A league of winners (and losers)

ON THE NBA

Pro Basketball

April 14, 2002|By Milton Kent

Well, we've reached the end of another NBA season, so it's time to hand out some awards you've heard of and a few you haven't (all unofficial, because this paper didn't receive an official league ballot.)

Maurice Podolak Most Valuable Player Award: At midseason, we thought New Jersey point guard Jason Kidd would be the likely winner.

San Antonio's Tim Duncan has had a phenomenal second half, Detroit's Jerry Stackhouse has rounded out his game and become an elite player, and the Lakers' Shaquille O'Neal has been, well, Shaquille O'Neal. But Kidd remains the principal force behind the Nets' remarkable turnaround.

The vote between Kidd and Duncan will be close, but the award should go to Kidd.

Joe Barry Carroll Least Valuable Player Award: This goes to the guy who under-performed in the greatest ratio to either his contract or talent, or both. New York guard Allan Houston certainly deserves consideration, as does Golden State forward Antawn Jamison.

But the winner, or in this case loser, is Seattle center Vin Baker, whose $86.7 million deal has been an albatross, ratcheting up expectations on a guy who was a nice player in Milwaukee but not worth all that.

Red Auerbach Coach of the Year Award: With Baker either hurt or lounging most of the season and a rash of injuries, Seattle's Nate McMillan has done a masterful job to get the SuperSonics into the playoffs in the West. And Rick Carlisle shouldn't be overlooked for turning the Detroit Pistons into Central Division champions.

But in his second season, Byron Scott has brought hope and energy to the previously lifeless Nets, guiding the franchise to its first 50-win season and division title in 25 years of NBA play.

Red Buttons Non-Coach of the Year Award: There's a tie in this category, though with the Arthur Andersen firm doing the balloting, who knows?

If George Karl, whose silly pronouncements weakened the floor under the Milwaukee Bucks for a tumble from the Central lead all the way to possible playoff extinction, doesn't qualify, then Isiah Thomas should for his mismanagement of the potent, young Indiana Pacers.

Eddie Gottleib Rookie of the Year Award: We have seen the future of the NBA, and it's Pau Gasol of the Memphis Grizzlies, the 7-foot Spaniard.

Some will trumpet Gasol's teammate, Shane Battier, or even Golden State guard Jason Richardson, who will be a monster in this league.

But Gasol can play all the front-court positions, gets up the floor faster than anyone else his size, and probably could get some minutes at shooting guard if needed. Too bad no one will see him in Memphis.

Eddie Munster "Should Have Stayed in School" Award: The temptation would be to give this to Washington's Kwame Brown, but the Wizards took the high schooler for his future, not his present.

So the winner is Phoenix forward Alton Ford, who left Houston after his freshman year to become a second-round draft pick (51st overall). He averages 3.0 points, 1.8 rebounds and 8.2 minutes a game - on a bad team.

Most Improved Player Award: Minnesota's Wally Szczerbiak has been the favorite all season, and while Cleveland's Wesley Person has bounced back nicely from last season, Szczerbiak clearly deserves this one.

Least Improved Player Award: Even allowing for his injuries, who fell further from grace this season than Toronto's Vince Carter? He ought to talk to that Dr. Funk guy from the TV commercials to see if they can work out a heart transplant.

Defensive Player of the Year Award: Ben Wallace, given up on by Washington and Orlando, has found a home in the middle in Detroit. He will be in the top three in rebounding and blocks and in the top 15 in steals. He still can't shoot a lick, but with the Pistons, he doesn't have to.

Matador Defensive Player of the Year Award: Name the last time Milwaukee's Glenn Robinson made a key stop, or, for that matter, any stop. Go ahead. We'll wait.

Executive of the Year Award: Rod Thorn left the NBA's front office for New Jersey and, in short order, hired a pretty good coach (Scott) and got rid of a locker room cancer (Stephon Marbury) in exchange for an MVP candidate (Kidd).

Once upon a time, when he was in Chicago, Thorn drafted a guy named Michael Jordan. Heck, we may have to rename this category after him.

Bob Ferry "Doodling At His Desk" Award: Chicago's Jerry "Organizations Win Titles" Krause and Atlanta's Pete "Does Anyone Know Why I Still Have A Job?" Babcock are worthy contenders for this award, named for the former Washington Bullets general manager, who was much better at being Danny Ferry's dad than being a front-office man.

Still, this year's hands-down winner has to be New York's Scott Layden, who made the Knicks boring and bad - and landed them in salary cap jail for a double life sentence.

All-NBA First Team: Kidd, Stackhouse, O'Neal, Duncan and Boston's Paul Pierce.

All-NBA Second Team: Cleveland's Andre Miller, Orlando's Tracy McGrady, Dallas' Dirk Nowitzki, Sacramento's Chris Webber and Minnesota's Kevin Garnett.

Move of the Year: While everyone looked at the Mavericks' deadline deal for Nick Van Exel and Raef LaFrentz as the best trade of the season, Boston's acquisition of Rodney Rogers and Tony Delk from Phoenix helped the then-listing Celtics solidify their hold on third in the East - and might get them to the conference finals or better.

Quote

"A number of people mentioned that, in terms of the aesthetics of the game, it left a lot to be desired. But that's like somebody telling a mother or a father that their child is ugly when they feel that child is beautiful." - Boston coach Jim O'Brien on the Celtics' 70-65 victory over Miami on Wednesday.

Compiled from interviews, wire services and reports from other newspapers.

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