Posted: Wednesday January 4, 2006 1:28PM; Updated: Wednesday January 4, 2006 1:28PM
4. Byron Scott
Whether fairly or unfairly, Scott was a scapegoat for the demise of the Nets' championship teams, despite taking them to two NBA Finals (Asbury Park Press in January '04: "Scott had been privately criticized for his laid-back style, his fourth-quarter coaching and substitution patterns.")
Last season, the Hornets stumbled -- due in large part to injuries and the departure of Baron Davis. This season, Scott deserves some of the credit for the team's surprising play. The Hornets are displaced, their only All-Star (Jamaal Magloire) was traded at the beginning of the season and yet they are 13-17 and only two games behind the eighth playoff spot in the West. Chris Paul looks to be a lock for rookie of the year and the rest of the young roster is playing hard for their coach. If the team remains near .500, Scott should be considered among Coach of the Year candidates.
5. Chris Webber
Webber took a lot of the heat last year upon arriving in Philadelphia and not immediately putting up All-Star numbers alongside Allen Iverson. He was too old, too brittle, too injured, too sensitive or just not a good fit. This year, he's averaging 19.7 points, 10.4 rebounds, 3.4 assists and getting to the line more than four times a game, numbers similar to his final year in Sacramento. Perhaps more impressively, with the possible exception of Matt Harpring, he's proven to be the best complement to Iverson yet imported, one of the toughest roles to fill in the league (just ask Derrick Coleman, Toni Kukoc, Larry Hughes, Jerry Stackhouse, Keith Van Horn, Tim Thomas or Glenn Robinson).
6. Jerry Sloan and the Jazz
Hard to fathom, but if the playoffs started today, the Jazz would be the third seed in the West (at 16-16 they are atop the Northwest, just ahead of Minnesota, which is 14-14 but would be the eighth seed). One should never count out a Sloan-coached team, and with Andrei Kirilenko back (14 points, 8 rebounds, 9 assists, 7 blocks and 6 steals last night) and a weak division, it's not unreasonable to project the Jazz in the playoffs. Some love should also go to Mehmet Okur, who was tabbed by fans as the second coming of Greg Ostertag when he arrived in Utah with too much belly and not enough fire in it. This season, he's averaging 17.9 points and 9.1 rebounds while knocking down 46.4 percent of his shots. As for Sloan, despite a tough year in '04-05, the John Deere era lives on in Salt Lake.