Earlier today, George Karl was named Coach of the Year. It was well deserved. But the COY honor carries some ignominy attached to it. When asked about coming in second, this is what Erik Spoelstra had to say:
“I congratulate George Karl (said with laugh), I know he didn’t want to win it either, no disrespect…. I’m not very superstitious, but all coaches, I think, understand (the stigma of) that award. It’s not quite as definitive as the Sports Illustrated (cover) jinx, but it’s pretty close.”
A lot of coaches — like Sam Mitchell and Byron Scott — have been fired soon after they won the award. But, aside from that, COYs are rarely coaching in June. A few weeks ago, I wrote a column about the underlying bogus nature of some of the end of season awards. This is what I had to say about COY:
Now bust this: In the last 30 years, winners of Coach of the Year made it to the Finals that same season only three times – Phil Jackson in ’96, Larry Brown in ’01 and Gregg Popovich in ’03. Much like the MIP, COY can tend to be a “ good job, good effort” pat on the back. Phil coached the Lakers to sixty-freaking-seven wins in 2000; but, Doc Rivers' rag-tag Magic squad goes 41-41 in 2000 and, well, “good job, good effort – you win.” Brian Hill had Young Shaq and a bunch of semi-neophytes (every principal player other than Ho’ Grant were in the league for five years or less) winning 57 regular games on the way to the Finals; but, Leslie Nielsen, I mean, Del Harris wins 48 with the ’95 Lakers and, well, “good job, good effort.”
It’s a sham.
Now, with that said, let me get on my hypocrite-swag extra heavy…screw Erik Spoelstra, Tom Thibodeau deserves this award. The smart folks at Grantland – in this case, Kirk Goldsberry – offered a very insightful look at how LeBron’s game has evolved over the years. Very important in that evolution was, in part, Spo’s willingness to use some ingenuity and figure out different and better ways to use this generation’s seminal talent. The Heat won 66 games, this season. They will likely go on to win the title. Yet, there’s something Herculean and downright amazing about how Thibs helped will this Bulls squad into the playoffs – with its superstar gone for the entire season, All-Star center Joakim Noah out for about a quarter of the season, and starting guard Rip Hamilton injured for about 35 games. The Bulls win because of defense, rebounding and toughness – not talent. Not to diminish the players’ individual efforts, but that’s coaching. Good job, Thibs. Good effort.
There's a reason we don't refer to Pop' as a "two-time coach of the year."