As has become a tradition on the blog, I am posting the ballot I sent to the NBA office for the league's annual awards. I spent quite a bit of time looking at stats, speaking with other beat writers, and consulting my own experiences. My 2007 ballot is here,. Here is 2008:
Most Valuable Player
1. Kobe Bryant, Lakers 2. Chris Paul, Hornets 3. LeBron James, Cavs 4. Kevin Garnett, Celtics 5. Dwight Howard, Magic
Comment: There was a time this season I was sure my vote was going to LeBron, especially after I watched him outplay Kobe twice head-to-head. Yet there is no doubt that the Cavs' average finish hurt LeBron's chances with me and everybody else. I feel strongly that this was LeBron's best ever season, even better than two years ago when I gave him my MVP vote. But a component of the award now, in previous years and in the future is team success. Which is why LeBron himself told me on Wednesday that he didn't deserve the award. It is a season-long honor and while he may have been my choice at several times during the season, he was not at the end.
When it came to choosing between Bryant and Paul, it was very hard. I was so impressed with how Paul contributed to everything the Hornets do. However, my fiercest criticism of Bryant over the years was he was not a team player. I felt his 81-point game, for example, was a reason I would not vote for him. I was even more turned off when he asked for a trade last summer. His actions this season, however, have followed what I have always wanted to see out of him. People I greatly respect felt the same way. Ultimately, that made up my mind. I want to make it clear I am not giving to him as a "career award" as some have suggested the media will do. The Hall of Fame is a career award.
Coach of the Year
1. Byron Scott, Hornets 2. Mo Cheeks, Philadelphia 3. Jeff Van Gundy, Magic EDIT: Make that Stan Van Gundy. And, yes, I did send it into the league wrong.
Comment: All three of these men did something that impressed me, they designed systems to take advantage of the personnel they had. Scott's use of Paul's talents and the rest of the his players was especially meaningful to be. The Cavs have struggled for years to get the most out of their players with different systems. Scott found a way.
Defensive Player of the Year
1. Kevin Garnett, Celtics 2. Marcus Camby, Nuggets 3. Josh Smith, Hawks
Comment: Camby had better stats but he was on a poor defensive team. Garnett, however, set a great tone for the Celtics, who played some of the best defense seen in the NBA in years.
Most Improved Player
1. Jose Calderon, Raptors 2. LaMarcus Aldridge, Blazers 3. Rajon Rondo, Celtics
Comment: I may be the only one who votes for Calderon, last year I was one of two who gave it to Al Jefferson. He has blossomed into one of the 10 best point guards in the NBA and I believe he has a great career ahead of him. I know Hedo Turkoglu from the Magic will probably win but I don't find him to be, as the NBA puts it, "an up-and-coming player" in the award guidelines.
Rookie of the Year
1. Kevin Durant, Sonics 2. Al Horford, Hawks 3. Al Thornton, Clippers
Comment: Horford had a great year, but Durant is a special talent and he played on a team with very little protection or veteran leadership.
First Team G – Chris Paul, Hornets G – Kobe Bryant, Lakers C – Dwight Howard, Magic F – LeBron James, Cavs F – Kevin Garnett, Celtics
Second Team G – Steve Nash, Suns G – Manu Ginobili, Spurs C – Amare Stoudemire, Suns F – Dirk Nowitzki, Mavs F – Tim Duncan, Spurs
Third Team G – Deron Williams, Jazz G – Tracy McGrady, Rockets C – Marcus Camby, Nuggets F – Paul Pierce, Celtics F – Antawn Jamison, Wizards
Comment: The first team was easy, it was my MVP ballot. In my mind, Howard is the best center in the NBA hands down and he had a great season but he may not be on all ballots. On the second team I had Stoudemire at center, where he played more than half the season before and a little after Shaquille O'Neal. Also, it took a lot from Paul to knock Nash off my first team after three years up there. On the third team, I righted a wrong from last year and put Williams on there. I think very, very highly of the guy. Jamison probably won't make many ballots, but he replaced Carmelo Anthony after his actions this week. Not excusable as a team leader after everything he's been through. Jamison helped carry the Wizards with Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler out.
Cavs vs. Pistons
Abbreviated blog tonight, I will update after the game.
Pistons: Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, Antonio McDyess, Rasheed Wallace Cavs: Delonte West, Damon Jones, Wally Szczerbiak, Ben Wallace, Anderson Varejao
--LeBron and Zydrunas Ilgauskas are sitting, I imagine Ben Wallace will not play much. I'd be surprised to see Detroit's starters log much more than 20 minutes or so. --The Cavs signed Billy Thomas to a contract for the rest of the season before the game. He will add a little practice depth with Sasha Pavlovic out for the first round.
Pistons 84, Cavs 74
--There is not much to discuss about the actual game. It was close with the backups playing and when it came down to third strings late, the Pistons won out. Nobody got hurt, which was the main goal for everybody. --I think it is interesting that Mike Brown played Wally Szczerbiak 42 minutes tonight and started him instead of Devin Brown. It appears this is the direction he's going to go in the playoffs. Devin has been reasonably consistent all season and Mike wants consistency off the bench. He obviously decided he wants Devin as part of the second unit with Daniel Gibson and Anderson Varejao. Wally has been all over the place, but his jumper has seemed to come around a tad over the last two weeks. Anyway, we'll see. The interesting thing is the Cavs used 21 different starting lineups this season and they'll be using a 22nd different one when they play the Wizards in Game 1. --Damon Jones finally got some playing time tonight...and went 1-of-12. His frustration level, I imagine, is pretty high. --I don't think any more can be said about this game.