On numerous occasions, the Coach of the Year award has been given to the coach of the team with the best record, regardless of whether the guy actually did a great coaching job. In the last 15 years, it’s happened with Mike Brown, Byron Scott, Scott Brooks, Avery Johnson, and Sam Mitchell.
However, with truly great coaches, a team can go from being a good team to an all-time great regular season team simply by inserting a great coach. That was the case with the Golden State Warriors this season. Steve Kerr had zero coaching experience prior to this season, but he was regarded as one of the brightest minds in the sport as a player, analyst, and general manager.
Kerr took over for Mark Jackson, who was fired after three relatively successful seasons. Jackson never maximized the potential of the roster, and his best season was a 51-31 campaign that ended in a first round loss. Meanwhile, Kerr has this Golden State team at 63-14, and they have submitted one of the greatest regular seasons of all-time.
The 2014-15 Warriors are the best offensive team in the league, the best defensive team in the league, and probably the deepest team in the league. Admittedly, having the most talented roster in the NBA helps quite a bit. An average coach like Jackson could win 50-plus games with this roster, but with Kerr, the Warriors are now the favorite to win the championship.
In the Eastern Conference, Mike Budenholzer has already led the Atlanta Hawks to a franchise record 58 wins this season. For much of the season, the Hawks have been the Eastern version of the San Antonio Spurs. Everything Atlanta does offensively is predicated on unselfishness, ball movement, spacing, and three-point shooting.
Most people thought the Hawks would be a solid playoff team this year, but no one expected them to runaway with the East. No team has even threatened Atlanta’s grasp on the one seed in the East for over a month.
Atlanta doesn’t have a MVP candidate on its roster, and I’m not even sure who the best player on the team is at this point. Al Horford and Paul Millsap have been great in the post. Kyle Korver has been lights out from three-point range. Jeff Teague has done an exceptional job of running the offense. For a team void of any superstars, the Hawks setting a single-season franchise record for wins is a major accomplishment for Coach Bud.
So, who’s it going to be, Kerr or Budenholzer? Before I make my choice, there are several other coaches around the league who deserved to be mentioned.
If the award was given to the best coach in the league, Gregg Popovich would win Coach of the Year every season. The Spurs seemed lackadaisical throughout most of the season, but they’ve started peaking at the right time for the fourth straight season.
I’m still not sure how the Bucks are going to make the playoffs, so credit should be given to Jason Kidd. Same goes for Boston, but we already knew that Brad Stevens was a wizard (side note: I think Stevens has passed Rick Carlisle as the best coach in the league not named Gregg Popovich). Frank Vogel has also had a great year to have Indiana in the playoff mix without Paul George for most of the year.
If I had a Coach of the Year ballot, here’s how it would go:
1) Mike Budenholzer, Atlanta Hawks
2) Steve Kerr, Golden State Warriors
3) Brad Stevens, Boston Celtics
4) Dave Joerger, Memphis Grizzlies
5) Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs
Ultimately, I went with Budenholzer over Kerr because while the Warriors are the best team in the league, they also have the best roster. Both coaches deserve to win, but Budenholzer possibly winning 60 games with the Hawks is one of the best coaching jobs in recent NBA history.