SECAUCUS, N.J., April 12 -- There are two roads you can take when it comes to voting for the Coach of the Year.

On your right, there is Phil Jackson Way. This will lead you to a cul de sac full of mansions inhabited by more-than 65 game winners like Jackson (Chicago, 72-10 in '95-96), Tom Heinsohn (Boston, 68-14 in '72-73) and Bill Sharman (L.A. Lakers, 69-13 in '71-72).

Take a left and you're driving down Hubie Brown Boulevard. This will lead you to a city block full of row homes filled with less-than 45 game winners like Hubie (the 41-41 with Atlanta in '77-78, not the 50-32 with Memphis in '03-04), Doc Rivers (Orlando, 41-41 in '99-00), Gene Shue (Washington, 43-29 in '81-82), Johny Kerr (Chicago, 33-48 in '66-67) and Phil Johnson (Kansas City-Omaha Kings, 44-38 in '74-75).

What's more impressive; out-right dominance or turning a team around?

The challenge for a coach that establishes his team as the best in the league is carrying the bullseye on his back all season. Every opponent steps it up a level to gauge their abilities against the best and road arenas become trecherous places to play. Plus, motivating a team to keep up the intensity when they have a 10-game lead in their division by the All-Star break is no easy task.

The challenge for a coach that takes his team from the lottery to the playoff contention is changing a culture of losing and getting his players to believe in themselves. His greatest accomplishment is instilling the confidence needed to walk out onto the court and think, "We're supposed to win this game, we're going to win this game," before the ball is even tipped.

And, of course, x-factors like having a core of young players versus older vets, or dealing with injuries to star players can gain brownie points for a coach in either scenario.

With all that being said, here is how I think the voting should go who gets the Red Auerbach Trophy for the seaon that started with Red smoking his last cigar:

1. Jeff Van Gundy, Houston
  • Record (as of April 12): 50-29
  • Last Season's Record: 34-48
  • Improvement: +16
    Van Gundy has steered the Rockets to the fourth-best record in the West with Yao Ming out for 33 games and Tracy McGrady out for 10 games with injuries. Houston fans expected results this season after an underwhelming 2005-06 campaign and Van Gundy delivered, even with the Bonzi Wells situation hanging over the team. JVG successfully integrated Shane Battier into the mix and had the foresight to rely heavily on unheralded second-year forward Chuck Hayes. Van Gundy got his team to beat the teams they were supposed to beat for the most part and to perform consistently on the road -- their 24 road wins are fifth most in the league.

  • 2. Avery Johnson, Dallas
  • Record (as of April 12): 65-13
  • Last Season's Record: 60-22
  • Improvement: +5
    If the Mavericks win out, their 69-13 record will be tied with the '71-72 Lakers and the '96-97 Bulls for the second-best regular season mark of all time. Hard to argue with that. But even so, that would be a nine-game improvement since last year, as opposed to the Rockets' potential for a nineteen-game improvement if they win out. Give Avery Johnson a ton of credit for augmenting his team's mental toughness. After their 0-4 tailspin they went into after being up 2-0 in The Finals, the hangover carried over into this season when Dallas started off 0-4, but Johnson and his squad reeled of win streaks of 12, 13 and 17 games (not to mention eight and nine game ones as well). Johnson won the Coach of the Year last season, his first full campaign as the head honcho in Dallas after taking over for Don Nelson. Although he is close this year, I don't think Johnson is worthy of becoming the first-ever back-to-back Coach of the Year winner with the season Van Gundy has had.

  • 3. Sam Mitchell, Raptors
  • Record (as of April 12): 45-33
  • Last Season's Record: 27-55
  • Improvement: +18
    The Toronto Raptors are Atlantic Division Champions for the first time in franchise history. Who would have thunk? Sam Mitchell had two pair in his hand last year and was handed a full house in the offseason thanks to all of the moves completed by General Manager Bryan Colangelo. But it was Mitchell who still had to play his cards right. With only six holdovers from last season's roster, Mitchell was charged with integrating a bevy of new players into his rotation and at the same time develop a No. 1 pick while all the time making sure not to hinder Chris Bosh's flourishing career. He completed the balancing act and if Toronto wins out it can finish an amazing 22 games above last season's record. Take out the Raptors' 2-8 start and Mitchell had his club playing .632 ball the rest of the way.

  • 4. Jerry Sloan, Utah
  • Record (as of April 12): 48-30
  • Last Season's Record: 41-41
  • Improvement: +7
    Jerry Sloan has just one losing season in 19 years at the helm in Utah, an amazing feat, but the Coach of the Year isn't a lifetime achievement award. Sloan should be credited for his work during the offseason and in training camp to get his team to shoot out to a 12-1 start. The former Chicago Bulls defensive great stuck to his guns and ran the same Jazz sets with Carlos Boozer and Deron Williams that he used to run with Karl Malone and John Stockton. Sloan dealt with injuries to Andrei Kirilenko, Utah's focal point in '05-06, and plugged in rookie Paul Millsap in his stead. However, the Jazz are just 1-6 over their last seven games -- not a sign of a coach getting his team to build up momentum heading into the playoffs.

  • 5. Scott Skiles, Chicago
  • Record (as of April 12): 47-32
  • Last Season's Record: 41-41
  • Improvement: +6
    Maybe I'm a sucker for turn arounds, but I'm convinced that it is infinitely harder to get a team to believe in itself when it starts the season off 3-9 than when it starts off 9-3. Skiles' Bulls stumbled out of the gates, but by preaching aggressive defense (Chicago's 94.1 points per game allowed is sixth best in the league) the former point guard was able to guide his team to the top of the East. Skiles greatest achievement with this squad is how he shaped the group into a true team with Kirk Hinrich, Luol Deng, Ben Gordon and Ben Wallace all having truly defined roles.
  • Others receiving consideration:

  • Don Nelson, Golden State - Has the Warriors in position to make their first postseason since 1994.
  • Flip Saunders, Detroit - Lost Ben Wallace, gained Chris Webber and still translated all of that adjusting to the best record in the East.
  • Gregg Popovich, San Antonio - Silent but deadly, the Spurs have won nine of 10 and are peaking at the right time.
  • Byron Scott, New Orleans/Oklahoma City - Injuries to Chris Paul, Peja Stojakovic, David West and Bobby Jackson should have made the Hornets bottom feeders yet the playoffs are still a possibility.
  • Mike D'Antoni, Phoenix - Motivating a team that plays 200 miles per hour to keep the pedal to the metal for yet another brutal 82-game season cannot be overlooked.

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