MOST VALUABLE PLAYER: Shaquille O’Neal, Miami.
Technically, Shaq could have been the MVP seven times already because he is the ultimate matchup problem. There is no one like him in the league. But perception has kept him with just the lone MVP award. As Wilt Chamberlain said, no one roots for Goliath. He was the biggest guy on the (most of the time) best team. Really, this hasn’t been his most productive season...it actually may be, statistically, one of his worst. So why does he get it now? Well, look at the effects of the addition of him to the Heat and the subtraction of him from the Lakers. The Heat have already wrapped up the East, so much so that Shaq has been chillin’ on the sideline with a "stomach virus". The Lakers will miss the playoffs for only the fifth time in franchise history. Yeah, Miami does have Dwayne Wade...but look at what Kobe Bryant is without the Big Man. And my stab at his stats? Well, he is still #11 in the NBA in scoring [23.0], #5 in rebounds [10.6], #1 in FG shooting [60%] and #6 in blocks [2.4]. And as far as the scoring goes...he’s fifth in points-per-minute....behind Iverson, Amare, Kobe and Dirk.
ALL NBA TEAM: Steve Nash, Phoenix...Allen Iverson, Philadelphia....Shaquille O’Neal, Miami....Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas....LeBron James, Cleveland
I’ve said my piece on Shaq. Nash has given the Suns that nudge that has made everyone on that team better. Iverson is having his finest season of his career, even ifno one cares to acknowledge it. Nowitzki has been there all season long. His scoring, rebounding and leadership have been key to a tough [did I just say that?] Dallas team. LeBron?s Cavaliers are struggling...but it isn?t because of him.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Ben Gordon, Chicago.
I really like Emeka Okafor....but I think Gordon will edge him out. Two reasons. First, Gordon is averaging pretty much the same amount of points [15.0] as Okafor [15.3] but in 11 less minutes per game. And other than Gordon?s teammate Luol Deng, there really isn?t anyone in these guys? class. Second, Gordon has been a big part of Chicago?s breakthrough success. Gordon?s legend, as of now, is his ability to come off the bench and win games in the fourth quarter. Sure, Okafor is having a great, great season as well. On a team with nohelp, he is the fourth leading rebounder in the NBA. But Gordon is my choice here.
COACH OF THE YEAR: George Karl, Denver.
I hate to give this award to someone who came in mid-season....but c?mon! Before Karl arrived in Denver, the Nuggs were 17-25. They are 28-6 since. At that rate, if Karl was there all season, the Nuggets would finish 67-15. In reality, they have a legit shot to win 50 games. Amazing since they were on pace to win 33 before he arrived. The turnaround has to have something to do with Karl. There were no deals done to infuse talent into their lineup. The Suns? Mike D?Antonio and the Bulls? Scott Skiles are deserving as well....but what Karl has done is on another level.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Tim Duncan, San Antonio.
He?s doing the same things he usually does. Guards his guy...helps on double teams...blocks some shots...kills on the boards. But he gets the award more forthe fact of what other guys aren?t doing. Ron Artest [last year?s winner], missed pretty much the entire season for taking on the Palace crowd. Andrei Kirilenko [my pick last year] missed a ton of time this year for Utah.
SIXTH MAN OF THE YEAR: Ricky Davis, Boston
Just like in the defensive category...this hasn?t been the best year for sixth men. There are some darn good ones out there [Gordon, Stackhouse]...but nothing that takes your breath away. Well, except for Davis. Davis is averaging 16 ppg for Boston and shooting 47%. Not to shabby for a guy that was known primarily as a dunker with some issues.
COMEBACK PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Grant Hill, Orlando
How could it not be him? Hill was done. If he was a horse, he would have been shot a few years ago. He was left available to Charlotte for the expansion draft. Yet, he averaged under 20 pts and helped give the Magic one heck of a ride this season. Not only was Grant Hill an All-Star...but he was VOTED in as an All-Star...meaning fans and his peers really appreciate his season. And all this is coming from a Tar Heel fan!!
MOST IMPROVED PLAYER: Bobby Simmons, LA Clippers
The difference between "comeback" and "most improved" is that comebacks used to be good. Most improved players weren?t anything. So with Simmons. Here is his NBA career. He was drafted #42 overall by Seattle in 2001. His draft rights were traded to Washington for Pedrag Drobnjak. He was then traded to Detroit [in that Rip Hamilton-Jerry Stackhouse deal]. Two weekslater, the Pistons waived him....and he signed back up with Washington a week later. He averaged 3.5 ppg in two years in DC [just 66 games]. He signed with the Clippers last year a did average under 8 points. This year, he has started 69 games thus far and averaged 16.6 pts and 6 boards. His career high in Washington was 15 points.
BIGGEST WASTE OF MONEY: Brian Grant, LA Lakers
He makes $13.3M this year....and gave the Lakers a robust 3.7ppg. And it isn't like there was anyone ahead of him in the lineup. Chris Mihm?? Heck, Vlade Divac, the guy slated to be the Lakers starter is just getting off of injury. Of all of the things that sucked about dealing Shaq was the fact that the Lakers had to take on Grant's contract to do so. And he still has a few years left on it.
BIGGEST BARGAIN: LeBron James, Cleveland
Obviously, if this was the old days....James would be pulling in a huge salary. But, in the age of the rookie salary scale, LeBron makes a bargain $4.3M this season. To put that in perspective, Eric Snow makes $500K more than LBJ. Milwaukee's Michael Redd makes a mere $3M.
SURPRISE TEAM: Chicago Bulls
Da Bulls were 23-59 last year and the team was having internal issues. The attitude of their young players was question as was the ability of new coach Scott Skiles. Not to mention Jay Williams, their #2 overall pick of 2003, had his career ended due to a motorcycle accident. This year, they actually drafted well [Deng, Gordon] and everyone is on the same page. The promise everyone was mumbling about is starting to bloom. Now, they are sitting as the #4 seed in the Eastern playoffs....a place they had not been since 1998 when Jordan hit a jumper at the FT line against Utah.
DISAPPOINTING TEAM: Minnesota Timberwolves
You could say the Lakers...but many people had them doomed. But who possibly had Minnesota missing the playoffs this year? They essentially borught the same team back from the Western Conference finalists of 2004. They had the defending MVP winner in Kevin Garnett. They were in a new division, away from the Spurs and Mavericks. However, it hasn't worked out that way. They've all but been eliminated from the playoffs. The year began with Sprewell complaining that he can't live on his $14M salary...and continued KG smacking down rookies...with Olowokandi getting busted at the club....to Mr Wolf Coach Flip Saunders getting canned. This is a year to be forgotten in Minnesota.