(I worked as a Sports Editor from late 2004 until the summer of 2006. This is one of the many columns I was able to save that were originally published in The Sun-Times of Heber Springs, Arkansas.)
There’s no denying that Phoenix has been one of the best stories in the NBA this season. But what is debatable is the choice of Suns head man Mike D’Antoni as Coach of the Year.
The announcement came just days after Steve Nash was named MVP of the league. I’m not sure how you could give it to Nash when Shaquille O’Neal single-handedly shifted the balance of power to the Eastern conference, ruined the Lakers playoff chances and gave the Heat pretty nice odds to win the championship.
But if Nash does deserve the MVP, does D’Antoni deserve the Coach of the Year? Can’t you have one without the other? Can (and should) it be argued that Nash’s play made D’Antoni look better? Is D’Antoni the sole reason Nash was a MVP? Is it the egg, or is it the chicken? If I write this column with too many question marks will anyone read it?
D’Antoni is being praised for turning his team loose and simultaneously bringing the fast break offense back to the NBA. I personally don’t think that was brilliant coaching strategy. Any coach would take a look at that roster (Stoudemire, Marion, Richardson, Johnson, Nash, Jackson, etc.) and surmise that getting the ball up the floor would be easy.
Let’s suppose for a minute that D’Antoni is worthy. Do you honestly believe that Nash is the only point guard that could run that team? I could name at least 10 that would thrive in that type of environment.
And it’s not too far of a stretch to assume that the reason the Suns did so poorly with Nash out was because backup Leandro Barbosa is someone I’ve never heard of.
Remember also that any upgrade from Stephon Marbury is going to be much, much better. The trade of Marbury and Penny Hardaway was the move that freed up enough cap space to sign Nash and Quentin Richardson. I’ll go out on my Memphis Tiger limb and say that with a point guard that would pass Penny the ball, the Suns might have even been better this year.
But I have less of a problem with Nash’s award than I do with D’Antoni. If I had the privilege of voting, my ballot would have been cast for Chicago’s Scott Skiles. So, it shouldn’t be surprising that he didn’t even finish in the top 3 in votes.
Rick Carlisle finished behind D’Antoni in the voting. Carlisle was also probably more deserving than D’Antoni. (I’m getting sick of typing his last name, help me think of something clever that doesn’t include a Sopranos or Godfather reference. It’s harder than it looks isn’t it?)
What Carlisle did without the meat of his lineup for the majority of the year is astounding. If Marion, Stoudemire, and Johnson would have had to sit for a third of the year, my guess is Phoenix would be fishing right now instead of playing.
Nate McMillan of the Sonics finished third in the voting. For the life of Brian, I can’t figure that one out. The Sonics were only 15 games better than last year and bottomed out near the end of the season after a very fast and surprising start to it. You could even make a case that Seattle underachieved.
Skiles is the most deserving. The Bulls had a turnaround of 24 games and made the playoffs for the first time since a man named Mike ruled the airwaves. They even started 0-9 and still finished with 47 wins.
Skiles benched the right players, started the right players, created roles for the right players, made shrewd moves and adjustments during the game, and empowered his team with the same gritty, gutty, competitive spirit that marked his own playing days.
All I really see D’Antoni doing is rolling the ball out and letting his players go. Don’t get me wrong, it worked. But is it cause to consider him a peer of Larry Brown, Phil Jackson, Jerry Sloan or even Jeff Van Gundy? Maybe if he gets rid of his porn moustache, I’ll change my mind.