While the NBA will announce the winner of the Red Auerbach Coach of the Year trophy at its new NBA Awards show on June 26, the National Basketball Coaches Association announced their inaugural version of the award this Sunday.
Brett Brown didn’t receive one vote.
Not one vote! The NBA head coaches were tasked with selecting their coach of the year and Brown, who led the Sixers to 28 wins this season — 18 more than last year — didn’t get a single nod. Not even from Gregg Popovich, his former mentor? Come on.
The Michael H. Goldberg NBCA Coach of the Year Award recognizes the dedication and hard work of NBA Head Coaches and is presented annually to a Head Coach who helps guide his players to a higher level of performance on the court and shows outstanding service and dedication to the community off the court.
How is what Brown did not considered service to the community? Did they see this roster?!?!
This is not to suggest Brown should win NBA Coach of the Year — maybe we’re suffering from a bit of Stockholm syndrome because it’s hard to imagine anyone else even deserving consideration — but of the other 29 coaches in the NBA, none saw what Brown has done with the Sixers and thought he warranted their vote.
Houston Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni, the odds-on favorite to win the Auerbach trophy, and Erik Spoelstra of the Miami Heat shared the award. The Rockets had one of the best offensive seasons in NBA history under D’Antoni, thanks in large part to an MVP-caliber campaign from James Harden. Spoelstra led the Heat to a 41-41 record, losing out on the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference by a tiebreaker with the Chicago Bulls.
Yep, a guy who coached a team that didn’t even make the playoffs won Coach of the Year and it still wasn’t Brown.
The Heat, like the Sixers, had a ton of injuries to overcome, most notably to second-year player Justise Winslow, who played just 18 games this season. Only six players on the Heat played in more than 70 games this season (the Sixers had four), while key players like Josh Richardson, Wayne Ellington and Dion Waiters all missed significant time during the year. The Heat started the season 11-30 in the first half, but closed with a 30-11 record, earning Spoelstra high praise from his coaching colleagues.
And so, this isn’t a quibble with either of the winners, who each deserve praise for what they’ve done this season, even if much of what D’Antoni is getting credit for is simply giving Harden the ball and allowing him to play like an MVP. If anything, D’Antoni winning Coach of the Year with that Rockets roster feels like more of an indictment of Kevin McHale and last year’s interim replacement J.B. Bickerstaff, than a nod for D’Antoni.
Alas, this isn’t so much about them, as about the other SEVEN coaches who got votes who weren’t Brown.
The voting for this year’s award illustrates the depth of coaching excellence in the NBA as 9 of the 30 Head Coaches received votes. In addition to D’Antoni and Spoelstra, the following coaches also received votes: Scott Brooks, Dave Fizdale, Steve Kerr, Jason Kidd, Gregg Popovich, Doc Rivers and Quin Snyder.
• Scott Brooks took Washington to the playoffs this year and has the Wizards in an Eastern Conference semifinal fight with the top-seed Boston Celtics right now, tied at two games apiece after Sunday’s win. But this is a regular-season award, and the Wizards did win 49 games to lock up the No. 4 seed in the East, eight more wins than last season under Randy Whitman. Fine. Brooks had a very good year.
• Dave Fizdale had a good year in Memphis, too. The first-year head coach led the Grizzlies back to the playoffs with a 43-39 record, earning the No. 7 seed in the much more difficult Western Conference. Yet as much as Fizdale’s “take that for data” rant last week was a signature moment in the playoffs, his team won one more game than the year before under Dave Joerger, with more talent and healthy seasons for Mike Conley and Marc Gasol.
• Steve Kerr deserves recognition for being the guy who coached the best team in basketball. Managing egos and all that. And, yes, Kevin Durant was hurt for much of the stretch run and the Dubs still won the West by six games. But also, Kevin Durant joined the Warriors and they won six fewer games than their record-setting season last year.
• Jason Kidd’s Milwaukee Bucks are what people hope the Sixers might be next season. They went from 33-49 last year to 42-40 this year and a trip to the playoffs, and did much of it with young star Jabari Parker out with an injury. Giannis Antetekounmpo has become the kind of young star Philly fans hope any of the Sixers turn out to be. If anyone on this list deserves recognition, it’s probably Kidd.
• Gregg Popovich, like Kerr, is coaching a team ripe with future Hall of Famers. Popovich is almost unquestionably the best coach in the NBA, so he should get votes every year. Also, his roster is awesome, led by Kawhi Leonard, who is probably the second best player in the NBA after LeBron James, and yes that includes everyone on the Warriors.
• Doc Rivers led the Clippers to 51 wins, which would have been tied for the second seed with the Cavs in the East but was only good enough for the No. 4 seed in the West. Do NBA experts take Rivers for granted? Probably. And yet those 51 wins this season were the lowest win total for the Clips since 2011-12, two years before Rivers took over.
Reminder, the Sixers won 28 games, 23 fewer than the Clippers in an easier conference. Blake Griffin and Chris Paul each missed 21 games and Luc Mbah a Moute averaged 22.3 minutes per game.
Maybe Rivers is the coach of the year.
• Quin Snyder of Utah should finish in the top five when the NBA version of the award is announced, as he led the Jazz to 51 wins in his third season, an increase of 11 wins from a season ago. Gordon Hayward has become a star and Rudy Gobert is probably the most underrated center in the NBA, but Snyder has Utah fighting for a spot in the Western Conference finals — down 3-0 to Golden State, but still — with basically one very good player and some solid role-players.
So, dammit, those are all solid choices to a varying degree, but it’s hard to believe nobody saw what Brown did this season and didn’t think that warranted some recognition.
(What’s that? Boston’s Brad Stevens didn’t get a single vote either and his team won 53 games and earned the top seed in the East with a 5-9 point guard and basically a roster of really good role players? Ah, shit.)
Lest you forgot, Brown’s Sixers won 28 games, but surely could have had more down the stretch, losing games they should have won in order to (ahem) see younger talent and (AHEM) position themselves well for the draft lottery.
Alex Poythress was playing 26 minutes a game in the last week of the season. Let’s not pretend wins mattered.
But even still, Brown nearly tripled the previous year’s win total, with just 31 games from Joel Embiid and zero games from first-overall pick Ben Simmons. That doesn’t even account for the mess at center with Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor, both splitting time with Embiid before they were either hurt or traded, themselves.
What Brown did with a roster of back-ups, rookies and D-League players was nothing short of remarkable in 2016-17. And while, no, coaches who lose 54 games don’t often get awards, enough cannot be said for how well he fared with what (read: who) he had at his disposal this season.
Now, next year’s expectations will be markedly different, injuries and all. The Sixers should be adding one or (hopefully) two lottery picks this year to the core of Embiid and Simmons and Dario Saric and a young roster of players dying to get good soon.
The Sixers should take a jump next year to mirror what the Bucks have done, and if that happens, Brown will undoubtedly get votes for every award possible in 2018. Those of us who watched what Brown did this season? We’re just ahead of the curve.