Nobody did it better
There may be 100 reasons why Shaquille O'Neal should have won the MVP, why Nate McMillan should have been named Coach of the Year, how Ben Gordon deserved Rookie of the Year honors, and you'd be right. Yet the actual winners had their reasons too; here are a few of them ...
Steve Nash, MVP: Easily the most controversial selection of the awards season, as it is every year due to the NBA's deliberately vague set of definitions for what exactly is expected of the Most Valuable Player. But all Nash did was jump-start the most entertaining team the NBA has seen in years. He was instrumental in Phoenix's 33-win turnaround and ascension to the league's best record. Though he's been exceedingly humble in accepting the prestigious award, Nash won't be able to silence his detractors until he leads the Suns to their first title.
Ben Wallace, Defensive Player of the Year: Even though the top vote-getter may be the second best defender on his own team (not sure if you noticed, but Tayshaun Prince just stole your wallet), but he's wholly deserving of his third DPOY award. Wallace's 12.2 rebounds and 2.38 blocks a game offer tangible proof that he remains the most feared defensive anchor in the NBA. Other teams such as San Antonio and Chicago may have boasted better overall team defenses, but no player is as obvious in his defensive dominance as Big Ben.
Bobby Simmons, Most Improved Player: As inspiring as Grant Hill's return was, we're glad the voters decided to award the player who actually improved the most this season. Simmons' story isn't like the usual MIP winner, who doubles his stats with an almost corresponding increase in minutes. Rather, Simmons averaged 8.6 more points per game this season than in 2003-04 while being afforded just 11.6 more minutes per game for a Clippers team that didn't run many plays for him. So, unlike previous winners such as Zach Randolph and Michael Redd, Simmons showed an honest-to-God improvement this year. A free agent this summer, we suspect Simmons will cash in, but don't expect the ameliorating to end here.
Emeka Okafor, Rookie of the Year: The UConn big man received some smack for putting up stellar rookie stats on an expansion team, but 15.1 points, 10.9 rebounds and close to two blocks a game coming from the hands of a 22-year old cannot be discounted. Add to the fact that Okafor was usually alone down low with the lowly Bobcats, and you can see why he took home the hardware. The Next Buck Williams spent the entire year shooting over two different defenders, and wresting rebounds from three men at a time.
Ben Gordon, Sixth Man of the Year: Every year this award seems to fall into the hands of a player who is just biding time until he can return the starting lineup. While this may appear to be the case with Gordon, we can't help but wonder if the NBA hasn't discovered its perfect Sixth Man. After all, the first rookie to win the award seems tailor-made for winning games off the bench; he was 11th in the league with 24.7 points per 40 minutes, and seems ripe for a career of scoring 20 points in just half the time it takes that crummy Thai place three blocks over to deliver food to you.
Mike D'Antoni, Coach of the Year: As reported by the Arizona Republic, D'Antoni will probably receive his award on Tuesday. This is annually the toughest category to vote in, with a half-dozen coaches each year presenting strong cases for the honor (the other 24 get fired). How Phil Jackson and Jerry Sloan have gone this long with just one COY award between them is borderline shocking, but it helps to shine a light on just how good NBA coaching can be. This year, though, D'Antoni deserves the hardware because he stuck to his principles on how professional basketball should be played, even if those principles led him to a 35-76 career record heading into this season. Instead of becoming enervated when the "you can't run forever!" chants started raining down last November, D'Antoni rallied his young team to the best record in the league.
Few were expecting the Denver Nuggets to upset the San Antonio Spurs in their first- round matchup -- even after the Nugs stole the home court advantage in the series' first game, But that doesn't excuse Denver for losing the next four games by an average of 14.3 points, or for lashing out both verbally and physically against those who had wronged them (in Denver's case, those meanies in the media and Spurs All-Star Manu Ginobili).
Denver may have set the league afire with their two-month run following the All-Star break, but in taking just one game in the first round of the playoffs for the second straight year, you have to regard this as a lost season. Yes, they secured a high profile coach, and the youngsters had another season to learn to play together, but this team isn't far removed from the one that quit on its previous coach on opening night. With an impressive cadre of precocious talent, the Nuggets still have a chance to become the NBA's next great team. Their next great step, however, has to see them acting like professionals for an entire season.
• The Dallas/Houston series was as entertaining as expected, and only disappointed when it became clear that one of the two teams had to stop playing. Houston had a good year, dealing with chemistry issues from the outset of the season while trying to accrue consistent play from a roster that didn't look a thing like the one Jeff Van Gundy acquired when he came to Houston in the summer of '03. Though our opinion of Van Gundy lessened considerably last week when he made those bewildering comments about the state of NBA officiating, the league-wide opinion of stars Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming has gone through the roof.
Playing in their first playoff series together, the Rockets' dynamic duo kept Houston afloat despite inconsistent play from a supporting cast that had battled injuries and ineffectiveness all season. T-Mac averaged 30.7 points in the seven-game loss, with 7.4 rebounds, 6.7 assists and 1.7 blocks. He also did an admirable job of limiting Dirk Nowitzki to shooting 35 percent for the series. Yao's free-throw misses in Game 4 hurt, but he shot 73 percent from the line in the playoffs, along with a Chamberlain-esque 66 percent mark from the floor. He averaged 21.4 points in just 31.4 minutes a game, with 7.7 rebounds and just less than three blocks per game. GM Carroll Dawson has proven he can think on his feet and rotate a series of helpers onto the roster; now it's up to Van Gundy to earn what's left of his salary.
• Reason No. 3,934,016 That You Cannot Trust Sportswriters with E-mail Access: New Orleans' forward P.J. Brown and Denver Nuggets center Marcus Camby both received fifth place votes ... for Most Valuable Player.
"I don't want to even think about not having Ray Allen right now. I am more than ready to step up and play like I did in the last series." -- Seattle center. Have no fear, Seattle, Jerome James is here. He plays center. For the SuperSonics. Yeah, for a couple of years now, actually.