After polishing off the Phoenix Suns 60th win of the season in his first game since Feb. 16, Chris Paul spoke of how grateful he is of the entire team surrounding him here in Phoenix.
“It’s special, man. 17 years and only the second time I ever been on a team that won 60 games,” Paul said.
“[There] is nothing like being on this team, so I’m just happy that I could get back.”
From the players who supported him in practice and kept the ship afloat on the court, to the Suns’ training staff that was behind him every step along the recovery process. Paul’s journey these last five weeks since fracturing his thumb could not have been smoother.
Paul described this unity throughout the team as “trust” and illustrated how it all starts from the top.
“People don’t watch basketball. They don’t. Not enough people [watch], they just look at the app,” Paul said. “...y’all go back and look at the film and see the way our team was reacting to our coach. That’s because, [the] plays down the stretch, coach was calling them.”
“What else [Monty] got to do?”
Paul’s question prompted the follow-up he had been waiting to hear: is Monty Williams the Coach of the Year?
“Damn right! It shouldn’t even be close!” Paul said emphatically. “No disrespect to [the] other coaches and what they’re doing, but what are you watching if this man [does] not get Coach of the Year?”
The media and public’s constant bickering over who deserves the MVP award will often drown out the discussion of the other regular-season awards. This season has been no exception, but understandably so considering just how stacked this year’s MVP race has proven to be.
Likewise, this year’s field for the COTY award seems larger than normal and several coaches deserve recognition for the work they have done through this season.
At the top of the East, the Miami Heat’s Erik Spoelstra has done a remarkable job. From seamlessly weaving the six-time All-Star Kyle Lowry into the team to juggling injuries and absences across the roster, Spoelstra has been the Heat’s lone constant all season long.
Right behind Spoelstra’s Heat are the surging Boston Celtics and their rookie head coach, Ime Udoka. After struggling early on in the season, Udoka and the Celtics began to find their defensive identity in the New Year, going 10-6 in January. This identity carried into February, and following the deadline-day acquisition of Derrick White, the Celtics have hardly looked back. With the best record since the All-Star break at 12-2 and the league’s best overall defense, Udoka has molded Boston into a true contender. Not bad for a rookie.
In the West, the Memphis Grizzlies’ Taylor Jenkins has been the wizard behind one of this season’s most enjoyable stories. The easy answer for the Grizzlies’ rise from an up-and-coming team to a genuine championship contender would be Ja Morant’s evolution from an exciting young star to a bonafide superstar. But nothing is clearer of Jenkins’ effect than their 15-2 record without their superstar. The development of Desmond Bane and Jaren Jackson Jr. among others has catapulted this team into contender status far faster than anyone could have predicted, and Jenkins has been the catalyst.
But probably the most under-the-radar case belongs to the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Chris Finch. In his first full season at the helm, Finch struggled similarly to Udoka early on. But just like the Celtics, Finch and Timberwolves found new life in the New Year, as they’ve gone 27-13 and own the 2nd best offensive rating in the league since Jan. 1st.
Others also deserve recognition for their achievements this season:
Billy Donovan’s Chicago Bulls came out of the gates hot with a 26-10 start and Donovan has done well to keep the Bulls in the playoff mix despite major injuries to Alex Caruso, Lonzo Ball, and Patrick Williams.
J.B. Bickerstaff’s Cleveland Cavaliers have shown immense improvements since last year and is set to post Cleveland’s first winning record without a player named LeBron James on the roster since 1998.
And Steve Nash deserves recognition purely for all the headaches he has had to deal with in Brooklyn and for how well he has danced around the media (only half-joking).
This year’s stacked list of candidates speaks to the immense amount of talent throughout the league sitting (or standing) courtside. It’s truly remarkable just how deep this year’s candidate class could go, considering I have failed to talk about the likes of Doc Rivers, Mike Budenholzer, Steve Kerr, Quinn Snyder, and Michael Malone, all of whom have also shown why they should be considered among the top coaches in the league.
But the COTY award belongs to the person who has shown throughout the entirety of the season why they are the best of the best. And when you look at the season in its’ entirety, there is only one answer:
Who has the best record in the NBA? Monty Williams’ Phoenix Suns.
Who has the best net rating in the NBA? Monty Williams’ Phoenix Suns.
Who has the best point differential in the NBA? Monty Williams’ Phoenix Suns.
Who is the only team to put together five different win streaks of 5+ games? Monty Williams’ Phoenix Suns.
Who is the NBA’s 2021-2022 Coach of the Year?
You tell me.