Kevin Garnett is Mr. Everything for Minnesota
In the blink of an eye, the NBA regular season is almost complete. The big stories Ñ LeBron and Carmelo, Kobe and the Lakers, Iverson and McGrady Ñ have provided eye-of-the-storm material, often in a controversial sense. Has it been fun? Not all that much. But there are still the playoffs and the hope for some unusual drama along the way.
We bring you the Tribune's annual regular-season individual awards, piled as high as a Ben Wallace Afro for your reading pleasure.
MVP: Kevin Garnett, Minnesota
Other contenders: Tim Duncan, San Antonio; Jermaine O'Neal, Indiana; Peja Stojakovic, Sacramento; Kobe Bryant, L.A. Lakers; Shaquille O'Neal, Lakers.
Garnett is the most versatile and indispensable player in the game. His supporting cast is better than ever, but his leadership and accountability should earn him his first MVP trophy.
Coach of the year: Jerry Sloan, Utah
Other contenders: Rick Adelman, Sacramento; Terry Porter, Milwaukee; Hubie Brown, Memphis; Rick Carlisle, Indiana; Jeff Bzdelik, Denver.
Plenty of good coaching jobs this year, but none better than Sloan, who gets the sentimental and career achievement nod, too. Through a 19-year career in which he has won nearly 1,000 regular-season and playoff games and twice reached the NBA Finals, he has never been honored as coach of the year.
This season has been a challenging one as his wife, Bobbye, battles cancer. Even so, Sloan has the Jazz above .500 and in playoff contention. This despite the departures of John Stockton and Karl Malone after last season, and the loss this season of his second-best player, Matt Harpring, to a knee injury after 31 games. If he doesn't win this year, they ought to quit giving the award.
Rookie of the year: LeBron James, Cleveland
Other contenders: James by a nose over Denver's Carmelo Anthony, with Miami's Dwyane Wade third and Chicago's Kirk Hinrich fourth.
Despite the distraction of being accorded more attention than any rookie in NBA history, James has been even better than expected less than a year removed from high school. May he stay humble and a role model for those who follow him.
Defensive player of the year: Theo Ratliff, Portland
Other contenders: Ben Wallace, Detroit; Ron Artest, Indiana; James Posey, Memphis.
The Rattler won't win the league award, but the impact he has had on Portland's defensive scheme has been the biggest reason the Blazers remain in the playoff hunt.
Most improved: Zach Randolph, Portland
Other contenders: Michael Redd, Milwaukee; Andrei Kirilenko, Utah; Joe Johnson, Phoenix; Corey Maggette, -L.A. Clippers.
At this time last year, Randolph was a reserve who finished the regular season averaging 8.4 points and 4.5 rebounds. As a starter this year, the third-year forward is one of the league's five players averaging at least 20 points and 10 rebounds, and he ranks fifth in the league with 40 double-doubles. Call him selfish and a poor defender if you will, but he puts up numbers like few in the game. That counts for a lot.
Sixth man: Bobby Jackson, Sacramento
Other contenders: Al Harrington, Indiana; Antawn Jamison, Dallas; Earl Boykins, Denver; Hedo Turkoglu, San Antonio.
Jackson, just returning to the lineup after missing six weeks with an abdominal strain, should win for the second straight year. His value has been emphasized as the Kings have struggled without his energy and pop off the bench.
Executive of the year: Kevin McHale, Minnesota
Other contenders: Kiki Vandeweghe, Denver; Joe Dumars, Detroit; Geoff Petrie, Sacramento; John Nash, Portland.
The addition of Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell may not pay off in a championship, but it makes the Timberwolves a legitimate contender for the first time.
All-NBA: Kevin Garnett, Minnesota; Tim Duncan, San Antonio; Shaquille O'Neal, Lakers; Kobe Bryant, Lakers; Tracy McGrady, Orlando
Second team: Jermaine O'Neal, Indiana; Peja Stojakovic, Sacramento; Yao Ming, Houston; LeBron James, Cleveland; Jason Kidd, New Jersey.
Third team: Ron Artest, Indiana; Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas; Ben Wallace, Detroit; Ray Allen, Seattle; Stephon Marbury, New York.
Most unsung: Brent Barry, Seattle
If only he would shoot more.
Runner-up: Carlos Boozer, Cleveland. A second-round draft pick who might develop into an All-Star.
Most overrated: Allen Iverson, Philadelphia
If only he would think of someone other than himself.
Surprise team: Memphis
I predicted 34 victories; the Grizzlies will top out at 50-plus, with a chance for homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Take a bow, Hubie Brown.
Disappointing team: Phoenix
Supposed playoff contender will end up with worst record in the West.
Dishonorable mention to Chicago, which was supposed to make strides but has instead gone from bad to worse.
Surprise player: Mark Blount, Boston
CBA and International Basketball League refugee now averaging nearly 10 points and seven rebounds while shooting .563, second in the league behind Shaq.
Runner-up: Brian Cardinal, Golden State. A four-year veteran (had you heard of him before this season?) averaging nearly 10 points off Warriors' bench.
Disappointing player: Scot Pollard, Indiana
Major contributor with Sacramento was supposed to be a missing piece to Pacers' title run. Averaging 1.7 points and 2.6 rebounds while shooting .387 from the field.
Coach of the year for a couple of weeks: Lawrence Frank, New Jersey
He won his first 12 games.
Telling it like it is award: Laker veteran Horace Grant
While teammates Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant and Karl Malone were out with injuries, Grant said: 'Whenever we step on the court now, we are going to be underdogs. Unless we play Atlanta.'
Runner-up: Utah coach Jerry Sloan, explaining his benching of 7-1 center Greg Ostertag after a pair of nonproductive performances: 'If you are going to be 7 feet tall, you can't play like 6-1. If you get zero rebounds when you are 7 feet tall, I have the right to make a decision like that. I'm not going to beg. I'm not going to kiss his feet. I'm not going to go that far. But I will kiss anywhere else he needs kissed if that will help him play.'