George Karl led the Denver Nuggets to a team-record 57 wins without a big name on his roster.
For that endeavor, Karl earned the NBA's coach of the year on Wednesday.
He received 62 first-place votes, followed by Erik Spoelstra of the Miami Heat with 24 votes from a panel of sports writers and broadcasters. New York's Mike Woodson finished third and San Antonio's Gregg Popovich, who won the award last season, was fourth.
The Nuggets went 57-25 — the league's fourth-best record — and captured the No. 3 seed. But the Nuggets were eliminated by the Golden State Warriors 92-88 in Game 6 last Thursday night.
Karl thanked everyone from his middle school coach who got him into the game to his good friend, the late Rick Majerus, in an emotional news conference at the Pepsi Center in Denver.
"I am honoured and energized to represent coaching and be their ambassador as coach of the year and continue to symbolize the great coaching there is in the NBA," Karl said in a statement. "There are probably seven or eight guys who are deserving of it and another 10 or 15 other coaches who have done a great job and aren't getting any recognition."
He credited Nuggets players, assistant coaches, scouts, trainers, front office, ownership and support staff as he eyed the bronze Red Auerbach Trophy in front of him.
"What I hope is everybody understands this is not about me. It's about a lot of people and a lot of people in my past and I am proud to have that trophy," Karl said.
It's the first time Karl has won the award in 25 seasons in charge. He joined Doug Moe as the only Denver coaches to earn the honour.
Nearly unbeatable at home
They went an NBA-best 38-3 at home, winning their last 23 games at the Pepsi Center in the regular season and going 24-4 overall after the all-star break.
The third-seeded Nuggets sorely missed forward Danilo Gallinari (knee) in the playoffs, however, and they lost in six games to Stephen Curry and the sixth-seeded Golden State Warriors.
That was their fourth straight first-round exit and the most disheartening in Karl's 8 1/2 seasons in Denver.
"It was an incredible season. That's why the disappointment is so immense," Karl said. "I wake up every morning depressed. I woke up about 6 o'clock, I was hoping for sunshine and I got rain and it didn't make me feel very good, and then I said, 'Oh, God, I've got to put a suit and tie on. …
"Hopefully, come next Oct. 1 … we'll move on knowing that we have a great young basketball team that is growing, that got better this season, that improved at such a fast rate that we got maybe too cocky and too ahead of ourselves," Karl said. "And the coaches fall into that category, too. None of us are happy with the result, but I think we're also motivated by the challenge."
Although Karl's best season in the Mile High City has earned him critical acclaim, it's also come with some criticism. He's been chided on local radio after a fourth straight first-round exit.
Denver's first-round flameout comes after the Western Conference seemed more wide open with Oklahoma City losing all-star Russell Westbrook to a season-ending knee injury.
After the post-season elimination, Karl called it one of the most disappointing defeats in his nine seasons in Denver.
Karl boasts a 1,131-756 record with the Nuggets, Milwaukee Bucks, Seattle SuperSonics, Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers. He's also turned in 21 straight non-losing seasons, which is tied with Phil Jackson for the longest streak in league history.
Moe won the award for the Nuggets in 1987-88, when his team went 54-28.