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updated: 3/23/2012 12:00 AM

Bulls' Thibodeau again candidate for coach of the year

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In Chicago tradition, it's probably about time a new restaurant opens -- Thibodeau's.

The cuisine would be a French-New England fusion. It would feature the hardest-working staff on restaurant row.

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And, of course, every patron would be greeted with this phrase -- "We may be out of some ingredients, but there is more than enough in the kitchen to fix you a winning dinner."

Opening a restaurant is the sort of thing Chicago sports personalities do, and what better place for Thibodeau to display his coach-of-the-year trophies?

Derrick Rose's groin strain has had an unexpected side effect. The Bulls' continued success without the league MVP, let alone injury-plagued Richard Hamilton, has vaulted Thibodeau to front-runner status for NBA coach of the year.

No one has won the honor two years in a row, and there are just five multiple winners -- Pat Riley and Don Nelson won three, while Bill Fitch, Cotton Fitzsimmons and Hubie Brown have two each. Brown won his awards 26 years apart (1978 in Atlanta, 2004 in Memphis).

Based on that list, it's obvious that NBA coach of the year tends to go to people whose teams have surprised or overachieved. That's why Phil Jackson, Red Auerbach and Gregg Popovich won it once each.

Last season the Bulls fit the criteria by jumping from 41 wins to 62. This year it's more about winning while suffering through so many injuries.

Another factor is there aren't many obvious coach of the year candidates around the league. The NBA is full of teams that are right around the same place they finished last year and the squads that have made improvements are flawed.

There is still a month left in the shortened season to sort things out, but here's a look at the other top candidates for coach of the year, in approximate order:

Lionel Hollins, Grizzlies: This might be a bit of a two-year ascent. Hollins led Memphis to a first-round upset of top-seed San Antonio in last year's playoffs.

This season the Grizzlies are back in playoff contention despite losing Zach Randolph for most of the season with a knee injury, and they lost underrated power forward Darrell Arthur for the entire season.

The Grizzlies have been streaky, but if they end up landing a top-four seed in the West, Hollins officially becomes Thibodeau's toughest competition.

Frank Vogel, Indiana: Vogel made his presence felt last year in the first-round series against the Bulls, and the Pacers have continued to improve.

Indiana has flattened out a bit at 26-18, though, and currently is the No. 5 playoff seed in the East, even after making some nice additions in David West and George Hill. The Pacers have made a nice improvement from the 36-46 of last year, but they should probably be a little better.

Scott Skiles, Milwaukee: At this point, Skiles barely registers as a candidate, but the Bucks have won six in a row and just picked up high-scoring guard Monta Ellis from Golden State.

If Milwaukee stays hot, moves into playoff contention and maybe knocks out a higher-expectations team such as Boston or New York, Skiles suddenly returns to the miracle-worker status he achieved with the Bulls in 2005 and the Bucks two years ago.

Rick Adelman, Minnesota: The Timberwolves might be the league's most improved team and a playoff berth would make Adelman a top contender, if not the favorite.

But Ricky Rubio's knee injury has taken some steam out of Minnesota's surge. The postseason seems unlikely at this point, although Doc Rivers won the award with Orlando in 2000 without making the playoffs.

Vinny Del Negro, L.A. Clippers: In terms of an improved win-loss record, the Clippers are top of the line. But voters figure to assign more credit to Chris Paul, Caron Butler and a half-season of Chauncey Billups for those results.

George Karl, Denver: The Nuggets started the season strong, and Karl, after beating throat cancer last year, deserved credit for winning with a deep team and no superstar. Injuries have taken a toll on Denver, though, and the Nuggets are barely hanging on for one of the last playoff sports in the West.

Also, the Nuggets went 50-32 last year, so there was some talent to work with, even with Kenyon Martin, Wilson Chandler and J.R. Smith ocean-hopping to China during the lockout.

Gregg Popovich, Spurs: An argument could be made that Popovich has done an amazing job keeping the Spurs a top contender in the West despite an aging Tim Duncan and injured Manu Ginobili. Then again, San Antonio went 61-21 last year and is well off that pace.

Field: Miami's Erik Spoelstra and Oklahoma City's Scott Brooks are doing nice work, but have they really exceeded expectations? Brooks won the award two years ago. A late surge could launch Utah's Ty Corbin or Houston's Kevin McHale into consideration.

mmcgraw@dailyherald.com

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