Surprise Party

For better or worse—in some cases much, much worse—the opening months did not go as some teams expected
February 16, 2009

Money for Nothing Award
Elton Brand appeared to be the answer to the 76ers' low-post woes when he signed a five-year, $80 million contract last July. Instead he averaged a career-low 13.8 points in his 29 games and slowed Philly's running game to a crawl. Brand will have to wait to see how he fits: He's out for the rest of the season with a right-shoulder injury.

Penny-Wise Award
Little note was paid last summer when the Spurs signed guard Roger Mason (left), who spent most of 2007--08 coming off the Wizards' bench, to a two-year, $7.3 million contract. All Mason has done as a San Antonio starter is rank sixth in three-point shooting (45.0% through Sunday) and hit four game-winning shots.

Yes, You Can Award
Barack Obama uses high oratory to inspire; Mike D'Antoni's tool of choice is a high-octane offense. After taking over a team that won just 23 games, he had guided New York to 21 victories at week's end and was within two games of a postseason spot, despite two in-season salary-dumping trades that significantly altered the rotation.

No, You Can't Award
When Suns G.M. Steve Kerr replaced D'Antoni with the defensive-minded Terry Porter (right, with point guard Steve Nash), he thought he was taking a necessary step toward building a championship contender. Instead, Phoenix has been only slightly stingier on D, giving up 1.6 fewer points per game at week's end while averaging 5.2 fewer on offense and spiraling to the bottom of the Western Conference playoff race.

Wait Till Next Year Award
The Grizzlies (14--36 through Sunday) won't change their losing ways this year, but the pieces are in place for a quick turnaround. O.J. Mayo is a go-to scorer who can play both guard spots, fellow rookie Marc Gasol has the makings of a pure pivot, and third-year forward Rudy Gay is an electrifying offensive player. With a potential top-five pick and about $20 million in available cap space, Memphis could have a winning record next season.

Scrooge Award
The Clippers have been inept both on the court (12--39 at week's end) and in the front office (see: the acquisitions of Zach Randolph, left, and Ricky Davis). So why does the same person continue to serve as coach and general manager? According to NBA front-office sources, owner Donald Sterling is loath to fire Mike Dunleavy (who will collect $10.4 million over the next two seasons) simply because he doesn't want to have to pay a new coach and a new general manager. Bah, humbug!

PHOTOGARY DINEEN/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES (MASON) PHOTOGARY DINEEN/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES (RANDOLPH) PHOTOBARRY GOSSAGE/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES (SUNS)

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)