Postseason awards/accolades – many of them – don’t mean a whole lot. The only ones that hold weight over the long haul are MVPs, All-NBA nods, and, to a lesser extent, Defensive Players of the Year. Within a year or so, Rookie of the Years, Coach of the Years, Most Improved Players – nobody really cares. Jalen Rose was the MIP in 2000; you think they mention that when introducing him at speaking engagements? You think he “award drops” that in conversations? Damon Stoudamire was ROY in 1996. Let’s be real…that’s trivia.
So I don’t really have much to say about Damian Lillard’s rookie season and his inevitable ROY, to be honest. I think he’s a dope, young ball player, but doubt he’ll end up on the same level as Jrue Holiday (same age) in three years – much less Kyrie Irving. His winning ROY surely isn’t the indicator. And the fact that consensus No. 1 pick Anthony Davis won’t nab a ROY will likely be less than a footnote in a couple of years, if/when he’s making All-Star teams. Tyreke Evans won the award in 2010. Dig?
The same year Tyreke won ROY, Aaron Brooks won MIP. This year, I’d rather James Harden or Paul George or, truthfully, LeBron James get the MIP. Whose game improved in a more impactful way than ’Bron’s? But we know how the voters handle this award. So, meh, let’s give it to Larry Sanders (averaging a double-double since the All-Star break). Zzzzz. Wake me up before you go-go.
The Sixth Man of the Year is a cute award. I’m sure the men who receive the honor cherish it a great deal, as it typically goes to a player of great skill that would, undoubtedly, start on most squads. But, over the years, its recipient make up a roving list and, in the past 20 seasons, only Toni Kukoc (’96), Aaron McKie (’01) and Harden (’12) played in the Finals. Kevin McHale was the last SMOY to win a title in that same season (’84). Perhaps the two most famous full-time sixth men of all-time – Michael Cooper and Vinnie “The Microwave” Johnson – never won the award. See what I’m getting at?
And, there’s this: It would be cool for J.R. Smith to win SMOY. Clap for him. In a lot of ways, J.R. should really be gunning for the MIP nod, though. The statistical differences between the past two seasons isn’t glaring, but J.R. carries the second-seed Knicks as the No. 1 option for stretches during games. He hits game-winners. He’s also, ahem, reliable…in a peculiar way. J.R. will come off the bench and win the Knicks some playoff games over the next few weeks. Two years from now, though – should he win the award – his SMOY plaque will be forgotten, bubble-wrapped in a nondescript closet.
Now bust this: In the last 30 years, winners of Coach of the Year made it to the Finals that same season only three times – Phil Jackson in ’96, Larry Brown in ’01 and Gregg Popovich in ’03. Much like the MIP, COY can tend to be a “good job, good effort” pat on the back. Phil coached the Lakers to sixty-freaking-seven wins in 2000; but, Doc Rivers' rag-tag Magic squad goes 41-41 in 2000 and, well, “good job, good effort – you win.” Brian Hill had Young Shaq and a bunch of semi-neophytes (every principal player other than Ho’ Grant were in the league for five years or less) winning 57 regular games on the way to the Finals; but, Leslie Nielsen, I mean, Del Harris wins 48 with the ’95 Lakers and, well, “good job, good effort.”
It’s a sham.
Now, with that said, let me get on my hypocrite-swag extra heavy…screw Erik Spoelstra, Tom Thibodeau deserves this award. The smart folks at Grantland – in this case, Kirk Goldsberry – offered a very insightful look at how LeBron’s game has evolved over the years. Very important in that evolution was, in part, Spo’s willingness to use some ingenuity and figure out different and better ways to use this generation’s seminal talent. The Heat won 66 games, this season. They will likely go on to win the title. Yet, there’s something Herculean and downright amazing about how Thibs helped will this Bulls squad into the playoffs – with its superstar gone for the entire season, All-Star center Joakim Noah out for about a quarter of the season, and starting guard Rip Hamilton injured for about 35 games. The Bulls win because of defense, rebounding and toughness – not talent. Not to diminish the players’ individual efforts, but that’s coaching. Good job, Thibs. Good effort.
You want to know what I really care about? I care about the players that will define this season. That’s why the All-NBA teams hold up so well. It’s why, whenever people try to dismiss a guy like Tracy McGrady (back with the Spurs – like he never left, I might add) as a playoff bum with a contracted prime, I tell them to check his rez. From 2001 to 2008, Mc made All-NBA seven of those eight years – first or second team in five of them. His prime was as long as some dudes’ full careers. That means something. Making All-NBA means amore than making an All-Star squad (especially the fan-voted starters).
I’m going to remix it, though, and treat my three All-NBA teams like the NCAA does its All-American squads and throw the “G,G,F,F,C” rule out the sunroof. With that said, super-shout out to these 15 men:
G: Chris Paul
G: Kobe Bryant
F: LeBron James
F: Kevin Durant
F: Carmelo Anthony
G: Russell Westbrook
G: James Harden
G: Dwyane Wade
G: Tony Parker
C: Tim Duncan
G: Steph Curry
F: Josh Smith
C: Joakim Noah
C: Marc Gasol
C: Tyson Chandler
And, finally, the MVP, which is a non-issue. No one has ever played basketball better than LeBron James has played the game this season – not Magic in ’87 or Bird in ’86 or Jordan in ’92 or ’96; not Shaq in ’01 or Kobe in ’06. The same goes for Wilt and Oscar in ’62 or Rod Strickland in ’98. LeBron has taken his game to a level where he almost never makes a mistake. It seems like he never takes a bad shot, always makes the right pass, changes the tempo when necessary, rarely gets caught on a bad rotation and consumes the 4,700 square feet of the NBA court with a sort of timely, manic defense. Revelation…the man is a revelation. And he should be a unanimous selection for the MVP.
But, before we wrap, allow me a word about Chris Paul. LeBron’s and KD’s primes will last longer than CP’s. This could mean that CP will never see an MVP and never win a ring. This is disconcerting because he might get lost in history’s shuffle. At CP’s peak, I can recall two players – in my lifetime – that played the point guard position as well as him…Magic and Isiah. That’s right. I’m throwing down the gauntlet – Jason Kidd, John Stockton, Gary Payton and all the other legends can stand down. CP is that good. For the past six seasons – when healthy – he’s been a no-holes point guard and a transformational leader. But, without the rings and hardware – and even with the string of All-NBAs – the ignorant, forgetful and uninitiated are bound to misremember his true value.
Twenty years from now, you will see a two-time MVP like Steve Nash ahead of CP on the all-time point guard lists. The thought of his career diminishing in value and prestige over time is distressing. What the Black Joe Pesci has done with the Clown-Clippers is astonishing in many ways. A squad with a shaky coach, young and raw bigs, and oft-injured vets, won 55 games and enter the playoffs as legit contenders. It ain’t because Jamal Crawford (my guy) is an SMOY candidate, either. Chris Paul is the NotLebronMVP . Maybe that’s what we need for the next five years – an NLMVP.