Bryant gets nod over James for first-half MVP

There are still three weeks to All-Star weekend, but the NBA has reached its midway mark and that makes it an ideal time to take out the erasable ink. The beauty of the season is the fluidity of story lines, the rise and fall of fortunes, so clearly these choices can change come April.

Nevertheless, here are the season’s best and worst:

Most Valuable Player: Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers

Sometimes, there are superstars due to win the Most Valuable Player Award. It is the year owed them. No one wants to hear this, but it’s true. Kevin Garnett has an MVP trophy. So does Dirk Nowitzki. Steve Nash has two. Once Shaquille O’Neal left, Bryant was considered an unworthy candidate because the Lakers were still losing.

Well, they’re winning again now. Until Andrew Bynum went down, they were on the brink of the Western Conference’s best record.

Sorry, but just because the Boston Celtics have the NBA’s best record, it doesn’t make them its best team. They play in the Eastern Conference. What KG has done with Boston has been impressive – even inspirational – but it isn’t on a level plane with Bryant transforming the Lakers back into Western Conference contenders. Early in the season, it looked like LeBron James. Before he’s done, James will win four or five MVPs. But unless the Lakers collapse, I’ll make the Cleveland Cavaliers star wait a little longer.

To think that Garnett could have two MVP trophies before Bryant gets his first is unfair. To become an MVP, people told Kobe to win without Shaq. He’s doing it. This time, it’s his trophy.

Least Valuable Player: Vince Carter, New Jersey Nets

Nothing predicts a Nets freefall better than a comfortable, well-paid and unmotivated Carter. Half-man, half-hearted. They are in the middle of a coach-killing, eight-game losing streak, and no one is playing softer than Carter. He has stopped going to the rim, stopped risking life and limb and declared his new four-year, $62 million contract fit for a suburban jump shooter.

As badly as Rod Thorn would love to trade him, there are no takers. Ownership wanted to overpay Carter last summer – not the basketball people – and they’re stuck with him.

Rookie of the Year: Kevin Durant, Seattle SuperSonics

Let’s say Greg Oden didn’t get hurt. Let’s say he was getting 10 points, eight rebounds and two blocks a game for the Portland Trail Blazers, who are fighting for the lead in the Northwest Division. Would the credit Oden received for helping turn Portland into an immediate contender (although we know now that they did it without him) offset Durant’s statistics?

Rookie Bust: Joakim Noah, Chicago Bulls

Because he stayed three years at Florida, won two titles and had been celebrated as the ultimate energy and team player, Noah deserves to be judged a little harsher.

Listen, he will still probably turn out to be a good pro. It takes time, but his immaturity and rich kid sense of entitlement made a dysfunctional situation worse with the Bulls. As a rookie, people can live with the struggles. They can live with it taking time to adapt to the NBA. Yet, no one can live with the insubordination that he showed with assistant coach Ron Adams prior to getting a two-game suspension in mid-January. Maybe his chatter will be entertaining when he’s considered a good player, but until then, Noah needs to grow up.

Coach of the Year: Byron Scott, New Orleans Hornets

Nate McMillan is 1-A, but the Portland Trail Blazers coach has inherent advantages that Scott doesn’t with New Orleans. The Hornets have the best record in the Western Conference with one of the league’s worst home-court advantages and a bargain-basement bench. What’s more, Portland owner Paul Allen would pay for depth, but George Shinn asks his wildly underrated GM, Jeff Bower, to do more with less.

Non-Coach of the Year: Pat Riley, Miami Heat

Even Randy Wittman hasn’t lost 15 straight games with the Celtics JV roster in Minnesota. Perhaps it should be Isiah Thomas, but I expect more out of Riley. If only Riles could get Stan Van Gundy to come take over another one of his messes.

Executive of the Year: Danny Ainge, Boston Celtics

Beyond the Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen trades, Ainge made one of the most underrated signings of the summer: James Posey. Around the Celtics locker room, they privately call it “The Big Four” because of the impact Posey’s intensity and defensive presence brings to Boston.

Executive Disaster of the Year: Isiah Thomas, New York Knicks

This is a career achievement award for Thomas. Kevin McHale has been a different disaster, but he does have a blossoming young star in Al Jefferson, No. 1 picks and cap space on the way. Odds are, he’ll do nothing with it, but at least you know Thomas has no chance with the constitution of his team.

Under his leadership, Thomas has helped make Madison Square Garden one of the nastiest, most poisonous environments in professional sports.

In Indiana, there are still front-office officials cursing Thomas for talking them into drafting Fred Jones over Tayshaun Prince. Jones will be an All-Star, Thomas told them. Rest assured, Thomas is still telling Knicks owner, Jim Dolan, that, too. Just give me three more years, Isiah must say, and you’ll see.