As sports fans we pay so much attention to individual awards for players. We’re obsessed with the stats, numbers and accomplishments of players while keeping the coaches, faced with the challenge of bringing a group of athletes together as a team to win games, in the periphery.
I’ve played on enough teams to know how difficult that can be. The pressure put on head coaches to succeed is immense, even more so than that of the players on the court.
That’s why for me the Coach of the Year Award is always the most intriguing.
We’ve talked a lot on The Drive on Sports 1140 KHTK about which NBA coach was most deserving of this year’s award with names like Quin Snyder, Gregg Popovich, Mike D’Antoni and Erik Spoelstra’s dominating the conversation.
For me personally I was torn between Spoelstra and D’Antoni but once the inaugural Michael H. Goldberg NBCA Coach of the Year Award was announce naming Mike D’Antoni and Erik Spoelstra co-coaches of the year I couldn’t help but breathe a sigh of relief.
The voters got it right.
I’ve always been a huge fan of Mike D’Antoni and his up tempo system for years because of the role it played during his time with the Phoenix Suns in changing the game of basketball.
D’Antoni was never able to get over the hump in Phoenix. He had two more tries with the New York Knicks and the Los Angeles Lakers but failed. And as a coach, especially one who thinks outside the box, the window of opportunity closes more and more with each failure.
After the Lakers fired him in 2014 I didn’t know if Mike D’Antoni would ever be given the opportunity to be a head coach again. He landed with the Houston Rockets, maybe the only team in the NBA, where if given free reign to coach his system I felt he’d have the best chance of success.
I’ve talked to D’Antoni a few times during the course of the 2016-17 NBA season and he relayed to me in our conversations the biggest difference between the Rockets and past situations has been the support he receives from owner Leslie Alexander and general manager Daryl Morey.
He conceded how crucial it was for superstar James Harden to willingly buy into both the system and a position change from shooting guard to point guard. You pair that with coaching without any shackles and it resulted in a 55-win season.
There was success in the win-loss column and the breaking of multiple offense records along the way.
Most impressively Houston broke the NBA single season record for most 3-point field goals with 1,181. It’s amazing to see what a coach can do when they’re hands aren’t being tied.
Then of course, there is the Miami Heat’s Erik Spoelstra who for the first time in his NBA head coaching career found himself with a roster that didn’t feature a true superstar.
Dwayne Wade spent his first 13 seasons with the Heat before leaving for his hometown of Chicago during the summer of 2016. He was the last of the three-headed monster – Wade, James and Chris Bosh – Miami featured during Spoelstra’s tenure.
He was named head coach in 2008. It was his third season at the helm when LeBron James left Cleveland for South Beach in search of an NBA title. They won back-t0-back NBA titles in 2012 and 2013.
LeBron returned to Cleveland for the 2014-15 season after the Heat were unable to 3-peat in 2014. Soon after that Chris Bosh’s medical issues started to play a toll.
Having said that, this truly was the first year in Spoelstra’s career when his coaching got the recognition it deserved.
So many times when coaches have the blessing of a Wade, James, Bosh trio people make the assumption coaching plays a minimal role in the success. Steve Kerr is victim of the same nonsense in Golden State with Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant.
For Erik Spoelstra to go from 11-30 to start the season to rattle off 30 wins over the next 42 games ending with a .500 record tied for 8th in the Eastern Conference and heartbreakingly missing out on a playoff appearance…well it’s quite honestly spectacular.
He made the most out of a roster no one else believed would amount to much. Dion Waiters was fantastic having the best season of his 5-year NBA career. He was their best player which would not have been the case on any other team in the league. That says a lot about the kind of coach Erik Spoelstra truly is.
At the end of the day this year’s NBA Coach of the Year Award worked out just the way it should. And nothing thrills me more than seeing coaches get the recognition they deserve.