By Mike McGraw
Even in a lockout-shortened season, the hardware still gets passed out.
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Now that most every NBA team has already started resting their star players to get ready for the playoffs, here are this year's picks:
Coach of the year:
This is probably the Bulls' only chance to win an award, as Tom Thibodeau could become the first NBA coach to win it two years in a row.
Realistically, Thibodeau's momentum was rocketing skyward a month ago and might have fizzled out by now after a so-so finish. Still, the Bulls have a good chance at clinching the league's best record while missing Derrick Rose for nearly half a season. So he remains a top contender.
San Antonio's Gregg Popovich might be the favorite as the Spurs seem ready to edge Oklahoma City for the top seed in the West. The same thing happened last year, but Popovich might merit sort of a lifetime achievement award for continuing to win when Tim Duncan is another year older.
Looking to break into contention is Indiana's Frank Vogel, who pushed the Pacers from eighth to third in the East without a superstar. If Phoenix lands the final playoff spot in the West, Alvin Gentry deserves serious consideration for succeeding with a team led by Steve Nash, 38, and Grant Hill, 39.
And why is no one mentioning Vinny Del Negro? Chris Paul or not, the Clippers went from 32-50 to a possible top-four playoff seed.
Picks: 1. Gentry, 2. Thibodeau, 3. Vogel.
Most valuable player:
This one might as well be a dead-heat between LeBron James and Kevin Durant. Their stats are similar, supporting casts strong. James has more assists, while Durant has been a better late-game performer. This might hinge on whether people like LeBron enough to give him this award for a third time.
Picks: 1. Durant, 2. James, 3. Tony Parker, Spurs; 4. Kobe Bryant, Lakers; 5. Chris Paul, Clippers.
Rookie of the year:
Cleveland's Kyrie Irving established himself as an early leader and should win easily, despite missing 14 games with injuries.
Picks: 1. Irving, 2. Brandon Knight, Pistons, 3. Ricky Rubio, Timberwolves.
We can't really give it to Dwight Howard again, can we? Shot-block leader Serge Ibaka from Oklahoma City isn't regarded as much of an all-around defender. LeBron James deserves some consideration.
Tyson Chandler might get the nod for helping the Knicks improve their defense under replacement coach Mike Woodson. It's bound to help that Chandler has been a good guy ever since he was a Bulls rookie in 2001. When in doubt, voters may select people they've enjoyed dealing with.
Picks: 1. Chandler, 2. Howard, 3. James.
My biggest peeve with this award is voting for guys in their second NBA seasons. How are we supposed to accurately gauge where they are after one year in the league?
Minnesota's Nikola Pekovic is getting some support as most improved. His points (13.6) and rebounds (7.1) have nearly doubled from his rookie season. Guess what? So did his minutes. Let's stick to guys who have been around a while.
Picks: 1. Marcin Gortat, Suns; 2. Ryan Anderson, Magic; 3. Danny Green, Spurs.
Oklahoma City's James Harden will win this, but a true sixth man is someone who is not one of his team's five best players. So credit ex-Bull Thabo Sefolosha for holding down the starting spot that will allow Harden to grab some hardware.
Picks: 1. Harden, 2. Jason Terry, Mavs, 3. Mo Williams, Clippers.
Here's a suggestion for Minnesota: Stop running Darko Milicic out with the starters for 12 minutes every game. If Kevin Love is considered a center, he easily tops Dwight Howard for first-team honors this year. I'm going to fudge it anyway.
Should Derrick Rose be demoted from the first team since he's missed 26 games with injuries? Considering the strength at the guard position, yes.
First team: Chris Paul, Clippers; Kobe Bryant, Lakers; LeBron James, Heat; Kevin Durant, Thunder; Kevin Love, Timberwolves.
Second team: Derrick Rose, Bulls; Russell Westbrook, Thunder, Dirk Nowitzki, Mavs; Carmelo Anthony, Knicks; Dwight Howard, Magic.
Third team: Dwyane Wade, Heat; Tony Parker, Spurs; Blake Griffin, Clippers; Paul Pierce, Celtics; Andrew Bynum, Lakers.