NEW YORK — “Did you ever have to make up your mind, pick up on one and leave the other behind? It’s not often easy and not often kind, did you ever have to make up your mind?”
With the Lovin’ Spoonful’s lyrics reverberating through my head, it’s time to finally decide this season’s award winners.
MVP: You can’t go wrong with Kevin Garnett (providing the balloting doesn’t go a second round) or Tim Duncan, who makes the Spurs a certified championship contender regardless of his supporting cast.
Jermaine O’Neal earns my vote as leader of the pack Pacers, owners of the NBA’s best overall and road record as well as a commanding 20-8 advantage against the Western Conference.
For the most part, O’Neal has learned when to assert his dominance and when to be deferential to teammates depending on matchups, hot hands and opponents’ defensive schemes, a fundamental key toward maintaining harmony and winning, in that order.
Coach of the Year: Phil Jackson (there’s something to be said about taking distressed, wounded talent and doing what you’re supposed to do); Rick Adelman (his top seven players have been available as a component for one game); Larry Brown (deserving just off the 76ers’ demise without him); Terry Porter (skipped the on-the-job training and rebuilding-the-team phases of his career); Stan Van Gundy (reversed a losing mentality well into the season despite abject inexperience and sheared off size) get honorable mention.
This is strictly between Hubie Brown and Jerry Sloan. The Jazzman gets the slight nod because he oversees a bunch of no-names, low first-round selections and lower, or not at all, whereas the Grizzlies’ tamer has a much more deeper and distinguished den to unleash on opponents.
No, Hubie’s non-rated team isn’t simply an also-ran in the venomous West; it made an engraved indentation in the playoffs that are usually reserved for the same old eight or nine teams.
Kobe or Shaq?
While Bryant flaunts the capacity to take over large portions of a season and can gobble up people when he turns up the defensive voltage, if you asked 29 GMs to pick one player, guaranteed they would all gloom Shaq.
He gives you a chance to win everything from Day One. Of course, you must put up with him not being in great shape, his lack of initiative to jump out on screens and abysmal free-throw shooting.
There isn’t a team in the territory that wouldn’t love to live with his limitations. There’s also less chance of Shaq’s game being hampered by an electronic ankle bracelet.
Jackson or Kobe?
There’s no question, Phil has made Kobe more disciplined some of the time and a better defendant.
Defensive Player of the Year: Ben Wallace is top 10 in blocks, rebounds and steals. Theo Ratliff changes shots, minds and lifestyles of opponents as well as erases coach’s pre-game blackboards and teammates’ mistakes.
Meanwhile, Ron Artest’s man can’t get off a shot, a pass or a dribble without having it altered, deflected or stolen. Pit him against the opposition’s high scorer and you rarely hear him name mentioned again by the public address announcer. My first choice is Artest, who holds all their averages under water.
Rookie of the Year: Carmelo Anthony over LeBron James. It’s impossible to separate them by using individual statistics.
So, the only fair way to go — other than splitting my vote, it’s against NBA rules — is to base my decision on team victories and in which conference they’re compiled.
Sixth Man Award: Hubie’s second unit. None of top three candidates — Antawn Jamison, Al Harrington and Manu Ginobili truly embraced the role. If pressed to pick, it would be Ginobili who complained less privately and/or publicly than the others.
Most Improved Player Award: Andrei Kirilenko, who has made the good folks of the Wasatch forget all about Olympic corruption and the Osmonds.
Any one of the other nominees — Carlos Boozer, Zach Randolph, James Posey, Brian Skinner, Brian Cardinal, Jamaal Tinsley and Rafer Alston — is equally deserving.
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