Awards Predictions Links:
Of all the regular season awards to give out, this particular year’s honor may be the most difficult to choose with several worthy candidates. In general, this award has been given out to coaches of teams who exceed expectations by a great margin. Since we have so many such coaches this year, we also have to look at who has done more with less. Let’s get on with it.
5. Doug Collins, Philadelphia 76ers
A team that took the league by storm until their recent free fall to 8th in the East, the 76ers were not expected to improve this much from last season. After looking helpless against Miami in last year’s playoffs, the team stayed relatively pat during the offseason. Then, they stormed out of the gates and achieved a 20-9 record by mid-February. If they played the same way they did the first half of the season, they would easily have won the Atlantic Division, and Collins may have been the odds-on favorite for this award.
4. Frank Vogel, Indiana Pacers
Since taking over for Jim O’Brien last season, Frank Vogel has shown nothing but promise in a head coaching role. He guided the struggling Pacers to an 8th seed in the 2011 playoffs, where the Pacers managed to give the 1st-seeded Chicago Bulls a real scare in the first round. This year, he has once again exceeded expectations, and has his team peaking at the right time heading into the playoffs as a 3rd seed. He has helped develop Roy Hibbert into an All-Star center, and has schemed most of the offense to start with him instead of relying completely on Danny Granger. As a result, the whole team has gotten better. Of all the teams heading into the playoffs, the Pacers may be the most overlooked. Watch out for Vogel and company to give Miami some problems in the second round of the playoffs.
3. Doc Rivers, Boston Celtics
With one devastating blow after another, the Celtics looked dead in the water. Both Jeff Green and Chris Wilcox had season-ending heart surgeries – in Green’s case, it was before the season even started. Rajon Rondo missed a handful of games (which made him almost get left off the All-Star team). Already with a very shallow frontcourt, Jermaine O’Neal has been shut down for the season. With Ray Allen also gimpy, the Celtics looked old and fried. But since the All-Star break when they were a subpar 15-17, the Celtics have gone 22-10 and have won the Atlantic Division. Doc Rivers has once again instilled belief in his squad that the Celtics can still be a threat to win it all. Even subtle moves such as moving Kevin Garnett to the Center position – which has revived his career – and bringing Ray Allen off the bench in favor of second-year player Avery Bradley, makes you realize how gifted Rivers has become as a coach.
2. Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs
Before the season started, the Spurs looked cooked. Much like Boston, nearly everyone in the media thought they were too old to win and dismissed them as legitimate contenders. Even though they were the #1 seeded team last season (and were upset by the 8th-seeded Memphis), you get the feeling that they will make a little more noise in the playoffs this time around.
1. Tom Thibodeau, Chicago Bulls
The media has historically hesitated giving out back-to-back Coach of the Year awards, but I just can’t get myself to ignore what last year’s winner Tom Thibodeau accomplished this season. We all know how often the reigning MVP Derrick Rose has been unable to play, yet he somehow has them on pace to finish atop the Eastern Conference. Let’s not forget that Luol Deng and Rip Hamilton have missed a number of games, as well. In only his second year as head coach, he became the fastest to win 100 games as a new head coach in league history (losing only 30 games on the way there). The way Thibodeau has been able to develop his bench players – Taj Gibson, Omer Asik, CJ Watson –is nothing short of remarkable. He even got John freaking Lucas III to become an impactful player off Chicago’s bench. Considering he held off teams like Miami, San Antonio, and OKC to hold the league’s best record, I just have to give him the nod.