J.A. Adande, who lives in L.A., and Israel Gutierrez, who lives in Miami, are teaming up this season for a look at the NBA from two perspectives.
Get ready, J.A. We're about to fire an NBA head coach.
Well, not really, but George Karl seems to think that way.
Remember in February when Karl said he wanted only a few votes for Coach of the Year instead of the award, because the actual Coach of the Year winner gets fired?
Well, he's not entirely right. There have been a whole three straight winners who haven't been fired. But before that, four COY winners in a row -- Avery Johnson (Dallas), Sam Mitchell (Toronto), Byron Scott (New Orleans) and Mike Brown (Cleveland) -- were fired within two years of winning the award.
Well, sorry, Coach Karl, but you're on the short list.
This is an intriguing year for this award, with a couple coaches making late-season pushes.
Before the season started, I had Mike Woodson winning it, and for a couple months, that looked like a pretty good pick. Then it didn't. Now it does again.
Erik Spoelstra has to be high on the list, if not sitting atop alone, for making a championship team even better and managing not just superstars but aging players adjusting to new roles.
In your neck of the NBA, besides Karl, there's Lionel Hollins keeping his team together and strong despite the mostly unpopular Rudy Gay trade (unpopular to those who are fans of big names, that is).
And you have reigning award-winner Gregg Popovich, Mark Jackson and even Kevin McHale.
I'm leaning toward Spoelstra because of how he has refined Miami's offense, among other reasons. Who you firing? ... I mean, whom are you giving Coach of the Year to?
Aw man, I thought we put all the "Fire Spoelstra" stuff to bed.
Jokes aside, I also think we missed out on his window to honor him for his coaching tactics. It was during last year's playoffs that Spoelstra had his Isaac Newton apple moment, reworking the Heat offense by posting LeBron James and spreading shooters around the floor. The Heat went from shooting 15.6 3-pointers per game in the regular season to attempting 19.7 per game in the playoffs.
The main thing is that Miami's 60-win season is primarily a reflection of LeBron, and you can't look at LeBron as a product of Spoelstra's coaching. (If anything, LeBron is a product of someone finding a cheat code.)
The way the Heat's season has played out, with the cruise control engaged through the first two months then shifting into manual drive and racing to 27 consecutive victories, isn't how Spoelstra planned it. You could see his frustration with the lackluster efforts early on. Meanwhile, the players' body language was saying, "Chill, Spo. We got this." And they did. Give Spoelstra credit for not panicking or going into control-freak mode when they weren't at their best and for allowing LeBron space to flourish.
But I want my Coach of the Year to be more proactive, to make it hard to envision the team being as successful without him.
The Denver Nuggets have the fourth-best record in the league even though they are the only team among the top 12 without an All-Star. Makes you wonder where all of the wins are coming from, doesn't it?
I'd go with the guy in the first seat on the bench. Karl exploits his team's depth, gets valuable minutes from his top nine guys, plays at a fast pace to take advantage of Denver's altitude and has found some nice unit combinations. I still think the Nuggets' lack of star power will catch up with them at some point in the playoffs. However, this is a regular-season award. No team jumps out from the standings and makes you say, "What are they doing there?" more than the Denver Nuggets.
Hang on a second.
So because, as you say, Spoelstra had his supposed epiphany in last season's playoffs, that dismisses the fact that they've run it even better this season? Why does it matter when the coaching move happened, as long as it did? As you mentioned, it's a regular-season award, and Spoelstra has this season to receive credit for his offense, which has actually evolved from last postseason.
And yes, having LeBron on the team is the biggest reason why the Heat are as good as they are. He makes that whole offense work, and the defense for that matter. But coaches with the best player in the game don't automatically get bypassed for Coach of the Year honors.
Plus, you have to give Spoelstra credit for using LeBron in the manner that he is. Brown had LeBron for five seasons and didn't create this type of offense for him. It's not as if Spoelstra simply leans on LeBron and says, "You handle this."
In fact, LeBron is averaging a career low in field goal attempts this season, at 18.03. By comparison, he shot it 18.9 times a game in his rookie season. Yet he's having arguably his best season.
That says something about the position he has been put in by his head coach, and it says something about the coach's ability to deal with superstar egos.
And it's not just LeBron. Spoelstra helped convince Ray Allen to play 10 fewer minutes than his career average and eight fewer minutes a game than he did last season, when he played 34 minutes, which was the lowest amount since his rookie season. And he's doing it off the bench, which Allen has never done.
Allen didn't magically adjust to it. He had issues adjusting as late as mid-December, but Spoelstra helped smooth that out by discussing it openly with him, often in front of the entire team.
I'm not saying Spoelstra's a lock, or should be. Just that his coaching job this season shouldn't be overlooked simply because he's fortunate enough to coach LeBron.
But Spoelstra has some serious competition in his own conference, and that's Woodson, who has done wonders with the oldest team ever.
The when does matter, if we're talking about the 2012-13 Coach of the Year. Otherwise I'd make a stronger push for Oklahoma City's Scott Brooks, who came up with a way to stop the San Antonio Spurs in last year's playoffs right when they were looking unstoppable.
Brooks has a pretty strong argument from this season as well. Despite the jarring trade of James Harden, the Thunder are winning at a higher rate and still have a shot at the No. 1 seed in the West. Only it's not as impressive as the job Hollins is doing in Memphis. The Grizzlies traded their top scorer in the middle of the season and kept on winning. Brooks has the guy who led the league in scoring for most of the season, Kevin Durant, providing points. I love the job Woodson is doing with the New York Knicks, but he has Carmelo Anthony. We've already talked about Spoelstra and LeBron.
Do you realize you have to click the arrow to get to the second page of NBA scoring leaders on ESPN.com before you come across a Grizzly? There's Zach Randolph, sitting at 41st with 15.4 points per game. The Grizzlies are 26th in the league in scoring, yet they have 52 wins and a good shot at home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
It's not easy to get NBA teams to buy into a defense-first mentality and a style that doesn't promise much offensive glory. The Grizzlies thrive on it. As Tony Allen recently boasted, "We hang our hats on defense."
Plus the Grizzlies are tough. They bang until opponents aren't thinking about the next trip down the court, they're thinking about time on the massage table after the game. They remind me of the Utah Jazz under Jerry Sloan. I guess that doesn't bode well for Hollins' chances at some hardware, since Sloan never won the award. And the one thing restraining me from going with Hollins over Karl is I wish the Grizzlies would use Marc Gasol on offense more. He is a tough guard for every opponent, but it seems like they don't exploit that matchup enough.
So what has you enthralled with Woodson after the Knicks' up-and-down season? The fact that he managed to get through this stage without one of his elderly players keeling over?
Woodson's case is easy.
He was handed the oldest team but got off to the hottest start. That age and subsequent injuries eventually caught up with his Knicks, but they righted the ship in plenty of time for the playoffs.
Woodson didn't have Amar'e Stoudemire. Then he did. Now he doesn't again.
The Knicks won big games without Carmelo Anthony, including handing the Heat their first home loss of the season. They won games without Tyson Chandler.
He has helped guide J.R. Smith to a career season. And while Smith may not be Mr. Efficiency, he has shot 50 percent over his past 11 games entering Tuesday. And part of the reason for that has been Woodson's ability to return to the two-point guard system that worked so well early in the season, allowing Smith to wait for shots to be created for him more often.
Who knew Pablo Prigioni would be such a vital piece of the Knicks' season?
And lastly, it seems he has gotten Melo to play within the offense more willingly and successfully. At least lately you can see that Carmelo is allowing offense to come to him. And has it ever.
By passing up decent shots for very good shots and letting the pick-and-roll do its damage to initiate most plays, Anthony has gone off for 167 points over his past four games while shooting 61 percent from the field and 56 percent from 3.
Of course, Carmelo's scoring talents are mostly to credit for this outburst. But watching him play in these recent games, watching his patience with the offense on most plays, goes to show that he believes in what Woodson is preaching offensively. Given how well it has worked lately, it's likely Melo will stick to this game plan come the postseason.
In short, Woodson has turned a potentially volatile situation into a 50-win season, and counting.
That's a pretty good coaching year.
Woodson did have a good coaching year. It's been a good year for coaching years. We haven't even talked about P.J. Carlesimo; the Brooklyn Nets were a .500 team when he took over and have gone 30-18 since. Larry Drew and Rick Carlisle were given the most uncoachable of assets -- salary cap flexibility -- and Drew has the Atlanta Hawks in the thick of the playoffs while Carlisle's Mavericks managed to make a late push for the playoffs even though Dirk Nowitzki had a functional right knee for only half the season. You haven't heard much "Ubuntu" talk from the Boston Celtics this season, but Doc Rivers must have found some unity rallying cry to keep the Celts from falling apart after Rajon Rondo went down.
But "good" isn't good enough to win awards. They should go to the exceptional -- and that's how I view George Karl's season. Half of the teams in the league have at least one player I would take over the best player on the Nuggets. Yet only three teams have a better record than Denver. I recognize that one of those three is coached by your guy Spoelstra.
Spoelstra is only 42 years old (I say "only" because he's just a week younger than me), and he already has a championship. Karl has been coaching NBA teams for 25 years; he doesn't have a ring and probably won't ever get one. He doesn't have a Coach of the Year award either, not even from the three times his Seattle SuperSonics won 60-plus games (keep in mind, the ballots were counted before any of their playoff flameouts). If Spoelstra is as good as you think he is -- more importantly, if he's as good as Pat Riley believed he could be, which is looking like a savvy premonition on Riles' part -- he'll get one of these Coach of the Year awards eventually. For 2012-13 (there I go, referencing this season again), it should go to George Karl.