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.)

Kevin Love, NBA world reacts to death of Wes Unseld

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Wes Unseld, the first black athlete to be offered a scholarship at the University of Kentucky (he turned it down to attend Louisville), who then went on to a Hall of Fame career in the NBA, died at the age of 74.

Around the NBA there has been mourning, starting with Kevin Love, who’s middle name is Wesley after Unseld.

“Wes Unseld was one of the most consequential players of his era,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement. “An NBA MVP and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer, Wes elevated the game by mastering the fundamentals. His competitive drive and selfless approach made him a beloved teammate, a respected opponent and a cornerstone of the Washington Wizards franchise, with whom he won an NBA championship. Wes also set the model of class, integrity and professionalism for the entire NBA family during stints as a player, coach and team executive with Washington and through his dedication to expanding educational opportunities for children. We send our deepest sympathies to Wes’ wife, Connie; their son, Wes Jr. (who is an assistant coach with the Denver Nuggets); their daughter, Kim; and the Wizards organization.”

The best player currently in Washington, Bradley Beal, led a chorus of people taking to social media to praise Unseld.

Kings TV play-by-play announcer Grant Napear resigns after “all lives matter” Tweet

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Sacramento television play-by-play announcer Grant Napear resigned on Tuesday amidst an intense backlash from former Kings’ players and many fans after Napear’s “all lives matter” comment on Twitter.

Napear had been the Kings’ play-by-play man since 1988, plus he was the host of a sports talk radio show on Sports 1140 in Sacramento. Napear lost both of those jobs within days of his Tweet.

“Our company values and honors inclusion and equality,” Kings’ broadcast partner NBC Sports California said in a statement before Napear’s announcement. “Racism, injustice and violence run counter to everything we stand for and cannot be tolerated in our society. Grant Napear’s recent comments on Twitter do not reflect the views of NBC Sports California. We’ve spoken to Grant’s employer, the Sacramento Kings, about the matter.”

“I want to thank the fans for their overwhelming love and support,” Napear said in a statement. “I will always remain a part of Kings nation in my heart.”

“His recent comments about the Black Lives Matter movement do not reflect the views or values of Bonneville International Corporation,” the media company that owns Sports 1140 said in a statement announcing the change. “The timing of Grant’s tweet was particularly insensitive. After reviewing the matter carefully, we have made the difficult decision to part ways with Grant.”

The controversy started with former Kings’ big man DeMarcus Cousins, in the wake of nationwide protests following the killing of George Floyd, asked Napear what he thought and got the “all lives matter” response.

“All lives matter” is a controversial phrase that has become a flashpoint. It’s a phrase used by those opposed to the Black Lives Matter movement to try and discredit it, to try and undercut and change the topic away from the much-needed discussion of racism and how black Americans are treated by the police — and other institutions — in this nation.

Cousins quickly responded that he expected this from Napear.

Chris Webber and Matt Barnes, two other former Kings, jumped in to comment about Napear.

“Closet racist” is a strong phrase, but Tom Ziller, the longtime NBA writer based out of Sacramento, said in his Tuesday newsletter “This element of Napear’s personality has been obvious to anyone who listened to his radio show even occasionally over the past 20 years.”

Napier took to Twitter to try and apologize.

On Monday he was put on leave from his radio show, and by Tuesday he had resigned as Kings’ play-by-play man and no longer was part of his radio show with former King Doug Christie.

Report: NBA season could last through Oct. 12

Spurs wing DeMar DeRozan and 76ers forward Tobias Harris
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The NBA is reportedly targeting July 31 for resuming games.

Now, we also have a planned end date for the season.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The big question: What happens between July 31 and Oct. 12?

Most likely, 22 teams will return for more regular-season games, a play-in tournament then playoffs. It appears a last-ditch argument for all 30 teams continuing has stalled.

But that still leaves many questions within a 22-team structure. How many regular-season games will each team play? How many seeds will be up for grabs in the play-in tournament? How many teams will qualify for the play-in tournament. Will the the playoffs have 1-16 seeding?

And then there’s next season and beyond. The NBA will obviously delay the start of the next season. But will the league work back toward an October start for future seasons? Or will this be the beginning of regularly starting the season in December?

Still, as many questions remain unanswered, the timeline is coming into sharper focus.

Tilman Fertitta: ‘Such a disappointment’ Rockets faced trouble for Daryl Morey’s tweet

Rockets general manager Daryl Morey and owner Tilman Fertitta
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When Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted support for Hong Kong protesters (who are trying to maintain and expand their freedoms), Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta quickly distanced the organization. Though he never publicly condemned Morey, Fertitta emphasized that Morey was speaking as a private citizen and not for the organization.

But the winds have turned. The Knicks are facing criticism for not saying enough about the death of George Floyd. The Rockets – as apolitical as Fertitta says they should be – even released a statement on the death of Floyd:

How does Fertitta reconcile the different approaches?

Power Lunch:

Fertitta:

Speaking up of an issue in America and speaking up on an issue that’s somewhere else in the world are two different matters, OK? In America, we have free speech, and we can do whatever want to do and say whatever we want and not be penalize because of it. And that’s why we all love this country so much.

One hundred percent, I believe that you should not be a political organization, because we have 60 thousand employees and a hundred million customers, and we don’t always agree. It’s usually 50 percent one way and 50 percent this way.

But when it comes to an issue like this in America, you sure should speak out and say exactly what you want. And I encourage all my employees – from my basketball team to my restaurants to my hotels to my casinos – to speak out on this issue, and let’s make this world better and this country better that we live in that’s been great for so many of us.

I go back to what happened to Eric Garner in New York, which is a second home to me, and of course George Floyd, who is from Houston, Texas. And it’s inexcusable for two men to die like that, who did not appear to be putting up a fight. And I totally agree, and I understand the protests and the injustice out there.

And it’s really a shame that, because of a few bad people, that the distraction of protesting for the inequality, that we have to watch everything else. And we know this. There’s bad journalists. There’s bad CEOs. There’s a few bad cops. And there’s a few bad protesters. And it’s so disappointing, because I love that the protesting. That’s what makes America great.

And remember, we got in trouble, my team, earlier in the year because we commented about something, which was such a disapointment, because that’s what makes America great.

This is the most strongly – by far – Ferttita has supported Morey about the Hong Kong tweet. My question: Why now? When he tweeted, Morey was an American citizen who enjoyed the freedom of speech Fertitta espouses. Fertitta could have backed Morey like this at the time, even while maintaining a message that Morey didn’t speak for the organization.

Morey’s tweet cost the NBA, including the Rockets, a lot of money in China. Everyone quickly entered damage control. Fertitta appeared more focused on the financial ramifications than anything else.

Right now, it’s popular to stand for racial justice. Customers appreciate it. So, supposedly apolitical organizations like the Rockets are issuing statements on George Floyd.

That’s why I’m not looking to professional basketball teams for leadership on these issues. It’s easy when doing the right thing aligns with maximizing profits. When those things don’t align, it’s far messier.

Even in this interview, Fertitta struggled to keep his message consistent. He said both “Speaking up of an issue in America and speaking up on an issue that’s somewhere else in the world are two different matters” then later “let’s make this world better.” But after that slip into acknowledging global considerations, Fertitta jumped right back to “this country better that we live in that’s been great for so many of us.”

Some Americans focus on injustice in America. Some Americans are concerned with with injustice elsewhere. There’s not a major difference between those outlooks  – unless it screws up the money.