For years, NBA media members – echoing the sentiments of its passionate fan base – wanted more transparency from Commissioner David Stern and his executive staff. Whether it was a lottery drawing, a suspension in the playoffs or a referee scandal, folks felt like they were entitled to an explanation. And they were.
Stern grudgingly came around. He arranged for the media to meet with referees prior to the season about rules changes. He allowed the media into the lottery drawing. He okayed press releases that admitted, Yes, we blew that call.
Since replacing Stern as commissioner less than three months ago, Adam Silver has taken the NBA’s transparency up a notch. He declared that there will be an open dialogue about officiating and is walking the walk by making internal memos available to the media.
But Silver is getting something back, too. At All-Star Weekend this year, the media presented the notion of transparency with regard to how its members vote on postseason awards, and the commissioner bought in.
It could be that Silver simply wants his powerful multi-billion-dollar conglomerate that is highly conscious and protective of its brand not to be thought of first and foremost as a powerful multi-billion-dollar conglomerate that is highly conscious and protective of its brand. Or it could be that he remembers the abomination that was last year’s Sixth Man Award voting.
I don’t have a vote. But my editor-in-chief does and he has given myself and other somewhat knowledgable staff members the freedom to espouse their opinions. He will consider our choices and then submit his ballot.
Because with all due respect to Silver, we already were taking this sort of thing pretty seriously.
Except, of course, when it comes to snotty remarks.
EXECUTIVE OF THE YEAR: Let’s start by giving no consideration whatsoever to Boston’s Danny Ainge, Orlando’s Rob Hennigan, Philadelphia’s Sam Hinkie and Utah’s Dennis Lindsey. It doesn’t bother me that tanking was your plan. Just don’t expect to be rewarded for it.
Now let’s move on to the apologies owed Donnie Nelson in Dallas and Rich Cho in Charlotte. Both made big free agent signings that were roundly criticized – Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon with the Mavericks, Al Jefferson with the Bobcats – but ended up being ideal fits for their teams. Now the Mavs are threatening 50 wins and the Bobcats are in the postseason for just the second time in franchise history. So there.
Ryan McDonough in Phoenix deserves lots of credit for amassing young talent and draft picks while assembling the biggest surprise squad of the season. But he loses points for not swapping one of those picks and Emeka Okafor’s contract for Pau Gasol, who would have guaranteed a playoff berth. And Neil Olshey in Portland did a solid job by adding a legitimate center in Robin Lopez and somewhat fortifying his bench with Mo Williams.
But the winner for the second straight year – with different teams – should be Masai Ujiri in Toronto, who (a) found a
sucker taker for Andrea Bargnani; (b) dealt shiny object Rudy Gay for a handful of alley cats who deepened an awful bench; (c) paid three players to not play for him, creating as much as $20 million in cap room this summer; and (d) gave Dwane Casey enough rope to either hang himself or lasso a playoff berth, which he did.
MIDSEASON PICK: Olshey.
SNOTTY REMARK: How many more GMs is Andrew Bynum going to get fired?
COACH OF THE YEAR: Among the crusty old types, Gregg Popovich should be noted for directing the Spurs to the best record while creating a culture unmatched by his peers. Among the not-yet-jaded newbies, Steve Clifford gets recognition for instilling hope and direction with the Bobcats.
In his first three seasons coaching the Bulls, Tom Thibodeau has finished first, second and eighth in Coach of the Year voting. And this might be his best job yet, pushing Chicago toward 50 wins and making his team the one no one wants to play even after losing his two best offensive players.
Thibs will probably finish second again to Jeff Hornacek of the Suns, another first-year guy. All he did was put a team intent on tanking into the gauntlet of the Western Conference playoff chase by developing a scheme built around a dual point guard attack that coaxed career years out of virtually every player on his roster.
MIDSEASON PICK: Hornacek.
SNOTTY REMARK: Mark Jackson’s dismissal of Brian Scalabrine was just his way of shortening his rotation for the playoffs.
MOST IMPROVED PLAYER: Hey, Harrison Barnes, Bradley Beal, Bismack Biyombo, Tobias Harris, Kyrie Irving, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kawhi Leonard, Ricky Rubio, Iman Shumpert, Jonas Valanciunas, Derrick Williams and Tyler Zeller, what happened? I was expecting more.
Hey, Arron Afflalo, James Anderson, D.J. Augustin, Alec Burks, DeMarre Carroll, Anthony Davis, DeMar DeRozan, Andre Drummond, Kevin Durant, Paul George, Blake Griffin, Reggie Jackson, James Johnson, Brandon Knight, Jodie Meeks, Khris Middleton, Patty Mills, Kyle O’Quinn, Mike Scott, Jared Sullinger, Mirza Teletovic, Isaiah Thomas, Kemba Walker, John Wall, Tony Wroten and half the Phoenix Suns, I noticed. Nice job.
However, this is a two-man race between guards Lance Stephenson of the Pacers and Goran Dragic of the Suns, the two most prominent All-Star snubs. “Born Ready” has made quantum leaps per 36 minutes in every category, leads the league in triple-doubles and is going to get rich this summer. But he also had the benefit of playing alongside talented veterans and occasionally looks like he’s playing for both teams.
“The Dragon,” meanwhile, was lining up every night alongside Miles Plumlee and P.J. Tucker, not exactly Paul George and David West. Among guards, only Dwyane Wade shoots better. His scoring has skyrocketed. He is in the top 10 in offensive rating. And the career years his teammates are having are no coincidence.
MIDSEASON PICK: Stephenson.
SNOTTY REMARK: Larry Sanders ran away with Most Impugned Player.
SIXTH MAN AWARD: There are strong arguments to be made for more than a half-dozen candidates, which goes a long way toward explaining the functionality of the new CBA. And all but one of them play in the West, which goes a long way toward explaining that conference’s dominance.
You have to admire Mavericks swingman Vince Carter, who has reinvented himself as a sixth man and leads all reserves in 3-pointers. The Spurs have two candidates: Manu Ginobili, whose 20.3 PER is highest among reserves, and Marco Belinelli, a double-digit scorer with the best 3-point percentage (.437) among subs.
Thunder guard Reggie Jackson (13.3 ppg, 4.1 apg, 4.0 rpg), Suns forward Markieff Morris (13 ppg, 6 rpg, 18.35 PER) and Blazers guard Mo Williams (9.7 ppg, 4.4 apg) have been indispensable to their teams. And speaking of indispensable, where would the Bulls be without Taj Gibson (13.2 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 1.4 bpg), who has the best defensive rating of the bunch?
However, all of them pale in comparison to Clippers guard Jamal Crawford, whose detractors will point out that he missed a quarter of the season and came off the bench just 43 times, padding his 18.6 points per game with extra minutes as a starter. To which we say, isn’t that what he was supposed to do?
MIDSEASON PICK: Crawford.
SNOTTY REMARK: Jonas Valanciunas made a strong bid for Six Pack Award.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Rockets coach Kevin McHale says Bulls center Joakim Noah is the Defensive Player of the Year. Clippers coach Doc Rivers says DeAndre Jordan should win the award. And Pacers coach Frank Vogel says he will be upset if Roy Hibbert doesn’t win.
Noah has the edge in advanced metrics, ranking first in defensive rating and second in defensive win shares. Jordan is conventionally the best, leading the NBA in rebounds and second in blocks. And Hibbert is the anchor of a defense that is first in opponents’ shooting, second in points per game and first in rebound percentage.
However, Jordan and Hibbert do the majority of the work beneath the rim. Noah’s ability to defend both the paint and perimeter while quarterbacking one of the league’s top units gives him a slight edge.
SNOTTY REMARK: Imagine how good Hibbert’s defensive numbers would be if he got to guard himself.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Sixers guard Michael Carter-Williams leads all rookies in scoring, rebounding, assists, steals and double-doubles. While that says plenty about his draft classmates – who have been rightfully raked over the coals – it should be pointed out that no other rookie has turned MCW’s trick.
I don’t care how many games the Sixers lost. And I don’t care that Victor Oladipo might end up as the better player. It’s the Rookie of the Year, not Best Rookie From a Winning Team or Rookie With The Highest Ceiling.
MIDSEASON PICK: Carter-Williams.
SNOTTY REMARK: The NBA denied the Wizards’ request for a redshirt season for Otto Porter.
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER: Kyrie Irving, Dwyane Wade, DeMarcus Cousins, Dirk Nowitzki and Carmelo Anthony would make a pretty good team, right? How about Russell Westbrook, DeMar DeRozan, Andre Drummond, Anthony Davis and Paul Millsap? Or John Wall, Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Tim Duncan?
Because none of those guys make any of my three All-NBA teams, which must have a F-F-C-G-G format.
The Third Team is LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Love, Dwight Howard, Goran Dragic and Tony Parker, who plays under 30 minutes a game. The Second Team is Damian Lillard, Stephen Curry, Al Jefferson, Paul George and Blake Griffin, who might be third in MVP voting. And if more voters visit Jefferson’s hilarious website, he might finish in the top five.
And the First Team is James Harden, Chris Paul, Joakim Noah, LeBron James and Kevin Durant, who has turned his MVP race with James into a runaway, much the way James did to him a year ago.
Maybe this will help you grasp the greatness you are watching: If you took away all of Durant’s 3-pointers – not changed them to twos, removed them entirely – he would still be sixth in scoring at 24.8 points. If you took away all of Durant’s free throws, he would still be eighth in scoring at 23.3 points.
But it’s more than just scoring. It’s being the eighth player in history with a PER above 30. It’s 41 straight games with 25 points. It’s top 10 in defensive win shares. It’s leading all sane players in technical fouls. It’s telling a teammate to “Wake the bleep up!” and not caring who hears. It’s getting real tired of being second.
It’s refusing to be denied.
MIDSEASON PICK: James, who also finished second in 2006.
SNOTTY REMARK: Unless Dwyane Wade comes around, James will be second in Finals MVP voting, too.
TRIVIA: Which current NBA player has made the most All-Star appearances without reaching the conference finals? Answer below.