Sportsticker Pro Basketball Notebook
By Chris Bernucca PA SportsTicker Pro Basketball Editor
Another NBA season, gone.
Things have changed over the last three months as well. Kobe Bryant no longer is the front-runner for MVP, Jerry Sloan is not the best choice for Coach of the Year and we have a whole new thought process on the Sixth Man Award.
But some things never change, like the inclusion of snotty remarks with our season-ending awards. Once more, with feeling.
EXECUTIVE OF THE YEAR: Donnie Nelson in Dallas, Chris Mullin in Golden State and Mark Warkentien in Denver each deserve some consideration. However, all of those who had the Toronto Raptors winning the Atlantic Division - let alone making the playoffs - can apply via email for rental of this space.
Bryan Colangelo took a huge risk in bringing in a mix of internationals no one had ever heard of that could have continued the losing and alienated All-Star Chris Bosh. He also showed remarkable restraint when the vultures were swirling over Sam Mitchell after a 2-8 start.
Colangelo ignored the axiom of never trading big for small in acquiring T.J. Ford. And just to show everyone he could work on deadline, he got rid of Fred Jones’ contract and upgraded with Juan Dixon, an underrated clutch shooter who might steal them a playoff win.
“Bryan is an extraordinary basketball executive who is not afraid to take risks and who has a particular affinity for understanding and evaluating international players,” said no less an authority than NBA commissioner David Stern.
If the Suns play the Raptors in the Finals, this award will have to be named after Colangelo.
SNOTTY REMARK: Unfortunately, USA Basketball appears to have hired the wrong Colangelo.
COACH OF THE YEAR: It is truly astounding that Sloan never has won this award, when schlumps like Mike Schuler and Don Chaney have. However, Sloan should not win this season.
Sloan has done a solid job, but he should not be rewarded simply because his team was healthy. The Jazz aren’t exactly finishing strong, either.
The award should go to Houston’s Jeff Van Gundy, who again had to deal with injuries to his two stars while Bonzi Wells was sticking pins in a balding voodoo doll. The Rockets stumbled somewhat without Tracy McGrady but somehow went 20-13 without Yao Ming.
En route to 50-plus wins, Van Gundy has gotten the leash around Rafer Alston’s game, turned Shane Battier into a Bruce Bowen-Hedo Turkoglu minotaur and got Dikembe Mutombo to drink from the Fountain of Youth. He also has opened McGrady’s sleepy eyes a bit.
SNOTTY REMARK: Danny Ainge offered Doc Rivers a contract extension on the recommendation of James Dolan.
MOST IMPROVED PLAYER: We love going with guys who elevate their games from good to great, and we had a strong candidate in the early going with Yao, who went down with an injury and sent us back to the drawing board.
There are a handful of veterans who have come into their own, such as Mikki Moore, Gerald Wallace and Mo Williams. There also are plenty of requisite whippersnappers such as Andre Iguodala, Al Jefferson, Monta Ellis, Kevin Martin and Luol Deng, who should be the runner-up.
Look at Deng’s reduction in 3-point attempts and his increased field-goal percentage from a season ago. That is how a player improves - by understanding what he can and cannot do.
But the winner should be Utah’s Deron Williams, who in one season has gone from a step away from Sloan’s doghouse to a step away from the All-Star Game. In just nine extra minutes per contest, he has raised his scoring nearly six points to a threatening 16.6 and doubled his assists to 9.5.
There are those out there who say Williams is a better player than Chris Paul. We are among them.
SNOTTY REMARK: Bassy Telfair might have to win this award in Europe or the D-League.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: There is no shortage of candidates, including usual suspects Bowen and Battier, emerging youngsters Tyson Chandler and Kirk Hinrich and the often overlooked Marcus Camby, who has done some campaigning of late.
Camby would not be a bad choice. But the best choice - and we have said this for years - is Detroit forward Rasheed Wallace, who at 32 still can defend all three frontcourt positions better than anybody.
This space always has maintained that it was Rasheed Wallace who made Ben Wallace and not the other way around, and Ben Wallace’s departure proved that. Although both teams still ranked near the top of the league in opponents’ field-goal percentage, Detroit’s went down, while Chicago’s went up.
SNOTTY REMARK: When it comes to Artest, the defense never rests.
SIXTH MAN AWARD: This award has to go to someone on a winning team, so Kyle Korver’s 14.4 points don’t even get him in the conversation. There’s been a late groundswell behind San Antonio’s Manu Ginobili, which is unfounded because he was an All-Star two years ago and is only coming off the bench because his teammates are older than 8-track tapes.
In all likelihood, Ginobili and Jerry Stackhouse of Dallas will finish behind Leandro Barbosa of Phoenix, whose numbers (18.1 points, 43 percent 3-pointers, 4.1 assists) off the bench are staggering, even in an accelerated attack.
But the guy who really should win is Antonio McDyess of Detroit, who owns numbers (8.1 points, 6.2 rebounds) that are pedestrian by comparison but has become the most indispensible reserve in the league.
The Pistons began the season without Ben Wallace and watched Nazr Mohammed become the worst transaction of Joe Dumars’ career. McDyess filled one of the big spots until the arrival of Chris Webber and still takes over games every once in a while.
SNOTTY REMARK: Jalen Rose wins the Twelfth Man Award.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: The No Child Left Behind Act never accounted for this rookie class. Patrick O’Bryant? J.J. Redick? Ronnie Brewer? Morrison was everyone’s preseason pick and might not be the best rookie on his own team.
Portland’s Brandon Roy, by default. Let’s move on.
SNOTTY REMARK: Look at the bright side. Most of these guys are ineligible for the sophomore jinx.
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER: The All-NBA Third Team is Kevin Garnett, Carmelo Anthony, Mehmet Okur, McGrady and Chauncey Billups. The Second Team is Bosh, Tim Duncan, Yao, Gilbert Arenas and Dwyane Wade, although Baron Davis begs to differ.
“Tim Duncan (is) the best player in this league, hands down,” Davis said. “He does so much and it goes unnoticed.”
As far as MVP goes, it was nice of Bryant to recuse himself from the discussion, but we had already done that after the Lakers dropped 13 of 16 with our midseason pick at the controls.
To be honest, Nash should not be working on his third straight MVP. Two years ago, he should have finished second to Shaquille O’Neal, who somehow is going to finish his career with just one MVP award, one of the biggest injustices in NBA history.
And Nash shouldn’t win this season, either. His career-high scoring and assist averages should not be ignored, and 50 double-doubles for a guard is utterly ridiculous. Utah’s Deron Williams is second among backcourt players with 30.
But Nash directs a system that generates numbers, while Nowitzki is the fulcrum of a system that has generated wins at a near-record rate. Just like Nash, he makes his teammates appreciably better - just not as directly.
It is Nowitzki’s offensive presence as a 7-foot shooting guard that makes him one of the biggest matchup nightmares in league history, along with O’Neal, Wilt Chamberlain and Magic Johnson, others who were freakishly large for their position.
But Nowitzki rebounds and plays defense, too. In becoming the best European player of all time, he has broken the stereotype and forced us to forever look at those players differently.
SNOTTY REMARK: Good to see Nash slowing down, just as Mark Cuban said he would.
TRIVIA: Which was the last team to finish 10 games under .500 and still make the playoffs? Answer below.
ODEN ODOMETER: 1. Memphis. 2. Boston. 3. Milwaukee. 4. Atlanta. 5. Minnesota.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: Detroit Pistons forward Rasheed Wallace, on clinching the best record in the Eastern Conference:
“We don’t care about clinching no conference. All that’s hearsay. We’re just worried about making sure we’ve got things together so we can get this ‘ship. That’s the more important thing. That supersedes any best record in the East, any conference titles, even the Eastern Conference title. Getting that ‘ship, it supersedes all that.”
LINE OF THE WEEK: Vince Carter, New Jersey vs. Washington, April 7: 47 minutes, 16-28 FGs, 7-13 3-pointers, 7-9 FTs, 16 rebounds, 10 assists, three blocks, one steal, 46 points in a 120-114 overtime win. Carter had a season high in points, career high in rebounds and paired with Jason Kidd to become the first teammates with triple-doubles since Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen in 1989.
LINE OF THE WEAK: Danny Granger, Indiana at Philadelphia, April 10: 39 minutes, 2-17 FGs, 0-3 3-pointers, 1-1 FTs, two rebounds, one assist, four fouls, five points in a 90-86 loss. Granger was the primary culprit in a 32-of-98 effort by the Pacers, who may have cost themselves a playoff berth with this loss.
GAME OF THE WEEK: Houston at Utah, April 18. These teams will play again three days later in Game One of their first-round series. This contest might determine the site.
GAME OF THE WEAK: Atlanta at Milwaukee, April 16. Win or go home. On second thought, just go home. …
TWO MINUTES: What do players not going to the playoffs think about? Well, if you’re Seattle forward Rashard Lewis and you’re headed to free agency and you are watching teammates drop like flies, you think about your long-term future. “The main thing is, I don’t want to get injured before this season’s over with, so it kind of made me want to take a step back,” Lewis said after a recent game. … SuperSonics owner Clay Bennett appears to have swung a deal to get a 21-acre tract of land in Renton - a suburb of Seattle - where he can build his glistening new arena. Now all he needs is the Washington legislature to rubber-stamp $300 million in state funds to help with the cost of the $500 million project, a bit tougher task. The legislature adjourns a week from Monday and do not have to vote on the funding. Stern chimed in on the situation this week. “We’re cautiously optimistic in terms of where things stand at the state level,” he said. “I know time is getting short. … There is a long way to go still in Seattle, but Clay has done some terrific work and, ultimately, the politicians and the people will speak to this.” … When making your Coach of the Year selection, keep in mind that the Heat are 30-27 under Pat Riley and were 13-9 under Ron Rothstein. … Last Saturday, there were a pair of crazy game-winning 3-pointers. One came from Denver’s Linas Kleiza, who has that range but had missed his first seven shots before draining one to turn back the Clippers. The other came from New York’s Eddy Curry, who had made one 3-pointer in his entire career before sinking one at the buzzer to force overtime in an eventual win. Curry’s shot was part of a 43-point eruption on 17-of-20 shooting and actually was planned. “It was designed for Eddy. I didn’t think they’d guard him,” Knicks coach Isiah Thomas said. “I’ve been telling him the whole season that I’d design a play for him to shoot a three and win the game for us. We took a timeout, and I asked him if he was ready to make the shot because now’s the time. He said, ‘Yeah,’ and we drew it up and he knocked it down.” … After being mathematically eliminated from playoff contention for the third straight season, the Timberwolves shut down Kevin Garnett on Wednesday due to a painful quadriceps injury. Garnett clearly was hurting as he went into the fourth quarter of games last weekend at New York and vs. New Orleans in single digits in scoring, putting his streak of consecutive double-digit games in jeopardy. Against the Hornets, Garnett did not reach double figures until the final seconds. He extended the streak to 398 games - the eighth-longest in NBA history - against Toronto on Monday before calling it a season. … Bryant’s 50-point performance Friday was his ninth of the season, the most by anyone since Wilt Chamberlain during the 1964-65 campaign. To put Chamberlain’s superhuman scoring feats in perspective, the 1964-65 season was three years after the season in which he averaged 50 points per game. But that doesn’t make guarding Bryant any easier. Just ask Raja Bell, who has earned Bryant’s respect as a defender. “You have to be engaged in the game,” Bell said. “There are games that you can go through it and kind of drift. You hate to say that you’re not involved, but you can drift. When you’re playing a guy like Kobe, there’s no drifting. You have to be there every play, every game. It definitely keeps you engaged.” …
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