- Dave McMenamin, ESPN Staff Writer
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There are have been two dates on the calendar this month really weighing on my mind.
On April 18. taxes are due. And on April 14 at 3 p.m. ET -- a day after the regular season wrapped up Wednesday night -- the NBA's regular-season awards ballots were due back to the league office.
This is my first time in six seasons covering the league for NBA.com and ESPN.com that I've received any official votes for the NBA's Most Valuable Player, Defensive Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year, Sixth Man of the Year, Most Improved Player and the three All-NBA teams.
Since the Los Angeles Lakers have seven, count 'em seven, traveling beat writers, certain writers were given certain awards to vote on rather than giving three writers or broadcasters the full slate of awards to vote on by themselves, as is the case for teams in smaller media markets without an army covering their every injury update.
The awards I was assigned to vote on to become one of the approximately 125 media members that get a say in the awards this year were MVP, DPOY, MIP and All-NBA.
Covering a team like the Lakers, chasing the team award of the NBA championship for the third straight season, offers a different perspective to how much the awards even matter.
"A lot of agents put money inside the contracts as an incentive [to win the award]. It must mean something to somebody," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "It means a lot to the league and the people that sponsor it. But, it's a product of the team, mostly."
Kobe Bryant downplayed the distinctions as well, despite the fact that basketball fans churn out conversations weekly from the very start of the season about who is in the lead for every award based on who is having a good week or month.
"I don't think [the Lakers concentrate on awards] because we've had the biggest award that you can get, which is winning the championship," Bryant said. "I think everything after that: if it comes, great; if it doesn't, great."
I didn't sweat getting the votes this year, but they came.
I scooped myself for this column when we ran ESPN.com's site-wide award picks earlier in the week. So the top five goes like this:
You can read my reasoning for each of their cases here.
The bigger question I'll get into is what developed my reasoning. To me, the MVP is first and foremost about winning. Not necessarily best player on the best team (because the Spurs, who were No. 1 for almost the whole year did not have one clear-cut, impact player above the rest), but certainly a player on a team contending for a championship.
So, not only does that eliminate San Antonio's big three and Boston's big four from my consideration because of their collective-effort makeup of both teams, it also scratches off New York's Amare Stoudemire, because even though he revamped the Knicks, he only revamped them to a lower-tier playoff team in the East.
Here are a few more thoughts I considered:
- The two superstars theory: If you can't figure out the MVP of a team, then neither guy will be considered the outright MVP of the whole league. This eliminated Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook for me and hurt the case of Miami's LeBron James because he plays with Dwyane Wade.
- The "what would this team be without him" theory: Again, this hurts a guy like Durant or James because both the Thunder and Heat would still be playoff teams. But, what about Dallas without Nowitzki or Orlando without Howard? Those teams would have no chance of contending. For further evidence, check the Mavs' 2-7 record this season when Nowitzki was hurt.
- The intangibles theory: What does this guy do to set the tone day-in, day-out, game-in, game-out, defensively and offensively for a franchise? Three guys embodied that this season -- L.A.'s Bryant, Chicago's Rose and Portland's LaMarcus Aldridge.
- The testimonials theory: I'm in locker rooms all the time around the league. Why not just ask other coaches and players who should win? I asked Jackson a few weeks ago why Bryant wasn't figuring much into the MVP conversation. "I have no idea why he's not," he said. "I guess by virtue of the fact that Pau plays great on this team, then there's two All-Stars on the team. ... But he, obviously, is a guy that has to be figured into the top three names in the league." I ended up putting him third, not solely on that fact, but Jackson certainly had an influence.
- The statistical theory: All these guys are playing the same game on the same 94x50 court with the same 12-minute quarters. If one guy's numbers are absurd, you have to recognize that. Hence, James and his near 27-point, seven-rebound, seven-assist averages gets a boost.
- The new-age statistical theory: Read as much material from the intelligent online basketball community as I can so I don't just look at points, rebounds and assists to color my mind. Efficiency matters.
- The legacy theory (also known as the "Which one of these things don't belong?" Sesame Street-inspired theory): If a guy is a flash in the pan, you have to consider that. Derrick Rose's season was meteoric, but MVPs go to players that matter to the history of the game. It's not age discrimination by looking extra hard at Rose because he's only in his third season. It's about getting it right. On the other side, you look at the fact that Bryant is 15 seasons in and only has one MVP award despite being the best player of his era by most accounts. This doesn't vault him up the standings, but it's something you think about.
- The pick-up game theory: I need to win a game. Which guy do I want on my team? Big points for guys like James, Bryant, Durant, Rose and Wade in this one.
A lot of writers say that voting for these things is an inexact science. I think it's more push and pull. I weighed all of those bullet points. Some strongly, some lightly. Some last night, some a month ago. Ultimately it comes down to feel. And I feel confident in how I voted.
Defensive Player of the Year
1. Dwight Howard -- Howard ranked No. 2 in rebounds per game and No. 4 in blocks per game and it will earn him his third straight DPOY trophy.
2. Kevin Garnett -- Boston was No. 1 in opponent's points per game this season and No. 2 in opponent's field goal percentage. Garnett was the heart of that defensive unit.
3. Thabo Sefolosha -- Not really a numbers thing. I just had enough people tell me he's the next great wing defender in the league that I'm finally listening.
Most Improved Player
1. Dorell Wright -- To me, the all-time most deserving winner for MIP was Darrell Armstrong, who won it in his fifth season in the league in 1998-99 when he finally found his footing. It reminds me a lot of Wright, who was not much of a factor in six seasons in Miami before blossoming into the NBA leader in 3-pointers made this season and averaging 16.3 points and 5.3 rebounds per game.
2. Kyle Lowry -- Upped his scoring from 9.1 to 13.5 points per game, but more impressively enhanced his assists from 4.5 to 6.7 per. Plus he improved his shooting percentages.
3. LaMarcus Aldridge -- Again, not a numbers pick, but his leadership and consistency in the face of the constant stream of injuries that Portland endured gets him on the list.
The only requirement on the ballot is to pick two guards, two forwards and one center on each team.
G Kobe Bryant
G Derrick Rose
F LeBron James
F Dirk Nowitzki
C Dwight Howard
G Dwyane Wade
G Russell Westbrook
F Kevin Durant
F LaMarcus Aldridge
C Amare Stoudemire
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.