In the NBA this season, most of the award races are either clear-cut or rather uneventful. The Miami Heat’s somewhat recent slump paired with Kevin Durant’s insane streak of 25-plus point games has all but sealed the deal for Durant’s MVP recognition. From the first game of the season, Michael Carter-Williams of the Philadelphia 76ers has stood out as the main Rookie of the Year contender. And while the other player awards are not as set in stone, they also are not as interesting as the most up in the air race of the season: Coach of the Year. While some of the following coaches are more qualified than others to win the award, keep an eye out for what each of them needs to do in the final stretch of the season to solidify their respective cases.
Rick Carslile, Dallas Mavericks: After failing to sign a superstar free agent for the second summer in a row, the Mavericks put their chips on the table and signed Monta Ellis, Jose Calderon and Samuel Dalembert. The latter two have played well all season, but Ellis has become a changed man. Carslile has helped turn him, from of the league’s least efficient players, into an efficient scorer, shocking any and all stat geeks in the process. Carslile has also still kept his veterans, Dirk Nowitzki, Shawn Marion and Vince Carter going strong.
Tom Thibodeau, Chicago Bulls: After Derrick Rose went down for the season yet again, it looked like all hope was lost for the Bulls. However, Thibodeau has kept his team focused and together all year long, and as of right now, they will be entering the postseason as the No. 4 seed, one higher than they were last season.
Doc Rivers, Los Angeles Clippers: Rivers was my personal choice for Coach of the Year before the 2013-2014 season started, and he certainly has not been a disappointment in his first season in Los Angeles. Rivers, despite Jared Dudley’s slump of a season and long-term injuries to Chris Paul and J.J. Redick, helped the Clippers become an even more successful and threatening team. In addition, Rivers has turned Blake Griffin from an overrated crybaby into a true monster.
Steve Clifford, Charlotte Bobcats: In the past few seasons, the Bobcats have been the laughingstock of the NBA. However, that has changed this season with the arrival of Al Jefferson, one of the league’s best offensive centers, and more importantly, Steve Clifford. The new coach has turned the lowly Bobcats into one of the league’s best defensive teams, despite Jefferson being known as a defensive liability for much of his career, and helped them reach the playoffs.
Terry Stotts, Portland Trail Blazers: Right from the beginning of the season, Terry Stotts guided the Blazers to their most successful stretch in years. While recently the Blazers have not played as well as they did earlier in the season, partially due to LaMarcus Aldridge’s absence, their overall offensive prowess is definitely award-worthy.
Frank Vogel, Indiana Pacers: Like the Blazers, the Pacers have not played as well lately as they did early in the season. However, despite the Pacers’ recent slump, no one should overlook the Pacers’ defensive prowess, implemented by Vogel, which has led them to exceed analysts’ expectations.
Dwayne Casey, Toronto Raptors: Since Chris Bosh left the Raptors in 2010, they have been nowhere near the playoff map. However, Casey has led a huge Raptors resurgence this season, leading them to the East’s No. 3 seed. After years of struggling in the league, both DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry have stepped their games up under Casey’s guidance and won the most games that the Raptors have won since at least 2006-2007, and possibly in franchise history by the end of the season.
Jeff Hornacek, Phoenix Suns: At the start of the 2013-2014 season, everyone thought that the Suns would be one of the worst teams in the West. Would the two-point guard experiment work? Could Channing Frye still contribute? Could Gerald Green ever become a quality rotation player? All no? Guess again. Hornacek’s mostly young team bought into his program from the start of the season, and he has kept the Suns hot in their playoff hunt. If the Suns make the playoffs, Hornacek could be the top candidate for the Coach of the Year award.
Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs: Whether or not the Suns make the playoffs, once again Popovich’s accomplishments from over this season cannot be ignored. He has continued to will the always-getting-older Spurs into the West’s No. 1 seed, proving doubters wrong once again. And when it looked like Popovich’s name was being just thrown in the coaching race because of who he is, his Spurs then go on a 19-game winning streak. His Spurs teams continue to play stellar basketball every single year, making Popovich a deserving Coach of the Year.
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