Winderman: LeBron, Evans Lead Season's Award Winners

The ballots are due in a week, at the close of the regular season, before the start of the playoffs.

Most of the decisions already can be made with little hesitation. Others will be as uncertain at the deadline as they are today, races practically too close to call.

For now we size them up, offering a look into the requirements, if any, and the selection process.

Most Valuable Player

The process: The media vote requires selection, in order, of five players.

The issues: As in every sport, is it truly the "most valuable" or "most outstanding" player? Generally, it is a player from an elite team, if not one from a conference champion. Repeat winners have stood as a common theme.

Our answers:
1. LeBron James, Cavaliers. The best player on the best team often has been a winning formula. Then consider that this is a team that has gone through somewhat of a roster upheaval and nonetheless has remained dominant. This could (should?) be unanimous.

2. Kevin Durant, Thunder. Already somewhat of a departure from the theme that only players from truly elite teams merit consideration in this debate. Without Durant, would the Thunder even be in the playoffs, let alone as a 50-win revelation? Arguably, no player is more valuable to his team.

3. Kobe Bryant, Lakers. Has Kobe ever been more valuable to the Lakers, especially with Pau Gasol missing so much time and the support system not nearly as supportive as in recent seasons? His game winners produce a compelling campaign argument, but it simply has not been a compelling season for the Lakers by their lofty standards.

4. Dwight Howard, Magic. This is where you could offer the take-the-player-out-of-the-mix argument. Without Howard, is the Magic all that good, let alone at team that has broken away from the East pack along with the Cavaliers?

5. Steve Nash, Suns. Yes, Phoenix's resurgence has been because of the 1-2 punch, but Amare Stoudemire's resurgence is an undeniable product of Nash's playmaking. Take Nash out of this mix and you just might be taking the Suns out of the playoffs.

Rookie of the Year

The process: The media vote requires selection, in order, of three players.

The issues: This is always a tricky one, because how can team success factor into the equation when most of the top picks go to the dregs of the league? Instead, it tends to be a selection made on upside, on who has the brightest future, not necessarily the best first-year statistics.

Our answers:
1. Tyreke Evans, Kings. This, too, could come close to a unanimous selection. Evans has the look of a superstar in the making, the type of 'tweener guard who can handle, score from the wing and score at the rim. There is an awful lot of Dwyane Wade in the kid.

2. Stephen Curry, Warriors. He is oddly unique, which makes him a perfect fit with the Warriors. The shot is pure, the playmaking exceptional. And he has succeeded despite essentially playing alongside another point guard. Put him alongside a true two-guard and look out.

3. Brandon Jennings, Bucks. Forget the 55-point game. Instead consider the revival of the Bucks and the direction offered by a player without a day of collegiate experience. The Bucks have found their point guard of the future, which is not the easiest of matters to accomplish through the draft.

Coach of the Year

The process: The media vote requires selection, in order, of three coaches.

The issues: This might be the most unfair competition in the NBA, because it almost never goes to the coach from the team with the top record in either conference, with Cleveland's Mike Brown an exception last season, Instead, it generally goes to the coach perceived to have done the most with the least.

Our answers:
1. Scott Brooks, Thunder. Seriously, did anyone have Oklahoma City in the playoffs before the start of the season? Apparently, no one got the memo about this being a team of the future to Brooks. The turnaround has been astounding.

2. Scott Skiles, Bucks. In any other year, Skiles would be the choice, because who had Milwaukee among the top eight in the East? And that's without Michael Redd. Skiles' personality has driven the success.

3. Larry Brown, Bobcats. No matter where Charlotte goes or Brown goes from here, it doesn't matter. He has delivered the Bobcats to their first postseason, arguably the toughest step for any expansion franchise. The defensive disposition is quintessential Brown.

Most Improved Player

The process: The media vote requires selection, in order, of three players.

The issues: The NBA no longer has a "comeback player" award, because that opened the door to coming back from some rather unsavory stuff. But voters still tend to look toward players coming off injuries or extended absences.

Our answers:
1. Andrew Bogut, Bucks. Sometimes the bulb just goes on and a player goes from draft bust to impending All-Star. There is plenty to be said about emerging as the second-best center in the East behind Dwight Howard.

2. Marc Gasol, Grizzlies. And for more than being Most Improved Brother. Consider that Memphis drafted Hasheem Thabeet as its center of the future, not knowing that its center of the future already was in place.

3. Josh Smith, Hawks. Perhaps the truest candidate, in that he changed his approach, from selfish outside gunner, to team player and committed defender. This truly was a transformation.

Defensive Player of the Year

The process: The media vote requires selection, in order, of three players.

The issues: Blocked shots and rebounds tend to be overstated in this process, with the award almost always going to the league's most imposing big man. A high team defensive ranking is a must.

Our answers:
1. Dwight Howard, Magic. Of blocked shots, steals and defensive rebounds, only the rebounds offer a definitive change of possession. With Howard at the top of the league in rebounding and blocked shots, is this even a debate? This is another category that makes the case for a unanimous selection.

2. Gerald Wallace, Bobcats. You look at Charlotte's roster and there simply are not that many stoppers, especially with Tyson Chandler having missed considerable time. Yet if there is a catalyst to the league's top defense, it is Wallace, the ultimate team defender.

3. Thabo Sefolosha, Thunder. Oklahoma City does not offer much in the way of deterrence in the lane, and many in this starting lineup have an offensive bent. But against the West's elite, Sefolosha quietly has gone Artest, without the fancy hair or inflated pub.

Sixth Man Award

The process: The media vote requires selection, in order, of three players.

The issues: Play more than half your games off the bench and you're a candidate, although generally those who end the season as starters tend to get overlooked (consider it this season's Ginobili effect). The award generally goes to a player whose team carefully has crafted distinct responsibilities for the position.

Our answers:
1. Jamal Crawford, Hawks. Another award that could have a unanimous answer. The Hawks have taken the next step this season because there is a true sixth man in place, a game-changer off the bench. No longer is Flip Murray as good as it gets.

2. Jason Terry, Mavericks. Dallas has gone to remarkable lengths over the years to keep from having to start Terry, even as that concession was made 12 times this season. He practically stands as the definition of the award. It's almost as if a Mavericks game does not truly start until he enters.

3. Manu Ginobili, Spurs. Some of his best moments have come as a starter, which makes him a somewhat uneasy selection. Calling him a Sixth Man is like calling Tim Duncan a power forward. The Spurs have a way of confusing the issues.

Executive of the Year

The process: The award is voted upon by fellow NBA executives.

The issues: Much like Coach of the Year, it tends to go to a candidate who has lifted his team from the ashes, rather than maintained greatness. Consider, for example, the enduring success of the Spurs. Then consider that no one from San Antonio has taken the award since Bob Bass in 1990, yet Sacramento's Geoff Petrie has won twice since 1999.

Our answers:
1. John Hammond, Bucks. As much for what Hammond didn't do as what he did. While the trade for John Salmons and the drafting of Brandon Jennings invigorated the team, Hammond also didn't mortgage his team's future when he allowed Charlie Villanueva and Ramon Sessions to depart as free agents last summer.

2. Donnie Nelson, Mavericks. There was a solid start with the addition of Roddy Beaubois in the first round and the trade for Shawn Marion in the offseason. Then came the move that pushed Dallas into the top tier, the deadline deal for Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood. Nearly half the roster has been overhauled since last season.

3. Steve Kerr, Suns. Sometimes you have to acknowledge a mistake and move on. Give Kerr credit in cutting ties with Shaquille O'Neal and allowing the Suns to return to their running roots. And now that the Goran Dragic and Robin Lopez additions are paying dividends, perhaps payment is due in this balloting, as well. Extending Nash wasn't a bad idea, either.

Ira Winderman writes regularly for and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

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