It's that time of year, when cries of injustice ring and wild-eyed paranoia reigns, when the full consequences of living in San Antonio or Sacramento are felt -- and when surprise packages that neither smell bad nor are set aflame land on sportswriters' doorsteps. Itís NBA award selection time, and in the spirit of both full disclosure and partial levity, hereís a rundown of who I think will and ought to win -- followed by a few award categories that donít exist but should.
Who Will Win -- Jason Kidd, Nets
Tim Duncan did make an impressive late rush. The GMs and coaches Iíve talked to lately all mention Duncan first before adding that Kidd is equally worthy. Kidd gets my vote because he changed an organizationís entire culture. The Netsí turnaround has as much to do with the three Ks -- Kenyon Martin, Kerry Kittles, Keith Van Horn -- being healthy and the addition of Todd MacCulloch and Richard Jefferson, but none of it wouldíve mattered without Kidd setting a tone at both ends of the floor, as well as off it.
Who Should Win -- Kidd
Duncan carried a Spurs team built with one eye toward clearing cap room after next season to the top of the Midwest Division, but heís not the defensive force Kidd is (I donít care how many times the coaches vote Tim first-team all-defense over KG and the Admiral) and a 25-game W-L swing and top seed in the East canít be ignored. T-Mac? Too inconsistent early on and I never received the bobblehead the Magic allegedly sent out. Besides, this way Kidd will have something to razz TD about when they become teammates in San Antonio for the 2003-04 season.
Coach of the Year
Who Will Win -- Rick Carlisle, Pistons
He sized up the schedule, a bag of odd parts that didnít include a bona fide point guard and brought it all together for a division title. He started working on Jerry Stackhouse to change his game last summer. Stumping for his playersí postseason-award worthiness with personal calls to every voter (and leaving his cell phone number) is extraordinary on any level.
Who Should Win -- Rick Adelman, Kings
This is based on Sacramento having the best record in the toughest conference. The annual confusion about this award easily could be circumvented by voting in mid-May -- since what a coach can do, and the wisdom of how he used his players during the regular season, becomes clear in the playoffs.
Defensive Player of the Year
Who Will Win -- Ben Wallace, Pistons
Being able to tag-team with veteran Cliff Robinson has been a big help, but Wallace is as strong on the ball as he is coming from the weakside. How you can deny only the fourth player in league history to win both the rebounding and shotblocking titles?
Who Should Win -- Wallace
Although the Kingsí Doug Christie deserves far more consideration than heís getting.
Most Improved Player
Who Will Win -- No idea
The definition of this category is as willowy as MVP. Candidates often seem to be players who simply are getting more playing time and therefore have better numbers, but does that mean theyíve improved?
Who Should Win -- Jerry Stackhouse, Pistons, or Kobe Bryant, Lakers
Both stars shaped their games to make the players around them better. Those who have suggested Kobeís D has slipped fail to notice he takes the toughest matchup at any of three positions without hesitation, something few 2-guards would be willing or able to do. Stack has sacrificed scoring for playmaking and more effort on defense.
Sixth Man of the Year
Who Will Win -- Corliss Williamson, Pistons
He led the best bench brigade in the league, and voters seem to favor fresh faces in an award category.
Who Should Win -- Bobby Jackson, Kings, or Robert Horry, Lakers
Jackson is undercut by Hedo Turkoglu, who has been an equally large factor off the Kingsí bench. Horry gets no love because his contributions have been routinely overlooked for most of his career. Both are part of their teamís closing lineup and vital to its postseason chances.
Rookie of the Year
Who Will Win -- Pau Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies
Everyone expected him to be a star, but not this soon.
Who Should Win -- Andrei Kirilenko, Utah Jazz
This is based on the same logic that put Steve Francis ahead of Elton Brand -- which is that in comparing the times I saw them, Kirilenko impressed me more. Donít wave stats at me -- a good player on a bad team is going to post impressive numbers. The Jazz system, the language barrier and coach Jerry Sloanís reluctance to give unearned minutes to anyone makes Kirilenkoís role in helping the Jazz to another postseason berth even more impressive.
Executive of the Year
Who Will Win -- Rod Thorn, Nets
Although the Kingsí Geoff Petrie is just as qualified. NBA executives vote for this award, not writers, making this a harder call. Both made tremendous upgrades at point guard (Jason Kidd for Stephon Marbury, Mike Bibby for Jason Williams) and key summer signings (Chris Webber, Todd MacCulloch).
Who Should Win -- One of the above
Now for a few offbeat awards:
Rookie Executive of the Year -- Kiki Vandeweghe, Denver Nuggets
In one fell swoop, he moved what a league source described as three of the NBAís worst contracts (belonging to Avery Johnson, Tariq Abdul-Wahad and Nick Van Exel), thereby saving the franchise nearly $170 million (if you count the potential cost of re-signing Raef LaFrentz) and creating a chance for Denver to start over.
Least Improved Bankroll -- Olden Polynice
Opted out of his Jazz contract, thinking he could do better on the free-agent market, and sat out the entire season.
Twelfth Man of the Year -- Mark Madsen, Lakers
In the teamís pregame mosh pits, Shaq often calls upon Madsen to sing whatever the rallying cry is. Madsen happily obliges, "even though half the time itís some rap lyric Iíve never heard before."
Uniform Design Choice of the Year -- Golden State Warriors
For putting the shorts logo on the back hem. It simply doesnít look right, but then that seems fitting.
Ric Bucher covers the NBA for ESPN The Magazine. E-mail him at email@example.com.