Oklahoma City Thunder v Golden State Warriors

PBT’s NBA Mid-Season Awards: All hail Kevin Durant

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It’s the halfway point of the NBA season. To me having a serious discussion about end of season awards before this point is like discussing the 2016 presidential election today — it’s all speculation and wishful thinking.

Now we have enough games to have a body of evidence and a discussion. So here are my picks for all the awards, as things stand at the midway point of the season. I’ll give you my top five for MVP and three for everything else — including team to beat for the NBA title.

MVP
1. Kevin Durant
2. LeBron James
3. Chris Paul
4. Carmelo Anthony
5. Kobe Bryant

To me this is a two man race with a gap to the No. 3 spot. Kevin Durant and LeBron James are the two best basketball players walking the face of the earth and both are having monster seasons — LeBron is averaging 26.5 points per game on 55 percent shooting, plus 7.1 assists and 6.9 rebounds a game, with a PER of 30.3. Durant is at 29.6 points a game on 52 percent shooting with 7.4 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game with a PER of 29.2. It’s tight.

What puts Durant on top for me is he is leading his team to more consistent play — the Heat appear bored and coasting to wins some nights, the Thunder seem to bring it every night. In the playoffs when the Heat are focused the outcome may be different, but this is a regular season award and I think Durant is getting more out of his team — James Harden was traded, he had to take on more playmaking load and the Thunder are better than last year. So he gets the big award for now.

Rookie of the Year
1. Damian Lillard
2. Anthony Davis
3. Andre Drummond

This is not the runaway some fans think it is — Lillard is putting up 18.3 points and 6.6 assists per game and has taken charge of the Trail Blazers offense, but his defense is not good and his PER of 16.6 reflects some inefficiency in his game. He’s been fantastic, he’s the clear leader halfway home, but there are other good rookies, too.

Anthony Davis is not getting noticed because: 1) He’s on the Hornets and they only make news because they are about to be the Pelicans; 2) He has an unconventional offensive game — he doesn’t have a go-to offensive move, he doesn’t rack up a lot of highlights. What he does is space the floor well, play efficiently, defend well and he’s great on the roll or cutting off the ball. He’s going to be very special soon.

And my god Lawrence Frank, why are you playing so much Jason Maxiell and not so much Andre Drummond? You’re not making the playoffs, develop your young star. Drummond has the best PER among rookies at 22.9.

Sixth Man of the Year
1. Jamal Crawford
2. Jarrett Jack
3. J.R. Smith

This race is still really wide open for me. J.R. Smith puts up big numbers at times but he’s a little too streaky and inefficient for my taste. Jarrett Jack is right there because not only does he come in and anchor the second unit for the Warriors, he is a guy they trust with the ball in his hands at the end of games. He’s got the best PER of the group at 17. But he’s getting outscored pretty heavily by the other two, averaging 12.5 points a game.

Jamal Crawford’s flashy game — he finally practiced dribbling last summer! — fit with the Clippers “new Showtime” style, but the key is he is second on the team in scoring (16.6 points a game) and he leads the best bench unit in the NBA. He has been streaky and inefficient as well, but has had better results.

Defensive Player of the Year
1. Joakim Noah
2. Marc Gasol
3. Chris Paul

This is a tough and deep category — notice I don’t have any Pacers on here and they have the best defense in the land. Paul George easily could be on this list. Chris Paul makes it because he is leading the league in steals (2.6 a game) which is key to a pressure Clippers defense designed to set up fast breaks and highlight alley-oops to Blake Griffin. The Clippers have been good defensively and Paul leads them on that end, too. Marc Gasol is second because… have you watched him or Memphis? He just owns the paint and makes smart reads.

But the top spot goes to the Energizer Bunny that is Joakim Noah — the Bulls are a playoff team without MVP Derrick Rose because Noah has anchored their defense and brings it every night. Tom Thibodeau rightfully gets a lot of credit for what the Bulls do defensively, but it doesn’t work without Noah, who plays the role Kevin Garnett did in the scheme in Boston just as well.

Coach of the Year
1. Mark Jackson
2. Frank Vogel
3. Mike Woodson

Right or wrong, this award generally goes to the coach who exceeded expectations with his team. Woodson has gotten more out of the Knicks and got them to jell in a way Mike D’Antoni simply could not. Frank Vogel has the Pacers playing the best defense in the NBA by being smart and playing to their strengths. The Pacers have been without Danny Granger all season, have watched Roy Hibbert slump all season, and are still right there in the East and getting better.

But the award goes to Mark Jackson. And I’ll take my crow cooked medium rare — I thought this was a bad hire, taking the inexperienced coach out of the broadcast booth and it would backfire. But the fact is once he got a healthy team Jackson’s skill is getting guys to buy in and believe in the system and with that he has the Warriors impressing everyone (they beat the Thunder and Clippers in the last few days). Most importantly, Jackson got them playing good team defense, and that was a huge change.

Teams Most Likely to Win NBA Title This Season
1. Thunder
2. Heat
3. Clippers

When the Heat and Thunder were playing last year, I was saying not to be surprised if we saw that same finals three out of the next five years. It looks as if we might get a rematch this June. The Thunder are better — Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are both 24, they are still at the point in their careers where their games make big strides each year. After their first Olympic experience, both came back better playmakers and that helped because when James Harden was traded the Thunder needed them to fill that gap. They did. Throw in the improved Serge Ibaka and good production from Kevin Martin and the Thunder are the team to beat in the West. The one team that can do it — the Clippers. Vinny Del Negro may run simple sets, but when you have Chris Paul letting him make decisions and improvise is smart coaching. Most importantly for the Clippers, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan have learned how to defend as a unit on the back line (most of the time) and when the Clippers defend they are hard to beat. They are also much deeper now.

The Heat are coasting to the best record in the East. You only see their pressure defense and full intensity for a quarter here or a half there — but when you do you wonder if anyone can beat them when they are focused. And as we head into the playoffs they will get focused.

(Note: There are no picks for Most Improved Player because I can’t stand the award in concept and how it is usually handed out to a guy who just got more minutes because his coach finally woke up.)

Rumor: Jazz, Kings, Pistons getting new primary logos

Image (1) Jazz_logo-thumb-250x180-17271.gif for post 3449
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Conrad Burry received a copy of an Adidas catalog, and it shows logos for every NBA team next season.

Except the Jazz, Kings and Pistons.

This is circumstantial evidence, but it has previously held up as the first sign of a new logo.

Keep an eye on Utah, Sacramento and Detroit.

Report: Chris Bosh pulls out of All-Star Game with calf injury; Al Horford to replace

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TORONTO — Chris Bosh was set to play in his 11th All-Star Game Sunday night, in front of his old fans in Toronto. He was talking at media availability on Friday afternoon about how he was a different person than when he played in Toronto, and how he was excited to be part of it.

Now he is out.

Bosh pulled out Friday afternoon, something first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical Yahoo Sports. It has since been reported (first by Jeff Zillgitt of the USA Today) and confirmed that he has a strained calf and decided to rest it.

Al Horford is flying to Toronto to replace him, reports Wojnarowski. This will be Horford’s fourth All-Star Game, and he will be the second Atlanta Hawk along with Paul Millsap. That’s one more representative than the East-leading Cleveland Cavaliers have.

It is unclear if Bosh will compete in the three-point contest on All-Star Saturday still, and if not who might replace him.

Bosh was just excited to see the All-Star Game finally come to Toronto for the first time, he still clearly has a strong affection for the city.

“It’s just a trip,” Bosh said about being in the Toronto game. “This was one of my goals after last season to actually accomplish this, and it hasn’t been easy, but it’s kind of poetic, a little bit, for me to be here to see it here for the first time. We talked about what if All-Star was here, and now it’s actually here, so it’s cool.”

Now he will be watching from the sidelines.

Bosh becomes the second Eastern Conference All-Star to pull out due to injury. The Bulls’ Jimmy Butler backed out as well due to a sore knee; he was replaced by teammate Pau Gasol.

Report: Celtics not interested in trading for Dwight Howard

HOUSTON, TX - NOVEMBER 19:  Dwight Howard #12 of the Houston Rockets battles for the ball with Jared Sullinger #7 of the Boston Celtics at the Toyota Center on November 19, 2013 in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
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The Rockets and Celtics reportedly talked about a Dwight Howard trade, though at the time, it seemed Houston was averse to dealing the center.

Now, that the Rockets are reportedly shopping Howard, is Boston a potential destination?

Adam Himmelsbach of The Boston Globe:

The Celtics currently have almost no interest in trading for Howard, 30, a talented center with a history of back issues and a questionable work ethic. He can opt out of his contract at season’s end, and even if he wanted to re-sign with Boston, the team would have reservations about offering a long-term deal. Also, Howard is not viewed as a player who would help attract another top free agent to Boston this summer.

The Celtics are in a great spot. Not only are playing well now, they have some nice players (including All-Star Isaiah Thomas and underrated Jae Crowder) and a boatload of draft picks.

They don’t need to cash in their chips for Howard.

Howard could help this team protect the rim and score inside, even as a rental. But at that point, it’s doubtful Boston would value him enough to offer the Rockets enough to deal him.

If the Celtics don’t want to pay Howard big dollars into his 30s – especially if they don’t think other stars want to play with him – there’s really no point dealing for him.

Houston will apparently have to find a team more desperate.*

*But also with assets. Sorry, Nets.

Gregg Popovich on coaching carousel: “I feel for every coach that’s ever been fired”

MIAMI, FL - FEBRUARY 09: Head coach Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs looks on during a game against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena on February 9, 2016 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory copyright notice:  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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TORONTO — There has never been as much intrigue or confusion surrounding the All-Star coaches in both conferences. Steve Kerr is ineligible to coach the Western Conference, given that he coached them last year, but since he was officially credited with the wins that Luke Walton accrued while he was recovering from back surgery, Walton wasn’t eligible either. So that led to the selection of Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who was second in line.

Out east, the Cavaliers received the honor of having their head coach make the trip to Toronto…but they let David Blatt go while they were in first place in the conference, meaning his midseason replacement, Tyronn Lue, gets to coach the team.

Popovich was as confused as anyone about all of this, especially Blatt’s firing.

“I feel for every coach that’s ever been fired, including David,” Popovich said Friday morning at All-Star media day. “He’s a great coach. But usually people are fired for circumstances that are beyond their control, and it usually has nothing to do with whether they’re a good coach or not. I find that to be the case almost all the time. But as far as judging an organization, I’ll leave that to you guys.”

Blatt wasn’t the first coach to be fired during the 2015-16 season, and he isn’t the last, either. As we enter the All-Star break, five teams have fired coaches in-season: the Cavaliers, Rockets (Kevin McHale), Nets (Lionel Hollins), Suns (Jeff Hornacek) and Knicks (Derek Fisher).

The coaching ranks are fiercely loyal to their own, none more so than Popovich, who is the longest tenured coach in the league. Needless to say, he isn’t a fan of the shorter leash that coaches are getting.

“We all know getting into this what the volatile aspects of the job are,” Popovich said. “But being humans you still hope for fairness and that sort of thing. But the bottom line is most firings have nothing to do with the ability of the coach, and that’s the same.”

On Lue’s end, he recognizes the awkwardness of the situation that Blatt’s dismissal put him in, and has nothing but praise for his predecessor.

“Me and Coach Blatt have a great relationship,” Lue said. “He did a great job. We went to the NBA Finals together, and he’s put us in this position to be number one, close to the All-Star Game. So I think Coach Blatt definitely deserves a job in this league.”