It's early but Portland is off to a phenomenal start. Does that make Terry Stotts the leading candidate for Coach of the Year?
Absolutely, unequivocally yes.
I will go farther out on the limb than that. Unless non-injury-related disaster strikes, unless the Blazers sink all the way back to the .500 zone, Terry Stotts should win Coach of the Year running away. I respect the heck out of Frank Vogel in Indiana but you knew the Pacers were going to be good this season and they're playing in the East. Nobody, anywhere has done more with his team against the best the league has to offer than Coach Stotts has. All ties or near-ties in the process should go to Stotts by default. Since I don't see anyone superseding him even if their team finishes with a better record, you can award that trophy right now.
Don't just rely on Portland's record. Look underneath the hood too. The Blazers' offense took some guts to implement. Few teams run a similar system--at least not to the extreme degree Portland takes it--and those that do have established superstars as a fall-back position. The Blazers were out on a wire without a net starting the season. They could have crashed and burned. Instead they're playing the most beautiful, unselfish offense in the league. They're playing together every night, trusting each other. Anybody who's watched an NBA roster for more than two seconds understands that working hard every play for the best shot in a selfless manner is an ideal rarely achieved. The Blazers weren't playing that way last season even with heavy doses of the same starters they're fielding now. Last year you might see a few strings of decent plays each quarter and then it was the Damian Lillard show. This year it's all about the sets in micro terms and all about the win in the big picture.
Look at how Stotts has worked with his two main stars. LaMarcus Aldridge had plenty of talent but came into this year with a mixed pedigree and a cloud around him. Stotts has enabled Aldridge to shine like the sun, not just on offense but all over the court and as a team leader besides. Meanwhile Damian Lillard is scoring more, making game-winning shots, but blending in as a team player far more than he did as a rookie. You try making that calculus add up. Credit goes to each star and their teammates as a whole but part of that has to fall on the coach as well.
How many times have you seen the Blazers come out flat this season? Every team has ups and downs. They're not always on top of their game. Aside from predictable bumps, how many times have you seen Portland lethargic, chaotic, disinterested, or surrendering? You have the opening game of the season and maybe Saturday's game against the Sixers...maybe. The truth is, they're never out of a game. Every valley gets followed by a peak, not because they're turning it on and off but because they stick with the system regardless of circumstance. Again, do you understand how rare that is in a professional sports team, let alone an NBA team that had little concrete reason to believe in itself or its system prior to this fall?
The best of the best teams play with this demeanor, franchises that have been to the Finals and understand the value of timing, perseverance, trust. Whether the Blazers have the talent and iron-clad strengths to make it that far remains to be seen. But is it more of a miracle for a team that's seen success and rewards already to remain poised and own their game or is it more of a miracle for a team that's not seen either to do so? People want to blame coaches for every little intangible that goes against their franchise. How about we blame these coaches for some serious intangibles going seriously right? While we're at it, lets credit them for the gorgeous, Ramsay-esque offense, plenty of wins, and a team that doesn't quit.
Add it all up and it's not even close. Coach of the Year has never been about fielding the best team or getting the most wins. Historically it's about doing more with less, surprising people, revolutionizing expectations. Nobody's doing that more (or better) than Portland's coaching staff right now. A record on par with elite teams and better-acclaimed coaches only cements the deal. Terry Stotts and his team deserve this award and should collect it preemptively the second Portland's win column exceeds 45. If things continue the way they have been that'll be early March but even if it takes until mid-April the outcome shouldn't change. Dust off a spot next to Mike Schuler and Mike Dunleavy. The Blazers are about to have their third Coach of the Year in franchise history and maybe the most deserving.
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