The NBA year-end awards always stir up much debate. A lot of times, this has a lot to do with the somewhat ambiguous criteria described of the winner. While many awards are pretty straight forward - Sixth Man of the Year (which bench player puts up the best statistical numbers) and Rookie of the Year (which rookie puts up the best statistical numbers) for example, some are a bit murkier. For Defensive Player of the Year, unless you watch every player for all 82 games, how can you decide who wins this? The metrics simply aren't efficient enough. For the Most Improved, several questions arise, such as can a player who was already good be "most improved"? Or does he have to be awful who is then now simply serviceable? And of course, the always controversial Most Valuable Player award, which raises a bevy of questions, including what do you perceive as value from a player? Making his teammates better? Statistical excellence? How do you define how much value is coming from that exact source on a team of 15?
But the award to me that always seems to get me the most fired up? Coach of the Year.
In 2007 Sam Mitchell coached a Toronto Raptors team that was expected to win no more than 20 to 25 games, which would be very close to the paltry total of 27 wins the year before. The Raptors won the Titanic Division with 47 wins, about 20 more than they were expected, in a division that featured exactly ZERO teams above .500 (the New Jersey Nets finished at an even 41-41). Sam Mitchell led his squad to a 3-seed in the playoffs, where they courageously lost 4 games to 2 in the first round...to their divisional rivals and fellow guardians of mediocrity, the New Jersey Nets.
Naturally, Sam Mitchell was rewarded for his minor achievement in a middling franchise with a Coach of the Year trophy. Big Game Sam (that's not his nickname - obviously no one ever called him that) stayed at the helm of the Raptors for 99 more games before being dismissed less than a season and a half later because he had "lost the team".
YES, A MAN WHO WON "COACH OF THE YEAR" FOR GUIDING HIS TEAM IN SUCH AN EXCELLENT MANNER, WAS FIRED LESS THAN 100 GAMES LATER BECAUSE HE LOST THAT TEAM HE HAD GUIDED SO EXCELLENTLY. This is a joke. Not the fact he was fired so quickly after winning COY, but the fact that he even won it in the first place. In fact, the two Coaches of the Year that proceeded him, Byron Scott and Mike Brown, were both fired within the same time frame as Sam Mitchell.
It seems to me that the Coach of the Year award is not necessarily given to the man who does the best job coaching his team - the guy who makes up the plays, tells the players how to run them, manages personalities and makes personnel decisions. Instead, it is given to the team that best and most affectively defies expectations. Byron Scott did that with New Orleans in 2008 when he coached a Hornets team to the West's second best record when they were not supposed to compete. Mike Brown won over 60 games with LeBron witha supporting squad that everyone said couldn't compete. Even Hubie Brown won the award because he guided the perrenial losing franchise Memphis Grizzlies to their first ever playoff appearences when they were not expect to compete. Not necessarily the coach, but the team. Sam Mitchell is a terrible coach. Mike Brown was a terrible coach. Byron Scott, Mamba bless him, is a terrible coach. Did anyone see Mike Brown's offense with LeBron James the past 3 years? I could have designed an 82 game schedule that predicated it's points on a "give the ball to Bron, everyone else stand the eff still and hope he either makes a lay-up or passes it to you". Has Byron Scott worn out his welcome out in all of his coaching stops within 3 years? Will Sam Mitchell ever EVER get another coaching job? All of these answers are negative. Byron and Mitchell won the award because they fell into situations in which only a modicum of success was expected, and those expectations were exceeded.
Mike Brown won because his team played great defense and LeBron is a basketball savant whose magnificence with the ball in his hands could not be restrained by the inadequacies of Brown's offense. Sam Mitchell's squad gave up almost as many points as they scored. Byron had an MVP season from Chris Paul and got a team that was expertly assembled by Jeff Bower.
My point here is that the award rewards coaches for achievements that are not theirs alone, and treats team improvement over expectation as a sign of "good" coaching. The truth is, how is anyone, aside from those that are on the teams or sees exactly what goes on in the locker room or practices every day, ever able to tell how good a job a coach is doing? What's to say that's not Kobe Bryant's influence or Kevin Garnett's? Who is more responsible for a team's success - is it the guy who tells the players what to do, or the guy that maneuvered through the complex ins and outs of the NBA's player personnel rules to compile the team?
How does one win this award? By what metrics does a coach achieve the status of being the best in the league that year? How can you differentiate what is the work of the head coach versus what is the work of the assistant coaches, or the trainers, or the defensive scheme created in 1975? It's the final rhetorical question I asked there that is why this award is a complete and total farce.
I'm curious as to why I get so upset about this award. It is, by even the most fervent follower of the L, a pretty innocuous and insignificant award. For example, could you tell me who the 2001 MVP was? Some people might not remember, but I'd guess that a pretty decent number of people could tell me it was the pride of Istanbul, Allen Iverson. But could you tell me how many times Phil Jackson was Coach of the Year? And what year(s)? And for what team? He's rather dubiously won only one award, and it was in 1996 for the Chicago Bulls. Even as a dedicated and mentally unhinged Laker fan, I had to look up that answer.
I get most upset with this award because not only does it take credit away from people who are otherwise not recognized and rewarded for their work (the assistant coaches, the General Managers, etc.), but it praises excellence to people who do not necessarily CREATE excellence, but rather riding the coattails of others people's accomplishments. A poor man's Tim Thomas if you will. I mean, not that bad, so maybe a destitute man's Tim Thomas.
It just seems to me that the men who do the league's best coaching every year are not commended for their work because their team performed to expectations. So their excellent coaching is penalized because they got their teams to do exactly what they should do? Win games and NBA titles? Do you know how many Coach of the Year trophies Phil Jackson, Jerry Sloan, Gregg Popovich, Rick Adelman and Nate McMillan have won? I count these five guys as the best five coaches in the NBA today, and for Phil, Pop, Adelman and Sloan, some of the best ever. They've won 2 awards. Ever. Not that the postseason counts, but these guys have been to 20 combined NBA Finals and have won 2 awards total. That is absolutely ridiculous. You can't tell me that in all their combined seasons with all their combined success that they've only been the best coach in the league for 2 years? I don't care how much talent is around them, these guys have absolutely brought the best out of their teams. They have been given guys that are capable of achieving great things, and in some cases, go even beyond that. Why do they have to face adversity to be recognized for their achievements? Does LeBron have to play with a broken finger throughout the year so he can "fight against adversity" but still perform at a high level to be considered great? Does KG have to have 8 injured teammates to win the MVP, because he fought against incredible odds to win 50 games?
My point is, when players play to the best of their abilities and perform at a level that is great (which for many of the top players in the league, is expected of them), they are rewarded with MVPs, Sixth Mans, Defensive POYs. I just don't understand why coaches are afforded the same luxury. And I'm also just ticked off that Sam Mitchell has one of those trophies and Jerry Sloan does not.