Even though we typically hand out the Stiffy Awards in April, with all the rest / tanking going on in the NBA this season we don't need 8-10 more games to decide who the Stiff of the Year and his fellow Stiffy recipients are this year. But, as always, there are many worthy candidates and we'll have to do our best to sift through them all.
So with that said, I proudly present the 2015 Stiffy (and non-Stiffy) Awards ...
STIFF OF THE YEAR: KOBE BRYANT
By far one of the toughest decisions we've had to make in years, with Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard all making strong cases as Stiff of the Year for 2014-15.
After signing a five-year, $124 million contract during the off-season, Anthony returned to the New York Knicks where he appeared in just 40 games and "led" the team to a 10-30 record. And while no one disagrees that the Knicks boast one of the worst rosters in NBA history, a player of Melo's stature should be able to lead them to more victories than ten in 40 tries. Moreover, Melo was healthy enough to appear in his 10th NBA All-Star Game (in New York) to appease his agent and endorsers alike, but conveniently decided immediately after the All-Star Game to shut himself down for the season.
Howard, meanwhile, proved once again that he'll never be in the elite center conversation in NBA lore. Ever. After wilting under the pressure of being the next-great-Lakers center and coward'ing his way to Houston as a free agent last season, he has been unable to stay healthy this season but it hasn't really mattered to the Rockets. During two of Howard's prolonged absences in November/December and again January-March, the Rockets have gone 8-3 and 17-9, respectively. Now Howard is talking about making the "ultimate sacrifice" for the Rockets by reducing his offensive input in favor of more defensive help. How about just playing for once, Dwight?
But no one had a season quite like Bryant. And unlike most Denver Nuggets fans, I'm actually not a Kobe hater. In fact, I think Bryant's continued pursuit of excellence and his tireless work ethic are to be both admired and respected. Unfortunately, those character traits that once made Bryant so great - his single-mindedness, work ethic, basketball IQ, etc. - are also what have made him one of the most detestable teammates in all of basketball. Who else besides Bryant could cause both Pau Gasol and Howard to defect from the Los Angeles Lakers while simultaneously making the Lakers one of the least desirable free agent destinations?! And rather than mature into a role a la Reggie Miller circa 1999 through 2005 for this patchwork Lakers team (teacher, mentor, more efficient player, etc.), Bryant has instead become Washington Wizards Era Michael Jordan: an aging super-duperstar who chucks his way into so many bad shots and missed passes that his teammates grow to hate him. Nevermind the tantrums, constant scowling and pouting that have come to define Bryant's forgettable 2014-15 campaign.
In just 35 games of action this season, Bryant shot a career-low 37.3% from the field but that didn't stop him from taking over 20 shots per game. And during those 35 games, Bryant's Lakers won just 10 of them. Frankly, it's sad to watch because both Bryant and the Lakers deserve a better ending to Bryant's storybook career.
Runner-Up: Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard, Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson
Jeff's Pick: Reggie Jackson | Adam's Pick: Rondo | Colin's Pick: JaVale McGee
NON-STIFF OF THE YEAR: LEBRON JAMES
It's laughable to me that James isn't the clear favorite to win the NBA's MVP this year, which would be LeBron James' fifth in seven years. Yes, James Harden and Stephen Curry are having terrific seasons, but if either of them are MVPs then the NBA needs to send MVP Awards retroactively to Dominique Wilkins, Clyde Drexler, Pete Maravich and Rick Barry. The other name in the 2014-15 MVP debate - Russell Westbrook - has proven to be an A-class stat stuffer who doesn't actually make his teammates any better. James, conversely, makes everyone around him better and has guided the Cleveland Cavaliers (riding a four-year playoff absence streak) to NBA prominence after a shaky start, despite having more pressure and media focus on him than any other NBA player. And before you tell me "well, LeBron gets to play with Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving!" lest you forget that former MVPs like Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley were surrounded by Hall of Famers and All-Stars, too.
Just because James has already won four MVPs doesn't mean he shouldn't win a fifth. James is the Non-Stiff of the Year.
Runner Up: James Harden, Stephen Curry, Anthony Davis
Jeff's Pick: Harden | Adam's Pick: Harden | Colin's Pick: Curry
WORST ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: DANTE EXUM
Here's hoping Dante Exum shakes off a bad rookie season and delivers a better performance as a sophomore in 2015-16, because he seems like a likable kid with a great life story coming over from Australia. But in hindsight it's hard to imagine what all the hype about Exum - the fifth overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft - was for as he has struggled with 34.6% shooting and averaged a meek 4.6 ppg when not buried on the Utah Jazz bench ... not exactly one of the NBA's deeper rosters nor a team that was playing for anything other than experience for its young players.
Runner Up: Nik Stauskas, Aaron Gordon, Doug McDermott
Jeff's Pick: Stauskas | Adam's Pick: McDermott | Colin's Pick: Stauskas
BEST ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: ANDREW WIGGINS
The Cavaliers-will-regret-trading-Wiggins-for-Love tour continues as Andrew Wiggins - seemingly daily - plays better and better while setting the Minnesota Timberwolves up for a very bright future. The first overall pick Wiggins has the makings of being a perennial All-Star and with his fellow rookie Jabari Parker playing well before succumbing to an ACL tear, the very top of the 2014 NBA Draft could turn out to be one of the best in years.
Runner Up: Nerlens Noel
Jeff's Pick: Wiggins | Adam's Pick: Wiggins | Colin's Pick: Noel
WORST DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: J.J. HICKSON
Big men opponents of the Nuggets must salivate when they see Denver on their schedule in any given week knowing that they'll have an easy night going head-to-head against the Nuggets' center / power forward J.J. Hickson. Just look at the Nuggets versus Trail Blazers game on Saturday night when all three of Portland's front court players had big nights: LaMarcus Aldridge scored 32 points, backup Chris Kaman had 14 points (in 17 minutes) and Robin Lopez - Hickson's replacement - put up 12.
Runner Up: Anthony, Harden, Kyrie Irving
Jeff's Pick: Hickson | Adam's Pick: Enes Kanter
BEST DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: DRAYMOND GREEN
In addition to being the NBA's highest-scoring team - by a large margin - the Golden State Warriors are the league's most efficient defensive team, and that's largely thanks to Draymond Green who quarterbacks the defense while filling in admirably at power forward, small forward and shooting guard when asked by head coach Steve Kerr. If the New Orleans Pelicans' Davis hadn't missed so many games to injury this season, he'd have given Green a run for his money for this award.
Runner Up: Marc Gasol, Davis
Jeff's Pick: Gasol | Adam's Pick: Green
WORST SIXTH MAN OF THE YEAR: DION WAITERS
Since being traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder in early January, Dion Waiters has come off the bench to shoot 38.9% from the field, 30.3% from three-point range and he turns the ball over about as often as he dishes assists. Before being shipped to Oklahoma City, Waiters was rumored to be a malcontent on the Cavaliers' bench which precipitated a deal that brought Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith (interestingly, last year's Stiffy Award recipient for Worst Sixth Man of the Year!)
Jeff's Pick: Hickson | Adam's Pick(s): Waiters and Nate Robinson
BEST SIXTH MAN OF THE YEAR: LOU WILLIAMS
When our friend and Toronto Raptors GM Masai Ujiri stole Lou Williams from the Atlanta Hawks last summer, few thought he'd be this good in Toronto - combining with Greivis Vasquez to form the NBA's best backup backcourt. Averaging a career-high 15.1 ppg despite not starting in a single game for the Raptors all season long, Williams has been able to protect the Raptors backside when All-Star starting point guard Kyle Lowry misses games to due to an assortment of nagging injuries.
Runner Up: Jamal Crawford
Jeff's Pick: Williams | Adam's Pick: Dennis Schroder | Colin's Pick: Williams
LEAST IMPROVED PLAYER OF THE YEAR: JAVALE MCGEE
When JaVale McGee appeared in just 17 games for our Nuggets this season, I just assumed he was hurt. And then the Nuggets
forced McGee onto traded McGee to the Philadelphia 76ers and he played the next day for the Sixers. Huh? Only 27 years old, McGee is just three years removed from averaging nearly 12 ppg, 2.5 bpg and 9 rpg. And yet he has devolved into a buyout candidate incapable of helping an NBA roster when he should be having the seasons of his career. Unbelievable. I guess we'll just have to look forward to the day when McGee gets inducted into the Denver Stiffs Hall of Fame.
Runner Up: Waiters
Jeff's Pick: Andrea Bargnani | Adam's Pick(s): Waiters, Jeremy Lamb, Alexey Shved
MOST IMPROVED PLAYER OF THE YEAR: JIMMY BUTLER
Leapfrogging from a solid starting two-guard to one of the NBA's best two-guards and an All-Star appearance makes Jimmy Butler the emphatic choice as Most Improved Player. And despite one injury after another to Derrick Rose, Butler has been able to keep their Chicago Bulls atop the Eastern Conference heap virtually all season long.
Jeff's Pick: Khris Middleton | Adam's Pick: Donatas Motiejunas | Colin's Pick: Butler
WORST COACH(ES) OF THE YEAR: BRIAN SHAW AND DEREK FISHER
As detailed in my November expose on why former Lakers players make such bad NBA coaches, Brian Shaw and Derek Fisher lived up to the stereotype ... and then some. Luckily for Shaw, he was put out of his misery after 59 games with the Nuggets and a 20-39 record (including a streak during which his Nuggets lost 19 of 21 games and did so badly). Fisher, meanwhile, appears to be on the hook for the remainder of the Knicks season which will end as the worst in its storied franchise history. And that's saying something considering that the Knicks were an original Basketball Association of America (BAA) team going back to 1946 when teams played about a third less games than they do today. I think it's safe to assume that with the new coaching hires sure to be made next season that former Lakers players will be left off the interview lists.
Runner Up: Stan Van Gundy
Jeff's Pick: Shaw | Adam's Pick: Shaw | Colin's Pick: Shaw
BEST COACH OF THE YEAR: MIKE BUDENHOLZER
If ever you needed proof that Gregg Popovich's "coaching tree" is far better than Phil Jackson's "coaching tree" look no further than Mike Budenholzer - aka "Coach Bud" - who is guiding the Hawks to a franchise-best 60 wins despite returning virtually the same roster that won just 38 games last season. And even though the Hawks might be the beneficiaries of playing in the weaker Eastern Conference, Coach Bud's Hawks are an impressive 21-8 versus the Western Conference, too.
Runner Up: Steve Kerr
Jeff's Pick: Kerr | Adam's Pick: Budenholzer | Colin's Pick: Budenholzer
WORST EXECUTIVE OF THE YEAR: PHIL JACKSON
If you're looking for "bang for the buck" in an NBA executive, then Phil Jackson may not only be the worst NBA executive this season but one of the worst ever. For $12 million in reported annual salary, Jackson has delivered a 14-win team featuring a roster that's about as barren as you'll ever find in the NBA. In fact, I think the Knicks roster in the movie Eddie boasted more talent than this one. Compounding matters, Jackson foolishly hired the inexperienced Fisher and gave Anthony a near max contract even though the aging superstar has never once made a teammate better. In fact, Jackson had ample opportunities to trade Anthony to either Chicago or Dallas last summer and get the Knicks on track with a meaningful rebuild but instead opted for the short-sighted path that will haunt the Knicks as long as Anthony is there.
Runner Up: Doc Rivers (why exactly does this guy have any executive authority anyway??), Mitch Kupchak
Jeff's Pick: Pete D'Alessandro / Vivek Ranadive | Adam's Pick(s): Ranadive and Rivers | Colin's Pick: Jackson
BEST EXECUTIVE OF THE YEAR: DAVID GRIFFIN
With the Warriors and Hawks having epic regular seasons, it's hard not to give this award to GMs Bob Myers or Danny Ferry, respectively (Ferry's reprehensible off-season comments about Luol Deng notwithstanding). But what did they really do last summer? Other than hiring Kerr - a masterstroke, no doubt - Myers basically returned the exact same team to the Bay Area from the previous season. And Ferry's best work took place two years ago, when he hired Budenholzer and shaped the rest of the Hawks roster dominating the league today.
And thus, even though the Cavaliers' David Griffin might have erred mightily in trading away Wiggins for Love - and was really f--king lucky to land the first overall pick in the first place (Cleveland's third number one pick in four seasons!) - Griffin gets credit for re-shaping the Cavaliers roster around James, Love and Irving. By bringing in solid role players like (and I can't believe I'm saying this) Smith, Shumpert and Timofey Mozgov, Griffin might have built just the right roster to get Cleveland back to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2007.
Runner Up: Myers
Jeff's Pick: Myers | Adam's Pick: Griffin | Colin's Pick: Myers