If the Miami Heat continues its brilliant rise through the Eastern Conference ranks, Erik Spoelstra should not only be in legitimate contention for his first NBA Coach of the Year Award, but he should win it.
The naysayers will point out the annual award for the league’s best coach should go to a coach on a contender, a team in position to compete for a championship. I think it’s hogwash, similar to the trend of the Most Valuable Player Award going to the best player on the best team despite the definition of “most valuable” being something entirely different.
While it’s beyond tricky to isolate good coaching on teams with elite talent, one could convincingly argue there’s nobody doing more with less than Spoelstra, with his squad of misfits put together on the fly while Dwyane Wade held his former club hostage before spurning them for his hometown Chicago Bulls, leaving Pat Riley with broken stopgap veterans in the form of Dion Waiters, James Johnson, Luke Babbitt and Wayne Ellington.
Not only did they lose Wade, and Chris Bosh for that matter, but also Luol Deng and Joe Johnson. Justise Winslow’s done for the year and something called a Rodney McGruder is racking up 26 minutes a night.
Outside of Goran Dragic, who is having a sensational and wildly efficient season, Miami has ZERO star-caliber players and has battled a shitload of injuries to rotation players all season. Dion Waiters, yes Dion Waiters, is Spo’s lieutenant general.
Yet this team is riding a most improbable 11-game winning streak, doing so in dominant fashion, outscoring teams by 10.5 points per 100 possessions during the hot streak, trailing only the superstar-laden Golden State Warriors (+15.0).
While it requires deep sifting through league history, there is some precedent for the NBA’s award for best coach going to a leader of a sub-elite team.
Sam Mitchell won the award after the 2006-07 season when his Toronto Raptors finished 47-35, captured the No. 3 seed, and won the first division title in team history. Beyond that, only two COY winners in the last 20 years were on teams with a sub-.600 winning percentage and only three times in NBA history did the award go to coaches of teams winning half of their games or less:
- 1966-67 — Johnny Kerr’s Chicago Bulls finished just 33-48, but received the award for leading the first expansion team to a playoff berth during its inaugural season. It was absurd, however, considering eight of the league’s 10 teams made the playoffs!
- 1977-78 — Hubie Brown’s Atlanta Hawks snuck in the postseason at 41-41 as No. 6 seed when the league had six playoff teams per conference and 22 teams overall.
- 1999-00 — Doc Rivers earned the honor for leading the Orlando Magic to a 41-41 record, which was good for ninth in the east. Their finish was somewhat impressive, however, considering the team’s leading scorer was Darrell Armstrong.
Now I don’t think a coach on a team with a sub-500 record (my barrier for entry so to speak) deserves the award considering there are so many great winning coaches in this league maximizing their talent but Spo should enter serious contention so long as the following two conditions are met:
- If Miami makes the playoffs.
- If the Heat finishes with a winning record, which would mean closing the season 20-10 while winning an unbelievable 31 wins (of 41) in the second half of the season versus just 11 wins in the first half.
It’s a highly unlikely scenario Spo and the Heat finish with a winning record but to do so should unequivocally catapult his name to the top of the list.
I don’t care if the Warriors don’t lose another game — they have four superstars. If every player in the league was taken off his respective team and every team redrafted, I’m not certain there’d be one Miami Heat player among the top 30 or even 40 picks.
There’s plenty of basketball remaining and Miami could tailspin at any moment but as of this writing, Spo is entering the Coach-of-the-Year conversation. And if the Miami Heat wins 20 more games (finishing 42-40), he should win Coach of the Year. Period.