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Inside the NBA | Mark Heisler / ON THE NBA

At the half, Bryant has look of MVP

January 21, 2007|Mark Heisler

We've made it to the midway point of the Never Boring Assn. season, but even if it seems like a lifetime, a lot remains to be seen ... like all the important stuff.

A year ago on this date, the Pistons were 32-5, en route to a meltdown no one saw coming.

Two years ago the Lakers were 22-16 under Rudy Tomjanovich, who resigned 12 days later, leaving them to limp in at 34-48.

Three years ago the Pacers and Ron Artest led the East at 33-11. The Pistons, who would win the title under first-year coach Larry Brown, were 5 1/2 games back.

Four years ago Don Nelson's Mavericks with Steve Nash were 32-8 and the Kings with Chris Webber were 31-11. The Spurs, then 27-16, won 33 of their last 39 and took the title after Webber blew out his knee in the second round of the playoffs and an ankle injury sidelined Dirk Nowitzki in the Western finals.

All you know for sure is the way things are now isn't the way they'll be at the end. Nevertheless, if you think I'm above commemorating this ersatz landmark for the sake of a column, think again.

Herewith, my eagerly awaited, or actually my first, midseason award nominations:

MVP -- Kobe Bryant, Lakers; Nash, Suns; Nowitzki, Mavericks (in alphabetical order).

If the Lakers are the surprise hit of the season, the No. 1 reason is Bryant, who is not what he was physically but more than he ever was as a player.

People said Nash played better when he won his second MVP than when he won his first. Now they say he's playing better than when he won his second, and they're right again.

The Mavericks thought they were cheated, as usual, when Nowitzki finished a distant third last season. He's closer now, but it'll come down to whose team beats expectations the most.

Special mention -- Kevin Garnett, Timberwolves. Even if he gets disheartened -- and the things he says show he does -- he never stops playing and neither do they.

Coach of the year -- Phil Jackson, Lakers; Mike D'Antoni, Suns; Avery Johnson, Mavericks; Nelson, Warriors; Jerry Sloan, Jazz; Jeff Van Gundy, Rockets.

Even people who didn't like Jackson, and it's not a short list, said he did his best job last season. Now they say he's doing an even better job, and they're right again.

Let's just say that when you and your best player miss training camp and your little team comes out playing the way theirs has, that's some nice system you have in place.

D'Antoni should be nominated every season because that's how far his scheme is ahead of the rest of the league.

Johnson's knife-between-the-teeth attitude has permeated the Mavericks. If you look at their roster, you might not think 65 wins, but if you've seen them play, you would.

Nelson just changed the Warriors from dead to alive.

Sloan is back with his young team playing as tough as his old team used to.

Van Gundy started with Tracy McGrady lamenting his own decline, lost Yao Ming and still has his modest roster up there.

Comeback player of the year -- McGrady, Rockets; Amare Stoudemire, Suns; Jason Kidd, Nets.

McGrady was still pining for his youth at the end of December after scoring 30 points twice in 29 games. He has since done it eight times in 10 games.

The Suns were afraid Stoudemire wouldn't be ready before spring -- if ever -- knowing his teammates wouldn't like any more pouting in the meantime. Three months later, here's Amare!

At 33 Kidd was averaging 13 points when he sued his wife for divorce in a sensational complaint that exploded all over the tabloids. Since then he's kicked it up to 21 points a game with 9.3 assists and nine rebounds.

Rookie of the year -- Brandon Roy, Trail Blazers. Even sitting out 20 games because of a heel injury, he was the one rookie who was ready right away.

Special commendation -- Jordan Farmar, Lakers. Even the people who drafted him thought he'd be in the D-League. Shooting better from the pros' 23-foot 9-inch three-point line (36.3%) than he did from 19-9 last season (33.3%).

Sixth man of the year -- Corey Maggette, Clippers.

He hates the role, but he's the league's most productive reserve -- since Ben Gordon, the best since Vinnie Johnson or John Havlicek, just went back into the Bulls' starting lineup.

Executive of the year -- Bryan Colangelo, Raptors; Mitch Kupchak, Lakers.

Colangelo's trade for T.J. Ford was one of the underrated moves of the off-season. Even if you knew 38 wins might win the Atlantic Division, you still wouldn't have guessed the Raptors would be in it, but even after starting 7-14, they are.

Less than two years after a season-ticket holder at a town meeting asked Kupchak to resign, the Lakers are enjoying a renaissance with a lot of surprises he got on late picks. The brightest star in their future, Andrew Bynum, went No. 10 in 2005 as a 17-year-old but wouldn't get out of the top three if they did it over.

Crummy executive of the year -- Billy King and Ed Snider, 76ers; James Dolan, Knicks; Steve Belkin, Michael Gearon, et. al, Hawks.

Letting their team fall down around Allen Iverson was one thing, but it was unconscionable for the 76ers to try to make trading him OK with their fans by vilifying him.

Dolan, who turned the Knicks into a laughingstock, and the Atlanta owners, who are still suing each other, are regulars on this list.


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