I'm still amped from Sunday night's amazing Nuggets win. But with a few days between playoff games, I thought this would be a good time to present the first annual Stiffy Awards (not to be confused with the "Vail Stiffy"; a drink featuring at least five different types of alcohol that my older friend Adam used to concoct for me and my friends who may or may not have been allowed into the Vail bars during each summer's Fourth of July festivities).
The Stiffy Awards are exactly what the title implies - i.e. the exact opposite of the NBA's end-of-season awards. So lets get right to it with our award winners...
LEAST VALUABLE PLAYER: ALLEN IVERSON
I absolutely hate to say this because I was a big fan when Iverson played in a Nuggets uniform, was all for the trade when the Nuggets acquired him in 2006, believe he saved an injury and suspension-riddled Nuggets team in 2006-07, doesn't get enough credit for the Nuggets 50-win season in 2007-08 and still have his Nuggets bobblehead doll displayed prominently on my bookshelf. But when the team you leave goes 53-26 without you and the team that acquires you goes 35-43 with you on board (after having appeared in the Eastern Conference Finals six consecutive times) and you make $22 million in a contract year and you gripe about coming off the bench and you miss 23 of the last 26 games with a back injury and you're left off the playoff roster, you receive the Stiffy for the Least Valuable Player.
Runners Up: Shawn Marion (whom I took late in the first round of my fantasy draft, foolishly thinking he would play hard in the final year of his contract), Elton Brand (for, as Bill Simmons aptly noted, ruining three franchises), Zach Randolph (just because), Steve Francis (for making $19 million while playing for no one) and Monta Ellis (for sinking the Warriors season before it began by violating his contract's no motorbiking clause...clearly Monta never heard of Jay Williams).
WORST COACH OF THE YEAR: MICHAEL CURRY
Congratulations to the Detroit Pistons for dominating the Stiffy Awards thus far! Apparently Flip Saunders and his track record of never missing the playoffs when he coaches a full season wasn't good enough for General Manager Joe Dumars. Instead, Dumars went with an inexperienced first-year coach in Curry who took a perennial Eastern Conference Finals participant and turned them into the worst team participating in the NBA Playoffs. Granted, the Iverson situation wasn't easy, but I guarantee you Saunders would have guided these guys to 50 wins with Iverson (and Iverson's back wouldn't have acted up...I'm just saying). On a side note, in confirming Saunders' record for this piece, I noticed that the Timberwolves haven't won more than 33 games in a single season since Saunders' departure. If you're a Washington Wizards fan, start clearing your schedule for next April because you'll be going to a few playoff games.
Runners Up: Terry Porter (for forcing a boring, halfcourt style on a run-and-gun team that thrived on an up-tempo offense) and Kevin McHale (for sandbagging Randy Wittman with a bad roster and then "coaching" the team to a 20-43 record himself).
WORST EXECUTIVE OF THE YEAR: STEVE KERR
This Stiffy Award should probably give the Pistons a full sweep, but I don't want the readers of this blog to think I have an East Coast bias (like the rest of the mainstream media who overwhelmingly voted for Stan Van Gundy as Coach of the Year over George Karl...what a joke). Kerr has done wonders since arriving in Phoenix in 2008. He was handed one of the NBA's best and most exciting teams that had been victims of some bad postseason luck and within two seasons he's built them into a non-playoff team with the NBA's sixth highest payroll. When Kerr returns to TNT in 2010, will he trade Marv Albert and Mike Fratello straight up for Doris Burke?
Runners Up: Joe Dumars (for all the facts mentioned above), Mike Dunleavy (for overpaying for Baron Davis, hampering his franchise's future by trading for Zach Randolph and retaining himself as head coach) and Chris Mullin/Larry Riley/Robert Rowell (or whomever's in charge of the Warriors, for overpaying Corey Maggette even though they were already stocked with swingmen who don't play defense).
WORST ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: DANILO GALLINARI
It's never advisable to spend the sixth overall pick in the NBA Draft just because your coach formerly played with the player's dad...especially when you passed on Brook Lopez and Eric Gordon. But in fairness to Gallinari and the Knicks' brass who drafted him, the jury is still out (of course that's what the Nuggets said about Nikoloz Tskitishvili for about three years).
Runner Up: Robin Lopez (the last time Shaquille O'Neal played with a stiff rookie - Mark Madsen - he bought him a new car...all Lopez got from O'Neal was a public berating).
LEAST IMPROVED PLAYER: YI JIANLIAN
If Gallinari doesn't pan out and Yi continues to shoot under 40% from the field, the NBA might be looking at back-to-back busts with the sixth overall pick. In his second season on a lottery team (read: lots of opportunity to show your stuff), Yi took his 8.6 ppg average to...uh...8.6 ppg while seeing his field goal percentage dip from a measly 42.1% to an inexcusable 38.2% for a near seven-footer. To be fair, Yi raised his rebounding average from 5.2 to 5.3 rpg. At least he's playing in a market with more Asian-Americans as he demanded last year, right? Oh, and this guy was almost voted in as a starter to the All-Star Game. Had this happened, it would have made A.C. Green's starting nod in 1990 look reasonable.
Runners Up: Sasha Vujacic (for having his FG% dip from 45.4 to 38.7, his three-point % dip from 43.7 to 36.3 and scoring from 8.8 to 5.8 ppg and still having the chutzpa to nickname himself "The Machine"), Adam Morrison and Shelden Williams (for being drafted ahead of Brandon Roy and Rudy Gay) and Joe Smith (for continuing to be the "Benjamin Button" of the NBA by doing his 14-year NBA career in reverse; since Smith's first two seasons, his productivity has gone down almost every year).
LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD: DONALD STERLING
In his 28th year of owning the Los Angeles Clippers, Sterling just presided over his 24th season without the Clippers making the playoffs. Even by Sterling's standards, this season was a real treat. In addition to 19 wins (amazingly, only the Clippers' eighth worst record since Sterling's arrival), Sterling managed to get sued by former "GM" Elgin Baylor for racial discrimination, yelled at the players in the Clippers' locker room and the capper; attempted to overcome the bad PR from the Baylor situation by (allegedly) flirting with hiring Isiah Thomas. If you have a few minutes to spare today, I strongly encourage reading Sports Illustrated's Franz Lidz's 2000 article on Sterling and the Clippers. The cover of that issue read: "The Worst Franchise in Sports History."
And that does it for the 2009 Stiffy Awards. Doesn't it feel great to have no Nuggets on this list?!