Miami Heat: Tom Thibodeau has 2 COY Awards, yet Erik Spoelstra has none?

Head coach Tom Thibodeau (R) of the Chicago Bulls looks on as head coach Erik Spoelstra of the Miami Heat stands in the background(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Head coach Tom Thibodeau (R) of the Chicago Bulls looks on as head coach Erik Spoelstra of the Miami Heat stands in the background(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) /

The NBA announced on Monday that New York Knicks head coach, Tom Thibodeau, won the 2020-21 Coach of the Year award for the second time in his career. These reports have sent a shockwave throughout social media — and as for Miami Heat fans, they shouldn’t be an exception.

A breakthrough for Most Improved Player, Julius Randle, the healthy-and-comfortable play of Derrick Rose, and a strong blend of confident young players with gritty veterans propelled New York (41-31) to the fourth-seed in the Eastern Conference. The Knicks finished just a game ahead of both the Heat and rival head coach of Thibodeau, Erik Spoelstra.

Throughout the last decade, Thibodeau has drawn comparisons to Spoelstra, as both coaches have prioritized their elite defense as a winning solution. They’ve each had their respective turns at coaching some very talented rosters and players, mutual in some cases with a recent talent being five-time All-Star, Jimmy Butler.

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The Miami Heat’s Erik Spoelstra has never won the Coach Of The Year award and it begs of a question. How?

In his first year as an NBA head coach, Thibodeau’s largest accomplishment was leading the Chicago Bulls to a 62-20 record during the 2010-11 season — an unforgettable year that saw Rose became the youngest player to win the Most Valuable Player award. In Spoelstra’s tenure, he led the Miami Heat to two NBA titles in his first-five seasons, even eliminating Thibodeau’s Bulls in the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals.

But unlike Thibodeau, who coached Butler in Chicago and in Minnesota, Spoelstra has been able to get the absolute best of Jimmy’s production. Namely, as the Heat went on to finish with a 44-29 record and capped with a 2020 NBA Finals run.

Spoelstra has never receive the honors for Coach of The Year. He made a strong case last year, as Nick Nurse of the Toronto Raptors took home the award for the 2019-20 season.

And while Spoelstra carries two NBA championships over Thibodeau, a second Coach of the Year win gives Thibodeau a 2-0 advantage over Spoelstra. That just doesn’t serve right for the work that Spoelstra and the Heat have put in over the last several seasons.

While it was unlikely for Spoelstra to make a case this year, it’s just a shame that he hasn’t won this award yet. With his Miami Heat finishing with a slightly-worse record than the Knicks this year and to not even be mentioned in those talks, it just adds more perspective for why the NBA voting system is none other than a popularity contest. 

But, it also adds to why Spoelstra remains as one of the league’s most under-appreciated coaches. Noting that Spoelstra finished fourth in Coach of the Year voting last year, he was the runner-up in the 2010-11, 2012-13, and in the 2016-17 seasons.

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With much uncertainty regarding the Miami Heat’s upcoming summer, there’s pressure to build the roster back up to being one that can compete at a high enough level to keep Spoelstra in the national spotlight, while also competing for a title. Because at this point, it seems as though that’s what it’s going to take.