Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com reports that Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard and All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge see Terry Stotts as a possible Coach of the Year candidate.
"I definitely think he is [an early Coach of the Year candidate] because of the way he handles our team," Lillard said. "What everybody expected from us, it wasn't this. I can remember when people were saying 'We don't expect much' and 'It's going to be a rough year,' and in my head, I believed in our team and he did, too. As long as we continue on the same road as we are now, I think it's definitely a possibility he could win the award."
"I would definitely say he should be Coach of the Year right now," Aldridge said. "I think he has taken a bunch of pieces and he's meshed them together to put us in position to win every night and to put us in position to be in the playoffs right now. So he definitely deserves to be recognized for what he's done."
This award generally comes down to winning big and/or exceeding expectations and/or easily digestible story line.
At the quarter mark, my top Coach of the Year candidates were Mike Woodson (New York Knicks), Gregg Popovich (San Antonio Spurs) and Jacque Vaughn (Orlando Magic). The Magic, on a nine-game losing streak, have clearly (and predictably) fallen off badly after a surprising start built mostly against weaker competition.
If the Knicks wind up winning the Atlantic Division and remaining among the Eastern Conference's top seeds, Woodson would have a combination of big-market bias, winning, an element of overachieving, and a solid story line (taking over from Mike D'Antoni and fashioning post-Linsanity success) that would seem to make his candidacy pretty bulletproof.
Past winners like Popovich, Tom Thibodeau (Chicago Bulls) and Scott Brooks (Oklahoma City Thunder) all figure to be factors based on their teams' winning percentages as does Erik Spoelstra (Miami Heat) who has yet to win Coach of the Year and could be headed towards a 60-win season.
Right now, Stotts joins Kevin McHale (Houston Rockets), Mark Jackson (Golden State Warriors) and Larry Drew (Atlanta Hawks) among the biggest second-tier "overachievers," although it's unclear whether any of them (or anyone else) will be able to unseat Woodson unless the Knicks fall off to a meaningful degree. All four have similar story lines by national standards, even if there are wrinkles unique to each city and team.
The easiest way for Stotts to beat out the others in this group would be for the Blazers to finish above the Rockets and the Warriors in the standings. The Warriors are currently fifth in the West, the Rockets are sixth and the Blazers are seventh. The Hawks are currently third in the Eastern Conference but their record would slot them between the Warriors and the Rockets in the West.
Rick Adelman (Minnesota Timberwolves) could be a darkhorse thanks to the "overcoming injury adversity" card if he can find a way to guide his team into the postseason and Lionel Hollins (Memphis Grizzlies) has already received a Coach of the Month award and has a steady team tracking towards a solid record. I guess Vinny Del Negro (Los Angeles Clippers) could get some run too but everyone seems to have agreed to silently acknowledge the fact that Chris Paul coaches the team and move on.
Boiled down: This is not an impossible task for Stotts, but it is a tall order. His path to Coach of the Year victory would likely require: 1) the Knicks to come back to Earth, 2) the Heat and Spurs to take their feet off the gas down the stretch, and 3) for the Blazers to finish in the No. 5 or No. 6 seed in the West with the predicted favorites above them.
Dave's recent mailbag thoughts on Stotts can be read right here.
-- Ben Golliver | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter