Head coach — Mike Vogel
But the Lakers have LeBron and Davis! How much does Mike Vogel even have to do?!
Yeah, Los Angeles does have Bron and Brow. But who else is on that roster? Who is the Lakers third best player? It was supposed to be Danny Green, but he hasn’t been that great and isn’t always even in the closing lineups. Kyle Kuzma has been putrid. The Lakers never got that third free agent and didn’t trade for another star at the deadline. Instead they’re relying on retreads like Dwight Howard, JaVale McGee, Avery Bradley, Alex Caruso, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
And somehow, all of those guys are contributing positively and the Lakers are playing beautifully. They’re top-five on both offense and defense, and I assure you, you have to play more than two guys on both of those. This was not going to be an easy coaching job, and that’s without even taking into account all the obvious emotions and distractions after the Kobe Bryant tragedy.
But Vogel has checked every box. The Lakers are on a 65-win pace, and remember, Vegas set their over/under at 50.5 this year and usually inflates the Lakers number. Isn’t this something like a top 2% outcome for this Lakers regular season, given all the circumstances and the names involved? Maybe Vogel isn’t the Coach of the Year, but let’s give credit where credit’s due.
We’re down to four names for two spots, and with apologies to a man I selected as an All-Star Coach a year ago, Mike Malone is the next one to go. Malone has done a great job to keep the Nuggets right near the top of the West despite a lot going wrong for Denver. Jokic showed up out of shape, Millsap has been hurt, Gary Harris has stunk, and Jamal Murray remains inconsistent. But Malone is getting a great season from Will Barton and brought Michael Porter Jr. along beautifully, and he has these Nuggets right where they wanted to be. There are just other better options.
One of those options just has to be Taylor Jenkins, even if you’ve never even heard his name before. Jenkins has done an absolutely incredible job with the Grizzlies this season. For a team that young and precocious to be 28–26 and in the Western playoffs at the break is absolutely incredible. Teams with a rookie point guard just aren’t successful, ever. No one would have batted an eye if the Grizz finished bottom in the West this season. Instead, they’re ahead of seven other teams and already beat their Vegas projection. Truth be told, Jenkins would be my first pick out West, my one lock, but I’m not ready to make him the All-Star Head Coach just yet. Earn your stripes, rookie. But hey, Memphis has that deserving All-Star now.
No team has outperformed Vegas expectations more than the Oklahoma City Thunder. Their season over/under was 31.5 wins, and they’ve already hit that before the All-Star break. OKC is 33–22, tied for the 6-seed and on pace for an amazing 49 wins. That’s 18 wins above expectations! And at first all of that had me listing Billy Donovan as a lock on this team. But why were the Thunder listed at 31.5 wins? Wasn’t it because we expected this team to strip down and sell parts? OKC has gotten healthy seasons from Chris Paul and Danilo Gallinari, and kept them all year. If you ignored the presumed tanking intentions and saw a roster with healthy CP3, Gallo, Steven Adams, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, would you really be that shocked to see that team in the playoff hunt? Is that really a coaching success, or is Donovan just lucky his guys are still on the roster and healthy?
In the end, I had to give my final spot to the warlock, Rick Carlisle. Sure, Carlisle’s Mavs are tied with the Thunder and had a higher Vegas projection (40.5 vs 31.5), but look at these rosters and tell me which has overperformed more. Who’s even the second best player on Dallas? Kristaps Porzingis hasn’t been that good. Is it Tim Hardaway Jr.? Is it somehow Dorian Finney-Smith?! Carlisle has taken those dudes, Maxi Kleber, Delon Wright, Dwight Powell, Seth Curry, and Jalen Brunson and made each one a valuable contributor. THAT collection of dudes is the league’s #1 offense? Luka Doncic has been absolutely incredible — and Carlisle gets some credit for empowering him in that position to succeed, too — but even when Luka sits, this offense balls out.
Taylor Jenkins and Rick Carlisle get my final two West spots, and Mike Vogel leads the way.
But give me another day or two, and I might change my mind yet again… ■