NBA Coach of the Year: Gregg Popovich, Tom Thibodeau and the Top 10 Candidates
As the NBA regular season reaches its stretch run and the playoffs are approaching quickly, it's not too early to discuss who's in the running for the prestigious Coach of the Year Award.
Gregg Popovich has returned San Antonio to dominance as the Spurs boast the league's best record and Tom Thibodeau has surprisingly guided the Bulls to the top record in the Eastern Conference.
Popovich and Thibodeau are the frontrunners to take coach of the year honors, but there are still several viable candidates to win the award.
Last year's winner Scott Brooks is also making a strong case as he has led the Thunder to the top record in the Northwest Division and has them primed to be a tough team to knock off in the playoffs.
This season is like none other in the NBA history with six teams that are legitimate title contenders and a postseason that is set to be very unpredictable. A lot of success will come down to execution and preparation, which starts with the coaching staff.
Here are the top 10 candidates for NBA Coach of the Year.
10. Lionel Hollins - Memphis Grizzlies
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In his second stint with the Grizzlies, Hollins has guided his team to the eighth spot in a very tough Western Conference. Not to mention, the Grizzlies are arguably in the toughest division in the entire NBA with San Antonio, Dallas and New Orleans above them in the Southwest.
Hollins deserves credit as he has been able to keep Memphis in the thick of the playoff race even without the Grizzlies best player Rudy Gay, who has missed the last 14 games with a shoulder injury.
Memphis currently sits at 39-32 and has a two-game lead over Houston for the final spot in the Western Conference playoff picture. A lot of their success can be attributed to the work of Hollins.
9. Phil Jackson - Los Angeles Lakers
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Phil Jackson deserves a lot of credit simply due to the amount of expectations that are put on the Lakers every season. Well, that and the fact that Los Angeles has won the last two championships and Jackson himself has 11 rings.
With that in mind, it would seem that it would be very difficult to keep his players motivated, with the exception of Kobe Bryant.
Jackson has it all and his legacy is set in stone, yet he still has guided the Lakers to the second best record in the Western Conference and has them poised to win their third straight title.
If LA wins again this year, it will be the Zen Master's second three-peat of his coaching career. If not Coach of the Year, maybe he deserves a lifetime achievement award.
8. Rick Carlisle - Dallas Mavericks
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Carlisle has done a great job leading a veteran Mavericks team, who has suffered heartbreaking playoff defeat after heartbreaking playoff defeat in the last decade.
The Mavericks slightly revamped their roster in the offseason, adding Tyson Chandler to give them defense and size.
Carlisle utilized Chandler well and transformed the Mavericks into a much better defensive team this season. He has led Dirk Nowitzki and company to the third best record in the West and they trail the Lakers by only one game for the second seed.
Carlisle, who won coach of the year in 2002 with the Pistons, should be considered a strong candidate for the award.
7. Scott Brooks - Oklahoma City Thunder
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Last year's NBA Coach of the Year is actually making a strong case to repeat as the best coach in the league.
Brooks won coach of the year after leading the Thunder to 50 wins and the eighth seed in the West last season. Now the Thunder are in the fourth spot, leading the Northwest Division with 45 wins and only five wins away from last year's feat. They continue to get better and are moving up in a deep Western Conference.
OKC is a much improved team and Brooks has done a great job coaching a team of young and rising stars. He has really helped the development of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and turned the Thunder into the dark horse to win the championship this season.
6. George Karl - Denver Nuggets
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If it weren't for the outstanding play of San Antonio and Chicago, it would be really hard not to consider George Karl as one of the primary candidates for Coach of the Year.
With all the distractions that the Nuggets have experienced this season with the Carmelo Anthony drama, Karl deserves some type of award. Through the constant trade talk and rumors that surrounded the Nuggets locker room, Karl and his team have persevered.
Since the Anthony deal Denver is 10-4 and climbed up to the fifth spot in the Western Conference. Karl has done an excellent job in keeping the Nuggets focused and has them in good condition for the playoffs.
Karl has utilized what he has to work with very solidly. The Nuggets lead the league in scoring and still have many offensive weapons even without Anthony on the roster.
Karl has instilled confidence in this Denver team and they will be a tough out in the postseason with the extra motivation that they have.
5. Erik Spoelstra - Miami Heat
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In any other year, Spoelstra might have been the favorite to win Coach of the Year. However, considering the circumstances, he likely won't win the award.
Still, after all the criticism he received after Miami's 9-8 start, Spoelstra never panicked and was able to right the ship.
Since that shaky start, the Heat have gone 39-14 and improved to one of the NBA's best teams. Spo bounced back from all the rumors that were in his ear about Pat Riley replacing him and turned this team around. For that, he deserves a lot of credit.
Remember that Spoelstra is one of the youngest coaches in the league and is only in his third year as a head coach in the NBA. Taking on the task of coaching three of the biggest superstars in the league combined with all the hype that is surrounded by it is very daunting, but Spoelstra has done an excellent job handling the pressure.
It could be only a matter of time before Spo wins the Coach of the Year honors.
4. Nate McMillan - Portland Trail Blazers
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Nate McMillan has probably had the most curve balls thrown at him than any other coach in the league. The Blazers have been severely hit with the injury bug as Greg Oden and Elliot Williams were lost for the year, while Brandon Roy and Marcus Camby have missed significant time this year with injuries.
Still, Portland remains in the thick of the playoff race, currently holding onto the sixth seed and are only 1.5 games behind Denver for the fifth seed.
But it's not just this year that McMillan has faced adversity. The Blazers have lost Oden and Roy to injuries many times over the last two seasons and Portland has still found a way to remain competitive and make the playoffs.
McMillan is undoubtedly one of the best coaches in the NBA.
3. Doc Rivers - Boston Celtics
As long as Doc Rivers is coaching, he will be in the mix for Coach of the Year.
Rivers has guided a veteran Celtics team to the top spot in the Eastern Conference and has them competing for an NBA title for the fourth consecutive season.
Rivers is highly regarded around the league and has implemented the Celtics as one of the fiercest defensive teams in the NBA.
He has done a great job in limiting the minutes of veterans Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce while still keeping Boston as one of the best teams in the league.
It's been no easy task for the Celtics either, especially after the team traded long time fan-favorite Kendrick Perkins. He has found a way for the Celtics to persevere and they are clearly one of the favorites to win the championship.
2. Tom Thibodeau - Chicago Bulls
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It appears to be a two-man race for Coach of the Year and Thibodeau has made a great case to win the award in just his first year as a head coach.
He has led a newly assembled Chicago Bulls team to the top record in the Eastern Conference (tied with Boston) and has surprisingly turned the Bulls into a legitimate title contender.
No one really expected the Bulls to be competing for a championship this year, but Thibodeau has Chicago in the mix.
Thibodeau has made the Bulls one of the best defensive teams in the NBA and is doing all this as a rookie coach. However, Thibodeau did learn from the best as he served as an assistant coach under Doc Rivers in Boston, where he won a ring with the 2008 Celtics team.
If the Bulls do end up taking the East, it will be hard not to hand the award to Thibodeau.
1. Gregg Popovich - San Antonio Spurs
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The favorite for Coach of the Year honors is none other than Gregg Popovich.
Popovich, who won the award in 2003, has somehow found a way to get a very old Spurs team back to the class of the NBA.
With an aging Tim Duncan and a veteran roster, the Spurs hold the NBA's best record and have a firm seven-game lead in the Western Conference. They will easily win over 60 games this season.
Popovich has transformed San Antonio from a boring, slow-paced defensive team to a run-and-gun team that is sixth in the league in scoring.
Pop has used his veterans wisely and found a way to make them an up tempo team even with their age. Come playoff time, there is no question that the Spurs will be the favorite to win their fifth title in the last 11 years.
With all that Popovich has accomplished this year and all the success that the Spurs have experienced, he deserves to win Coach of the Year.