Popovich beats out Hornacek for Coach of Year honors

In his first season as head coach, Jeff Hornacek led the Suns to a 48-34 record, a 23-win improvement over last season.

Ten different coaches received votes for NBA Coach of the Year, but it essentially came down to a two-man race: San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich vs. Phoenix’s Jeff Hornacek.

Popovich won the award for the third time in his 18-year career — joining Don Nelson and Pat Riley as the only three-time winners — for taking an aging but perpetually contending San Antonio team and leading it to the league’s best record (62-20). It was the 15th consecutive season of 50-plus victories for the Spurs, who lost in the NBA Finals to Miami last year in seven games.

He finished with 380 points in voting by 124 media members, followed by Horancek’s 339. Each ballot included three choices, and Hornacek appeared on 103 ballots compared with Popovich’s 98, but Popovich received 59 first-place votes to 37 for Hornacek, whose case for the award came in taking a Suns’ team generally expected to be one of the league’s worst and guiding them to 48 victories in his first season — a 23-win improvement. But Hornacek’s chances no doubt were compromised by the Suns falling one win short of the Western Conference playoffs, despite finishing tied for the league’s 11th-best record.

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Only once has the award gone to a coach whose team did not qualify for the playoffs: In 2000, it went to Orlando’s Doc Rivers after the Magic went 41-41 and fell one win short of the postseason.

Other first-place votes went to Chicago’s Tom Thibodeau (12), Charlotte’s Steve Clifford (8), Toronto’s Dwane Casey (5), Portland’s Terry Stotts (2) and Rivers (1) of the L.A. Clippers.

Popovich lost two longtime assistants off his coaching staff in the off-season — Brett Brown and Mike Budenholzer to head coaching jobs in Philadelphia and Atlanta — and guided the Spurs through a season of nagging injuries. Tim Duncan was the only starter to play in at least 70 games. No Spur averaged 30 minutes per game, and Tony Parker led the team with a modest 16.7 points per game.