James leading MVP field

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With just a quarter of the NBA season behind us, it is still too soon to make sweeping conclusions about the season. Even so, why not?

So, here are the award winners out of the season’s first six weeks…

MVP: LeBron James, Cleveland. If you had any doubts about his sheer force, all you had to see was what the Cavaliers looked like without him on the floor for 5½ games. Without LeBron, the Cavs wouldn’t win the Big Ten. Seriously, he’s been playing on a level unseen in the sport in years. One of these years, he’s going to threaten Oscar Robertson’s feat of chasing a triple-double average for the season.


• Huge, huge, huge victory for Coach Dan Hurley and St. Benedict’s (N.J.) Prep over nationally ranked No. 1 Oak Hill on Thursday night in Kentucky.

Here’s the guard you need to remember at St. Benedict’s: Tamir Jackson, the junior out of Paterson, N.J. He’s got the old man’s gait and deceptively explosive game. Kind of like a young Sam Cassell.

• I love when Steve Alford goes to play Bob Knight (Texas Tech vs. New Mexico, Saturday night), because there’s nothing more entertaining than watching how they pretend that that the old man was never angry with him, never stopped talking to him for a couple years when they were in the Big Ten together. Now, Knight and Coach K play this game too.

That’s the beauty of a relationship with Knight. He makes the rules and you just pray that you don’t do something real or imagined to violate them. If you do, you end up on that long list of people the family is forever seeking to exact revenge.

• Speaking of St. Benedict’s, there will be a few NBA scouts watching them on Saturday at Seton Hall, when 7-foot-2 prospect John Riek of Winchendon Prep comes to town.. Because Riek is classified as a post-graduate and eligible for the June draft, NBA personnel can come see him.

“Every year he has promised to come back better, and he’s done it again,” Cavaliers forward Donyell Marshall said.

Clearly, the Team USA experience has broadened James’ perspective on greatness. He’s used the time with the best players in the world to become a better shooter, and more determined defender. Like the Magic Johnsons and Larry Birds before him, James takes the time to add something to his game every offseason. That used to be the norm in the sport, but James is bringing it back.

Rookie of the Year: Kevin Durant, Seattle. Everyone knew he was an extraordinary talent, but lately Durant has shown flashes that simply leave you breathless. The next Jordan? Only LeBron was so good, so fast. He’s starting to learn the difference between good and bad shots, and it’s clear that P.J. Carlesimo’s time on Gregg Popovich’s staff went a long way toward helping the Sonics coach foster a closer relationship with his star. The way Popovich did it with Tim Duncan, Carlesimo is trying to do it with Durant.

Once Durant gets stronger, it’s hard to imagine a way to guard him at 6-foot-10 inches. Because there won’t be.

Coach of the Year: Jim O’Brien, Indiana. After taking over one of the most dysfunctional teams in the league, O’Brien has delivered structure and purpose to the Pacers. He’s resurrected Mike Dunleavy’s career and convinced Jermaine O’Neal to buy into yet one more pro system. When everyone else wanted to give up on Jamaal Tinsley, O’Brien has him playing responsibly and efficient at the point.

The Pacers are just .500 now, but they’re clearly in the fight for the playoffs and who believed that possible in the preseason?

Executive of the Year: Danny Ainge, Celtics. He has taken his share of hits in this space, but this is an easy one. Beyond the obvious of Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, Ainge did a terrific job of constructing a useful bench after trading so many players and picks to get his two new stars. James Posey, a champion with the Heat, has been everything they wanted on the defensive side of the ball. Eddie House is a shot-maker and Tony Allen is a fierce on-ball defender. And who thought Glen Davis, the second-round pick out of LSU, could’ve worked his way into meaningful minutes this soon into his career?


1. The gripes and grumbling of coaches about commissioner David Stern’s decision to wire them for sound on nationally televised games has been predictable. Most are declaring it an unwelcome intrusion, an invasion of privacy. Please. First of all, the most saucy stuff is edited out – save for Jerry Sloan's F-bomb glitch this week – and the viewer is mostly left with clichés and X’s and O’s jargon.

What’s more, these guys ought to remember once and a while that their multi-million dollars livings aren’t born of the genius on their clipboards, but an entertainment dollar in a cutthroat marketplace.

As usual, Suns coach Mike D’Antoni gets it.

“We’re in it to give some entertainment,” he told the Phoenix media. “It’s not like I got state secrets over here. We’re just playing basketball.”

2. As for Stern, I’ll grudgingly accept his choice not to punish the Knicks in the sexual harassment case against Anucha Browne Sanders. If Stern wasn’t going to level suspensions and fines, he should’ve been far more forceful in public damnations of the organization.

With Stern pushing hard, Knicks chairman Jim Dolan settled with his former female executive instead of chasing years worth of appeals and more backpages in this humiliating case. The commissioner wanted the story out of the public eye, out of his league’s business. Nevertheless, it isn’t enough that he’s forcing employees throughout the league to undergo a round of sensitivity training (that was never done before?).

The commissioner has never been shy about punishing his players, and there should be a higher standard for owners and top executives. A jury found that Browne Sanders was fired for bringing sexual harassment charges forward, and the NBA could’ve used it’s most important voice to be more empathetic that the whole unsavory episode was beyond unacceptable – it was downright despicable.

3. Is it possible to go through an entire NBA season without a coach getting fired?

This could be the year.

Because Dolan doesn’t live by real-world logic, Isiah Thomas could be the safest losing coach in the league. Thomas saves his best selling job for his owner, who is convinced that patience and paternal love with a team of misfits that quit on him long ago will yield playoff results sooner than later.

Lawrence Frank? Yes, the Nets have been terrible this season – far too non-competitive at times for the talent on the floor – but ownership and president Rod Thorn have good trust in Frank. He does his best work in crisis and has always worked the Nets out of dire times. What’s more, he has a new contract extension and the Nets don’t just buy out people. Thorn will shake up this team in a trade before he lays the blame on his coach.

There’s a playoff ultimatum on Atlanta’s Mike Woodson, but the Hawks have played well to stay around .500 and unless they completely tank in the second half, it’s hard to see Woodson going during the season. Along with Mo Cheeks of the 76ers, though, it’ll be hard for them to survive without getting to the playoffs.

4. Isn’t it interesting the Rockets are no longer talking about how great they’re going to be offensively with Rick Adelman replacing Jeff Van Gundy?

No more about the great flow, and how fast they’re going to play, and how all this freedom is going to make them a better basketball team.

And interesting, isn’t it, that Yao Ming called the Rockets something he never did with Van Gundy as the coach: “Soft.”

As much as owner Les Alexander wanted to believe it, Houston isn’t constructed to play a fast and furious style. So far, GM Darryl Morey’s moves haven’t paid dividends, but it’s still early. For now, the Rockets are 12-11, the epitome of a mediocre Western Conference team. A year ago, Yao missed several weeks with a broken leg, Tracy McGrady was in and out of the lineup with his assortment of back problems and Houston still won 50 games and took the Jazz to seven games in the first round of the playoffs.

Houston believed it could do better with Adelman.

And how’s that looking now?

5. LeBron James reportedly sounded surprised as he watched the replay of Atlanta Al Horford’s hard hit on Toronto’s T.J. Ford.

He wondered: You mean, nobody on Toronto went after Horford?

That tells you right there how old-school NBA James can be. For most players, it wouldn’t have mattered whether they believed Horford was sincere when he insisted there was no malice intended. They would’ve just seen the smack upside Ford’s head, the little guard sprawled out on the floor and they would’ve gotten into the Hawks’ rookie’s face.


A tough week in the D-League for one of the original Bruise Brothers, Jeff Ruland, our correspondent coaching the Albuquerque T-Birds.

After a 2-0 start, the T-Birds hit a rough patch. This included back-to-back losses to Colorado at home over the weekend (105-70 and 102-85). Ruland never did make it to the end of the back-to-back, getting tossed in the third quarter of Saturday’s game.

“The refs were just terrible, and one of them blew a number of charge calls against us. I kept saying, ‘He didn’t move…he didn’t move,' and she kept telling me to shut up."

As you might guess, Ruland didn’t shut up.

“She said something snippy and I just said slowly, “He…didn’t…move.”

That got him the first tech.

The second?

Rules went on and on talking about a call on this end, and then another that cost him, and finally it all made sense when the official’s “cock-and-bull story” ended up with him responding: “OK, if you’re just going to B.S. me…if my aunt had (Spauldings), she’d be my uncle.”

Apparently, this made perfect sense to the official.

Another tech, and he was gone.

As for life in the D-League, Ruland decided he likes this part of it. “It’s not like the NBA, where you have guaranteed contracts. I make more than the players and I can get rid of who I want. It’s great if you’re a narcissist. …Which I’m not, of course. But it’s like you’re in a lab and you can do whatever the hell you want. I like it here.”

T-Birds traveled to Bakersfield on Friday. Jim Harrick coaches there. First team to 100 violations wins.