CHICAGO — After a season in which no NBA coaches were fired, it probably was appropriate that in the debut of its peer award, the National Basketball Coaches Association, would wind up in a tie.
At their annual meetings in Chicago Friday morning, the league’s coaches presented the inaugural Michael H. Goldberg NBCA Coach of the Year Award to co-winners Mike D’Antoni of the Houston Rockets and Erik Spoelstra of the Miami Heat.
The result of the balloting of all 30 coaches was announced in May and not at all by design in producing two winners, said NBCA president Rick Carlisle of the Dallas Mavericks.
“The tie was legitimate and there were five or six others who received significant votes,” Carlisle said. “So it really spoke to the quality job that everybody did from top to bottom.”
In fact, nine coaches in all received votes, including the Washington Wizards’ Scott Brooks, Memphis Grizzlies’ David Fizdale, Golden State Warriors’ Steve Kerr, Milwaukee Bucks’ Jason Kidd, San Antonio Spurs’ Gregg Popovich, the LA Clippers’ Doc Rivers and Utah Jazz’s Quin Snyder.
Given that 2016-17 was the first time since 1970-71 that the NBA began and ended a season with its roster of coaches intact — that the 30 franchise owners seemed satisfied with the work their guys were doing — it shouldn’t be surprising that so many were acknowledged in voting by their peers.
“The Sporting News used to do something like this where coaches were polled, but that stopped many years ago,” Carlisle noted. The NBA’s official Coach of the Year Award, won by D’Antoni and announced in June, was determined by balloting of 100 NBA writers and broadcasters.
The NBCA award was created to honor Goldberg, its executive director for more than 30 years who died in January. Goldberg also was a recipient this year of the John W. Bunn Lifetime Achievement Award at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, another well-timed tribute in year of almost unprecedented job stability within the coaching ranks.
D’Antoni, who previously coached the Denver Nuggets, Phoenix Suns, New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers and won the NBA’s coaching honor in 2004-05 for his work with the Suns, had instant success in Houston. The Rockets improved from 41-41 to 55-27, from eighth place to third in the Western Conference, finally losing to San Antonio in the Western Conference semifinals.
Their offensive system became one of the league’s most potent, with a jump from 105.5 to 111.8 in offensive rating and a 30 percent increase in 3-point field goals. And under D’Antoni’s tutelage (and switch to point guard), James Harden was transformed from a ball-dominating scorer who didn’t even achieve All-NBA third team status in 2015-16 to the Kia MVP runner-up to OKC’s Russell Westbrook and a player acknowleged for helping teammates thrive.
Spoelstra, who never has won the NBA’s coaching award despite taking Miami to the Finals four times and twice winning the championship, had a less showy season than D’Antoni. The Heat were 10-25 on Jan. 1, only to soar the rest of the season and nearly qualify for a playoff berth.
After logging offensive and defensive ratings of 100.6 and 104.9, respectively, with 51.6 percent true shooting through the first 41 games, the Heat improved to 109.7, 103.3 and 56.6 percent over the second 41.
“It’s interesting that the two guys who were tied had, really, categorically much different types of seasons,” Carlisle said. “Mike’s season, they were on top from the beginning and they just had a great year from start to finish. Miami, because of injuries, because of youth, got off to a really difficult start. But then to come back from 10-31 to go .500, coaches recognize how difficult that is and how deserving that is of recognition.”
While D’Antoni was present at the meetings to accept his award, Spoelstra was unable to attend due to issues stemming from Hurricane Irma in Florida, according to David S. Fogel, Goldberg’s successor as NBCA executie director. Rivers also reportedly was tending to storm damage to his home in Orlando and did not travel to Chicago.
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