Crown Shaquille O'Neal as MVP and Steve Francis as the top rookie
The NBA won't start handing out its official awards until next month, but why wait? SI has its list of trophy winners ready. The envelopes, please.
Most Valuable Player Shaquille O'Neal, Los Angeles Lakers. He said he'd be the MVP someday, but even he didn't predict such a landslide victory. The most dominating player on the league's most dominating team, O'Neal leaves runners-up Gary Payton, Grant Hill, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett in Shaq Diesel fumes. What's nearly 400 errant free throws when you're first in the league in scoring (29.7 points per game through Sunday), second in rebounding (13.6), first in field goal percentage (57.4) and fourth in blocks (3.05)?
Rookie of the Year Steve Francis, Houston Rockets. No disrespect to Bulls forward Elton Brand, who had a fine year, but this kid is going places—in a hurry. With Charles Barkley retired and Hakeem Olajuwon slowed by injuries, Francis gave Rockets fans reason to smile. What's more, he played with such joie de vivre, we forgive him for holding the Grizzlies hostage and forcing them to trade him to Houston.
Coach of the Year Doc Rivers, Orlando Magic. Lakers coach Phil Jackson certainly gives you pause, but the bottom line is, most NBA previews projected the Magic to be among the three worst teams in the league. Instead, Orlando battled for a playoff spot into the final week.
Sixth Man Award Rodney Rogers, Phoenix Suns. Who says former Clippers can't turn it around?
Most Improved Player Tracy McGrady, Toronto Raptors. Last season he was an overmatched 19-year-old kid. This season his distant cousin and teammate Vince Carter got more plaudits, but McGrady served notice that he's an up-and-coming star as well. It's just a question of where he'll be playing when he reaches stardom.
Defensive Player of the Year Alonzo Mourning, Miami Heat. He anchors the defense on a team that thinks about little else. Now if only his teammates could siphon more of his intensity.
Executive of the Year John Gabriel, Magic. It doesn't matter if he ends up with neither Tim Duncan nor Grant Hill. He gutted a franchise destined for years of mediocrity and salary-cap headaches and provided it with valuable options.
Worst Career Decision Bison Dele, erstwhile Detroit Piston. With Patrick Ewing (age 37), David Robinson (34) and Rik Smits (33) all headed for a chaise lounge in the next three years, the 30-year-old Dele could have become one of the top big men in the game by default. Instead, he bolted for Beirut, walking out on the last five years of a seven-year, $45 million contract.