If Hornets finish first, Scott deserves top coach honors

Since the Chris Paul-should-get-MVP-if-the-Hornets-win-the-Western-Conference argument seems to be gaining momentum, the same logic should apply to Byron Scott for Coach of the Year.

Coach of the Year often is a way to cover up bad predictions. When a team surpasses all expectations and does better than anyone expected, instead of saying we were wrong, we can just hand a guy a trophy and say, "What a great job he did."

No one had the Hornets atop the loaded Western Conference. They weren't supposed to be there at any point in the season, let alone this late.

How much of the Hornets' success is because of Scott, and how much is because of Paul? And by nature, wouldn't an MVP almost disqualify his coach from Coach of the Year honors? The awards have gone to a player and a coach from the same team only 10 times -- most recently to Steve Nash and Mike D'Antoni in Phoenix in 2005.

One reason the awards would seem to be conflicting is that a quality of an MVP is leadership. Another is elevating his teammates to higher levels. It's hard to view Doc Rivers as a top Coach of the Year candidate when Kevin Garnett has had such an obvious impact on the entire culture of the Celtics ... including taking the extra steps to make sure there wouldn't be tension and jealousy among him, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen.

In New Orleans, Paul has been the maestro on the court, lobbing alley-oops to Tyson Chandler, finding David West in the right spots, kicking the ball out to Peja Stojakovic for 3-pointers and scoring himself seemingly at will.

But as much as Paul runs things on offense, he doesn't set the tone on defense. Not the way Kevin Garnett does in Boston. And it's the Hornets' defense that makes them legitimate. They have stretches where they lock things down and tell their opponents "uh-uh, not happening."

The Hornets are fifth in the league in points allowed per game (95.4). When teams play defense, it's the best sign that they're buying into the coaching staff. There's nothing fun about defense. And watching those behind-the-scenes training camp shows on NBA TV, it doesn't look too fun to play for Scott, who seems to always make them run extra laps or suicides. But players will go along with the program if they think it will get them somewhere, and they obviously have confidence in Scott's direction.

The high point of the New Jersey Nets' NBA existence came under Scott, when they made back-to-back trips to the Finals in 2002 and 2003. But no one wanted to give him the credit. All of the whispers said it was Eddie Jordan who was responsible for the X's and O's, that Scott barely put in any preparation at all. He was fired the year after the second Finals appearance, when the players bailed on him.

Now Jordan's off doing his own thing in Washington, and Scott's back to winning after the Hornets bottomed out by trading away Baron Davis, then turned into vagabonds for two seasons after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. This should be enough to dispel the thought that Scott was only a figurehead in New Jersey.

The Hornets have had some impressive wins, most notably beating the Spurs by 25 -- 25! They also lost to the Celtics by 20 and the Pistons by 21. Oops. But they never hit a prolonged skid. And they do have the best record against the top nine teams in the Western Conference (16-10 going into Friday's action).

The Coach of the Year competition is even more crowded than the MVP race. (Especially now that the MVP field has thinned down by one after Cleveland lost at home to Chicago Thursday night. That's the final blow to LeBron James' candidacy. One too many of that kind of loss. Thanks for playing, LeBron. We'll save you a spot at the front of the starting grid next season.)

There's Rick Adelman in Houston, who didn't let the Rockets abandon hope after they spent the first part of the season battling the Bulls for the title of league's most disappointing team; then they took off on the longest winning streak since 1972. Mike D'Antoni deserves consideration for the way the Suns have successfully incorporated Shaquille O'Neal into the lineup in the middle of the season, as big a chemistry challenge for the way they played as suddenly adding Dennis Rodman to the judging panel on "American Idol."

Jerry Sloan always deserves to be nominated. Maybe one of these days he'll finally get one. But I'm not into the "lifetime achievement award" theory. Just like the fact Kobe Bryant hasn't won an MVP isn't the reason to hand him one this year, Sloan's decades of excellence don't make him this season's top coach.

The balance of power in the West is so precarious that there's no guarantee the Hornets will still have the top spot by the end of the weekend. But if they do end up there at the end of the season, David Stern should plan to make two trips to New Orleans to hand out the hardware.

J.A. Adande is the author of "The Best Los Angeles Sports Arguments." He joined ESPN.com as an NBA columnist in August 2007 after 10 years with the Los Angeles Times. Click here to e-mail J.A.