We’re gonna go out on a limb and say the artist formerly known as Ron Artest won’t be repeating as winner of the Citizenship Award.
But what of the NBA’s other season-ending awards?
Our winners are below, replete with the customary snotty remarks.
EXECUTIVE OF THE YEAR: Indiana’s Larry Bird turned the Pacers into a borderline elite team, with offseason additions David West and George Hill and in-season addition Leandro Barbosa, adding needed playoff experience. He also preserved his cap room for this summer, when he will probably have to overpay for a backcourt scorer (Eric Gordon? Lou Williams? Ray Allen?).
The Clippers’ Neil Olshey made the Chris Paul deal happen and also added veteran toughness in Caron Butler and Chauncey Billups. He also never stopped trying to improve his team after Billups went down, adding Kenyon Martin, Reggie Evans, Bobby Simmons and Nick Young. He has mortgaged a bit of his future, though.
However, the winner should be San Antonio’s R.C. Buford, who has won this award zero times, or one less than Elgin Baylor. Buford moved the extension decision on George Hill to the Pacers for Kawhi Leonard, one of the league’s better rookies, and the rights to Erazem Lorbek; saw the potential in benchwarmer Danny Green; saved $11 million by foisting Richard Jefferson’s bloated contact upon Golden State for old friend Stephen Jackson; trolled the overseas market for speedy Patty Mills; and snatched the versatile Boris Diaw via waivers, all while transitioning to the future.
The result has been the deepest roster coach Gregg Popovich has ever had, with 11 players averaging at least 19 minutes but only one (Tony Parker) averaging more than 28. Meanwhile, the Spurs have the top seed in the West and – as usual – are playing their best ball entering the postseason.
MIDSEASON PICK: Olshey, who was very good. Buford was just a bit better.
SNOTTY REMARK: Although he tried very hard, Dwight Howard was not under consideration.
SON OF SNOTTY REMARK: As an executive, Michael Jordan makes a great golfer.
COACH OF THE YEAR: Frank Vogel of Indiana, Doc Rivers of Boston, Stan Van Gundy of Orlando, Alvin Gentry of Phoenix and Mike Brown of the LA Lakers should all get some consideration for either changing the culture or working through some difficult circumstances while producing a winning season. But none of them will win.
Lionel Hollins of Memphis is a notch above that group. The Grizzlies played half the season without their top two power forwards (Zach Randolph, Darrell Arhtur), incorporated two new rotation pieces (Marreese Speights, Gilbert Arenas), used a pair of rookies as their backup point guard (Jeremy Pargo, Josh Selby) and had virtually no attack from the arc and still made it into the 40-win club. But Hollins won’t win, either.
Those touting Tom Thibodeau of Chicago should keep in mind that no one has ever won this award in consecutive years, so he probably won’t win, either. However, the Bulls snared the East’s top seed despite being without shooting guard Richard Hamilton for 40 games, All-Star forward Luol Deng for 13 games and reigning MVP Derrick Rose for 28 games. Chicago led the NBA in defense, rebound percentage and scoring margin, was second in opponents’ field-goal percentage, third in blocks, fourth in assist-turnover ratio and had the best road record.
The winner should be Popovich, whose peerless stewardship through a challenging season has San Antonio as championship favorites entering the playoffs. With extemely limited practice time, the Spurs have somehow gotten better as individuals and as a group; while other clubs are gasping for air at the finish line, they are 36-7 since late January.
Popovich did this while handing the team from Tim Duncan to Tony Parker while enduring Manu Ginobili’s 30-game absence and getting contributions from virtually all of the youngsters. Once built on defense, the Spurs are now a top-three offensive team that plays as unselfishly as any team in recent memory.
MIDSEASON PICK: Popovich. Given how the Spurs finish seasons, no one was overtaking him.
SNOTTY REMARK: Carmelo Anthony assured Mike Woodson of winning Poach of the Year.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: This award was Dwight Howard’s to lose, and in our opinion, he lost it. Folks like to point to Howard’s dominance of the paint, whether he is blocking shots, deterring drives or sweeping the boards while covering for individuals not exactly committed to the defensive end.
But there have been too many times this season where Howard allowed the distractions of his employment situation to impact his effort, which was reflected in Orlando’s drop in rebound percentage and opponents’ field-goal percentage.
This could be just the second time since 1996 that a perimeter player wins the award. There are three leading candidates – Shawn Marion of Dallas, Tony Allen of Memphis and Andre Iguodala of Philadelphia. All three are asked on a nightly basis to defend the opposing team’s top offensive player – regardless of position – and do a remarkable job.
Marion is perhaps the most versatile, defending every position except center. Allen is fifth in steals despite playing just 26 minutes per game and stated his case with a team-record eight Monday vs. Cleveland. Iguodala is seventh in steals and also made a recent statement with Saturday’s shutdown of Danny Granger in a road win that opened the door to the postseason.
Our pick is Iguodala, and we say that with the bias of having watched him more than Marion or Allen.
MIDSEASON PICK: Howard. In the season’s second half, Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins have been much more impactful as defensive pivots.
SNOTTY REMARK: Howard got really defensive when Stan Van Gundy called him out.
MOST IMPROVED PLAYER: This is the one award where virtually every team has a candidate. So let’s acknowledge the leaps and/or bounds made by Jeff Teague, Josh Smith, Avery Bradley, Gerald Henderson, John Lucas III, Ty Lawson, Goran Dragic, Paul George, Ersan Ilyasova, Kevin Love, Nikola Pekovic, Jarrett Jack, Jason Smith, Jeremy Lin, Marcin Gortat, DeMarcus Cousins, Tiago Splitter and Tony Parker, none of whom will get a sniff of winning.
That still leaves six highly viable candidates – three young players climbing into prominence, two established players vaulting into stardom and one outlier that no one could have foreseen.
The outlier is New Jersey’s Gerald Green, who was the Jeremy Lin of the season’s second half. He is averaging 13.0 points while shooting 49 percent overall and 38 percent from the arc. Not bad for a guy who hadn’t played in the NBA in nearly three years.
The trio of young players is Detroit’s Greg Monroe, who is carrying the biggest load but not making his team much better; Utah’s Gordon Hayward, who has doubled virtually all of his offensive numbers from a disappointing rookie season; and Orlando’s Ryan Anderson, whose increase in production can be attributed to more minutes.
One of those guys will probably win, because most media members have traditionally leaned toward the blossoming young player rather than the fixture. But let me throw a couple of names at you.
Lakers center Andrew Bynum has raised his scoring average more than 7 ppg to 18.7 points. His rebounds are up more than 2 rpg to 11.8, which is third in the league. He is shooting and making more free throws. He made his first All-Star team. And in the recent seven games Kobe Bryant sat out with a shin injury, the Lakers went 5-2 and held onto the Pacific Division lead, primarily because Bynum averaged 23.1 points and 15.6 rebounds.
And everyone needs to take a long, hard look at Oklahoma City’s James Harden, who has made quantum leaps in scoring, overall and 3-point shooting percentage, free-throw attempts, rebounds and assists. He has clearly raised his game, while superstar teammates Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook – who get nearly all of the pub – have either flatlined or made tiny hops from last season.
It’s Bynum over Harden, but not by much.
MIDSEASON PICK: Lin, who was a lock unless he got hurt. Oops.
SNOTTY REMARK: Lin’s countless interview references to God earned him Most Improved Prayer.
SIXTH MAN AWARD: This award should always go to a guy from a winner, and virtually every playoff team relies on at least one key reserve for its success. Just look at the 76ers, who would be nowhere near the postseason without Lou Williams and Thaddeus Young, both among the top eight in scoring among subs. Or the Nuggets, who used Al Harrington to withstand the injuries to Danilo Gallinari. Or the Mavericks, who always lean on Jason Terry.
Williams will be the first player since Charlotte’s Dell Curry 18 years ago to lead his team in total points while coming off the bench. He also is one of the most efficient fourth-quarter scorers in the NBA – starter or reserve – and the closest thing the Sixers have to a top option. But he is not the winner.
The award should go to Harden, who leads all reserves in scoring and free-throw attempts, ranks second in field-goal percentage, third in 3-pointers and is even in the top 10 in assists. He has been held to single digits just four times this season – one more than machine-gunner Carmelo Anthony – and is second among all players in points per shot.
And just in case folks were leaning toward Williams, Harden cracked open a 40 on Phoenix last week.
MIDSEASON PICK: Williams, whose cause was hurt by his team’s second-half slump.
SNOTTY REMARK: Former winner Lamar Odom claimed the Sixteenth Man Award.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: The All-Rookie Team is selected independent of position, which is a good thing because first-year bigs came up very small this season. Undrafted free agents Gustavo Ayon and Ivan Johnson were more impactful than No. 3 pick Enes Kanter and No. 6 pick Jan Vesely.
The First Team should be power forward Kenneth Faried flanked by point guards Kyrie Irving, Ricky Rubio, Isaiah Thomas and Brandon Knight, who edges out MarShon Brooks and Kawhi Leonard for the last spot.
Irving is the obvious winner and should be a unanimous selection. It would have been interesting if Rubio had stayed healthy, which would have kept the Timberwolves in the postseason hunt a little longer and created a groundswell for his candidacy while Irving’s Cavaliers faded into obscurity. I admit I was a skeptic, but the kid from Spain has won me over.
MIDSEASON PICK: Irving, who clinched the award as soon as Rubio went down.
SNOTTY REMARK: Charlotte’s Kemba Walker only thought he was leaving college early to join an NBA team.
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER: Let’s start with the All-NBA teams, which must have a F-F-C-G-G format. Derrick Rose, Dirk Nowitzki, Carmelo Anthony, Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Chris Bosh and the Gasol brothers aren’t making any of them.
The Third Team is LaMarcus Aldridge, Josh Smith, Kevin Garnett, Tony Parker and Steve Nash. You can quibble with Garnett, but he played the pivot for the entire second half of the season and was outstanding on both ends. The toughest choice was Nash over Rajon Rondo, whose sour start can’t be obscured by his furious finish.
The Second Team is Kevin Love, Blake Griffin, Andrew Bynum, Russell Westbrook and Dwyane Wade. Both Love and Bynum were strongly considered as potential First Teamers.
Somewhat predictably, the First Team is LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul. We looked long and hard at Love vs. Durant and Bynum vs. Howard, but both came up just a bit short.
There are only three true MVP candidates. Each of them has an All-Star teammate, and each has flaws. Paul’s numbers have been better and are not overwhelming in any way. Durant has made moderate gains in other areas, but his free throws are down, his turnovers are way up, and he still resonates as simply a scorer.
James? His numbers are off the charts, but that whole fourth-quarter thing reared its ugly head again several times. And given Rose’s prolonged absence, how did Miami not win the East?
Here’s where James wins me over. He played in 13 games this season without Wade. In those games, he averaged 29.9 points, 7.4 rebounds and 6.0 assists while shooting 54 percent from the field. And Miami went 12-1.
That’s enough for me.
MIDSEASON PICK: James. Three MVPs is very exclusive company.
SNOTTY REMARK: James is still looking for his first Finals MVP.
Chris Bernucca is a regular contributor to SheridanHoops.com. His columns appear every Wednesday and Sunday. You can follow him on Twitter.