Setting picks: It's time to roll with end-of-season honors

ON THE NBA

April 11, 2004|By MILTON KENT

Well, we've reached the end of another NBA regular season and with it comes a passel of awards, some you'll recognize and some you won't.

Most Valuable Player

Surely, the reigning two-time winner of this award, San Antonio's Tim Duncan, warrants serious consideration, though his injury absences and the fact that the Spurs will finish in the middle of the Western Conference diminishes his candidacy.

And Indiana Pacers forward Jermaine O'Neal deserves a serious look, too, if for no other reason than he was the best player on the team with the best record, even if it was in the Eastern Conference. And how could anyone ignore the work of Sacramento's Peja Stojakovic, who helped keep the Kings on the Western throne until Chris Webber got back from knee surgery.

But this year's MVP belongs, as last year's should have, to the Minnesota Timberwolves' Kevin Garnett. He led the league in double doubles. But more importantly, Garnett, armed with the strongest supporting cast ever, raised his game to a higher level and took the Timberwolves with him.

Order of finish: 1. Garnett. 2. O'Neal. 3. Stojakovic.

Rookie of the Year

Haven't heard much about the candidates in this race, huh?

Let's get the peripheral out of the way. In any other season, the Miami Heat's Dwyane Wade would be a lock for this award, but the Denver Nuggets' Carmelo Anthony (Towson Catholic) and Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James have made this a rookie race like no other since Magic Johnson and Larry Bird in 1980.

In a perfect world, this would be a tie just as the Grant Hill-Jason Kidd race (1995) and the Steve Francis-Elton Brand race (2000) finished. And whatever gap that exists is Manute Bol-thin, with both players being the principal factor in their respective team's improvement.

The feeling on the choice has ebbed and flowed all year, but with Cleveland nosediving late in the year and Denver hanging in for the eighth playoff slot in the tougher West, the sense here (and it is not a hometown sense) is that Anthony deserves the nod, by a hair.

Order of finish: 1. Anthony 2. James 3. Wade.

Coach of the Year

This race will be just as close as the rookie one is, with no shortage of worthy candidates.

Take Hubie Brown, for example. All the septuagenarian has done is take the Memphis Grizzlies to the first 50-win season in franchise history, while turning James Posey and Jason Williams into solid NBA players.

Then, there's Stan Van Gundy, who got the lowly Heat dumped on him when Pat Riley jumped ship just before the season. Or the Utah Jazz's Jerry Sloan, who saw one of the best pure point guards in league history, John Stockton, and one of the best power forwards in league history, Karl Malone, head to retirement and the Los Angeles Lakers, respectively. Both men have guided their teams to near .500 and the playoffs.

But from this vantage point, no one has done more with less than Milwaukee's Terry Porter, who took a Bucks team with no previously proven stars and got it to the postseason and possible home-court advantage in the first round. Not bad for someone who had never been a head coach on any level before this season.

Order of finish: 1. Porter. 2. Brown. 3. Sloan.

All-NBA

First team: Center - Shaquille O'Neal, Lakers. Forwards - Garnett; Stojakovic. Guards - Sam Cassell (Dunbar), Timberwolves; Kobe Bryant, Lakers.

Second team: Center - Yao Ming, Houston Rockets. Forwards - Duncan; Jermaine O'Neal. Guards - Jason Kidd, New Jersey Nets; Michael Redd, Bucks.

Third team: Center - Ben Wallace, Detroit Pistons. Forwards - Anthony; Ron Artest, Pacers. Guards - James; Baron Davis, New Orleans Hornets.

A few explanations are in order. Eyebrows, undoubtedly, will be raised over the placement of Cassell and Stojakovic on the first team, particularly the latter over Duncan.

Simply put, in a league filled with great forwards, Stojakovic, the NBA's second-leading scorer had a better year than Duncan and O'Neal.

And though other point guards (Kidd) might have been flashier or better scorers (Davis) than Cassell, no one better blended the all-around game.

Unsung Player of Year

If he played anywhere other than Salt Lake City, they would be making movies about Utah forward Andrei Kirilenko.

As it was, the 6-foot-9 forward came into his own in his third year, without Stockton and Malone and after Matt Harpring went down early with a knee injury. This guy will have a bright future - if anyone gets to see it.

Other nominees: Latrell Sprewell, Timberwolves; Voshon Lenard, Nuggets.

Overrated Player of Year

OK, so he did battle through some injury issues this year, but has any so-called money player come up smaller than the Toronto Raptors' Vince Carter?

Despite being among the top All-Star vote-getters each season, Carter has seemingly come up smaller each year since missing the game-winning shot in Game 7 of the 2001 Eastern semifinals.

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