Just for you, the fine readers of Denver Stiffs, we present the Third Annual STIFFY Awards and the First Annual NON-STIFFYs...
THE THIRD ANNUAL STIFFY AWARDS...
STIFF(S) OF THE YEAR: CARMELO ANTHONY AND LEBRON JAMES
This award has been re-labeled from the "Least Valuable Player" to the "Stiff of the Year," because it's hard to argue that either of this year's recipients - Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James - aren't "valuable." In fact, each is so valuable that they single-handedly changed the fortunes of the franchises they now play for and departed from.
The ruination of the NBA was started by LeBron on July 8th, 2010 when he decided to stab all of Ohio in the back and take his "talents to South Beach" by colluding with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to form a super team in Miami. With that one move, LeBron, Wade and Bosh made two additional NBA teams unwatchable and not worth the price of admission for those who pay for season tickets.
And the ruination was continued by Melo for seven nauseating months soon thereafter as he forced a trade to New York to begin the formation of his own super team alongside Amar'e Stoudemire.
Thanks to these two self-centered assholes, the two most dramatic moments of the 2010-11 season came during press conferences: LeBron's "The Decision" in July followed by Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov's on January 19th when the big Russian declaring that the Nets would not pursue Melo.
I've spoken to a number of NBA executives who have told me that had LeBron stayed in Cleveland, Melo likely would have stayed in Denver. But LeBron's infamously moronic "The Decision" changed everything, so much so that the NBA will likely go on lockout for at least half of the 2011-12 season as owners and players duke it out to form a system where small-market franchises don't get annually hijacked by the star players they draft and develop.
But at least LeBron's callous and heartless act was quick. Melo, on the other hand, dragged an entire franchise, fan base, his teammates and coaching staff through seven infuriatingly frustrating months, threatening to destroy the Nuggets' 2011 playoff chances along the way. In fact, when complaining that the Nuggets don't have home court advantage when the playoffs start on Saturday, be sure to send Melo a "thank you" note for all the bad losses caused by the Melodrama before his departure.
After attempting to hide the worst kept secret of the 2010-11 season through the All-Star Game, Carmelo Anthony (and his wife LaLa Vazquez) finally got his/their wish and forced the Nuggets to trade him to New York. As if that weren't bad enough, Melo took Denver native/legend Chauncey Billups with him and upon arriving in New York, Melo couldn't be bothered to say one nice thing about Denver or even mention the city's name for a while. (Lest we forget the announcement of LaLa's VH1 show the very day they arrived in New York, proving that this was cooked up months and months ahead of time.)
Melo sure had an odd way of showing his gratitude to a franchise and a fan base that stood by him through numerous run-ins with the law, suspensions, hissy fits and failed playoff performances, notably in series-ending games. But it's hard to rag on Melo too much because at the end of the day, he helped formulate a trade that made the Nuggets immediately better and sure to be even better in the long run.
Nuggets vice president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri may be tired of the Nuggets vs. Knicks post-"the trade" comparison, but it sure doesn't get old here. Since consummating the trade to ship Melo out of Denver, the Nuggets are an incredibly impressive 18-6 and are 9-1 against sub-.500 teams, with most of those nine victories being blowouts. With Melo on-board in New York, the Knicks are a disappointing 14-12 and are a ghastly 7-6 against sub-.500 teams, with four of those "victories" coming recently against Leastern Conference bottom feeders tanking to get more ping pong balls in the upcoming Draft Lottery.
I still maintain that this trade will prove to be a good one for both teams in the long run. The Nuggets needed to rid themselves of the Melodrama and build for the future, while the Knicks needed more star power to lure a third All-Star who has never won anything to New York.
Cavaliers fans, unfortunately, aren't so lucky. LeBron left them in a state of destitution from which that franchise may never recover. But while LeBron might look good in a Heat jersey now and the Nuggets might look great in a post-Melo world, we mustn't ever forget what these two did to their loyal fan bases and how the NBA landscape now has more unwatchable teams than ever before due to the collusion these guys partook in. Topping that off, the Nuggets are surprisingly much better without Melo (in a superior conference) whereas the Knicks are just as bad with Melo (in an inferior conference).
So for all that, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony are Co-Stiffs of the Year.
Runner up: LaLa "Yoko" Vazquez
WORST COACH OF THE YEAR: BYRON SCOTT
How is it that I knew Byron Scott had a history of being Dan Issel 2.0 - i.e. being able to charm owners with his playing day pedigree to land a coaching job, only to have all his players quit on him at the first sight of adversity - and yet Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert didn't know this and gave the guy a four year, multi-million dollar deal?
I know Cleveland was devastated in the wake of LeBron's departure, but 26 consecutive losses is unacceptable by any measure, especially when you play in the Leastern Conference. In fact, Scott is so incompetent that the Cavaliers can't even lose right, as it seems they'll be tying for the worst record in the NBA rather than securing it.
WORST EXECUTIVE OF THE YEAR: LON BABBY
How do you turn a Conference Finals runner up into a sub-.500 team in one year? Hire former NBA agent Lon Babby to run your basketball operations.
On Babby's watch, the Suns lost Stoudemire to the Knicks and weren't smart enough to get David Lee in return (whom the Knicks were hell bent on trading to the Western Conference no matter what). With Lee playing alongside Steve Nash, Grant Hill, Channing Frye, Jared Dudley and the rest of the Suns inspiring 2009-10 roster, the Suns would be battling with the Nuggets for the five-seed right now.
Nash deserves a better ending to his great NBA career.
Runners up: Danny Ainge and Donnie Walsh (by way of James Dolan, see more below).
WORST ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: AL-FAROUQ AMINU
Remember when Nuggets fans (including this one) were hoping for a Melo deal to the Clippers that would have included Blake Griffin, Eric Gordon and Aminu? Perhaps we lucked out on not getting Aminu, at least.
The eighth overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft, Aminu wasn't able to get meaningful playing time on an awful, injury-riddled Clippers squad. That's right, the eighth overall pick couldn't get PT on the Clippers! And in the few minutes he played, he made the least of it, averaging 5.6 ppg on 39% shooting to go along with more turnovers than assists.
LEAST IMPROVED PLAYER: O.J. MAYO
Mayo has played marginally better lately in the absence of Rudy Gay and has helped the Grizzlies return to the playoffs for the first time in several seasons. But the numbers - and steroid test results - don't lie. Mayo, a third year pro, has seen his scoring average dip by over six points per game and his field goal percentage drop by five percentage points (to a lowly 40.8%). Oh, and there was that whole "failed drug test" thing that he got embroiled in late January, to which Mayo conveniently played the "I didn't know what I was taking" card.
Past recipients: Yi Jianlian (2009)
LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD: JAMES DOLAN AND ISIAH THOMAS
The feel-good story happening in Denver right now thanks to Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, Raymond Felton and Timofey Mozgov was happening in New York until Dolan and (allegedly) Thomas forced Donnie Walsh and Mike D'Antoni to take on Melo regardless of the cost. Until the Melodrama reared its ugly head towards New York, that was a fun Knicks team to watch and they won a lot of games.
But Dolan, a known starfucker, simply couldn't resist pulling the trigger on acquiring Melo, even if it meant gutting three-fifths of the Knicks' starting five, two-thirds of their core players and ridding themselves of perhaps the one center with the biggest future upside in the Leastern Conference. If you believe the many NBA experts that contend that Melo would have gone to the Knicks via free agency no matter what, then count me in for the next time Dolan hosts a poker game.
But this was just the latest chapter in the ongoing Dolan/Thomas saga that has ruined Knicks basketball since the departures of Patrick Ewing and Jeff Van Gundy. We needn't revisit the assortment of bad moves that brought in and/or overpaid for Stephon Marbury, Allan Houston, Steve Francis, Larry Johnson, Eddy Curry, Jerome James, Tracy McGrady, Larry Hughes, Vin Baker, Anfernee Hardaway, Tim Thomas and so forth since Dolan, and then Thomas, oversaw the organization. Just read that list again!
And for Dolan to have (again, allegedly) engaged Thomas in the Melo deal - after Thomas previously ruined the Continental Basketball Association (the CBA) in one summer, failed in Toronto, failed in Indiana, failed in New York and then failed at Florida International University - with an eye towards bringing Thomas back in the future while not re-upping Walsh, is so beyond ludicrous that there are no words to describe it.
Dolan and Thomas are alleged to be close because no one takes them seriously and they are publicly ridiculed and vilified. And with good reason. Well, now these two have something else in common: the Stiffy Award for Lifetime Achievement.
THE FIRST ANNUAL NON-STIFFY AWARDS
NON-STIFF OF THE YEAR
ANDREW'S PICK: DERRICK ROSE
Carlos Boozer misses 23 games. Joakim Noah misses 34. Rose has seven new teammates and a new head coach. And yet the Bulls win a Leastern Conference best 60 games, the most wins for a Bulls team since you-know-who dominated the United Center. Now that's an MVP performance.
NATE'S PICK: DERRICK ROSE
25.1 points, 7.8 assists, 4.1 rebounds, has missed just one game, and his team has the best record in the East. I watched a lot of Bulls games this season just to watch Rose play. The guy is electric, a must watch, and a must catch in person when he comes to your team's town as he makes 3-4 plays a game that make you bulge out your eyes - Tim Duncan style. Rose plays with an unrelenting fire and is a gracious team player.
JEFF'S PICK: DWIGHT HOWARD
I'm aware that Derrick Rose is the sexy pick, but I also recognize that Orlando would be a below .500 team if they didn't have the big fella in there. He has the right numbers. He has the national publicity. I think it's time that D. Howard get's his due recognition.
BEST COACH OF THE YEAR
ANDREW'S PICK: GEORGE KARL
I love Tom Thibodeau. He's not a former player. He looks like a 1950s chemistry teacher. And he can coach the hell out of a basketball team. Are the Celtics struggling because they lost Kendrick Perkins at the trade deadline? Or are they struggling because they lost "Thibs" before the season even started? The Celtics regular season demise combined with the Bulls stunning ascension means I have no problem with Thibodeau winning Coach of the Year.
But no one has had to endure more adversity, both on-and-off the court, than George Karl. For Karl's with-Melo Nuggets to lead the league in offensive efficiency and position themselves for a five-seed in spite of the Melodrama, and then to transform the post-Melo Nuggets into a team that leads the league in defensive efficiency while still clinging to that five-seed is nothing short of remarkable. Call me a homer, but George Karl should be the 2011 Coach of the Year.
NATE'S PICK: TOM THIBODEAU
The Bulls earned the all-important No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, became a defensive juggernaut, and play outstanding team basketball. The former Celtics assistant coach did a great job in year one despite big free agent acquisition Carlos Boozer not playing over 60 games and Joakim Noah not playing in more than 50 regular season games.
JEFF'S PICK: GEORGE KARL
I'm saying this knowing that Tom Thibodeau will most likely win this year. I wrestled with this for a long time, but I think that Karl has overcome alot this season by holding the team together while the Carmelo Anthony mess was going on and then guiding the Nuggets to a sterling record after the trade (incorporating new players very quickly). No other coach has faced what Karl has faced this year (including coming back from throat and neck cancer) and this should be taken into consideration. Yet, it won't.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
ANDREW'S PICK: BLAKE GRIFFIN
This isn't up to debate, is it?
NATE'S PICK: BLAKE GRIFFIN
22.4 points and 12.4 rebounds a game. Franchise changer.
JEFF'S PICK: BLAKE GRIFFIN
This will go to Blake Griffin. There's some question as to whether he should be called a "rookie" or not, but the fact is not a single player in the NBA has changed the culture of a team (despite Donald Sterling) than Griffin has the Clippers. While it hasn't reflected completely in the team's record, we Nuggets fans have seen first hand how dynamic Griffin can be. Game changer indeed. Watch out for those knees though.
6TH MAN OF THE YEAR
ANDREW'S PICK: LAMAR ODOM
Despite coming off the bench for much of the season and playing about the same minutes as last season, Odom was actually better in 2010-11 than he was in 2009-10. He even increased his field goal shooting by seven percentage points to a career-high 53%. And on the intangible side, Odom presents matchup problems, on both ends of the floor, that competing teams still don't know how to handle.
NATE'S PICK: LAMAR ODOM
Sure, he's started 34 of the team's 80 games thus far, but that's only because of injuries - not by design. Odom averages 14.2 points and 8.7 rebounds per game and transforms the Lakers into an unbeatable team when he gets going (not to mention he's a match-up nightmare as a 6'10'' big with guard skills). Odom could start for every other team in the NBA, but has taken on a special role with the Lakers to stay with a winner.
JEFF'S PICK: LAMAR ODOM
As much as this burns me I have to say Lamar Odom probably deserves 6th Man of the Year over everyone. While at times Odom can be just as large an enigma as J.R. Smith, he is more consistent and provides things that you just cant account for. One of the best passing/court running "bigs" in the NBA. He also has a great jumper and can drive to basket quite excellently. Yes, he has serious flaws - and he's married to a Kardashian - but that shouldn't stop him from winning this season.
MOST IMPROVED PLAYER
ANDREW'S PICK: KEVIN LOVE
In only his third NBA season, Love increased his scoring average by six points per game, his rebounding average (which led the NBA) by four rebounds per game and improved both his field goal and three-point shooting. Oh, and did I mention that he had 53 straight double-doubles? The best single season double-double streak since the NBA and ABA merged in 1976.
NATE'S PICK: ARRON AFFLALO
He's averaging career-highs in practically every statistical category. He's his team's best perimeter defender. With Carmelo Anthony still on board he became a fourth quarter assassin and his team has noticeably missed his presence of late. Not a player a lot of folks know, but he should be.
JEFF'S PICK: LAMARCUS ALDRIDGE
I don't think there's a single player in the NBA that has been more surprising than LMA. His season has quite literally come out of nowhere and considering the bevy of injuries that the Blazers seem to face on an annual basis, it's even more amazing. Aldridge went from a fairly passive power forward to a point scoring/rebounding machine. He richly deserves this award.
EXECUTIVE OF THE YEAR
ANDREW'S PICK: MASAI UJIRI
Again, this one's not really up for debate, is it? An award that should be shared with Josh Kroenke, Ujiri somehow, someway stood firm while always being positive simultaneously, and swung perhaps the greatest deal in NBA history for a superstar hand-picking his destination. Ujiri - a first year GM - was thrown into a seemingly impossible situation, and (again, along with Kroenke) yet he refused to take pennies on the dollar for the Nuggets lone superstar. With the Nuggets standing proudly at 18-6 "post-Melo", handing this award to Ujiri should be a no-brainer.
NATE'S PICK: MASAI UJIRI
Looks like a homer pick, but his newly assembled team is 18-6 and is being talked about as a title contender this season. The team enjoys playing together, is much less expensive, and Ujiri collected multiple up-and-coming assets (including draft picks). The trade took awhile, but it propelled the Nuggets team and re-energized the fan-base. I can't pick Pat Riley because LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade were the ones who decided to play together years ago, and all Riley had to do was dump contracts.
JEFF'S PICK: MASAI UJIRI
Along with Josh Kroenke, Ujiri faced one of the toughest tasks in the NBA. Trading away your best player during the season and hoping to get something in return. Kroenke isn't eligible because he's technically an "owner", but he deserves this award too. I don't think there's any debate. That would give the Nuggets executive of the year honors two out of the last three years (Mark Warkentien won the award in 2009). Ujiri and Kroenke waited out the New York media and Billy King. They got James Dolan involved in trade talks and are on their way to proving that a certain Denver Stiffs writer can be too tough on people. Good job boys!