Peter May | Basketball notes

Deserving of honorable mention

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Peter May
Globe Staff / April 13, 2008

The ballots are due into the central office by Thursday at 3 p.m., which reminds me - I'd better get cracking. But unless something unforeseen occurs in the next four days, here are my choices for the annual NBA postseason awards.

Most Valuable Player
We'll start with the award di tutti awards. I have maintained all season that Kevin Garnett should win, and I have seen nothing to change my mind. There are, really, three serious candidates: Garnett, Kobe Bryant, and Chris Paul. I know Cavaliers fans are going to wonder what I'm smoking, but I find it hard to give it to LeBron James, because his team isn't doing anything. He's still No. 4 on my list; I don't think he's worthy of the top three. Not this year, anyway. And there is plenty of debate on those other three.

The argument for Paul is legit. He is the catalyst and perhaps the best player on the team that likely will end up with the best record in the cutthroat Western Conference, the Hornets. That makes him an obvious candidate, and I can't fault anyone who votes for him based on what he has done for them. He's a lock for first-team All-NBA, or he should be.

The argument for Bryant is similarly legit. He is, in the minds of most people, the best player in the NBA - which does not constitute a news bulletin - and has carried the Lakers, through ups and downs, to the point where they may well win their division and be a definite threat to make it to the Finals. There also is some "It's his time/turn" talk going on.

But let's take a closer look at Garnett, and some of the arguments against him.

  • His numbers are down: Well, duh. Have you seen what his team is doing to other teams? It has been a season-long objective of Doc Rivers to keep Garnett's minutes down so he will be as fresh as possible for the playoffs. He has been able to do that because the Celtics (a) started 29-3 and basically had the division wrapped up by New Year's and (b) have had so many lopsided victories. The sight of Garnett in warm-ups in the fourth quarter has not been a rare one. This is a case where the team numbers are what should count. The Celtics have been the best team, record-wise, all season and the best defensive team, statistics-wise, all season. There's one main reason: Garnett. As Kenny Smith told his TNT audience last Thursday, "Kevin Garnett has changed the culture of the Boston Celtics. Last year, you could get layup after layup after jump shot after anything you wanted [against the Celtics]. He's a guy that will guard your point guard and he's a guy that will guard your center. I think Kevin Garnett is the best defensive player in the NBA."

  • The team's 8-2 record in the 10 games he missed: The two losses, both close ones on the road, were to Cleveland and Orlando, two of the better teams in the East. Both also beat the Celtics with KG. Two of the big home wins (San Antonio, Dallas) came with the opponent also missing key player(s). How about this: The Celtics are 55-14 in the games Garnett has played. That's still a better winning percentage than any team in the league. And do you know how many times the Celtics have lost by 10 or more points? Three. That's the same number of double-digit losses the last Celtics title team (1985-86) had.

  • He plays in the Eastern Conference: There's been only one Eastern Conference MVP since Michael Jordan retired (Allen Iverson, 2001) although Jason Kidd ('02) and Shaquille O'Neal ('05) probably should have won. But the Celtics demolished Western Conference teams, winning 25 of 30 games, including sweeps of the Lakers, Spurs, Mavericks, and Rockets. And three of those losses came in February, when Garnett was rusty after returning from his injury.

  • He has too many good teammates: This might be the most ludicrous argument of all. I never heard anyone quibble about Larry Bird's MVP worthiness because of who played with him. Or Magic Johnson's. Or Jordan's. Or Tim Duncan's. Or Bill Russell's. Or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's. What if the Garnett deal had not gone down and we had Al Jefferson et al along with Ray Allen and Paul Pierce? How good do you think the Celtics would be?

    Garnett has been the best player on the best team and has totally transformed that team in the process. In most years, that's argument enough.

    1. Kevin Garnett. 2. Chris Paul. 3. Kobe Bryant. 4. LeBron James. 5. Dwight Howard.

    Coach of the Year

    Much like the MVP award, there are more than a few deserving candidates. Here's one who should get some recognition but won't: Maurice Cheeks. Did anyone think Philadelphia would be around .500 and a playoff team to boot?

    Big Chief Triangle himself, Phil Jackson, will get some love, as will Rick Adelman, especially for what Houston has done since Yao Ming went down. No one mentions Stan Van Gundy, but how many pegged Orlando for 50 wins? I didn't. But the two guys who should get the most juice are Doc Rivers and Byron Scott. Either one is a solid pick.

    Rivers has managed the Celtics brilliantly, quieting all the lugheads who thought he was the reincarnation of Roy Rubin. It started with "ubuntu" in Europe and has continued to this day. He made defense a priority and he could finally realize that because of the personnel. But methinks Scott has it over Doc by just a tad because of where his Hornets came from, with essentially the same people as last year (although a healthier crew).

  • The only significant addition, Morris Peterson, has been an occasional contributor. Paul has been off the charts. David West turned himself into an All-Star. Tyson Chandler may well be anchoring Uncle Sam's team in China. And Peja Stojakovic came back from back surgery. To top it off, the Hornets went from the lottery to the very top of the brutally tough Western Conference without a dramatic overhaul and while playing in not always the best conditions at home.

    1. Byron Scott. 2. Doc Rivers. 3. Rick Adelman.

    Rookie of the Year
    Kevin Durant seemingly had this one wrapped up from the moment it was announced that Greg Oden would miss the season after knee surgery. (Some thought he'd win it whether Oden played or not.)

    It's hard not to marvel at this kid and what he has done all season for a terrible Seattle team trying to get out of the Pacific Northwest for the wavin' wheat of Oklahoma. (We can't hold him accountable for that, however.) Despite what the Sonics have done this year, which isn't much, he's pretty hard to overlook for the award.

    The one guy who could get some votes because he has had the biggest impact for a rookie as far as improving his team is the Rockets' Luis Scola. Was it a coincidence that Houston started off on its epic 22-game winning streak after Scola was put into the starting lineup (something, by the way, that Rockets general manager Daryl Morey thought would be the case in Game 1).

    Yet, it's always weird to consider a seasoned pro such as Scola a rookie. But he at least has to be in the discussion. Houston didn't put a 41-cent stamp on its season when Yao went down, and it will be in the playoffs, which, when Yao did go down, was no mortal lock.

    The other semi-worthy candidate is Atlanta's Al Horford. The Hawks will likely be in the playoffs, ending their eight-year drought. But they also will post a losing record for the ninth straight year.

    Those three should be on the All-Rookie first team, along with Al Thornton of the Clippers and probably Thaddeus Young of the Sixers.

    1. Kevin Durant. 2. Luis Scola. 3. Al Horford.

    Most Improved Player
    This is the award that has the broadest guidelines and elicits the most candidates. There are a slew of guys who could win this one, starting with one right in our own backyard in Rajon Rondo. The Pacers are making the case for Mike Dunleavy Jr., and the Timberwolves went the bobblehead/piggy bank route in trying to muster support for old friend Jefferson, who probably was a better candidate last year. Atlanta wants Josh Smith to be recognized, and you can certainly make a case for David West of the Hornets or even Rudy Gay in Memphis. But the play this season of Hedo Turkoglu for the Magic has to be recognized. He probably should have been on the Eastern Conference All-Star team and he has been a huge reason the Magic enjoyed the season they did.

    1. Hedo Turkoglu.

    Defensive Player of the Year
    This, of course, goes to Garnett. There shouldn't be anyone else in the discussion. Amazingly, Garnett, while being an annual on the league's All-Defensive Team (and now we know why), has never won this award. That has to stop this season. You almost get the feeling that Garnett would want this award over any other (assuming he cares about any of them, which he probably doesn't). Last year's winner, Marcus Camby, will get some support, as will Bruce Bowen and Shane Battier. Bryant said earlier this year that this was the one award he was shooting for. Sorry, Kobester.

    1. Kevin Garnett.

    Sixth Man
    This is also, in my mind anyway, a no-brainer. The Spurs' Manu Ginobili has been a constant all season, mostly coming off the bench, but also as a starter. And the fact that he started a number of games does not disqualify him; that is what a good sixth man is supposed to do every now and then.

    1. Manu Ginobili.

    All-NBA teams
    This can also be a little dicey, especially when you get down to the second and third teams. This year's first team has four locks: Garnett and James at forward and Bryant and Paul at guard. And, I think, over the course of the season, there hasn't been a better center than Orlando's Dwight Howard. The numbers that Amare Stoudemire is putting up are staggering, but most of those have come since the Shaquille O'Neal trade. So Howard gets the nod.

    As for the second team, Stoudemire gets the center spot because he technically played more games there than at power forward. Tim Duncan has not been a first-teamer only once (2006), but he is due for a second appearance on the second team as he gets a forward spot along with Utah's double-double machine, Carlos Boozer. Steve Nash and Ginobili make this an All-Western Conference five.

    As for the third team, here's where it gets fun, because some quality people are going to be left off. Camby should get the center nod, but only if you think Yao is undeserving because of all the time he's missed. Camby, by the way, has already played a career-high 76 games after averaging 56 a year for the first 11 years of his career. The forwards should be Pierce, who has had a terrific season, and Dirk Nowitzki, a first-teamer the last three years. We're leaving out Carmelo Anthony and Rasheed Wallace, among others. As for the guards, the choices here are Tracy McGrady and Chauncey Billups.

    Basically, someone from Houston and someone from Detroit have to make one of these teams, even though the Pistons like to think of themselves as a team of non-stars. We know better. At the same time, we're omitting some pretty good players who undoubtedly will get votes, among them Deron Williams, Iverson, and Baron Davis.

    Somehow, Fame voters don’t remember these names

    The Hall of Fame voters got it mostly right with the announcement of the inductees for 2008. But it's still hard to conceive how Dennis Johnson and Don Nelson remain on the outside looking in.

    Both were nominated this year, and they each have pretty good cases for inclusion. But, once again, the mystery voters denied both men a place while including Adrian Dantley (a gifted player, but, really, was he any better than DJ?).

    Among the players and coaches with NBA tie-ins, Patrick Ewing, Pat Riley, and Hakeem Olajuwon were automatics. It won't get any easier for DJ, whose résumé seems somehow to diminish year by year. This was the fourth time he has been a finalist. Next year, the automatics are Michael Jordan, John Stockton, and David Robinson.

    As for Nellie, he was a finalist for the second time. As was his onetime player and now boss, Chris Mullin. Assuming Jordan, Robinson, and Stockton get in, that leaves Mullin, Karl Malone (eligible in 2009), and Scottie Pippen (eligible in 2009) as the only NBA members of the original Dream Team still not enshrined.

    The lone collegian, Christian Laettner, should be in the discussion, as one of the greatest and winningest college players ever.

    Peter May can be reached at

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