Luke Walton is right there on the league's official Coach of the Year ballot.
As the NBA promised way back in December, when Walton won Western Conference Coach of the Month honors for October/November after steering the Golden State Warriors to a 19-0 launch despite every single one of those W's going on Steve Kerr's personal ledger, Young Luke is indeed eligible for COY honors.
It certainly wouldn't surprise me if he gets a handful of votes too, because a 39-4 record for an interim coach might well be something we never see in professional sports ever again.
Yet Walton's deserved inclusion in the COY hunt, as predictably whiny as this sounds, only makes an impossibly deep field even deeper. Regular readers of our Trimester submissions know we always moan about trying to narrow this category down to three finalists, but this is too much: Portland's Terry Stotts, Dallas' Rick Carlisle, Toronto's Dwane Casey, Charlotte's Steve Clifford, Memphis' Dave Joerger and, yes, San Antonio's Gregg Popovich ... it wouldn't be the wrong answer if any of those six guys won the 2015-16 COY trophy.
Our vote, though, is going to Steve Kerr.
If you're focusing on the 43 games that a frighteningly stubborn health condition forced him to miss -- an absence so poignantly chronicled this month by our own Ramona Shelburne -- you're lasered in on all the wrong stuff. You're missing the big picture.
How Kerr had such a big hand in building a culture that could withstand such a long-term absence for the head coach. How Kerr groomed Walton to step into such a tough spot and then made the brave choice to pick a 36-year-old as his interim replacement. How Kerr kept showing up at practices, shootarounds and home games to deliver crucial messaging to his team no matter how badly he was feeling. How Kerr was always there ... even when he wasn't.
"There's a two-horse [race] between however they want to divide it between Luke and Steve -- and then Pop," said Celtics coach Brad Stevens, another worthy name for this discussion we failed to squeeze into the fourth paragraph. "That's it. Those two teams have had historic runs and nobody else should be in the mix for that."
Kerr really should have won COY honors last season but lost out to Atlanta's Mike Budenholzer because the 60-win Hawks of 2014-15 overachieved to such a fairy-tale degree. There is again no shortage of options in 2015-16, as noted above, if voters want to bypass Kerr again, but I can't. No chance.
Stotts has taken a team that lost four starters and was stamped by Vegas oddsmakers with an over/under of 27.5 wins all the way to the likely fifth seed in the West. Carlisle is pulling off yet another of his Wizard of Inwood acts by getting this Mavs team, with a roster in tatters, to the postseason. And Clifford, despite his own share of injuries in Charlotte, happens to be presiding over the club that sports the NBA's third-best record (19-7) since the All-Star break, behind only Golden State (22-5) and San Antonio (20-6).
Which reminds us: All that Pop fellow in South Texas has done is notch the 18th 50-win season of his coaching career, guide the Spurs to a franchise-record win total for a single season and successfully start the transition to the Kawhi Leonard/LaMarcus Aldridge era while keeping the minutes of Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan all down to record lows in each case.
What the Spurs and the Warriors are doing, in short, makes this one of those seasons when awesomely overachieving -- which is typically the trick to winning this award -- isn't going to be enough.
The only time Phil Jackson ever won a Coach of the Year trophy was the 1995-96 season, when his Chicago Bulls won 72 games. Because the NBA doesn't allow split votes, meaning Kerr and Walton can't share the award as Stevens suggested, I find it impossible to resist the coach of record for the only other 70-win outfit this league has ever seen.
Stein's official ballot: 1. Kerr; 2. Stotts; 3. Popovich
October prediction: Jason Kidd