By Chris Le
So you want to know about the NBA future? This is what I see …
Rookie of the Year: Blake Griffin, Clippers. It’s Griffin, somewhat by default. This freshman class blows. Griffin and Tyreke Evans and Jonny Flynn are the only rookies worthy of being in a starting five, and they might be the only rookies to make any impact whatsoever. But Griffin, to his credit, is a peg above — a legitimate star among the first year sludge. His turbo button is always at full tilt, whether it’s chasing a loose ball, boxing out or setting a pick. He only knows one speed: all-out. He probably goes to sleep flexing. And with a workman’s mentality, even a klutz can make an impact (Mark Madsen made an unwarrantedly publicized career of it.) But Griffin is also a freak athlete with burgeoning potential. And he’s the only post scorer on an offensive-minded team, so expect big numbers (15 points, 10 rebounds per game) but with few wins. That’s the price of being a Clipper.
Ballot: 1.) Blake Griffin, Clippers 2.) Tyreke Evans, Kings 3.) Jonny Flynn, Timberwolves 4.) James Harden, Thunder
Most Improved Player: Greg Oden, Trail Blazers. Oden was my pick, last season, for rookie of the year. I expected a 70’s era big man — ungraceful on offense, but swatting away 4 and pulling down 10 a night. Who would’ve thought 4 would be his fouls per game average, and 10 the number of minutes until he doubles over from fatigue? But I still expect the Oden I foresaw; my prediction was just a year off. 2010 will be his NBA cotillion.
Ballot: 1.) Greg Oden, Trailblazers 2.) Channing Frye, Suns 3.) Roy Hibbert, Pacers 4.) Anthony Randolph, Warriors 5.) Kwame Brown, Pistons (yes, you read correctly – Kwame Brown)
Sixth Man of the Year: Leandro Barbosa, Suns. I’m sporting a big hard-on for the Suns. Gone are the pesky back-to-basket big men who like to rebound and protect the rim. Goodbyes were said to their best perimeter defenders. Last year, Shaq and the half-court Suns felt forced, against nature. Like Asher Roth trying to be a rapper. This year will be different. It’s back to the run-and-gun, baby. And Amare Stoudemire, Channing Frye and sixth man Leandro Barbosa are ready to detonate on a lot of defenses.
Ballot: 1.) Leandro Barbosa, Suns 2.) Manu Ginobili, Spurs 3.) Rasheed Wallace, Celtics 4.) Lamar Odom, Lakers
Coach of the Year: Greg Popovich, Spurs. Coach Pop wants to preserve his geriatric team for the postseason. That means a bushel of DNP’s for Timmy, Manu, Finley and even McDyess, particularly in tail-ends of back-to-backs. But that won’t result in more losses. Popovich is the league’s Tony Robbins — a master of motivation, milking talent from a marginal player and knowing when to cap an overexerted and in the Spurs’ case, aging star. Pop will jumble the starting lineup throughout the season, determining who mixes well with whom, to eventually finalize a steady playoff rotation. But like I said, despite the lineup experiments and his studs occasionally wearing street clothes on the bench, the Spurs will be near the top.
Ballot: 1.) Gregg Popovich, Spurs 2.) Alvin Gentry, Suns 3.) Phil Jackson, Lakers 4.) Mike Brown, Cavaliers
Defensive Player of the Year: Ron Artest, Lakers. With the intrigue of how his volatile psyche will adulterate/reinforce/mesh with the defending champs (not to mention the Los Angeles glamour), the national media spotlight will be fixed square on Artest’s forehead. And, as any publicist will attest, media coverage = a free campaign. He’ll be the most ballyhooed defender this season. But there will be substance to match that ESPN flash. The Lakers will relieve Kobe of work, reducing the wear on his tires. Enter Artest, who, still a premier stalwart, will be assigned to defend the opponent’s best perimeter scorer.
Dwight Howard, the funnel-bottom of a top-three defense, sporting ample rebounds and blocks, is always a threat for the award. But he’s a stats candidate. It’s high time a man-to-man defender got the award. Shane Battier, anyone? I love him and his wrinkled head, but he won’t have the media love on a forgotten Houston Rockets team. Additionally, his increased role on offense may diminish his on-ball performance. Kevin Garnett is also a strong contender, but only if he can stay on the court. And with his age, you can’t count on that.
Ballot: 1.) Ron Artest, Lakers 2.) Dwight Howard, Magic 3.) Shane Battier, Rockets 4.) Kevin Garnett, Celtics
Most Valuable Player: LeBron James, Cavaliers. “Anyone but LeBron,” I told myself. I tried to not give LeBron the award. Predicting him is just too predictable. I wanted to be avant-garde with at least one of my picks. There has to be another contender, right? Perhaps Kevin Durant from an uprising Thunder squad. Not a bad choice. “Dwyane Wade and Chris Paul will do most with the least,” I said, trying to convince myself. And I’ve always thought Kobe Bryant is the most skilled player in the game. But, with everything boiled down, I couldn’t shake the fact that Cleveland will most likely have the league’s best record, and LeBron will post somewhere in the precinct of 28-8-7. It’s back-to-back for The King.
Ballot: 1.) LeBron James, Cavaliers 2.) Kobe Bryant, Lakers 3.) Chris Paul, Hornets 4.) Dwyane Wade, Heat
First Team All-Defense
G Dwyane Wade
G Shane Battier
F Ron Artest
F LeBron James
C Dwight Howard
First Team All-NBA
G Chris Paul
G Dwyane Wade
F Kobe Bryant
F LeBron James
C Dwight Howard
1. Cleveland Cavaliers
2. Boston Celtics
3. Orlando Magic
4. Atlanta Hawks
5. Washington Wizards
6. Chicago Bulls
7. Philadelphia 76ers
8. Miami Heat
1. Los Angeles Lakers
2. San Antonio Spurs
3. Portland Trail Blazers
4. Denver Nuggets
5. Dallas Mavericks
6. Phoenix Suns
7. Utah Jazz
8. New Orleans
East Champions: Boston Celtics
West Champions: Los Angeles Lakers
NBA Champions: Los Angeles Lakers