By Brad Thompson–
Several NBA coaches have turned in stellar performances this season, but Tom Thibodeau and George Karl have risen above the rest. Both Thibodeau and Karl are deserving of the Coach of the Year award, yet only one can win. I give a slight edge to Thibodeau.
George Karl is a tremendous coach, he proved that before this year, but what makes his coaching job so special this season is the circumstances surrounding it. The Carmelo Anthony’s trade rumors started even before the season did and only escalated as the season progressed. It’s tough enough to win in the NBA without the constant distraction of wondering if you’re superstar player will be traded before the next game. Karl demonstrated his brilliance by winning in the face of Anthony’s off the court issues. How Karl managed Anthony’s ego while keeping the team together and compiling a 32-25 record before Anthony departed was impressive.
Then when Anthony’s “trade me to New York only” saga finally ended, Karl was handed four Knicks to fill the roles of not only Anthony, but also point guard Chauncey Billups. Karl had the unenviable task of blending together four new players with the remains of his current roster and had to do it with a mere 25 games left in the regular season. As challenging as that sounds, Karl and the Nuggets turned what seemed to be a difficult situation into a blessing.
Denver has gone 18-6 without Anthony and they are playing more as a team than they ever did with Anthony. Under Karl’s guidance, the new Nuggets made a seamless transition. They vaulted Denver to the fifth-seed in the Western Conference playoffs with a 50-win season. The Nuggets are the highest scoring team in the league and, on Monday, Denver had an incredible nine players score in double figures. Karl deserves most, if not all, of the credit for managing Anthony’s situation and the Nuggets post-trade success. In most years, he’d be the Coach of the Year, just not this year.
The award goes to Tom Thibodeau. He has turned around a franchise in his rookie campaign as a NBA head coach. Even though Thibodeau is a veteran to the NBA coaching ranks, being a first-time head coach is a different role and comes with increased pressure, especially in a city like Chicago. Thibodeau has performed beautifully.
Thibodeau came from Boston with a defensive philosophy and was able to sell his team on playing solid defense. The results speak for themselves. On Tuesday night in New York City, the Bulls chalked up victory number 61. The Bulls were a mediocre 41-41 last season. They topped 60 wins for the sixth time in franchise history. Every previous year the Bulls reached 60 wins they won the NBA championship.
Numerous people deserve credit for Chicago’s dramatic improvement, but Thibodeau deserves the most. His defensive scheme has turned the Bulls into one of the best defensive teams in the association. Chicago leads the league in opponent’s field goal percentage (43%), they are second in points allowed per game (91.3) and second in rebounding per game (44.1).
John Paxson and Gar Forman are also responsible for Chicago’s success. They signed a host of free agents in the off-season, improving the team’s talent and depth. As nice as upgrading the roster is for a coach, it also presents challenges. The additions of Carlos Boozer, Kyle Korver, Keith Bogans, C.J. Watson and Ronnie Brewer were welcomed, but there were also question marks about how they would fit in with Derrick Rose and Thibodeau’s defensive approach. In the end, things couldn’t have worked out better for Chicago, again credit Thibodeau.
Rose’s level of play and all-around game has been absolutely spectacular this season. His development and leadership are main reasons for the Bulls success. Chicago shattered their preseason expectations with Rose leading the way. He’s on the verge of collecting the league MVP in just his third season. Obviously, Rose’s improve has a lot to do with his own work ethic and drive to succeed, but don’t overlook the impact that Thibodeau has had. Thibodeau has helped Rose’s decision-making on dribble drives and made him a better defender.
Although it’s a close call between Karl and Thibodeau, Chicago’s resurgence as a dominant force in the Eastern Conference is simply remarkable for a first-year head coach. Heading into the final game of the regular season the Bulls are tied with San Antonio for the best record in the league (61-20). Thibodeau has done a magnificent job this season and should be the Coach of the Year.
Honorable mention goes to Gregg Popovich of San Antonio, Doug Collins of Philadelphia and Lionel Hollins of Memphis.
Do you agree with Brad? Post your comments below.
Brad M. Thompson, a former college football player and coach, made his return to the Midwest in 2009 after fighting wildfires out West. He earned his master’s degree from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and covers the Big Ten Conference and Chicago sports. Follow him on Twitter at @Brad_M_Thompson. Find more of Brad’s blogs here.