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MONROE: Coach of the year, all-NBA picks

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Mike Monroe

 
   
 
I had a long discussion earlier this season with an assistant coach for one of the league's best teams about the media's annual selection of Coach of the Year. The gist of the debate: Why does the award seem to go so often to the coach of a mediocre team that exceeded expectations, as opposed to a coach of one of the best teams in the league? My response: Because the NBA is a players' league, and the teams with the best records usually have the best players. That translates into a presumption that the coaches of those teams have it easier than do the coaches of teams with less talent. Not to dredge up the brouhaha that ensued after George Karl's comments about Doc Rivers surfaced in print a month or so ago, but this particular assistant coach cited Rivers' selection as Coach of the Year in his rookie season on the bench in Orlando, when the Magic didn't even qualify for the playoffs, as the height of absurdity. Here's the truth about most of the media types who vote for the NBA's awards: We're suckers for a rags-to-riches success story. Where Coach of the Year is concerned, that means the Phil Jacksons, Rick Adelmans, Gregg Popoviches and Don Nelsons never are going to get the consideration they may rightly deserve. And this year, that means the race for Coach of the Year is among the three Eastern Conference coaches who drove 2001 lottery teams to the top three spots in the conference: Byron Scott, Jim O'Brien and Rick Carlisle. This is not to say that Jackson, Adelman, Popovich and Nelson didn't do remarkable coaching jobs this season. Indeed, all four of them did, for various reasons. Popovich, for example, did a remarkable job with a dramatically different roster that included a 19-year-old starting point guard. Mo Cheeks was a big success in Portland. He managed to keep Rasheed Wallace's temper in check, relatively speaking, and had to be considered on that basis alone. But Scott, O'Brien and Carlisle were the real miracle workers this season, and choosing among them for my one vote wasn't easy. Scott not only coached the Nets to the best regular-season record in the East, but did it despite losing his starting center much of the second half of the season. Trouble is, Jason Kidd gets more of the credit for the turnaround in New Jersey than does Scott, not to mention that Kenyon Martin, clearly the Nets' second-best player, was fully healthy all season and Kerry Kittles returned from injury. O'Brien got the Celtics back on track last season when he took over for Rick Pitino and the momentum he established then carried right into this season. He resurrected Kenny Anderson as one of the league's reliable point guards and has gotten more out of Tony Battie than I ever believed possible. Carlisle, though, gets my vote. I thought so little of the Pistons' roster that I picked them to finish behind the Bulls in the Central Division. That's a painful admission to have to make, but I never counted on Carlisle's ability to mesh the Pistons into a cohesive unit or to turn Jerry Stackhouse into a more team-oriented superstar. He accomplished both, and that's why he got my vote. Carlisle did so with only one player who landed on my All-NBA first, second or third teams. I put Ben Wallace at center on my All-NBA second team.
Mike Monroe's All-NBA teams
First team Second team Third team
G: Kobe Bryant (Lakers) G: Gary Payton (Sonics) G: Allen Iverson (76ers)
G: Jason Kidd (Nets) G: Steve Nash (Mavericks) G: Paul Pierce (Celtics)
F: Tracy McGrady (Magic) F: Dirk Nowitzki (Mavericks) F: Kevin Garnett (Timberwolves)
F: Tim Duncan (Spurs) F: Chris Webber (Kings) F: Peja Stojakovic (Kings)
C: Shaquille O'Neal (Lakers) C: Ben Wallace (Pistons) C: Jermaine O'Neal (Pacers)
I know McGrady was on the All-Star ballot at guard, but he is listed as a guard/forward in some NBA publications, and after Grant Hill went down for the season with another ankle injury, McGrady became the Magic's primary small forward. There is no question he belongs on the all-NBA first team, but so does Bryant. The flexibility his official listing in the NBA Register gave me solved that knotty little problem. I also know Jermaine O'Neal moved out to power forward after the Pacers traded for Brad Miller, but he primarily played center from November through February and was named a center on the Eastern All-Star team by the coaches, which is why I put him there on my third team. Mike Monroe can be reached at his e-mail address: mmonroe@foxsports.com.
Tagged: Celtics, Bulls, Mavericks, Pistons, Pacers, Lakers, Timberwolves, Nets, Magic, 76ers, Trail Blazers, Kings, Spurs, Thunder, Tony Battie, Paul Pierce, Brad Miller, Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki, Jerry Stackhouse, Ben Wallace, Jermaine O'Neal, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal, Kevin Garnett, Jason Kidd, Tracy McGrady, Rasheed Wallace, Chris Webber, Tim Duncan, Gary Payton

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