Random thoughts by Sam Smith
Most Valuable Player Shaquille O'Neal, Los Angeles Lakers
We're sorry, but every time the playoffs arrive and O'Neal dominates, people want to change their vote. Shaq is the only unguardable player in the NBA, the league's most potent force. Yet he has just one MVP award. He may play only 65 games as he prepares for a fourth title, and missing 15 games last season cost him the award. It shouldn't.
Watch out for... Eddie Griffin, Houston Rockets
The long-armed 6-foot-10 inch forward got lost in the mess of a poor Houston season. But he could combine with Yao Ming to block more shots than any front line.
Scoring champion Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers
More responsibility falls on him with O'Neal's health problems. But coach Phil Jackson wants to play Bryant more on the wing, the position in the triangle offense where Michael Jordan was so successful. Jackson also wants to lessen Bryant's ballhandling responsibilities to keep him fresher.
Coach of the Year Jerry Sloan, Utah Jazz
Byron Scott said he deserved the award over Rick Carlisle last season, and it's expected the league will check with him before announcing the winner. But it's about time the award goes to a great, overlooked coach instead of the flavor of the month. Sloan has done a wonderful job of holding the Jazz together, and no coach gets his players to work harder.
Most Improved Player Darius Miles, Cleveland Cavaliers
The award probably shouldn't go to a first-round draft pick who finally gets an opportunity. But Miles, who didn't average in double figures in his first two seasons, should double his scoring with the pathetic Cavaliers. If he learns to shoot the ball and stops making himself dizzy by punching himself in the head after baskets, he could even make a run at the scoring title. With Dajuan Wagner ill and Zydrunas Ilgauskas scheduled for foot problems, he'll get plenty of scoring opportunities as will the Nets' Richard Jefferson, who moves into Keith Van Horn's spot.
Sixth Man of the Year Corliss Williamson, Detroit Pistons
He should go back-to-back. He's in the unusual position of being a reserve who is also the team's go-to guy down the stretch with the departure of Jerry Stackhouse. It's unlikely the team will look to newcomer Richard Hamilton, and Williamson is the only true post threat Detroit has.
Rookie of the Year Drew Gooden, Memphis Grizzlies
Second straight rookie honor for the improving franchise. Yao Ming won't score enough, Jay Williams may have to look over his shoulder at Jamal Crawford, and the game is too fast right now for Mike Dunleavy. Trying to hang on to his job, coach Sidney Lowe will give Jerry West's draft pick the time to put up big numbers.
Defensive Player of the Year Kevin Garnett, Minnesota Timberwolves
Just trying to give him something. He's a great player but figures to be out in the first round of the playoffs again. His critics would have him score more at the end of games, but he's too unselfish. He plays both ends of the court every night and gets no trophies to take home.
Supporting Actor Award Michael Jordan, Washington Wizards
He coined the much-used term "supporting cast" during the 1991 conference finals when the Bulls made their biggest run and beat the Pistons with Jordan not on the floor. Now Jordan is the supporting cast.
Out-of-Place Award Steve Kerr, San Antonio Spurs
Traded from Portland after a season in which the Trail Blazers supposedly grew fed up because Kerr showed no inclination to be arrested or embarrass the franchise or the city.
Charles Barkley Capriciousness Award Karl Malone, Utah Jazz
Saying he is thinking about retiring except when he's not thinking about retiring. He'll do what he wants when he wants, and people will know when they have to know or when he tells them he wants them to know.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Rocking Chair Award David Robinson, San Antonio Spurs
It should be a sentimental sendoff for Robinson, the last great center of his era and one of the sport's true gentlemen. Hakeem Olajuwon officially retires as the season begins. Patrick Ewing just went to the Wizards' coaching staff, and Alonzo Mourning is unlikely to return because of a kidney ailment. Dikembe Mutombo is said to be in his 50s and could leave at any time. Sure, Robinson needed Tim Duncan to get his title, but he always was out of place, the next Bill Russell who had no support. So he had to be Wilt Chamberlain, and he never complained.
We even have awards for stiffs
Keith Van Horn 'Fault' Award Kenyon Martin, New Jersey Nets
In looking to blame someone for the Nets' failure to get back to the Finals, Martin again fingers Van Horn for his soft play. Upon learning Van Horn had been traded a year before, Martin faults his Cincinnati education.
Victims of the Lockout Award Vin Baker, Boston Celtics; Shawn Kemp, Orlando Magic
They were All-Stars before the 1998-99 lockout. They apparently did nothing but eat during those three months and take training suggestions from Oliver Miller. They've been big, big wastes of talent ever since.
Off-Season Aim Improvement Award Doug Christie, Sacramento Kings
Landed a punch square on the jaw of the Lakers' Rick Fox in an exhibition game after badly missing virtually every shot he took in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals.
Allen Iverson Practice Award Latrell Sprewell, New York Knicks
Figures to be suspended sometime as he belittles the mundane parts of NBA life, such as practice. Notice Knicks coach Don Chaney being very nice. When Sprewell gets ready to choke someone, you wouldn't want to be standing near general manager Scott Layden.
Can We Get A Refund? Award
Teams hate to be writing checks to: Kenny Anderson, $9.2 million; Zydrunas Ilgauskas, $12.4 million; Nick Van Exel, $11 million; Antawn Jamison, $10.6 million; Austin Croshere, $7 million; Kelvin Cato, $6.7 million; Glen Rice, $9.2 million; Brian Grant, $11 million; Tim Thomas, $11.9 million; Terrell Brandon, $10.2 million; Allan Houston, $14.3 million; Latrell Sprewell, $12.4 million; Marcus Camby, $7.8 million; Derrick Coleman, $9.4 million; Penny Hardaway, $12.4 million; Tom Gugliotta, $10.9 million; Damon Stoudamire, $12.4 million; Vin Baker, $12.4 million; Antonio Davis, $12 million; Steve Smith, $9.9 million.
Most Selfish Player Award Paul Pierce, Boston Celtics
He makes teammate Antoine Walker look like John Stockton. Pierce is a brilliant individual player who gained national attention last season with the team's playoff run. He's a huge talent and a tough player who could lead the league in scoring, but he constantly looks off teammates and overreacts when he doesn't get the ball. He's the anti-Celtic on a team that became a dynasty and remained one because of unselfish play.
Didn't I Used To Be Somebody? Award Vince Carter, Toronto Raptors
The dunking highlight machine who was to be the heir, or air, to Michael Jordan became Derrick Coleman last season. The team rallied after he was out for the season. He was mocked by teammates and forgotten by the public. He said he's taking names, but he's got to get back his own.
These really are teams?
Hopeless Cause Award Denver Nuggets
Because they play in the Western Conference, they'll edge the Cleveland Cavaliers and challenge for worst record in league history. Bill Fitch, who maneuvered his Houston team to the league's worst record in 1984 to get Hakeem Olajuwon, would be proud.
Most Fragile Team Award Milwaukee Bucks
The window is closing. After last season's collapse they put the blame on Glenn Robinson by trading him, and then Ray Allen blasted him. But Anthony Mason remains and could be a bigger internal problem if his minutes are reduced, as expected. Coach George Karl is on a precipice after an embarrassing six months with the team's collapse, USA Basketball's loss and his silly comments to a magazine that some took as a racial slam. If they don't start fast, they could come apart quickly despite their talent.
Wackiest Ship In the NBA Award Washington Wizards
That's Jerry Stackhouse and Christian Laettner, who once had a fistfight over a card game, back together. Charles Oakley and Doug Collins, who warred in Chicago over who took the shots, are back together. Stackhouse is with Michael Jordan, who belittled Stackhouse's game as un-Carolina like. Larry Hughes is playing point guard, which he couldn't do for Golden State. And Patrick Ewing is predicting a championship. OK, not quite yet. Will Jordan retire before Ewing makes his comeback?