As the internet has become more of a platform for NBA teams, the league's dog days of late March and early April have increasingly become a time for the less successful teams around the league to pimp their players for postseason awards. Last year, the Minnesota Timberwolves put out the most creative campaign with "Brewer's Blend," a coffee-themed set of ads and mugs for swingman Corey Brewer(notes), because, I don't know, he energized the team in addition to having a name that made the connection pretty easy. Then again, maybe Brewer turned out to be decaf, because the Wolves traded him with few reservations before February's deadline.
This season has been relatively light on these sorts of campaigns so far -- perhaps as a way to save money in advance of the coming lockout -- but the New Jersey Nets have now entered the fray with "The Incredible Hump," a webpage and video clip that attempt to sing the praises of forward (and Kim Kardashian paramour) Kris Humphries(notes) for this season's Most Improved Player honors. Humphries is strong, and his name starts with "Hu," so I suppose that means he is easily comparable to the Incredible Hulk. On the other hand, he seems like an honorable sportsman on the court, not an angry brute, and the Nets went ahead and mixed metaphors here by using Digital Underground's classic "Humpty Dance" as music. Pick one next time, guys. This would have worked perfectly fine -- or maybe even better -- if Humphries had dressed up like Shock G in the guise of "Humpty Hump."
Apart from its aesthetics, the MIP campaign itself is an odd gambit. For one thing, the award's criteria are even more nebulous than those of the MVP -- should MIP go to a good player who becomes a star, or a decent player who becomes a good one, or are both those considerations misguided because they typically correspond to increases in minutes played rather than per-minute averages? What, exactly, defines improvement? Humphries has seen his PPG and RPG averages rise considerably, but he also has seen his minutes jump from 17.7 to 27.9 per game. Are his stats really that surprising?
On top of that, Humphries is an unlikely candidate for MIP just because the honor typically goes to a player who sees a drastic jump in his scoring average. If you look through the 25 previous winners, you'll notice that nearly all of them won because they became more prolific scorers. Humphries is notable as one of only eight players to average a double-double this season, but other candidates have seen their numbers rise with far more fanfare.
So, if Humphries is an unlikely MIP winner, why exactly would the Nets sing his praises? In the most basic sense, it's likely to give his success an increased profile, which is a nice thing to do for someone who's been one of the franchise's lone on-court bright spots this season. However, Humphries is set to become a free agent this summer, and any increase in his profile will likely be attended by a sizable increase in salary, too. While it's nice to commend one of your team's players for a job well done, it's also a risky move to act like he's deserving of a major award when winning that trophy would provide justification for a major increase in salary. Humphries has been valuable to the Nets this season, but has he been good enough to warrant a big deal? In future negotiations, can't Humphries and his agent now state that he should have won MIP and should be paid accordingly? The Nets, by their actions, seem to think he's deserving.
These aren't reasons not to make an internet campaign for a deserving player, but it's important to note that these actions have consequences beyond giving a valued member of the team a nice bit of publicity. When Rockets point guard Aaron Brooks(notes) won MIP last season, he looked like a big part of Houston's future plans. In February, he was unceremoniously traded to the Suns to help clear the way for the red-hot Kyle Lowry(notes). Would all teams be so willing to dump a player who had so recently won serious publicity for the team? Awards are nice, but they can often lock teams into sticking with players who may not deserve so much trust.
(Video via TBJ)