The playoffs hadn't yet begun when Hubie Brown shared two provocative proclamations with us.
No matter what was about to happen against the San Antonio Spurs, Brown was already ready to say that "this is probably the best coaching job I've ever done."
"If I were voting as a TNT employee," Hubie said, "I would vote Jerry Sloan for Coach of the Year. I hope he wins it."
The bloody Spurs and the blasted voters have dashed Hubie's hopes. San Antonio's withering defense snuffed Memphis twice to welcome the Grizzlies to playoff basketball. The majority of Coach of the Year ballot-holders, meanwhile, have apparently decided that the 70-year-old who took the Grizz -- the Grizz -- from 28 wins to 50 had no choice but to extend Sloan's COY drought in Utah to 16 seasons.
"I sat down the other day and counted this up," Brown said. "There are 10 guys you can legitimately vote for in the Coach of the Year (category). I hope (Sloan) wins because he has been overlooked on a minimum of three -- maybe five -- occasions. He has done a marvelous job with that Utah team. He's a man's man and a great coach and if I were voting, that's who I would vote for."
Hubie's right. The COY field, always a deep one, is so rich this time that worthy contenders like Stan Van Gundy and Terry Porter and Jeff Bzdelik scarcely get a mention. The coaches who had great seasons with elite teams -- Rick Carlisle, Flip Saunders, Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich -- are ignored even more than usual. That's largely because of Brown and Sloan, two vets who make a stronger case for sharing this award than even those rookies we're always discussing.
You're seeing now, in this Spurs series, what kind of job Hubie did with the Grizz to get them to 50 wins. The reason he plays 10 or 11 guys every night, instead of the standard NBA eight-man rotation, is because wearing the opposition down with depth is Memphis' only chance to compete against the good teams. Pau Gasol, James Posey, Bonzi Wells -- nice players, all. Not stars, though. Consider, furthermore, that Brown's players had a combined 74 games of playoff experience going into Game 1 at San Antonio. The Spurs? A collective 629 games, second only to the Lakers' 862.
Of course, there's a reason Sloan got Hubie's (and my) vote. The Jazz lost Karl Malone and John Stockton after last season, lost Matt Harpring a mere 31 games into this one and sported a roster so full of no-names that several ESPN staffers probably could have crashed it. Not just Anthony and Legler. Me and Bucher, too.
Like we said, though, this is the category where you absolutely can't go wrong. As much as even he'd like to see Sloan finally win one -- Brown was the COY with Atlanta in 1977-78 -- Hubie justifies his selection by giving the West a 50-win team no one saw coming.
"C'mon," Brown said. "If anyone told you that (before the season), you'd just walk away. You'd say the guy doesn't know what the hell he's talking about.
"It's been a miraculous type of year. It's been very rewarding and very rewarding for our players, but more so for the city. The city is just so happy. It's a great high school and college basketball city, they love the game. But they weren't sure about the pro game. Now they're really caught up in the pro game.
"Fifty is a benchmark number in the NBA, and I keep getting that to (the players), that they will remember this team for the rest of their lives. Because people were predicting them to win anywhere from 29 to 35 games, and they made it happen, with all of the close games that they've won. I think we're 33-2 when we're leading going into the fourth quarter. We have 14 wins from 10 (points) down entering the fourth quarter, and the next-closest team has nine. These guys do a lot of things which none of us really knew they could do."
Jerry West had the vision/daring to bring Brown back to coaching at 69, after 17 years away, and Brown makes it clear that he wouldn't have won anything without the "great help from Jerry, his intuition to always bring the right type of guy in here." Brown's coaching, nevertheless, has been as convincing as anyone's, after all the initial skepticism about his ability to relate to today's kiddies with his taskmaster reputation from the 1980s.
Only one question remains, then.
Will the freshly minted Coach of the Year be back next year?
"Jerry and I have a deal that I will tell him at the end of each year whether I can continue," Hubie said. "I have a very solid contract. They were very generous. But I have to see how my wife and family feel about it and also where I am in my health situation."
Leaning one way or the other, Hubie?
"No, not at all."
"When this is all over, I'll always have a special feeling for this team."