The NBA has it wrong on the timing of the voting for its annual individual awards.
Balloting is conducted late in the regular season, and awards are announced intermittently through the playoffs for maximum exposure. It ought to be done when the postseason is finished.
I know, the playoffs are the 'second season,' and there is a separate award for Most Valuable Player of the Finals. But is there any denying that the playoffs are the biggest part of the season, with the best going against the best?
That doesn't mean performance during the regular season should be disregarded. Playoff games simply should be taken into account and, when appropriate, serve as the deciding factor in picking award winners.
Since the current format is to consider only regular-season play, here are my picks for each of the NBA's six awards, plus a few of my own:
And the winners are É
MVP: Fifth, Tracy McGrady, Orlando; fourth, Kobe Bryant, Lakers; third, Shaquille O'Neal, Lakers; second, Tim Duncan, San Antonio; first, Kevin Garnett, Minnesota.
Take each of these players away from his side and you're left with a lottery team. I wavered back and forth between Duncan and Garnett the last two months. Duncan is The Franchise for the team that had the most success in the regular season, and he is an almost automatic double-double guy with terrific defense in the post and quiet leadership.
But Garnett has to do the most for his team. He leads Minnesota in scoring, rebounding, assists and blocked shots. Without him, the Timberwolves would be the Clippers.
Coach of the Year: Fifth, Eric Musselman, Golden State; fourth, Rick Carlisle, Detroit; third, Jerry Sloan, Utah; second, Gregg Popovich, San Antonio; first, Rick Adelman, Sacramento.
There were a number of excellent coaching jobs turned in this season. The best was by Adelman, who flies beneath the national radar every year, perhaps because of his well-worn reputation as a 'players' coach' who just rolls the ball out and lets the guys play. Adelman lost each of his top four players Ñ Chris Webber, Mike Bibby, Peja Stojakovic and Bobby Jackson Ñ for significant portions of the season and still ran away with the Pacific Division title.
Defensive player of the year: Ben Wallace, Detroit. The Pistons' undersized center has taken defense to an art form, serving as his team's MVP despite a scoring average of 6.9 points a game.
Rookie of the Year: Yao Ming, Houston, by an eyelash over Phoenix wunderkind Amare Stoudemire, though Stoudemire helped the Suns to the playoffs and Yao's Rockets didn't make it. Their scoring and rebounding numbers were similar, but Yao shot better, had more impact at the defensive level and was a little more consistent than Stoudemire.
Most improved player: Matt Harpring, Utah. Golden State's Gilbert Arenas and Troy Murphy, Memphis' Jason Williams, San Antonio's Tony Parker and New Jersey's Richard Jefferson are worthy candidates, too. But Harpring shot superbly and gave Karl Malone and John Stockton a reliable scoring threat they haven't had since Jeff Hornacek retired.
Sixth man: Andrei Kirilenko, Utah. Sacramento's Jackson and Milwaukee's Michael Redd were impressive, too, but Kirilenko's impact off the bench was even larger.
Executive of the year: Popovich. San Antonio's coach-general manager signed Bruce Bowen, acquired role players Manu Ginobili, Speedy Claxton, Kevin Willis and Steve Kerr and put together a team the way a front-office chief is supposed to.
Special recognition goes to É
Coaches of the year who might not be back: Jeff Bzdelik, Denver, and Terry Stotts, Atlanta. Each has demonstrated he is worthy of a shot at developing longtime woebegone franchises into something good.
Cliff Robinson Award: Carlos Boozer, Cleveland. A second-round pick like Robinson, the 6-9 forward shot .535 from the floor, averaged 10 points and 7.5 rebounds and showed a lot of scouts that this is one Dukie who might make it big.
Dennis Rodman Award: Ron Artest, Indiana. Call it controlled insanity, out-of-control sanity or whatever, Artest is a terrific player one step away from the asylum.
Joe Dumars Award: Dale Davis, Portland. As was Dumars during his playing days with Detroit, Davis is considerate with teammates, media, fans and kids, going about his duties as a professional athlete and a human being the right way.
Charles Barkley Award: Brent Barry, Seattle. Barkley was loquacious, accommodating and a quote machine. Barry isn't as flamboyant, but the former Oregon State great has the best sense of humor in the league.
Olden Polynice Award: Greg Ostertag, Utah. Ostertag is every bit as much a goofball as his former teammate, though he hasn't yet served jail time for impersonating a police officer.
Polynice Award, coaching division: Tim Grgurich, Phoenix. He still shags balls and pats behinds with a frenzy, avoids interviews, sits at the opposite end of the bench from the other coaches and stays away from coaches' huddles when timeouts are called. But the eccentric ex-Blazer assistant is beloved by his players. After the last Portland-Phoenix game, four Blazer players walked to the other end of the court to give him a hug.
Jermaine O'Neal Award: Antonio Daniels, Portland; Hedo Turkoglu, Sacramento. These players could most benefit from a change of scenery.
Jon Koncak Award: Juwan Howard, Denver. The NBA's most overpaid player made $20.6 million this season. Don't blame Howard Ñ he merely signed the contract.
Rasheed Wallace Award: Sorry, no one is worthy of the award for best technical foul attracter. Boston's Antoine Walker won this year's title with only 22, which pales in comparison to Wallace's career-best 41. Let's retire this award in Mr. T's honor.
Jerry Krause Award: Bob Whitsitt, Portland. No GM has done a better job screwing up a franchise.