Let’s face it. For all the talk about stability and commitment, most NBA franchises change coaches the way the rest of us change t-shirts — often and without even thinking twice.
But for a change, when the regular season begins in two months, for the first time in recent memory there will not be a single new coach roaming the sidelines. Uh-oh. You know what that means. Some will sink, some will swim and some will stand out from the pack.
So as our Summer Dreaming series continues, let’s take a bold leap to next April and have a look at the five candidates most likely to be filling our Coach of the Year ballot for 2017-18.
- Summer Dreaming: Executive of the Year
- Summer Dreaming: Comeback Player of the Year
- Summer Dreaming: Kia Most Improved Player
- Summer Dreaming: Kia Sixth Man
- Summer Dreaming: Kia Defensive Player of the Year
- Summer Dreaming: Kia Rookie of the Year
- Summer Dreaming: Kia Most Valuable Player
Brad Stevens, Boston Celtics
It is only a matter of time before the grinder Stevens wins the recognition that comes from the award. He and the Celtics have steadily climbed the ladder every year since he made the move to the NBA in 2013. He got them to the No. 1 seed in the East last season even though he had just one All-Star on his roster. While little Isaiah Thomas got most of the kudos for carrying the big load, the Celtics are a team that has been molded, shaped and driven by Stevens. Now in his fifth NBA season — and with the changes Boston has made to bolster the roster — he’s got more to work with to close that gap to the Cleveland Cavaliers and maybe get to The Finals. Face it: the Celtics just wouldn’t be as good without Stevens on the sidelines.
Steve Kerr, Golden State Warriors
Does he just make it look too easy by winning 67 games in the regular season? By cruising to a 16-1 postseason record and the Warriors’ second championship in three seasons? It seems he doesn’t even have to be there to wind up and make the Warriors go. For the second straight season, the effects of a back surgery that caused leakage of spinal fluid forced Kerr to turn the reins over to an assistant coach. Mike Brown did a smooth job through most of the playoffs, but it’s the voice of Kerr that the Golden State players always hear preaching about pace, defensive and supreme confidence.
He’s the one that’s turned the high-scoring circus of 3-point shooters to one of the top defensive teams in the league. There are critics who call him today’s equivalent of Phil Jackson, always loaded with a talented roster. But look around: there’s plenty of talent in the league that doesn’t live up to the hype. That’s where the coaching matters.
Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs
You can’t have any list of top five coaches in the league without including the guy who is generally regarded by his peers as being the best of them all. Far more than just a grumpy face, Popovich keeps changing the focus of his offense in his never-ending run and churning out teams that are always in the championship conversation. The hot subject last spring was what might have happened if his top player, Kawhi Leonard, hadn’t suffered a bad ankle sprain in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals. Now Leonard is back healthy and ready to carry the load as his Spurs gun for their 19th consecutive season of at least 50 wins and 21st straight playoff appearance. A three-time winner of the award, Popovich is always in this race, too.
Scott Brooks, Washington Wizards
A perennially underachieving team wasn’t much different last season, except on the bench, where Brooks moved in to call the shots. He came off a stellar run in Oklahoma City, where Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook got all of the credit and he was regarded as a babysitter. He was always more than that and Brooks showed his stuff in getting John Wall and Bradley Beal to settle their differences and play together. He mixed in Markieff Morris with Marcin Gortat. He got Otto Porter Jr. to return to form after drifting more than a year and that all produced the Wizards’ their first division title in 38 years. He’s a cool customer, a calming influence that gets all of his talent to pull the oars in the same direction and, with a year under all of their belts, Brooks could have Washington ready to take the next step in the East.
Erik Spoelstra, Miami Heat
Perhaps the world should be excused for thinking those four consecutive trips to The NBA Finals (2011-14) and back-to-back championships were accomplished without anyone steering the ship. After all, the Miami lineup had LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh at its core and there was hardly anything left to do except roll out the balls. Right? But while Spoelstra understandably — and willingly — took a backseat to all of the star power reflected off the tinted windows in South Beach, there is now getting around the amazing job he did last season. The Heat were 11-30 through on Jan. 13 and dead in the water. Most franchises would have gone tanking. Most coaches would have begun looking ahead to the next season. Spoelstra just went to work to construct one of the damnedest second-half turnarounds the league has ever seen. The Heat went 30-11 and a .500 record was never such an accomplishment. Nobody grinds at this job harder.
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