MOST VALUEABLE PLAYER: I may get murdered by my Laker friends for this, but the award has to go to Steve Nash right now. Why? All his numbers are up from his MVP season of last year....and his team is nothing talent-wise as it was in that season. Yet, the Suns are set up as the #2 seed in the West despite no Amare, no Joe Johnson and no Q-Richardson. Many felt that last year his main talent was just figuring out which guy among those three [and Shawn Marion] to pass it to. Doesn't seem to be the same case this year. Kobe Bryant is still a candidate, but don't let the awesome 35+ ppg fool you. Only 7 times since 1976 has the leading scorer went on to win the MVP award. Five of those times, it was Michael Jordan. But if somehow Kobe gets his team into the Pacific Division race....his chances greatly improve.
COACH OF THE YEAR: I'm going to have to vote for Avery Johnson....with Flip Saunders a close 2nd. Saunders took over the two-time defending Eastern Conference champions. Johnson took over a bunch of softies who folded when the pressure came along. The Mavs still could turn into that pumpkin when the postseason arrives....but this actually does look like a different Mavs team. They currently have the best record in the West...and are just 1.5 games back of Detroit for the top record in the league. They actually look like a real team....with defense and everything! Byron Scott needs to get a shout out as well for taking the horrible New Orleans-less Hornets and making them into a serious playoff contender. Throw Mike Dunleavy a bone, too.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Hands down, Chris Paul. The Wake Forest product [ACC Baby] has helmed a Hornets team that, somehow, is in the playoff race. He leads all rookies in scoring and is 7th in the entire NBA in assists. The only player that is even remotely on the radar with Paul is Channing Frye....but his team sucks.
ALL ROOKIE TEAM: Paul, Frye, Charlie Villenueva, Andrew Bogut and Salim Stoudamire. Villenueva has done a great job turning his "horrible draft pick" tag to become the Raptors' 2nd best player. Bogut, while not dominating, is still performing well in Milwaukee. Stoudamire was a 2nd round pick who is doing a lot [almost 10 ppg and an excellent 3-pt and FT shooter] in just under 20 minutes per game.
THE MOST BORING TEAM: It must be great to be the San Antonio Spurs. All anyone can talk about is the Pistons run for 70 wins....or how well the Mavericks are playing....of when/if the Heat will find their rhythm....or if the Lakers can get it together for a playoff push....or LeBron's Cavaliers playing well....or the Suns surprising rising despite their massive talent dropoff. I mean, the Spurs are defending champions, with three rings in the last 7 years, the third best record in the NBA, a 21-3 mark at home and no one cares to mention them or even carry any of their games. Amazing.
BIGGEST TEAM SURPRISE: Whenever who see a record of 30-21 next to the Los Angeles Clippers....well, it is a surprise. Sure, they had talent to do some damage...but, we've heard that story before. This team is a legit playoff team. They possess a big time post precence in Elton Brand.....scarily one of the West's best centers in Chris Kaman....a leader in Sam Cassell that actually won't shy away from failing in order to attempt to be sucessful....and a bunch of role guys that don't try to overstep their roles.
BIGGEST TEAM DISAPPOINTMENT: It has to be the Houston Rockets. Many felt they had a good shot at being one of the elite in the West. But injuries to Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming have tanked the team. T-Mac still isn't completely right...which is bad news for a team that is 0-13 when he doesn't suit up.
BIGGEST NAME TO GET DEALT NEXT WEEK: I think it will be Steve Francis. The Magic realize the mistake made of bringing him in [under the old regime] and they actually have takers for his bad contract. If the Knicks do offer Penny Hardaway and some filler...they should take it. The deal for Darko Milicic earlier in the week just adds to the fact that they are in development mode of a Darko-Howard front line. They finally get Grant Hill's contract off the books in 2007....so Orlando can actually be big time players in the next two free agent summers.
COACH MOST LIKELY TO GET FIRED NEXT: Rick Adelman of the Kings. Sacto fans aren't used to not being a playoff team [well, after the first decade, they should've] and Adelman has been on the chopping block for the past few years. Heck, they were even trying to get Mr Cowtown himself Phil Jackson to replace him. The Kings went out and got a risk in Ron Artest to try to infuse some life into this team. If it happens for naught...Adelman will be gone. Other coaches who need to watch their necks??? G-State's Mike Montgomery and Boston's Doc Rivers.
MY FAVORITE LIST OF PLAYERS THAT YOU NEVER HEARD OF BUT ARE STARTING IN THE NBA: Keith McLeod, Kevin Martin, James Singleton, Robert Swift, John Salmons.
EASTERN CONFERENCE BRACKETOLOGY:
LOCKS: Pistons, Heat, Nets, Cavaliers: The first three teams should win their divisions....and the Cavs are better than pretty much all the other "wildcards".
LOOKING GOOD: Pacers, Bucks. Pacers need to get Jermaine O'Neal back and to figure out what their rotations are. The Bucks have a lot of young parts [rookie Bogut inside and comeback player TJ Ford at point] but are playing above .500
IN LIMBO: Wizards, Sixers, Bulls, Celtics: The Wiz are underachieving. They have one of the best scorers in the NBA [Arenas] a darn good forward [Jamison] and a ton of very serviceable parts around them. Not to mention they play in a division with three very bad teams. The Sixers also have a good shot at getting in....that is unless Iverson burns out and/or Webber goes down. The Baby Bulls need to make their push now and the Celtics, well, need to figure out what they are doing.
DEAD: Raptors, Magic, Hawks, Bobcats: If Toronto hadn't started 1-15, they be actually in the playoff hunt. I feel the Magic are going to start rebuilding this week. The Hawks are in that mode now. The Bobcats have had nearly everyone in Charlotte on the injured list.
WESTERN CONFERENCE BRACKETOLOGY:
LOCKS: Mavericks, Spurs, Suns: These teams are far and away the best in the West.
LOOKING GOOD: Clippers. Yep, the Clippers are the closest things to locks in the Western conference to the top trio. Well, and the Northwest champion.
IN LIMBO: Nuggets, Hornets, Grizzlies, Lakers, Jazz, Warriors, Kings, Wolves, Rockets. Yep, the chase for the final 2-3 spots in the West will be interesting. Either the Nuggest, Jazz or Wolves will win the N'west division and a #3 seed. The other two will have to battle with the Hornets, Grizzlies, Lakers, Warriors and Kings for the other three spots. The Hornets and Grizzlies look good for playoff spots.....but the Hornets are oh so young and the Grizzlies have such a tough schedule remaining. The Lakers play a bulk of their games at home...and against the Warriors and Kings. The Rockets? Well, if Yao and T-Mac can stay in the lineup - anything can happen.
DEAD: Sonics and Blazers. The sad thing is that they aren't completely dead....just on life support.