Roundtable: Sizing up awards races

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Ian Thomsen: I put LeBron James and Kobe Bryant as the two candidates. Some weeks I think LeBron should win, other weeks it should be Kobe. Which tells me to wait until April to see how it plays out.

Jack McCallum: Well, you saw the results on Monday night. Miami's Dwyane Wade was fantastic in the Heat's loss to the Cavaliers. In another year, he is the MVP. But that game was a microcosm of the MVP race: LeBron was just a little bit better, and he will be (and should be) this year's MVP. Kobe comes in at a solid third, with Tim Duncan and Dwight Howard at Nos. 4 and 5 in some order.

Chris Mannix: Wade's staggering numbers have made this more than a two-horse race, and Andrew Bynum's injury has brought back the 2007-08 version of Kobe, but this is still LeBron's award to lose. James is a triple-double threat each night, and the Cavs' tenuous hold on the top spot in the East means he will be bringing it right up to the last game of the season.

Steve Aschburner: The elite players tend to win this award in pairs -- winning a second MVP award is the NBA's equivalent of a first-ballot Hall of Fame selection in baseball, only more exclusive. But I'm not prepared to make it Kobe 2, LeBron 0 based on this season. To me, James has had less to work with and more injured teammates to overcome in Cleveland. His leadership, defense and outside shooting all ought to qualify him for Most Improved Player consideration, but since that never goes to the very best, he'll have to settle for the consolation of this prize.

Ian Thomsen: I like Chicago's Derrick Rose, not only as the best long-term talent in this class but also for his leadership and presence. New Jersey's Brook Lopez might be the No. 2 rookie -- again, let's see how the next several weeks unfold -- followed by Memphis' O.J. Mayo and a lot of other talents in what is an excellent rookie class.

Jack McCallum: This is a close one between Rose and Mayo, and Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook is closing strong. But from the beginning of the season, it was Rose's task to lead the Bulls, and he has done so in an efficient and mature fashion.

Chris Mannix: Rose has been effective all season, and in five years I have no doubt he will be in the Chris Paul/Deron Williams category. But Mayo is just too smooth to ignore. An emerging star at either guard position, Mayo just needs his to-the-basket game to catch up to his NBA-ready jump shot. His defense is already superior to most rookies', too. He'll lose votes because of the Grizzlies' struggles, but no rook is more complete than Mayo.

Steve Aschburner: Rose is the one to catch. Most of the other guys who are getting mentioned heavily -- Mayo, Westbrook, Love -- aren't in pursuit of a playoff spot like Rose's Chicago club, and New Jersey's Lopez doesn't shoulder the load that a starting point guard does.

Ian Thomsen: This is always the toughest category. My choice at the moment is Mike Brown, who has his Cavaliers in championship contention with Mo Williams added to the same roster that went 45-37 last year. Orlando's Stan Van Gundy, Houston's Rick Adelman and Utah's Jerry Sloan are worthy, as is Milwaukee's Scott Skiles. It is amazing to find the Bucks in playoff contention despite their injuries and their overhaul in style.

Jack McCallum: I'd be tempted right now to make my annual vote for Sloan, who has never won the award, which is a minor crime. But the injury-plagued Jazz just aren't high enough in the standings ... yet (they've won eight in a row and are within two games of third place in the West). So I'm going with Van Gundy, who coaches his guts out every night and has the Magic within striking distance of first place in the East.

Chris Mannix: Van Gundy has developed three All-Stars and dealt with the loss of his starting point guard (Jameer Nelson) by seamlessly transitioning to a new one (Rafer Alston) to keep the Magic in contention in the East. Barring a late-season fade, Van Gundy should sweep this award.

Steve Aschburner: Van Gundy is the front-runner. This is a process-of-elimination selection for me. My personal leaning is that the guy coaching the likely MVP shouldn't win because he has the league's best player, thereby making his job a tad easier. So that eliminates Cleveland's Brown. Then there's the tendency to look for coaches of improved teams rather than the powerhouses, which explains why Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich have won only one COY award each. Doc Rivers has last year's defending champs, so he can't be doing much heavy lifting, right? Nobody trusts Denver yet, so George Karl won't be claiming this (and curiously, he never has despite three seasons with 60 victories and five more of 50 or more). Sloan, we all know, cut a deal with the devil, trading all consideration for this award for unrivaled job security. That leaves Van Gundy, who has emotions among voters on his side from his Miami exit and might inspire swell woe-is-me comedy from his brother, Jeff, on NBA broadcasts, if he gets this edge in sibling rivalry.

Ian Thomsen: New Jersey's Devin Harris has a slight advantage over Indiana's Danny Granger. Harris leads all point guards in scoring (22.3 points) while adding 6.7 assists.

Jack McCallum: I struggle with this award. You don't necessarily want to reward a player who had a bad season and comes up with a pretty good one the following year. And you almost never have a young player because he needs a track record to establish a baseline. Nevertheless, I'm going with second-year player Kevin Durant, who has expanded his game and showed a lot of leadership in getting the Thunder back on track.

Chris Mannix: No matter how many times he denies it, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban must cringe every time Harris makes SportsCenter. The Nets went out of their way to build the offense around Harris and Vince Carter this season, but even so Harris has exceeded all expectations. Numbers aside, Harris has earned the trust of coach Lawrence Frank and become a team leader. With a reasonable contract ($42 million for five years), Harris is positioned to be the face of the Nets for several seasons.

Steve Aschburner: I'll go with Roger Mason. Paul Millsap is a popular choice here. Harris will dominate the vote among You-Tubers thanks to his shot worthy of the Highlights Hall of Fame. Chris Duhon was an early-season candidate, at least. But Mason has filled one of the most important and pressurized positions in the league -- key bench guy for the always formidable Spurs -- when San Antonio needed it most, given Robert Horry's and Brent Barry's departures. He has logged more minutes, boosted his scoring and three-point shooting to career highs and come through with late-game dramatics.

Ian Thomsen:Manu Ginobili has been out since the All-Star break with a stress reaction in his right ankle, and Jason Terry recently returned with a padded glove for his broken left hand. The front-runners' issues could enable the Knicks' Nate Robinson to leapfrog them. But right now, I'd give it to Ginobili for his overall impact on a top-four team.

Jack McCallum: Terry was the early leader and Robinson has been fantastic at times, but Ginobili, last season's top reserve, is my favorite.

Chris Mannix: Terry's move to the bench has produced spectacular results. He's a prolific scorer and an underrated distributor. If he remains in a reserve role, he will contend for this award the rest of his career.

Steve Aschburner: It's tempting to type in Allen Iverson's name here, in the hope that showing AI the possible prize might persuade him not to fight this role with the Pistons. But really, Ginobili's embracing of his sixth-man value is a throwback to the mentality of two-time winners such as Kevin McHale, Ricky Pierce and Detlef Schrempf, who were content to carve out livings off the bench. It's a shout-out, too, to guys such as Vinnie Johnson, Fred Brown and the Celtics' legends (John Havlicek, Frank Ramsey) who never won this award but provided the reasons it exists.

Ian Thomsen:Kevin Garnett is the obvious pick.

Jack McCallum: The issue here is whether to pick a stopper, a player who guards his man out on the floor, or a basket protector, a big man who patrols the interior and not only swats away shots but also changes them. There is no stopper nearly the equal of Orlando's Howard, a clear choice in this category.

Chris Mannix: Yes, Howard has substantially improved his defense and emerged as the NBA's preeminent shot-blocker. But he's no Garnett. KG's numbers will never be staggering, but there are only a handful of players in NBA history who have been able to transform a defense like Garnett has in Boston. The Celtics' success is inextricably linked to their defense, and Garnett is the heart and soul of it.

Steve Aschburner: Howard's spot atop the rebounds and blocks lists is the obvious argument, but just as persuasive is the way he covers up for the penetration past his point guards, be it Nelson or Alston. Van Gundy's defensive schemes would unravel without Howard in the middle as swiftly as Boston's would have last season without Garnett.