With the regular season ending this Sunday, the ballots for the major awards are already in. But here are some nominations for prizes that the NBA won't be handing out in the next few weeks.
Best Resurrection Award: A tie between Suns center John (Hot Rod) Williams and Kings point guard Bobby Hurley. Down the stretch, Williams and Hurley, each of whom has been injured in an automobile accident, reversed plummeting career trajectories. The 6'11" Williams finally appears to be recovered from the injuries to his back, right leg and right wrist that have plagued him since August 1995, when he was rear-ended while sitting in his car at a red light. He has spent much of the time since on the injured list—he missed 31 games—or playing in pain. "There were times I couldn't jump, there was a time I didn't think I'd get back," he says. "I couldn't get out of bed without hurting. Now I feel better every day." It's no coincidence that Phoenix, which lost its first 13 games this season, began playing better at about the same time Williams, its best low-post defender, began feeling better. Through Sunday the Suns were 39-28 since his return, and Williams had averaged 11.6 points, 10.7 rebounds and 2.1 blocked shots in the last 10 games.
The 6-foot, 165-pound Hurley occasionally has been mistaken for a ball boy, and he was getting about as much playing time as one before Eddie Jordan replaced the fired Garry St. Jean as Sacramento's coach on March 20. In 33 of the Kings' first 73 games, Hurley didn't play at all, and he averaged only 9.6 minutes in the 40 games in which he did appear. But on April 4 Jordan inserted him into the starting lineup and Hurley, who made an agonizing comeback after almost being killed in a 1993 car crash, has reminded the Kings why they made him the seventh pick of the '93 draft. Last Thursday against the Suns he had 14 assists, and the next night he had 11 more against the Warriors. At week's end Hurley was averaging 28.6 minutes, 10.0 assists and 6.8 points in those April starts.
It's possible the Kings are merely showcasing Hurley in hopes that some team will take his contract off their hands—he will make $3.5 million next season and $4 million in '98-99 in the final year of his deal—but Jordan sounds sincerely impressed. "There have been times I didn't think our other point guards [ Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf and Tyus Edney] had the attitude that Bobby brings to the team," says Jordan. "That Jersey City attitude, that toughness."
Sophomore Slump Award: Joe Smith, Warriors. It's not obvious that Smith, the No. 1 pick of last season's draft, has slipped, because at week's end his scoring and assist averages had increased from last season's 15.3 and 1.0, respectively, to 18.9 and 1.5. But many close observers think that he has at least stopped improving. One Golden State veteran even says, "He was a better player when he got here than he is now." Says Smith, "Sometimes I get so frustrated with myself that I want to take myself out of the game. I know I'm better than that."
Some Warriors believe Smith has been spending too many late hours with teammate Latrell Sprewell, but Smith denies he and Sprewell are nighttime carousers. "We're usually at one of our houses," he says. The still-slender (6'10", 225 pounds) Smith believes that part of his problem may be that he abandoned his weightlifting routine shortly after the season began because the Warriors are using a health club in Oakland while the Oakland Coliseum Arena is being renovated and a new practice facility is being built. "Coming home from a road trip and then having to go to a health club was just inconvenient," says Smith.
The If-Only-They-Showed-That-Much-Fight-in-Games Award: Vin Baker and Acie Earl, Bucks. The Milwaukee forwards take the prize for the teasing that escalated into a scuffle in the lobby of a Portland hotel on April 4. It was an indication of how divided the Bucks (31-47 at week's end) are. "The only time this team has been together," says forward Armon Gilliam, "was for the team picture."
The Coulda-Been-a-Contendah Award: The Pacers. One measure of the decline of former Eastern Conference power Indiana (at week's end 38-40 and two games out of a playoff spot with four to play) is its record against .500-or-better teams. Last year the mark was 24-21, this year it was 14-28 with all four remaining games to go against such clubs. "We've had a lot of games we've penciled in on the board as the most important games of the season," coach Larry Brown says, "and I haven't seen one W yet."
The nine-player deal on Feb. 17 between the Mavericks and the Nets produced a lot of headlines, but so far it hasn't produced many wins. Through Sunday, Dallas was 7-24 and New Jersey was 9-19 since the trade, and lately each has had to endure the dissatisfaction of one of its new players.