While Don Nelson’s 47 win Warriors appear to be on the brink of elimination out West, the 40-38 Sixers — a little more than a full season removed from a divorce with Allen Iverson —have already qualified for an Eastern Conference playoff spot. Thus, wonders the Philadelphia Daily News’ Phil Jasner, where’s the love for head coach Maurice Cheeks?
When I wrote last week that, at least at that point, I didn’t have room on a three-man ballot for the 76ers’ Maurice Cheeks in the Coach of the Year voting and Sixers chairman Ed Snider insisted Cheeks was unquestionably Coach of the Year, I decided to throw out a lifelife.
I say unabashedly that Cheeks has done a marvelous job. The case for Cheeks includes a victory total that will exceed even the wildest expectations from a team that was predicted to finish dead last in the Eastern Conference, not having a single All-Star on the roster, having just three players who have ever been past the first round of the playoffs, adjusting to an in-season change of chief basketball executives, and starting the season as a lame duck before getting a 1-year extension.
I understand Snider’s loyalty to his team, but if the feeling’s that strong it makes me wonder whether the coach might be in line for an additional extension.
I feel no need to vote a specific way just because others might, but I also began to wonder what others in my position were thinking. Via independent requests and a weekly conference hookup with colleagues all over the NBA, I assembled 22 ballots. This is hardly scientific and might have nothing to do with the actual voting that is done by a committee with an April 17 deadline.
What came back was a list of eight different names, with five getting at least one first-place vote. New Orleans’ Byron Scott was the runaway winner, with 14 first-place votes and 89 points. Houston’s Rick Adelman was second with 31 points. Cheeks was third with 29. Adelman got three first-place votes. Cheeks got two.
I asked Cheeks yesterday who he would vote for if he had a ballot. He answered as graciously as I knew he would. And he did it without ever mentioning another coach’s name.
“Obviously, New Orleans has been very good,” he said. “Any time you win 22 games in a row [as Houston did], that’s very, very good. All the Western teams have been very good, Phoenix taking in [Shaquille O’Neal] . Anybody can win and it would be OK. It’s almost like making the All-Star Game; there’s always someone left out that deserves to be there.”
I can live with that. I hope Snider can.