I have been an MVP voter for the past six years, and it remains to be seen whether my departure from the mainstream media will impact my chances of casting a vote for the seventh straight season (When I was the NBA writer at the Associated Press for 10 years prior to my six at ESPN, we were not permitted to vote — the same rule writers at the New York Times have to follow).
The guy who sends out the ballots shares a last name with a big-timer at ESPN (no, not Bayless, the Westbrook-hater), and I do not know what criteria the guy uses to select the voters each season. I know he has a solid golf game and a sharp sense of wit).
But whether I cast an official vote or not at the end of April, the fact that I have logged more than 200 consecutive days of work while remaining an upstanding member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association qualifies me to have an informed opinion, and with the season now entering its final three weeks I am prepared to declare which way I am leaning (although I never, ever, cast my votes until the regular season is complete).
Anyway, without further ado, let’s have at it:
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER
Clubhouse Leader: Too Close to Call
I go back and forth on this almost daily, and this year is extra interesting because the candidates seem to move up or down on a nearly nightly basis depending on their individual and teams’ success. I always place a lot of emphasis on the word “valuable” when selecting this award, and this season that steers me to the question of “Where Would They Be Without Him?” If the Minnesota Timberwolves were still in playoff contention, I guarantee I’d have Kevin Love in my top 3, perhaps even at No. 1. But they have faded, and Love isn’t getting any extra affection just for keeping the Wolves interesting for the first three-quarters of the season. Also, Derrick Rose has missed too many games for me to put him in my top 5. He was prominent in the conversation a month ago. So for now, here’s who I have competing hardest in the race:
_ Kobe Bryant, Lakers
_ Kevin Durant, Thunder
_ Chris Paul, Clippers
_ LeBron James, Heat
_ Dwight Howard, Magic
Also under consideration: Kevin Love, Steve Nash, Russell Westbrook, Dwyane Wade, Rajon Rondo.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
Clubhouse leader: Kyrie Irving, Cavs
It wasn’t exactly a great big man draft last June, eh? Kenneth Faried is probably the most impactful first-year player, but he was late to the party and will need a very strong finishing kick to crack the top 3.
2. Isaiah Thomas, Kings
3. Ricky Rubio, Timberwolves
4. Kenneth Faried, Nuggets
5. Kawhi Leonard, Spurs
COACH OF THE YEAR
Clubhouse leader: Tom Thibodeau, Bulls
For the longest time I believed this race was already over, with Thibs guiding the Bulls to the best record in the Eastern Conference despite the prolonged absences of Derrick Rose (21 games), Richard Hamilton (38 games), and Luol Deng (nine games), and the lack of a two-game losing streak until this past Monday. But there is a gray-haired sage in San Antonio that is making me think twice.
2. Gregg Popovich, Spurs
3. Scott Brooks, Thunder
4. Rick Adelman, Timberwolves
5. Doc Rivers, Celtics
Also under consideration: Alvin Gentry, Lionel Hollins, Larry Drew, Frank Vogel, Rick Carlisle.
MOST IMPROVED PLAYER
Clubhouse leader, Goran Dragic, Rockets
I got my first look at Dragic while covering Eurobasket in Madrid in 2007, when Dragic was the playmaker for Slovenia and the NBA scouts were raving about him off the record (because he was still draft-eligible, they were forbidden from mentioning his name.) When the commissioner squashed the trade that would have sent Dragic to the Hornets, whoever was advising Mr. Stern was not an international basketball aficionado. Since Kyle Lowry went down, Dragic has averaged 17.4 points and 8.9 assists in 15 games as a starter to keep Houston in the playoff race (with Kevin Martin sidelined, too).
2. DeMarcus Cousins, Kings
3. Greg Monroe, Pistons
4. Ryan Anderson, Magic
5. Nikola Pekovic, Timberwolves
Also under consideration: Byron Mullens, Jeremy Lin, Brandon Jennings, Kevin Love (quantifiable improvement in scoring and 3-pointers made, leadership and dominant play. Repeat winner? It’ll never happen. First-team All-NBA? Maybe.)
SIXTH MAN AWARD
Clubhouse leader: James Harden, Thunder
Rock solid every single night, seldom the star (30-point games: 2), never a non-contributor (single-digit scoring games: 3). Shooting an eyeblink below .500 (.493) going into Wednesday night’s game against the Heat, putting him among elite company — Steve Nash (.537), Dwyane Wade (.503) are the only guards ahead of him in FG accuracy.
2. Lou Williams, 76ers
3. Al Harrington, Nuggets
4. Mo Williams, Clippers
5. Jason Terry, Mavericks
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Clubhouse leader: Shawn Marion, Mavericks
Find me another guy his size who routinely defends point guards. OK, maybe LeBron James. But Marion is 33 and James is 27. And Marion has done it more often.
2. Tony Allen, Grizzlies
3. Andre Iguodala, 76ers
4. Dwight Howard, Magic
5. Serge Ibaka, Thunder
EXECUTIVE OF THE YEAR
Clubhouse leader: R.C. Buford, Spurs
Added three impact players: Boris Diaw, Patty Mills and Stephen Jackson at and after the trade deadline, and got rid of Richard Jefferson’s contract in the process. Talk about a mortal lock for the award. (For more on Buford, check out this guest column bu Andy Roth.)
2. Neil Olshey, Clippers (trading for Paul, claiming Chauncey Billups, signing Kenyon Martin and Reggie Evans)
3. Alex Martins, Magic (kept Dwight Howard from leaving, for better or worse).