from a talent deficiency, not a coaching one, in the previous two seasons.
Pat Riley should not renege on his promise to let Spoelstra coach this monstrous creation.
NATE McMILLAN (Portland Trail Blazers)- How in the world did McMillan's Blazers qualify for the playoffs when the absurd rash of injuries that befell the roster would have made a small-town emergency room look like a day-care center?
Even the coach spent much of the season on crutches!
In short, this guy knows what to do in compromising situations. He does not allow his players to make excuses, even if they are understandable ones: both centers on the sidelines, half of the rotation in flux each night, and Juwan Howard in a featured role.
And Howard was a standout, too, so much so that Pat Riley signed him up to the join the aforementioned star trio in Miami. While the organization reels from a front office in disarray and an owner handicapped by his ego, Blazers fans can appreciate the steady McMillan.
He has earned the chance to improve on his paltry postseason record, which includes just one series triumph.
LARRY BROWN (Charlotte Bobcats)- How does the only coach with both a college and NBA title fail to make the A-List? His disgraceful showing in New York and his roster indecision in Charlotte cost him too many grade points.
When Brown calls a youngster his new "favorite player," expect him to be shipped out in a few months. His relentless tinkering crushes any hope of continuity.
His glory years, the ones that made him a Hall of Fame head coach, came when he took over veteran squads packed with stand-up citizens and self-policing competitors. That he won a 2004 title at the Lakers' expense sans a standout superstar still ranks as an ultra-impressive feat.
His track record with adolescent teams lacking a victorious history, a la the Bobcats? Not so hot.
RICK CARLISLE (Dallas Mavericks)- His lame-duck, six-year playing career, in which he totaled a whopping 422 points, pales in comparison to his above average stints as a head coach.
He studied dutifully under Bill Fitch and Chuck Daly, which explains his ability to find gainful employment after numerous unceremonious layoffs.
Carlisle rallied his Indiana troops after the devastating Malice at the Palace brawl in Detroit. The Pacers eventually lost that year, in fitting fashion, to the Pistons.
His best move in Dallas was handing the keys to the offense and play calling to Jason Kidd. That helped maximize the productivity of a solid, versatile playoff entrant.
SCOTT SKILES (Milwaukee Bucks)- His rampant screaming and ranting wears on players after a year or two. Can his grace period in Milwaukee continue?
What his stern demands do produce, though, is notable: feisty, laudable defensive units that compete, even when it seems to defy common sense to do so. The pressure is on for Skiles, now that the retooled Bucks are expected to do more than just snag a playoff berth.
Starting center Andrew Bogut looks more like a No. 1 pick, and the roster-wide productivity still eclipses the sheer quality of the talent pool.
STAN VAN GUNDY (Orlando Magic)- Shaquille O'Neal called Van Gundy the "master of panic." He agitated his Magic squad, then, to the franchise's second NBA Finals appearance and its lone victory in a championship series. Orlando won 59 games last season but was bushwhacked and mutilated by Boston's buzzsaw.
O'Neal's critical assessment isn't far off in some respects. He has made some critical endgame coaching mistakes and has been marked by some of his players as an overly profane loudmouth. Dwight Howard asked his coach to tone it down.
Maybe next he'll ask Van Gundy to smile, or wake up on the right side of the bed.
No one can argue that his squads' recent results are impressive, considering it lost to the NBA's two storied franchises in consecutive years. He also still gets props from this writer for the would-be, game-winning lob pass he drew up during that timeout that preceded the buzzer of a Finals thriller.
ALVIN GENTRY (Phoenix Suns)- Liking Gentry's Southern charm is as easy as appreciating how he convinced a lottery squad with supposed mismatched pieces to coalesce, play more defense than ever, and reach the Western Conference Finals.
Gentry's scrappy Suns were closer to a championship than any of D'Antoni's previous outfits. He relates with his players but does not hesitate to deride them for slacking. He did a marvelous job with Amar'e Stoudemire.
The GM-less Suns could not come to an agreement with Stoudemire and instead signed Hakim Warrick and traded for Hedo Turkoglu and Josh Childress.
To paraphrase his huddlespeak, the Suns are going to be alright. OK?
SCOTT BROOKS (Oklahoma City Thunder)- He molded a burned out, inexperienced lottery squad with franchise talent Kevin Durant into a team with a future so bright that the players need to wear sunscreen.
A 23-win to 50-win turnaround is only part of the story. The roster now has the direction and the athletic core necessary to continue its auspicious climb out West.
Like Durant, the rookie sideline chief must improve his heat-of-the-battle decision making. Is there another young coach better suited to take the Thunder to the next level of that battle?
AVERY JOHNSON (New Jersey Nets)- Despite boasting the best winning percentage in NBA history, some would argue Johnson should rot with the Average Joes. I disagree.
He possesses the ambition and the veteran know-how to become the next great tactician. What he must do in New Jersey (that he could not do in Dallas) is to separate the former floor general in him from the sideline commander.
He too often ran the Mavs the way he did the Spurs offense. That hindered the progress of Devin Harris and led to underwhelming, head-scratching results just after the blockbuster Kidd exchange.
In Jersey, he gets a second chance with Harris and a Russian billionaire owner whose expected liberal spending habits will mirror those of Mark Cuban. He will shake up and work the 12-win Nets into proper defensive shape.
Great hire, even better coach.
DOUG COLLINS (Philadelphia 76ers)- The Sixers' slam-dunk choice beats a Soviet lay-up any day. His mere playoff record might stain his resume a bit, but his uncanny ability to turn a laughingstock into a winning outfit with a verifiable identity remains an asset.
Philadelphia's sad sack pro hoops squad could use some invigoration and a plan. Collins will lay out a reasonable road map and bench any louse unwilling to run hard or defend.
Maybe the Philly boo birds can spare a favorite son while he repairs the team's broken volume knob.
BYRON SCOTT (Cleveland Cavaliers)- Hornets' management made him the fall guy and poster boy for the roster's below-par performance. The word "par" fits, though, since he seemed more interested in his tee time last year than Xs and Os. He did have an important ally in Chris Paul, but George Shinn and Hugh Webber spoke loudest in the Big Easy.
The reclamation project he agreed to tackle in Cleveland will be anything but. The franchise player bolted for Miami, the owner shamed the organization with an online rant about said player, and well, it's Cleveland.
Kidd pushed Scott out in New Jersey. Paul begged management to keep him in New Orleans. That dichotomy explains his mixed-bag reputation.
His consecutive Finals appearances in the early 2000s and division title with the Hornets keep him safely on the B-List. If he guides the barren Cavs to more than 30 wins, he might merit consideration in the A group.
GEORGE KARL (Denver Nuggets)- Nuggets fans witnessed the team's precipitous and frightening fall from the would-be elite ranks after Karl's throat cancer forced him to trade the sidelines for chemotherapy.
As Denver found out, there was no cure for his more than six-week absence.