While we understand that its awards are for the regular season, so much of the action in the NBA doesn't happen until the postseason. So now that the Miami Heat have dispatched the Oklahoma City Thunder to win the NBA Finals (as well as marking an official end to LeBron James's Quest for Change for a Dollar Tour), we now feel like we can safely make our decisions about who really deserves these accolades.
Rookie of the Year
Kyrie Irving (Cleveland Cavaliers)
It's a small consolation to Cleveland Cavaliers fans, considering they just had to watch LeBron James win his first championship in just his second year in a different uniform, but the atrocious year they had without the best player on the planet allowed them to pick up the best player in last year's draft: Kyrie Irving. Not only was Irving unquestionably this season's best rookie, averaging 18.5 points and 5.4 assists a game, he also gave hope to a sports city routinely lacking it. May his jersey forever be unburnt.
Runner up: Ricky Rubio (Minnesota Timberwolves)
If only Rubio hadn't had season ending surgery mid-way through the year, we would have had a closer contest here. Rubio was the most exciting player to enter the NBA in years, what with his crazy angular passes and his on-court enthusiasm that got hit teammates involved. A full year with Rubio and rebound-machine Kevin Love make the Timberwolves the number one reason to have NBA All-Access next season.
Trade of the Year
The New Orleans Hornets send Chris Paul and two future second round draft picks to the Los Angeles Clippers for Eric Gordon, Chris Kaman, Al-Farouq Aminu and a first round draft pick
The trade that launched a thousand conspiracy theories. David Stern vetoed the first Chris Paul trade, which would have brought back Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom (among others) from the Los Angeles Lakers to the then league-owned New Orleans Hornets. Stern then approved this trade to the Clippers, one which rejuvenated basketball interest in Los Angeles's other franchise. With Chris Paul and Blake Griffin together, the oft-mocked Clippers reinvented themselves as Lob City and made it to the second round of the playoffs (which is as far as that other team at Staples made it).
Meanwhile, the Hornets suffered with the players they got back from the trade, but perhaps that was part of the overall plan. Lingering frustration over the trade that wasn't, was eased when their bottom five record allowed them to win the first pick of the NBA Draft, which they will likely use for Kentucky's Anthony Davis. So it's a trade that eventually worked out for everyone. Except, I guess, for the Lakers. Or fans convinced the NBA Draft lottery was fixed.
Worst Trade That Never Happened
Dwight Howard to Anywhere-But-The-Magic
It seemed as if the Orlando Magic were going to move star center Dwight Howard even before the season began, but there he was on the Opening Day roster. From then to the trade deadline, Howard's eventual trade seemed inevitable, particularly when the Lakers' talented-but-immature center Andrew Bynum had the monster year that people had expected from him for years. A Howard-for-Bynum trade seemed to be an obvious trade to make.
But then nothing happened. The Magic didn't really want to trade their star player to the Lakers, remembering how the Shaquille O'Neal trade failed to work out for them. Beyond the Lakers, the difficult-to-please Howard's list of preferred destinations dwindled to a mere handful of teams (like Shaq, he wanted to be an entertainer as well as a basketball player). The disconnect between the behind-the-scenes drama and the public image the two sides tried to portray became even more absurd when Orlando hosted the All-Star Game festivities. Dwight Howard became the unofficial master of ceremonies for a city that he desperately wanted to leave.
Then came the trading deadline, when Dwight Howard announced his decision to stay for the rest of the season. It seemed as though Howard was just going to ride through the season and test free agency where he could pick and choose his team without the convoluted nonsense that are NBA trades. Then, Howard, possibly reacting to overwhelming negative response from Twitter about how he had been treating his club, said he would forgo his opt-out clause in the off-season, keeping him under the Magic's control for all of next year.
That seemed like that, until Howard went "LOL J/K" and his agent claimed that he wouldn't "opt-in" to next season. By that time the Magic were reportedly back to trying to trade Basketball Hamlet but the deadline was growing too close for them to do anything. In the end Howard remained with the Magic for the remainder of the season and honored his promise not to opt-out during the off-season.
Postscript: Howard opted to have season-ending back surgery before the start of the playoffs, the Magic won a total of one game in the playoffs with Glen "Big Baby" Davis as his replacement, the Magic fired their GM, Otis Smith, and head coach Stan Van Gundy (whom Howard had wanted fired earlier in the season) and flirted with actually hiring Shaq in a management role. This will not end well.
Also related: The Press Conference of the Year!
Defensive Player of the Year
Tyson Chandler (New York Knicks)
We'll agree with the NBA, who selected Chandler as the Defensive Player of the Year, while disagreeing with the the NBA who did not include Chandler on their first-line All-Defensive Team.
Most Entertainingly Erratic Player
JaVale McGee (Washington Wizards, Denver Nuggets)
Anytime a player goes from YouTube sensation for a nonstop barrage of poor decisions and baffling plays into a playoff force that out-plays Kobe Bryant, that deserves some kind of recognition. Hopefully under the supervision of the Nuggets' George Karl, McGee can become more and more entertaining in a good way, less entertaining in a "Plan 9 from Outer Space" way.
Runner-Up: Rajon Rondo (Boston Celtics)
He saves us his triple-doubles for nationally televised games, he misses easy layups, he has one of the best games in NBA postseason history but his team loses. He's moody, he's erratic and he's maybe the most brilliant player in the NBA. He may be a serial killer and he's the centerpiece for the Boston Celtics' uncertain future. He's Rajon Rondo, and the league is more fascinating with him in it.
Most Improved Player
Avery Bradley (Boston Celtics)
What, you expected me to go with anybody else? If Avery Bradley is healthy for the Eastern Conference Finals, the Boston Celtics have a much better shot at beating the Miami Heat and going to the NBA Finals. So, in one season, Bradley went from a back-of-the-bench player with absolutely zero offensive skills to a figure whose presence could have altered the entire course of the postseason. "My Guy" did pretty good for himself this year.
Runner up: Andrew Bynum (Los Angeles Lakers)
After Bynum had his triple-double in the opening round of the Lakers series against the Nuggets, he almost had this one in the bag. Then the immaturity that he showed earlier in the year came back when the Oklahoma City Thunder closed out the Lakers in the second round. I guess "closing out" awards aren't easy, either.
Best Tank Job
The Portland Trial Blazers
Competing for a playoff spot throughout the entire first half of the season, Portland saw its chances fading. Instead of fighting for the opportunity to become the Utah Jazz, the Trail Blazers dumped a few key players at the trade deadline, and essentially tanked in order to secure the rights to a draft pick.
Right, because Portland does so well when they draft.
Coach of the Year
Gregg Popovich (San Antonio Spurs)
Nobody expected the Spurs to win the number one seed, not to mention to go on a 20 game winning streak at the end of the year and ended in the postseason. With Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili both aging, Popovich made point guard Tony Parker the focus of the team, the results were the most exciting Spurs team of the Duncan era, and a season pretty much nobody but Spurs diehards were expecting. Although the Oklahoma City Thunder ended their miracle run with four straight losses, the results were a Western Conference Finals that may have been the best played stretch of basketball in the entire postseason. Not a bad run for a team labeled as "boring".
Plus, he gave us a great moment when he listed Tim Duncan as "Did Not Play - Old".
Runner Up: Doc Rivers (Boston Celtics)
The Boston Celtics lost Jeff Green to a heart ailment before the season even began, and then lost Chris Wilcox and Jermaine O'Neal before the season's end. Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen were all way past their primes, and occasionally injured. Rajon Rondo turned in his best season, despite the fact that he was his erratic as ever, and Greg Stiemsma was their last big man standing (hobbling, really, considering his injured foot) by the end of the condensed schedule. With all that going on, Rivers was able to push this team past the Atlanta Hawks (who always play the C's hard), the Philadelphia 76ers (maybe the most surprisingly tough 8th seed the playoffs had seen in a while) and were one game away from getting into the NBA Finals facing a Miami Heat team that was expected to annihilate them. Certainly some of that must have been coaching.
Trainwreck of the Year
The Charlotte Bobcats
Michael Jordan finally has something on his resume even uglier than the Hitler mustache he attempted for a few years. Although it should get an asterisk thanks to the lockout-shortened season, his Charlotte Bobcats team now has the worst record in NBA history, they actually played way worse than that.
Runner-Up: The Washington Wizards
At least they had John Wall, even if he wasn't that good this year. At least he's something.
"What If?" of the Year
What if Chicago Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau had taken out Derrick Rose at the end of their first playoff game?
It's not Thibodeau's fault that Bulls point guard Derrick Rose injured his ACL at the end of the their first play-off game against the Philadelphia 76ers. Derrick Rose had been fighting through health problems all year but certainly nobody could expect that he would blow out his ACL in the last minute of an almost-decided game. Still, it's hard not to wonder how far the Chicago Bulls could have gone had Rose remained healthy, or how a potential Bulls-Heat Eastern Conference Finals would have played out. Of course, that would also be assuming that the Bulls' Joakim Noah would have not been injured during that series as well.
Man, it's almost like Chicago teams sometimes have a lot of bad luck or something.
Runner Up: What if the Phoenix Suns had made the playoffs?
The Suns just missed the cut in favor of the Utah Jazz, it would have been really nice for Tim Duncan's San Antonio Spurs to have met Steve Nash's Phoenix Suns in the first round of the playoffs, potentially for the final time. The Spurs would have won, of course, but it would have been interesting to see if that 20 game win streak would have happened if Duncan were facing off against his long-time rival just one more time. This is more of a sentimental "what if", but what are sports if not sentimental?
"Right Name, Wrong Sport" Franchise of the Year
The Sacramento Kings
Best "Bad Team" to Watch
The Golden State Warriors
In all honesty, this award is going to be grandfathered in until the Warriors either stop being fun to watch or start winning. I hope neither happens anytime soon.
Shortest Playoffs Run
The Utah Jazz
No seriously, it happened. You may remember the Jazz as the team the San Antonio Spurs swept in the playoffs. No, the other one.
Runner-Up: Dallas Mavericks
The Indiana Pacers
They had no chance, but when the Pacers went up 2-1 in the second round of the playoffs against a Chris Bosh-less Miami Heat team it seemed... Well, it seemed almost possible that these no-names would somehow unseat the league's biggest villains. A nice thought, that.
Runner-Ups: The Philadelphia 76ers
The Boston Celtics weren't as formidable as the Miami Heat, but few expected them to push the series to seven games. Had the Celtics' Rajon Rondo not gone into beast mode after Paul Pierce fouled out, it would have been a 76ers/Heat Eastern Conference Finals.
Most Overlooked Teams
In the playoffs: Memphis Grizzlies
Not in the playoffs: Detroit Pistons
Okay, these might just be entirely personal and subjective on my part. My apologies to Zach Randolph, Rudy Gay and etc. of the Memphis Grizzlies and whatever players are currently on the Detroit Pistons roster. Ben Wallace is still around right? Well, apologies to him then.
Best And/Or Possibly Worst Dressed
Russell Westbrook (Oklahoma City Thunder)
The Thunder lost to the Heat in the NBA Finals, but they swept the in the post-season fashion show department. I don't know whether Westbrook was trying to be sincere or ironic, but much like his game, the only thing predictable about Westbrook's fashion was its unpredictability.
Best Tradition Continued
Tracy McGrady not surviving the first round of the playoffs
In this case, Tracy McGrady was with the Atlanta Hawks, whom the Boston Celtics defeated in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, but it still must have been an almost heartwarmingly familiar feeling for any Houston Rockets fans who happened to have been watching.
Most Conspicuous Absence
The former head coach of the Chicago Bulls and the Los Angeles Lakers can't be gone for too much longer, right? Last heard saying he would never take a job with the New York Knicks, Jackson spent the year being mentioned every time a coach was fired, was rumored to be fired or an angry drunken fan called up sports talk radio to demand he'd be fired. Phil Jackson might be happier now that he no longer has to actually coach, he has become a myth, a fearsome Keyser Soze type that spooks coaches whose jobs are less than secure.
Best Team Send Off
The New Jersey Nets
With the New Jersey Nets relocating to Brooklyn next season, New Jersey governor Chris Christie used the opportunity to be cordial and genteel about the whole affair. Oh wait, he actually went "good riddance".
Storyline of the Year
Jeremy Lin (New York Knicks)
It's been many media cycles since point guard Jeremy Lin played a game, so it's almost impossible to remember just how big his story became. The first Taiwanese-American player in the NBA was literally sleeping on a friend's couch in New York when injuries gave him an opportunity to contribute. With Lin at the point, the Knicks went on an epic winning streak, Lin appeared on back-to-back Sports Illustrated covers, was the key figure in the most watched Rising Stars game in All-Stars history and set off a million firestorms about cultural sensitivity. These, of course, being the Knicks, what followed was rather predictable: Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire came back and the team struggled to find its identity, the team started to lose and Jeremy Lin's season ended with a knee injury.
Least Valuable Player
Lamar Odom (Dallas Mavericks, but not really)
After the Chris Paul trade fell apart, a disgruntled Lamar Odom demanded a trade of his own, which the Los Angeles Lakers granted by sending him to the Dallas Mavericks team for basically nothing. Right then should have been a key. It seemed like a steal for the Mavs, but Odom wasn't happy in Texas, played poorly and eventually was benched for the rest of the season and not even awarded a playoff share for the Mavericks' brief playoffs cameo.
Most Valuable Player
LeBron James (Miami Heat)
Sometimes the league MVP struggles in the playoffs, as if he has been handed a target and not an award. Needless to say, this wasn't the case this season. By the time he won Finals MVP after the Heat vanquished the Thunder in five games, James had won his first championship, silenced his critics and established himself as the best player in the league. Now if only he could do something about his hairline.
Runner Up: Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City Thunder)
The rest of the NBA better be really afraid of Kevin Durant next season, because he's going to be absolutely frightening. After having a fantastic season, again winning the scoring title, and earning a reputation throughout May and June as the league's most clutch player, Durant cannot be happy with having an All-Star Game MVP as his most significant piece of hardware. Look for Durant to be extra motivated next season when all Thunder/Heat games will be appointment viewing.
This NBA season almost never happened, it was nearly killed by the lockout. Despite the shortened 2011-12 season, the labor strife, the bad officiating and some occasionally brutal basketball (let's not do the Celtics/76ers Eastern Conference Semi-Finals ever again), the NBA actually had an increase in its viewing audience this year. It's been the battle between LeBron James's Miami Heat and Kevin Durant, both on the court and in the public debate, that has driven a lot of the interest. Would anyone be shocked if these two met again in the 2013 Finals? That sound you just heard was David Stern popping open a champagne bottle.
Share your suggestions below. Thanks for joining us for the 2011-12 NBA season. There will be much more basketball coverage around the London 2012 Olympics. And a new NBA season later in the year...
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