SI Staff
Wednesday January 20th, 2016

Lee Jenkins: Gregg Popovich, Spurs

The choice in almost every category that matters comes down to a Warrior or a Spur. Do you go with 35-year-old Luke Walton, who had never even been an official assistant, yet stepped in for the ailing Steve Kerr and helped the Warriors to the best start in the history of professional sports? Or do you defer to Gregg Popovich, who has been steering the Spurs for more than half of Walton’s life, and blended LaMarcus Aldridge and David West into the organizational framework. Popovich is the choice, for this reason: Many teams in the NBA, and particularly in the Western Conference, were demoralized by the Warriors stunning start. Popovich kept the Spurs on track, and nearly on pace. 

Ben Golliver: Luke Walton, Warriors

Voters succumbed to overthinking this category last year by passing over Steve Kerr for Atlanta’s Mike Budenholzer. Don’t make the same mistake twice! Not only did Walton preside over a 37-4 start which was just one win shy of the best first half ever, but he did it with very little advanced notice due to Kerr’s unexpected complications following back surgery and without any previous NBA head coaching experience. Under Walton, the Warriors have received career years from both Stephen Curry and Draymond Green, they’ve plugged away despite the pressure of significant media attention and the loss of Harrison Barnes to an ankle injury, and they’ve avoiding running up significant playing-time mileage on any of their key players. What more could he have done?

Rob Mahoney: Rick Carlisle, Mavericks

Another year of overperformance from the master of the art. Give Carlisle a can of tuna and he’ll serve you a plate of beautiful sashimi. Bring him a Radio Flyer with a box fan attached and he’ll win you the Indy 500. Drop some sheet metal and a half-broken bottle on the table in front of him and he’ll build you a telescope strong enough to glimpse the surface of distant planets. Dirk Nowitzki, Zaza Pachulia, Wesley Matthews, and Co. all deserve credit for their season to date. Most every Maverick in the regular rotation is playing his part. Yet it’s Carlisle that somehow makes it all click at a 47-win pace through injury recovery, defensive awkwardness, positional redundancy, and all.

Matt Dollinger: Gregg Popovich, Spurs

Like Madonna or Michael Jackson, the Spurs continue to reinvent themselves while staying atop of their craft. It’s easy to look at San Antonio's gaudy record and think, “these are the same old Spurs,” but they're anything but. After watching Golden State win the Finals, Popovich realized the Spurs couldn’t beat the Warriors at their own game, so he decided to create his own, going big while the rest of the league goes small. The result? The Spurs have been historically good this season. Their offense is more diverse, their defense is even more suffocating and their wins are coming easy. They're genuine Pop Stars.

DeAntae Prince: Luke Walton, Warriors

While he won’t take home the wins, Luke Walton deserves considerable credit for his role as interim coach during the Warriors’ 24-0 start. Now at 39-4 on the season, the Warriors are on pace to make history or come pretty close to it, and that would be impossible if Walton didn’t step in as a suitable short-term replacement for Steve Kerr. Walton has transcendent pieces to play chess with, but his steady hand has helped Golden State remain on track as Curry, Draymond Green, and Harrison Barnes missed time for injuries and rest.

Jeremy Woo: Luke Walton, Warriors

Barring a 180 from the league office, Luke Walton cannot technically win this award. He should win this award anyway. You can argue that it’s pretty easy to coach the Warriors, but it’s certainly not easy to coach any team to 24 straight wins, keep a title-winner highly-motivated and generally hold down the fort for half a season when you're not the actual boss. The Warriors have the league’s best record and Walton has probably earned himself a full-time head coaching job very soon. 

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