When he was introduced last June as coach of the Sacramento Kings, Mike Brown didn’t make any grand proclamations or wild predictions.
He talked about work. He talked about culture. He talked about winning.
“One of the main reasons I was brought here,” Brown said that day, “was to bring some leadership.”
Ask around, and no coach did a better job leading this season than Brown. He was announced Wednesday as the unanimous winner of the NBA’s Coach of the Year award, an easy call after his first season in Sacramento saw the Kings make the playoffs for the first time since 2006. All 100 voters from a panel of reporters and broadcasters had Brown atop their ballot.
“These honors don’t come around often so you’re very appreciative of them,” Brown said on the TNT broadcast of the announcement. “I’m really appreciative of being in Sacramento. The fans, the city has been fantastic.”
Brown won the award for the second time, adding this trophy to the one he got after he and LeBron James led Cleveland to a 66-16 record in the 2008-09 season. The other finalists this season were Oklahoma City’s Mark Daigneault and Boston’s Joe Mazzulla.
Daigneault was second, Mazzulla third, and 14 coaches got at least one vote on the ballots where the selection panel was asked to pick their first-, second- and third-place choices.
The Kings were 48-34, the seventh-best record in the league and the first time they were a top-seven team since 2003-04. They led the league in points per game, had the best road record in the Western Conference, snapped a run of 16 consecutive losing seasons and won a division title for the first time since 2003.
“Accountability has been big since Day 1,” Kings guard De’Aaron Fox said. “When he was hired, I told him that’s the most important thing, I felt like, to me was just being able to hold everybody accountable. … That’s definitely the biggest thing.”
Brown’s victory was the third major event for the Kings in three days. On Monday, they beat Golden State for a 2-0 series lead in their Western Conference first-round matchup. On Tuesday, Fox was announced as the inaugural winner of the NBA’s clutch player of the year award. Wednesday brought the coaching award — and Thursday will see Sacramento trying to take a 3-0 lead over the defending champion Warriors.
Brown was there last year with Golden State as an assistant coach, winning his fourth NBA title, all as an assistant — the first under Gregg Popovich in San Antonio, the other three under Steve Kerr with the Warriors.
“Everybody in our building just feels so happy for Mike and strongly about what he did for us while he for us while he was here, how much he contributed to our championships here and our culture,” Kerr said before the Kings-Warriors series started. “We miss him, but we’re thrilled that he had this amazing season.”
Brown becomes the 11th person to win the NBA’s coach award more than once, joining three-time recipients Pat Riley, Popovich and Don Nelson, along with fellow two-time winners Gene Shue, Bill Fitch, Hubie Brown, Cotton Fitzsimmons, Mike D’Antoni, Tom Thibodeau and Mike Budenholzer.
Until now, Toronto’s Nick Nurse was the record-holder for the most votes in a Coach of the Year race, getting 90 first-place picks in 2020. And Brown topped two highly deserving finalists on his way to the unanimous win.
Daigneault got Oklahoma City into the play-in tournament and a game from the No. 8 seed in a season where the Thunder were widely expected to struggle — especially after Chet Holmgren, the No. 2 pick in last year’s draft, suffered a foot injury over the summer and would miss the entire season.
Mazzulla wasn’t even supposed to be a head coach this year, then was forced to take over just before training camp when Boston suspended Ime Udoka following the disclosure of an inappropriate relationship with a female team employee. But Mazzulla, only 34, led Boston to the second-best record in the NBA and did so well that the Celtics removed the interim title and installed him as the full-fledged coach in February.