Doc Rivers of the Boston Celtics leads our first look at the candidates for NBA Coach of the Year, with the Mavericks' Rick Carlisle and Jazz's Jerry Sloan close behind.
The NBA is about 30 games into its regular season. As we have done with the MVP and Rookie of the Year awards, let's check in on the NBA Coach of the Year race to see where the contenders sit as of today.
1. Doc Rivers, Celtics
Look at the players in Boston's frontcourt: Kevin Garnett, master of the teammate sucker punch; Shaquille O'Neal, aka The Big Napalm, a man who has never left a team on great terms; Jermaine O'Neal, one of the most outspoken and unfiltered veterans in the league; Glen Davis, a hyperemotional goofball; and Kendrick Perkins, a thoughtful lug so focused on whatever his current task is that he brought his baby son onto the sidelines and stuck him in his coach's face in the closing moments of a Game 7 of the NBA Finals.
That is roughly 2.3 tons of personality, and ... not a peep of drama in Boston. Sure, wins are like legal MDMA and it is still December. But with a team this talented, Doc Rivers earns points for knowing how to manage spirits and stay out of the way.
Also, it does not hurt that despite losing defensive coordinator Tom Thibodeau the Celtics have the league's best defense. By a healthy margin.
Depth can be a gift and a curse for coaches. Rick Carlisle has navigated those waters well in Dallas, though. Recognizing that a healthy Tyson Chandler is a game-changer on defense, Carlisle moved him ahead of Brendan Haywood during preseason, despite Haywood's massive new contract. Likewise, the coach slotted Caron Butler, a pending free agent, in front of Shawn Marion at small forward, and resisted the urge to start Jason Terry over DeShawn Stevenson at shooting guard. It's all worked well as the Mavericks boast the league's third best record.
3. Jerry Sloan, Jazz
Voters in the media will beg for a reason to give the award to Jerry Sloan, who steps ever closer to retirement with each game. Utah's ridiculous string of comeback road wins in November would have been liquid gold ... had Sloan not denied making a single RAH RAH halftime speech in the stretch. (Instead, Raja Bell was The Gipper.) Nevertheless, inserting Al Jefferson into the program and dealing with Mehmet Okur's injury and the myriad personnel losses has been a chore, one which Sloan has accomplished without worry.
4. Gregg Popovich, Spurs
What did you accomplish in 2010? Oh, that's nice, because Gregg Popovich buried his decades-old offensive strategy -- one that helped him win four championships -- in favor of an up-tempo attack that plays right into the hands of most opponents, and did it so well his team, average age of 56, has the NBA's best record heading into the New Year. That's all.
5. Erik Spoelstra, Heat
It shouldn't take guts to stick to your guns and demand accountability from your players as a coach. But this is the NBA, and that's how it works. Erik Spoelstra gets points for holding LeBron James accountable for failing to commit himself fully to this wonderful project in Miami. He also earns credit for coming up with the fascinating incentive system described by the Miami Herald's Joseph Goodman.
6. Tom Thibodeau, Bulls
Tom Thibodeau brought his trademark AAAAAHHHH! defense to Chicago, and the results have been fine (No. 3 in defensive efficiency and shot defense). He's also managed to get the Bulls into solid Eastern position despite protracted absences for Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah.
7. Doug Collins, 76ers
Doug Collins moved back to the bench from the booth this year, and the results have been strong, with the 76ers defense shooting up the charts despite the replacement of Samuel Dalembert with Spencer Hawes. Philly still lacks a go-to scorer not named Andre Iguodala -- Elton Brand's not all the way back -- but Collins has them looking at a playoff chase.
First and foremost: New Orleans' offense is awful, and Monty Williams takes some of that blame. That said, Williams recognized that he has the best point guard in basketball, some solid defensive pieces (Emeka Okafor, Trevor Ariza) and only one player (Ariza) who can realistically run a fast break with Chris Paul. So a halfcourt system predicated on getting stops and letting CP3 work magic makes perfect sense. The work Williams has done to make the Hornets sing on defense should be commended.
9. Stan Van Gundy, Magic
I have a feeling Stan Van Gundy will rocket up this list if things continue to go right in Orlando, or will disappear from the NBA if things go wrong.
10. Keith Smart, Warriors
New Warriors head coach Keith Smart earns points for unleashing Monta Ellis in all his spectacular glory.