NBA alters voting process for end-of-season awards in quest for objectivity

Boston Celtics broadcasters Mike Gorman and Tommy Heinsohn are among those who will no longer be voting on the NBA's end-of-season awards. (AP)
Celtics broadcasters Tommy Heinsohn and Mike Gorman are among those who’ll no longer vote on end-of-season awards. (AP)

End-of-season NBA awards have more riding on them than ever before, so the league has taken steps to make the voting process as objective as possible, most notably eliminating all voters associated with a team in their primary job. The panel is now entirely made up of independent media members.

As a result, all radio and television broadcasters as well as web writers for team websites have been removed from the voting list. The panel will now be comprised of 100 independent media members, including at least one per NBA market. The list of voters and their votes will be published online after the league announces the winners on live television at the inaugural NBA awards show on June 26.

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Indiana Pacers play-by-play announcer Mark Boyle broke the news of broadcasters being removed from the voting panel via Twitter on Monday night:

Indeed, there is even more significant financial compensation tied to end-of-season awards in the newest collective bargaining agreement signed by the NBA and its players’ association this past January. The need for increased transparency is fueled by the addition of the designated player exception, which allows a team to sign its own player to a five-year maximum contract extension, so long as he meets the following criteria clarified by The Washington Post’s Tim Bontemps in December:

1. He makes one of the three all-NBA teams or is named either defensive player of the year or most valuable player the previous season.

2. He has made one of the three all-NBA teams or has been named defensive player of the year in two of the prior three seasons or the league’s most valuable player in one of the three prior seasons.

There were similar incentives already in place under the so-called Derrick Rose Rule, which allows players on rookie contracts to sign max extensions for a higher percentage of the salary cap if they make multiple All-NBA rosters or start at least two All-Star Games in their first four years of service. That rule cost Anthony Davis some $23 million after he failed to make an All-NBA team in 2016.

So, Boyle would have been placed in an odd predicament under the NBA’s old voting system. Pacers star Paul George might have the most to gain (or lose) when All-NBA rosters are announced in June.

Whether or not George makes one of the three teams will mean the difference of roughly $89 million on his next contract, so it’s no wonder he publicly said on Sunday, “I think I’m deserving of” All-NBA.

Even if Boyle remained completely objective — and he did not vote George for All-NBA last season — he would have found himself stuck between voting for George and giving off the air of subjectivity or not voting for George and potentially spending some awfully awkward plane rides with the four-time All-Star. So, you can begin to see why Boyle said the NBA’s new voting system was “the right call.”

Even some would-be voters not employed by teams have declined invitations to participate on the NBA’s end-of-season awards voting panel over concerns their ballots could complicate relationships with players and teams whose livelihoods and salary caps will be significantly impacted by the votes.

Not all broadcasters endorsed the change. After this report was posted on Tuesday afternoon, Dallas Mavericks play-by-play announcer Mark Followill called it “a disappointing stance by the league.”

The league made one more tweak to streamline this year’s voting board, keeping the 100-person panel consistent across all awards (MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year, Sixth Man of the Year and Most Improved Player as well as the All-NBA, All-Defensive and All-Rookie teams). Whereas in previous years the NBA might spread awards among the handful of beat reporters in major media markets — with one voting on MVP, another on Sixth Man and so on — that will no longer be the case.

Similar streamlining efforts have been made over the years. After Tyson Chandler and Marc Gasol respectively earned Defensive Player of the Year from the media, while coaches left them off First Team All-Defense in 2012 and 2013, the NBA turned voting for both honors over to the media in 2014.

The NBA also altered the voting process for All-Star starters this season, taking half the vote away from fans and spreading it equally among players and media. While for years players have taken issue with media voting for All-Star Games and end-of-season awards, they didn’t exactly cover themselves in glory with their first chance to cast ballots. Actually, Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr said, “I am very disappointed in the players. They asked for the vote and a lot of them made a mockery of it.”

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The league office understands that players, coaches and team employees, including broadcasters and NBA website contributors, can all have their biases (or perceived biases), so by placing the votes in the hands of this 100-person media panel, they are at least putting the onus on the only people who are supposed to be objective. This is by no means a perfect process, either, and the league is reserving the right to replace any outlying voter from this year’s panel with someone else next year. Ideally, this 100-person public panel will be a fluid blend of the most informed and objective voters possible.

Meanwhile, the players will hand out their own awards, as they’ve done the past two years, and the coaches’ association recently announced a Coach of the Year Award of its own. But the media vote remains the only one powerful enough to alter how much a player like George can make in the future, and that leaves a looming question: Why did the players’ association agree to tie their earning power to end-of-season awards when so many of its most powerful voices don’t agree with the process?

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Ben Rohrbach is a contributor for Ball Don’t Lie and Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!

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