Westbrook, Harden, Leonard MVP top three as NBA announces award finalists

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We are not going to know who is MVP — or any other NBA award winner, outside of the All-NBA Team — before the June 26 award ceremony. That’s after the Finals, and after the Draft.

But we do know who the top three finalists are in the major individual categories, those were announced on Friday on TNT. Here are all the finalists (listed in no particular order).

Most Valuable Player
Kawhi Leonard
James Harden
Russell Westbrook

Defensive Player of the Year
Draymond Green
Kawhi Leonard
Rudy Gobert

Rookie of the Year
Joel Embiid
Dario Saric
Malcolm Brogdon

Sixth Man of the Year
Andre Iguodala
Eric Gordon
Lou Williams

Coach of the Year
Erik Spoelstra
Mike D’Antoni
Gregg Popovich

Most Improved Player
Rudy Gobert
Giannis Antetokounmpo
Nikola Jokic

Remember, the votes were turned in before the playoffs started.

I don’t see any real surprises in there. Certainly not with MVP where Westbrook/Harden/Leonard will be the top three vote getters, with LeBron James fourth, then a pretty wide open race for fifth. Some people will argue LeBron was snubbed, but while he had a strong regular season his Cavaliers took the month of March basically off, particularly on defense, and in a close race that matters.

On down the list, those likely are the top three vote-getters in each category, and while you can try to make a case for people outside this group to be included (was Isaiah Thomas one of the most improved? Scotty Brooks for Coach of the Year?) there are no shockers in there.

Drake will host the NBA’s first ever awards ceremony on June 26, shown live on TNT from New York City. I doubt they do it, but the NBA should treat this like the Golden Globes, with big round tables and flowing alcohol for the nominees and others in the audience. It would make a more lively show.

James Harden, LeBron James headline All-NBA Teams

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James Harden was a unanimous First Team choice.

LeBron James and Russell Westbrook came within one vote of the same (one voter each had them on the second team).

While we aren’t going to know who won MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, or other NBA awards until their new ceremony June 26 (after the Finals and Draft), the All-NBA teams had to be different. Because it impacts bonuses and future contracts — most notably if players qualify for Designated Player max deals this summer — teams needed to know early, before the Draft. So on Thursday the NBA released the prestigious All-NBA team, a snapshot of the best in the game.

Here are the three All-NBA teams:

Other players receiving votes, with point totals (First Team votes in parentheses): Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota, 50 (2); Chris Paul, LA Clippers, 49; Marc Gasol, Memphis, 48 (2); DeMarcus Cousins, New Orleans, 42 (2); Paul George, Indiana, 40; Gordon Hayward, Utah, 27; Hassan Whiteside, Miami, 18; Kyrie Irving, Cleveland, 14; Klay Thompson, Golden State, 14; Nikola Jokic, Denver, 12 (1); Damian Lillard, Portland, 12; Paul Millsap, Atlanta, 3; LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio, 1; Blake Griffin, LA Clippers, 1; Al Horford, Boston, 1.

These were voted on by 100 members of the media, their votes will be made public June 26 with the rest of the award voting. (Full disclosure, I was one of those voters.)

The big takeaways: Kawhi Leonard, Russell Westbrook, John Wall, and Stephen Curry (already an MVP) are eligible for Designated Player max contracts. In the case of Leonard it would be five years at around $217 million, and while he would sign next summer it wouldn’t kick in until the summer of 2019. Wall can sign his extension this summer (he has more experience) but his deal will not kick in for a couple.

However, Paul George and Gordon Hayward did not make an All-NBA team, which could impact their summers because now the Pacers and Jazz cannot offer their stars those Designated Player max contracts. (That contract is only for players who make the team the past year or two of the last three, or are a former MVP.)

In the case of George (who made all-NBA regularly before his leg injury, now has not made it two of the last three), that means the Pacers may consider trading their star this summer. George is a free agent in 2018 and there is a lot of buzz he is going to leave (either to a contender or the Lakers), and Indiana’s new man in charge Kevin Pritchard may feel he needs to get something for George rather than just let him walk. However, the trade market for George will not be robust because teams feel he wants to be a free agent in 2018, so he could be a one-year rental.

For Hayward, it means the Jazz can only offer a little more than other teams — about $2 million a year more on average over the deal, but also a guaranteed fifth year, so it works out to $46 million more guaranteed (but Hayward would get paid somewhere that fifth season, just not as much). That may be enough to keep him, he likes Utah, but it’s known Boston — with Hayward’s college coach Brad Stevens — and other teams are going to come hard at him.

Some will question putting Anthony Davis at center, but he spent 64 percent of his time on the court this past season at the five (as tracked by Basketball-Reference.com). That likely will not be the case next season with DeMarcus Cousins in the picture.

Magic Johnson, Joel Embiid, Walt Frazier among on-stage lottery representatives

AP Photo/Nick Ut
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The Lakers have so much riding on tomorrow’s lottery. If they land a top-three pick, they keep it. Fall out of the top three, their first-rounder goes to the 76ers – and their 2019 first-rounder goes to the Magic. The odds are slightly against the Lakers, but it’s close to a coin flip.

Who better to ride out the high-stakes drama than the ever-smooth Magic Johnson?

The Lakers president is among the on-stage representatives. The full list released by the NBA:

  • Boston – Wyc Grousbeck
  • Charlotte – Rich Cho
  • Dallas – Michael Finley
  • Denver – Gary Harris
  • Detroit – Jeff Bower
  • Lakers – Magic Johnson
  • Miami – Alonzo Mourning
  • Minnesota – Andrew Wiggins
  • New Orleans – Alvin Gentry
  • New York – Walt Frazier
  • Orlando – Frank Vogel
  • Philadelphia – Joel Embiid
  • Phoenix – Devin Booker
  • Sacramento – Dave Joerger

It’s all a little silly. None of these people have any control over the lottery, which occurs beforehand backstage anyway.

But it’s always fun to watch them squirm and celebrate as the results are announced.

2017 NBA draft lottery odds, visualized

David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images
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The Celtics are the most likely team to land the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NBA draft.

They’re also more likely to select fourth.

The NBA will hold its annual lottery tomorrow, a process for assigning the top three picks in the upcoming draft. Non-playoff teams are assigned four-number combinations, the number of combinations weighted inversely by standings. Then, four of 14 ping-pong balls are randomly drawn. Whichever team has its combination drawn is assigned the first pick. The process is repeated for picks two and three, and every other team is then slotted after in reverse order of record.

But just how likely is each team to land each pick? The calculations are complicated by a few trades:

  • Celtics swap first-round picks with Nets
  • 76ers receive Lakers’ first-round pick if it falls outside top three
  • 76ers can swap first-round picks with Kings
  • Kings receive Pelicans’ first-round pick if it falls outside top three
  • Bulls receive Kings’ first-round pick if it falls outside top 10

Thankfully, a couple people smarter than me – Celtics assistant general manager Mike Zarren and director of basketball analytics David Sparks – determined the actual odds. I turned those into these hopefully handy charts.

Only picks that a team could possibly get are displayed. If a team has a “0.0%” chance listed for a certain pick, it means landing the pick is possible but the odds are less than 0.05% and rounded down.

Boston Celtics

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Phoenix Suns

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Los Angeles Lakers

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Philadelphia 76ers

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Orlando Magic

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Minnesota Timberwolves

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New York Knicks

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Sacramento Kings

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Dallas Mavericks

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New Orleans Pelicans

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Charlotte Hornets

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Detroit Pistons

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Denver Nuggets

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Miami Heat

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Chicago Bulls

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Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has now eliminated every other Western Conference team in playoffs

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
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Spurs-Rockets looked familiar (except in all the ways it wasn’t): Gregg Popovich beating Mike D’Antoni.

Popovich is 20-6 in games and 5-0 in series against D’Antoni. The San Antonio coach just has a way of stifling D’Antoni’s up-tempo spread offense when it matters most.

But this Popovich-D’Antoni matchup was different in one key way: D’Antoni coached the Rockets, not the Suns.

In fact, this was the first time Popovich ever faced Houston in a playoff series – and that allowed him to claim a trivial and impressive honor.

Jordan Howenstine of Spurs PR:

https://twitter.com/AirlessJordan/status/862858569112313856

This speaks to Popovich’s:

  • Excellence (only one other coach – the Heat’s Erik Spoelstra – has won 14 total playoff series at all)
  • Longevity (beating the Timberwolves back when they were playoff regulars and waiting for the Warriors to become playoff mainstays)
  • Luck (catching New Orleans in one of its seven playoff series)

Here’s Popovich’s playoff history against every Western Conference franchise:

Dallas Mavericks

2001 won second round, 4-1

2003 won conference finals, 4-2

2006 lost second round, 4-3

2009 lost first round, 4-1

2010 won first round, 4-2

2014 won first round, 4-3

Denver Nuggets

2005 won first round, 4-1

2007 won first round, 4-1

Golden State Warriors

2013 won second round, 4-2

Houston Rockets

2017 won second round, 4-2

Los Angeles Clippers

2012 won second round, 4-0

2015 lost first round, 4-3

Los Angeles Lakers

1999 won second round, 4-0

2001 lost conference finals, 4-0

2002 lost second round, 4-1

2003 won second round, 4-2

2004 lost second round, 4-2

2008 lost conference finals, 4-1

2013 won first round, 4-0

Memphis Grizzlies

2004 won first round, 4-0

2011 lost first round, 4-2

2013 won conference finals, 4-0

2016 won first round, 4-0

2017 won first round, 4-2

Minnesota Timberwolves

1999 won first round, 3-1

2001 won first round, 3-1

New Orleans Hornets (now Pelicans)

2008 won second round, 4-3

Phoenix Suns

1998 won first round, 3-1

2000 lost first round, 3-1

2003 won first round, 4-2

2005 won conference finals, 4-1

2007 won second round, 4-2

2008 won first round, 4-1

2010 lost second round, 4-0

Portland Trail Blazers

1999 won conference finals, 4-0

2014 won second round, 4-1

Sacramento Kings

2006 won first round, 4-2

Seattle SuperSonics/Oklahoma City Thunder

2002 won first round, 3-2

2005 won second round, 4-2

2012 lost conference finals, 4-2

2014 won conference finals, 4-2

2016 lost second round, 4-2

Utah Jazz

1998 lost second round, 4-1

2007 won conference finals, 4-1

2012 won first round, 4-0