The players union released its long-anticipated long-overdue awards, and there are some doozies. First of all, I still can’t figure out what Chris Bosh – who was announced as the “host” of the Twitter-released awards – has to do with this. But let’s get to the actual winners.
Here are the major awards, with the traditional award/Players Voice equivalent:
No surprise Westbrook won both MVPs. He deserved them. Still, James Harden could’ve hoped for a split result like in 2015, when Stephen Curry won actual MVP and Harden won the players’ version.
There’s obviously slight differences in the other categories. I think Green had the best defensive season and deservedly won Defensive Player of the Year, but I also think Leonard is the NBA’s best defender and therefore deserved this honor. I would’ve picked Andre Iguodala for Best off the Bench (and Sixth Man of the Year, for what it’s worth), though that’s a minor quibble. But how on earth did Joel Embiid not win Best Rookie? He was the best rookie in years, let alone this season. I picked Brogdon for Rookie of the Year based on his overall contributions in far more playing time, but there should have been no question about the best rookie.
The union also released several awards without a corresponding NBA honor:
- Comeback Player of the Year: Joel Embiid
- Hardest to Guard: Russell Westbrook
- Clutch Performer: Isaiah Thomas
- Global Impact: LeBron James
- Player You Secretly Wish Was On Your Team: LeBron James
- Most Influential Veteran: Vince Carter
- Best Dressed: Russell Westbrook
- Best Social Media Follow: Joel Embiid
- Coach You’d Most Like to Play For: Gregg Popovich
- Best Home Court Advantage: Warriors
LeBron winning Player You Secretly Wish Was On Your Team has to be an implicit slap in the face to Kyrie Irving. I’m glad to see Thomas and Carter deservedly recognized.
Lastly, the union awarded a Teammate of the Year on each team:
Dirk Nowitzki won the NBA’s Teammate of the Year – which is voted on by current players after a panel of former players selects nominees – then didn’t even win for his own team here? That’s just weird.
The Lakers clinched the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.
LeBron James, via Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times:
“They said I couldn’t do it.”
“I’ll enjoy this one,” James said, nodding as he grinned. “They said I can’t do it.”
The Lakers entered the season fifth in the West in over-under wins (behind the Rockets, Clippers, Jazz and Nuggets).
But nobody credible thought the Lakers couldn’t get the No. 1 seed. With LeBron and Anthony Davis, the Lakers obviously had that type of upside. Their championship odds were far more favorable. The main doubts stemmed from how seriously LeBron would take the regular season.
That said, in the age of social media, players hear both more praise and more criticism than ever before. LeBron surely heard from haters who ruled him out. Crowning himself the Washed King, LeBron probably internalized that fringe opinion.
Many players find slights to use as motivation. It worked for Michael Jordan. It works for LeBron.
But it does sound silly when an exalted player like LeBron talks this way.
Paul George said he left the Pacers because they weren’t willing to spend enough.
Apparently, he wasn’t the only one to feel that way.
Larry Bird resigned as Pacers president in 2017, citing a desire to do more things outside basketball. Yet, he also reportedly had another reason.
Jackie MacMullan of ESPN:
Indiana is a small-market team that consistently has not gone out and paid big money. We know that this was something that frustrated Larry Bird, who is a legend in the state of Indiana and elsewhere, I might add. It frustrated him enough that he stepped aside.
Pacers owner Herb Simon has a certain way of doing things. Indiana hasn’t paid the luxury tax since 2006, the first year the tax line was set before the season.
Despite that, the Pacers have been pretty good. They’ve qualified for the playoffs nine of the last 10 seasons, peaking with appearances in the 2013 and 2014 Eastern Conference finals.
Still, Indiana has lost in the first round four straight years. Another first-round loss appears the most likely outcome for this season.
That’s not exactly satisfying for players who want to win championships. Spending big isn’t absolutely necessary to compete on the highest levels. But it helps.
Pacers star Victor Oladipo is approaching 2021 unrestricted free agency. He’s a competitor who’ll evaluate, among other things, whether his current franchise matches his ambitions.
It’s easy to spend someone else’s money. Simon can decide his own limits. But there are consequences of his spending restraint – especially as perception grows about his relative thriftiness.
J.J. Redick has made the playoffs all 13 of his previous NBA seasons.
The Pelicans have put that streak in jeopardy.
New Orleans lost its first two games in the bubble, a nail-biter against the Jazz and a rout against the Clippers. During that loss to L.A., cameras captured Redick – on the floor exercising his back while out of the game – with a distant stare that became an instant meme.
Redick on ESPN Daily:
I was angry we got our butts kicked. It’s embarrassing, and I think my face summed up that first half pretty well.
There’s so many circumstances you could apply the emotions that I was going through in that moment.
Redick is right: That meme fits many occasions, which gives it staying power.
However, it has plenty of competition. Though the feelings displayed aren’t the exact same, Redick didn’t even have the best reaction inside the bubble by an exasperated NBA player. That belongs to Nuggets star Nikola Jokic:
At least Redick got reason to perk up. The Pelicans beat the Grizzlies yesterday to gain ground in the playoff race.
Darren Collison shocked the NBA last summer when he walked away from the game at age 32 — and a likely contract in the four-year, $70+ million range — and retired. His reasons were legitimate, he wanted to focus on his religion — “While I still love basketball, I know there is something more important, which is my family and my faith,” Collison said at the time — but the league has seen a lot of players say they were walking away for good reasons only to come running back.
The rumors about a Collison return started just after January 1 and spun out of control in Los Angeles when he sat with Lakers’ owner Jeanie Buss at a game.
Collison stayed retired, and told the “Minute til 6” podcast it wasn’t even close. He was never coming back.
“To keep it 100, they overhyped the whole thing. Like, I wasn’t even thinking about coming back.”
That game he went to? He just came to watch his friend Russell Westbrook.
“I just wanted to come watch the game as a fan.”
Collison also is smart enough to know how him sitting with Buss would be perceived.
Collison was wanted. The Lakers run LeBron James at the point but could have used the veteran Collison in the role Rajon Rondo filled as a secondary playmaker (Rondo is currently out with a thumb injury). Collison was rumored to the Clippers as well, and Doc Rivers can always find a way to use more guard depth.
Collison, however, seems at peace with his decision. If he wanted to return, he would have done it last summer for 10 figures a season, not for the minimum in January.