NBA awards ... with a spin
The NBA created its Sixth Man Award to shine a spotlight on teamwork and to prove to its players that coming off the bench can bring rewards -- both to the group (victories) and to the individual (status, hardware). It was a brilliant move, nearly three decades after the Celtics established the role with Frank Ramsey and elevated it again through John Havlicek. No one had to create this ego-driven, me-first version, though. It's been around since one of James Naismith's original players bristled when someone else aimed and fired at the peach basket.
Iverson's shock and amazement over the idea of becoming Detroit's supersub was classic. That he'd be good for the role, particularly in his sunset years, didn't register at all. (Richard Hamilton didn't much care for the role, either, and it was disappointing to see some reputed NBA experts who ought to know better rush to his defense on that.) Sorry, but I'm with the coaches on this stuff: It's not important who starts, it's important who finishes -- and who gets shots and minutes off the bench as instant offense against the other team's second unit.
There is a certain status that goes along with being a team's 12th man. After all, M.L. Carr won rings and got famous doing that in Boston, and Jack Haley dominated the balloting for years during his run as Dennis Rodman's chaperone. Besides, those guys rarely break a sweat. The 11th man, however, actually plays -- just not very much. No one in the league this season has appeared in as many games (51) for as few minutes (199) as West, an undrafted free agent from George Tech in 2007 who saw more action last season.
Some guys show up, night after night, only to sit behind the bench in a suit because they and the team have an understanding: They're around for their contract. But Curry has done it through a variety of ailments that could have been cut down considerably if only he had conditioned himself the way a $9.7 million professional athlete might be expected to.
Like the traditional MVP honor, this one -- a counter to the league's Sportsmanship Award, which actually goes to one guy from each division (pretty feeble to not pick one, don't you think?) -- is all a matter of definition. If you go by bad behavior on the court, then Philadephia's Marreese Speights should win for leading the NBA in flagrant-foul points this season with four (two flagrant 1's, one flagrant 2). If you go by lipping off to and berating officials, it's Detroit's Rasheed Wallace, whose 19 technical fouls are one more than Golden State's Stephen Jackson. But we've chosen the bite-the-hand-that-feeds-you interpretation, and O'Neal's lack of accountability for Phoenix's fall from the playoffs while batting his eyes at Dallas owner Mark Cuban was plain ol' bad form.
MACHIAVELLIA AWARD: Don Nelson, Golden State Warriors
This is our best option for the coaches. An Outcoached of the Year award seemed like a good idea, until you realize that the NBA terminates at a dizzying rate coaches who disappoint. So we'll go with this trophy, meant to recognize someone who put more energy and intrigue into behind-the-scenes maneuvering than he did into actually winning. Charlotte's Larry Brown ran 23 different players through the Bobcats' roster, but he at least steered the franchise to its best record yet. Nellie can't make that claim in Oakland. The stuff he pulled with Jamal Crawford, the doghouse he furnished for Anthony Randolph and the CD-PNG (Coach's Decision-Persona Non Grata) he hung on vice president Chris Mullin didn't cover up the dreary results of a Warriors team that took a big step back from last season.
EXECUTIVE ASSISTS LEADER: Joe Dumars, Detroit Pistons
Last season, this was hotly contested. Both Memphis' Chris Wallace and Minnesota's Kevin McHale were deserving, the former for gifting Pau Gasol to the Lakers and the latter for delivering Garnett to his pal Danny Ainge in Boston. This year, Dumars is a runaway winner after sending Chauncey Billups home to Denver for Iverson. Billups will get a lot of fifth-place votes for league MVP after the order he imposed on the Nuggets' attack, while Iverson, well, we've already dealt with that. Maneuvering for cap space is one thing, but when a plan for the future so undermines the present -- at a place where they're accustomed to better -- the price paid can be too high.
BORED OF GOVERNORS AWARD: Robert Sarver, Phoenix Suns
We're assuming, we'll admit it, that Sarver and his cost-conscious ways are behind whatever marching orders Steve Kerr has been given. From the reckless dispatching of draft picks that preceded Kerr's hiring to the Kurt Thomas deal, the acquisition of Shaq, the Mike D'Antoni disharmony and the firing of Terry Porter, we're attributing this to the boss man who has rendered irrelevant a team that, even when it theoretically couldn't win an NBA championship, was the league's most entertaining and fun to watch.
OFFENSIVE ALUMNUS OF THE YEAR: Charles Barkley, TNT
There is no counterpart among the actual awards, but it's notable -- and maybe a good thing for the NBA in a perverse way -- that the guy making the worst headlines this season wasn't actually on any of the 30 teams' rosters. Unfortunately for Barkley, his DUI and late-night dating habits didn't take place in Las Vegas, because they surely didn't stay there.
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