Posted Apr 3 2012 9:34AM
It is a tough enough job to take over as coach of an NBA team, made tougher still when microwaving a bag of popcorn takes longer than training camp. It's an excruciating test of patience and will when a jam-packed 66-game post-lockout schedule makes practice days almost a foreign concept.
Yet the seven coaches who unwrapped their teams at Christmas all seem to have faced up to their tasks and given their franchises reason to believe they made the right choices:
Rick Adelman, Timberwolves -- He sends out those change-of-address cards, calls for the moving vans and adjusts his wardrobe to different climates. Then Adelman sets up shop and makes things better with a style that gets the best out of everyone. The contenders in the crowded Western Conference playoff race got a break when Ricky Rubio went down for the season with his knee injury, because Adelman had the Wolves coming together as a team that was going to force its way into the postseason. Those plans will have to wait until next season, but with Kevin Love and Rubio thriving in Adelman's move-the-ball offense, the long basketball winter in Minnesota is nearly over.
Mike Brown, Lakers -- No coach in the league has been under more scrutiny than Brown, from the moment that Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak gave him the job without the advance blessing from Kobe Bryant. After five championships under the Hall of Fame guidance of Phil Jackson, the bar is so high that only a championship will satisfy Laker fans. They don't particularly like seeing an offense that struggles mightily. Brown has taken them away from the beloved triangle to run more standard sets. He has made firm decisions -- sitting Kobe in the fourth quarter and benching Andrew Bynum in the third quarter -- and not fallen into the trap of second-guessing himself. Bryant isn't always happy. He's bitten his tongue at times. But Brown has commanded and won enough respect to lead in the locker room.
Dwane Casey, Raptors -- Coming off a season in which he was a member of the Dallas staff that won the NBA title, there is no way Casey is going to be happy at the bottom of the standings with the Raptors. For his second time around as coach, he wanted a full summer and a real training camp to lay down a foundation of defense. Still, the Raptors have improved from 30th in the league a year ago to the middle of the pack. He's coaxed production out of Andrea Bargnani when he hasn't been injured, kept Jose Calderon plowing ahead, dealt with Jeryd Bayless missing 20 games and is looking forward to adding 6-foot-11 Jonas Valanciunas (playing in Europe) to the future mix. In a short time Casey has succeeded in changing enough of the Toronto culture that one local columnist has already speculated that he might be the best Raptors coach ever.
Lawrence Frank, Pistons -- The Pistons opened the abbreviated season 4-20. Things could have quickly gone over the brink. A season earlier under John Kuester, the Pistons deteriorated into a mutiny. But Frank has kept control of the ship by telling his young players that he believes in them and is giving them every gameplan and opportunity to succeed. The result is a 15-13 mark since that horrible start. There might be some in Motown who would have preferred that the Pistons go tanking in the standings to seek a lottery bonanza such as Anthony Davis. But it is more admirable (and perhaps more encouraging in the long run) for fans to watch what Frank has done to tap into the likes of Rodney Stuckey and Greg Monroe. Stuckey, in particular, was a candidate to become a lost cause. But Frank has remained patient with him and might have him back on track for a big future.
Mark Jackson, Warriors -- "I fully expect, put it in bold letters, the Golden State Warriors to be a playoff team next year. If I did not expect that, I would not have taken the job, and I won't minimize it with just being a playoff team. We are looking to turn the Bay Area upside down." It is safe to say that nobody is standing on his head over the Warriors yet. But now that they have finally stopped trying to cram Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry into the same backcourt. They made the move to bring in Andrew Bogut as the first real center in forever, giving Jackson a more workable lineup and positioning themselves to take that big step forward -- next season.
Kevin McHale, Rockets -- He said right off that anything less than making the playoffs would be unacceptable. McHale has the Rockets churning toward that goal despite losing their heart and soul, Kyle Lowry, to a very serious bacterial infection and losing leading scorer Kevin Martin to a lingering shoulder problem. McHale has traded on his reputation as an ex-Celtic legend and Hall of Famer to get his Rockets to play hard because it's the only thing he'll accept. He's been unafraid to juggle the lineup or pull ineffective players from games and it has kept them on their toes.
Frank Vogel, Pacers -- It had been a nice little season for the Pacers, winning roughly three out of every five games, until Vogel -- last season's interim coach -- suddenly demanded more. One week ago he said it was time for his club to walk out on the floor and prove they were every bit as good as LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the Heat. Zap! They did, 105-90. No one can accuse the Indiana bunch as being overloaded with sheer talent. But Roy Hibbert, a first-time All-Star this season, has stepped up his game. Paul George and Darren Collison have done so, too. Newcomers David West and George Hill have been big plusses and they've all been able to overcome a down season from Danny Granger. Vogel, the eternal optimist, has a roster that can shoot 3s, rebound, defend and goes 10 deep. The Pacers won't be an easy out in the playoffs.
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