Apr 17, 2014, 3:59 PM EDT
Though none of us have a ballot for the NBA’s official awards, we’ll be presenting our choices and making our cases this week for each major honor.
1. Jeff Hornacek, Phoenix Suns
2. Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs
3. Tom Thibodeau, Chicago Bulls
You can make a good case for any of those three to win it (just like you can make a good case for Steve Clifford to be on that list). I choose Hornacek because of the team culture and foundation he built in Phoenix, as well as the player development of guys such as Goran Dragic and Gerald Green (not to mention the Morris brothers). He won 47 games with a team most thought was built to tank.
1. Jeff Hornacek, Phoenix Suns
2. Tom Thibodeau, Chicago Bulls
3. Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs
Gregg Popovich guided the Spurs to the best record in the league the season following one of the most crushing Finals defeats in NBA history. We should name this award after him for instilling a culture that enables him to strategically rest his stars while continuing to rack up wins year after year, while making the playoffs for the 17th straight season. But as far as a job done in one season by itself, it would be crazy to overlook the year the Suns put together under a first-year head coach in Hornacek. Phoenix ended the season with 47 wins in a very tough Western Conference with as many as five candidates for Most Improved Player on its roster, and the job Hornacek did in putting that all together is worthy of recognition.
1. Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs
2. Jeff Hornacek, Phoenix Suns
3. Steve Clifford, Charlotte Bobcats
In an extremely close four-man race, Clifford edges Tom Thibodeau for the final spot on my ballot. Both elevated rosters higher than they seemed they would go, Thibodeau taking the better group of players higher than Clifford took a lesser group, which cancels out. Clifford gets the edge, because he established an identity on a team full of players that didn’t fit his system, whereas Thibodeau was working with players who did. Between the top two, Popovich is the best coach in the NBA, but I could argue he didn’t have to do as much this year – it is Coach of the Year – as Hornacek. But by resting his top players so much and seamlessly integrating new ones, Popovich impressed by keeping the Spurs rolling no matter who was on the floor this year.
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