Coming into the season, much of the talk was about Larry Brown and Phil Jackson and their respective coaching pedigrees. Rightfully so: those guys are all-time greats, deserving of the credit and salary they receive.
Making a name for themselves
But what's great to see is the success for some coaches who have done great work for many years outside of the spotlight. Some of the NBA's most successful coaches this year include guys who even two years ago wouldn't have been thought of as head coaches.
Now these coaches are not doing just good jobs, but excellent jobs. They've paid their dues.
So here's the some of the NBA's "small-name" coaches who have had a big impact. And we'll examine some "big-name" coaches who have hit a few bumps in the road.
SMALL NAMES, BIG EFFECT
• Mike D'Antoni, Suns -- The guy is head and shoulders above this group. I had the good fortune to spend a year with Mike when I was in Portland. In his career, he has failed and come back better. He's a guy who won't allow himself -- that is, his preferred offensive-minded coaching approach -- to get in the way.
He was always more about speeding the game up, which lessens the importance of turnovers. I like the way the Phoenix organization has adjusted this year to account more for defense. And it's working -- just see how they beat San Antonio playing the Spurs' way.
He's not stubborn. He's great to talk to. A great confidence-builder for players.
• Terry Stotts, Bucks -- He had a horrible team in Atlanta. Any time you're losing, nothing's good. Even if you've got the best philosophy, if you lose, you're a bad coach. Simple as that.
But he's developing a very good chemistry with the Bucks. You look up, and they're sixth in the East. Doing a solid, solid job. A basketball lifer.
• Avery Johnson, Mavs -- He's not afraid to criticize you, and he really does it constructively, where people are willing to listen. If he can get Dirk Nowitzki ever to become a factor on the defensive end, that could be his greatest coaching accomplishment.
• Dwane Casey, Timberwolves -- I don't think people realize how bad this Minnesota roster is. We all know great KG is, but this team has become more defensive oriented under Casey and gotten Wally Szczerbiak to play at his highest level. They don't have true point, and get nothing from the center position.
If the Wolves ever get their personnel situation worked out, they've got a coach who can lead a team with championship aspiriations.
• Mike Brown, Cavaliers -- OK, I'm not a big fan of how they've defended, but they've got the second best record in the East, and Larry Hughes is going to be out two months. Brown's doing something right -- and having LeBron James couldn't hurt.
• Byron Scott, Hornets -- This team has 15 wins with a roster that is not overly talented, Chris Paul or no Chris Paul. A great job.
• Lawrence Frank, Nets -- He was getting heat early on, but he's got those guys playing well. With all the issues in Indy, they've got a chance to make the Eastern Conference Finals.
BIG NAMES, BUMPY PATH
But no matter how great a coach is, he must have something to coach. Larry understands that this team is going to need time. Question is, mentally will he be able to do it at his age?
• George Karl, Nuggets -- Comes in with a reputation and success, but the Nuggets are another team that has struggled to meet rising expectations. Those can be the hardest things to deal with.
• Jeff Van Gundy, Rockets -- Nobody questions his coaching ability. The team has not achieved, which shows if you don't have the right type of roster to deal with adversity -- in this case injuries -- you're going to struggle.
Of note, I wouldn't put Lakers coach Phil Jackson in this group. He has accounted himself quite well. The Lakers are a far better defensive team than they were last year. And Kobe Bryant has been a far better player this year.
ESPN studio analyst Greg Anthony played for six NBA teams in 11 seasons.
Undeterred by Sonics center Robert Swift, Allen Iverson drives to the hoop for two of his 41 points in 107-98 win over the Sonics that pushed the Sixers to the .500 mark. Iverson made 15-of-25 shots against the league's worst defense.
When you've got Milt Palacio, who needs John Stockton? An exaggeration, perhaps, but for one magical overtime in Motown, you couldn't laugh at that question.
Miller Hopes To Be A Pacer Again
Ribbing A Sore Subject To Anthony
Fines Don't Concern Rasheed
Jackson's A Winning Gamble
Mavs guard Jerry Stackhouse missed the first 26 games of the season with a sore right knee. He returned on Dec. 23. That was three weeks too early for the Celtics, who Monday felt the wrath of a veteran shooter at the buzzer.
Kobe Bryant throws one down with Pacers center Jermaine O'Neal in attendance. Bryant scored 45 points or more for the fourth straight game Monday, leading LA over Indiana.
Quote of the Day
-- Andrew Ayres
Kobe Bryant and Allen Iverson both went for over 40 points on Monday. Not surprisingly, the two are 1-2 in number of 40-point games this season.
Iverson leads all active NBA players with 67 40-plus games, with Bryant second at 50. Shaq has 48, Tracy McGrady 36 and Vince Carter has 21.
-- ESPN Research
Ben (Oakland): What is causing the Warriors freefall? How can they stop it?
Rob LA: Clippers - descending - how do they turn it around? Is Maggette better as trade bait?
Readers on Royce Webb's take on Nets-Raptors clash.
After watching the incident involving Vince Carter and Mo Pete, it was clearly a case where the ref should have taken back his call. I think the league should fine the official. I think if the ref would have done the right thing and changed his call and maybe had given Vince a tech to send a meesage that way, not by sticking to a call that wasn't right.
Mike James is the poor man's Chauncey Billups --the same kind of toughness, defense, and mix of offense. I hope he gets a chance with a good team someday, because Chauncey is really only kicking it into gear 5-7 years into his career, and only getting respect (even now only half of what he deserves.)
Your comment about the very good play of the Raptors was timely. They have been playing like a 10-15 team in the NBA recently, at home and away from home. I would actually prefer they not perform quite as well though, because I don't think they have the talent to make the jump into the top 10. They would be better off playing poorly and adding a "franchise" type talent via the draft.