Loren Jorgensen: Utah Jazz: Jerry Sloan won't win (again), but someone will win the top coach, rookie and 6th man
Rich Pedroncelli, Associated Press
SALT LAKE CITY — Jerry Sloan has earned millions of dollars, achieved unparalleled job stability and has even been elected to basketball's Hall of Fame for coaching the Utah Jazz for more than two straight decades.
But, as is pointed out at the close of every regular season, Sloan has never won the NBA's official Coach of the Year Award.
So will the 22nd time be the charm?
Well, to put it bluntly, no.
Sure, the Jazz have won 50 games again and are still in the thick of the hunt for a division title as well as the No. 2 playoff seed in the loaded Western Conference. Sloan's coaching and Utah's offensive efficiency get praised by virtually every opposing coach in the league when they come through EnergySolutions Arena. This year the Jazz have played well despite numerous injuries and a mid-year trade of the team's starting shooting guard for no immediate help.
But it won't matter when the votes are tabulated.
Sloan simply won't be recognized because the Jazz are seen as too well-oiled of a machine. Utah's consistency over the years makes it far too easy for voters to overlook what Sloan has done with what he's been given.
Instead, the award usually goes to the coach who leads a previously bad team to respectability.
That will happen again this season. Most NBA observers feel the Coach of the Year honor is a two-man race between a couple of guys named Scott who have led their clubs to the playoffs after a long absence — Scott Brooks of Oklahoma City, which last went to the postseason as the Seattle SuperSonics, and Scott Skiles of Milwaukee.
With just a handful of games remaining for each team, here is a look as the top candidates and a predicted winner for the Coach of the Year, Rookie of the Year and Sixth Man of the Year awards:
COACH OF THE YEAR
Perhaps nobody should actually want this one. Three of the past four — Byron Scott of New Orleans, Sam Mitchell of Toronto and Avery Johnson of Dallas — have already been axed. Last year's winner, Cleveland's Mike Brown, is having another successful season, but if LeBron James leaves as a free agent during the offseason as many expect, Brown's job won't be so cushy or safe a year from now.
A trio of living legends in the coaching ranks have had good seasons. Sloan may get some support as will Denver's George Karl, who is battling cancer and has been sorely missed by the Nuggets during games he hasn't been able to attend. And Charlotte's Larry Brown, the 2000-01 winner with the 76ers, has lead the Bobcats to their best-ever season and a playoff berth.
But Brooks and Skiles look like they will be the top vote-getters — and it's easy to see why. The Thunder and Bucks, after awful campaigns a year ago, are much improved.
Oklahoma City won just 23 games last season — which was fewer than even the Minnesota Timberwolves. Only Sacramento and the Clippers were worse in the Western Conference. Brooks took over as the interim head coach after P.J. Carlesimo was fired early in the 2008-09 season and did enough to warrant getting the "interim" taken off his title prior to this year.
The Thunder have been rewarded for their faith in Brooks, as Oklahoma City has doubled its win total — to 46 entering Saturday night's game at Dallas. While the development of Kevin Durant and other young players is a major reason for the Thunder's improvement, some of that praise should go to Brooks, who has gotten his players to work hard on the defensive end of the court while also being one of the most fun teams to watch on offense.
Skiles, meanwhile, had moderate success in previous stops coaching Phoenix and Chicago — but his hard-nosed style wore his players down. That apparently hasn't happened in Milwaukee yet.
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