Somebody else will be your NBA Coach of the Year. The likeliest somebody is Scott Skiles, the former Plymouth High star who has led the Bulls back from lottery purgatory. And there are persuasive cases to be made, too, for Phoenix
's Mike D'Antoni and Seattle
's Nate McMillan.
There's virtually no way Indiana's Rick Carlisle will win that award because: A.) the other candidates have built up so much public momentum; and B.) he won it in 2002.
But he deserves something.
An FTD floral bouquet. A hearty pat on the back. Free oil changes for life from your local, participating Jiffy Lube. An additional stroke or two on each side.
Because what he and his staff have done with this team -- or the skeletal remains of this team -- is utterly remarkable. Forget the job Carlisle
did in resurrecting the Pistons, or winning 61 games last season with the Pacers. This has been his best job, maybe the best job in the NBA, even if it doesn't get him any hardware.
"I think Rick could be a candidate every year," Pacers president Larry Bird said before Wednesday night's playoff-clinching 90-86 victory over the New Jersey Nets. "But this year has been pretty special because of how our team has played through all the adversity, how he's held them together."
What kind of year has it been? Carlisle
has looked at more lineups than an FBI mob informant. The Pacers have had 28 starting combinations, none for more than seven games.
was asked before Wednesday's game about the season's worth of madness, he mused, "What's your definition of normal?"
At the risk of delving into Clintonian semantics, let's say that while normalcy is a relative term, this season has not been normal by anybody's definition.
It started with the Nov. 19 brawl in Auburn Hills, Mich.
and it hasn't gotten much saner since. There was a game when the Pacers fielded a team of six players. There were nights when we were introduced to Marcus Haislip, Tremaine Fowlkes and the immortal Britten Johnson. There was the bomb threat in Auburn Hills. And there were injuries, plenty of them.
"I'm really proud of them because they know it's (Reggie Miller's) last year, and they've stepped up, with Reggie, to get us to the playoffs," Bird said. "And you hear things -- nobody wants to play us in the playoffs -- and that's a lot to say about a team that's gone through the stuff we've gone through this year."
Of all the things Carlisle
did with this team, the most important was his refusal to let them wallow in self-pity. They could have felt like victims when commissioner David Stern came down harshly upon them. They could have felt like the season was doomed when the injuries mounted. Who could have blamed them? They had every conceivable excuse for failure at their disposal.
, though, wouldn't let anybody take the easy way out, remaining relentlessly optimistic and emotionally unflappable, no matter how crazy things got.
And he had help.
He had a lot of help in a locker room filled with professionals -- especially Miller, who refused to let his final season go down the drain, leaving the locals with one more memory to cherish Wednesday.
And he had help from Indiana
's fans, who kept showing up and refused to let this team quit.
"I can only think of one small stretch when I think we felt a little bit sorry for ourselves," Pacers forward Austin Croshere said before the game. "It was when we played with just six guys. We played well early, but then that wore off. We kind of went through this weird mental thing where we were always thinking, 'Well, we've got Jermaine (O'Neal) coming back. Or well, we've got (Stephen) Jackson
"It really wasn't until this last 15 games, after J.O. got hurt and Dale Davis came in, we realized, 'We're not waiting on anybody anymore. Nobody's going to come back now. So either we make it happen or we don't.' "
Somehow, they've made it happen.
They've made it happen with Anthony Johnson playing out of his mind, with Miller acting like he's 24 again, with role players such as James Jones and Eddie Gill making unlikely contributions.
So, are they better off without O'Neal?
That's great talk-radio fodder, but it's dumb as can be, especially given the quality of Indiana
's opponents through this stretch. They need a healthy, productive O'Neal in the playoffs, or they're not going to stick around long enough to see Miami
Still, could anybody have imagined this would be the Pacers' lineup in the final moments of a game when the playoffs were on the line?
Jackson and Miller, sure. But James Jones? Johnson? Davis
? Not a chance.
Somebody has done a brilliant coaching job.
He just won't have an award to show for it.