A vote for Duncan to repeat as MVP

The stack of ballots in our hands is due back to the league office by Thursday at 3 p.m. ... but the last regular-season Monday is already upon us.

Which is to say we could take a little more time to deliberate, but we really can't.

Herewith, then, is how your faithful correspondent is voting in all the major award categories. Not the most innovative column, certainly, but we know you want to know.

So …


1. Tim Duncan
2. Kevin Garnett
3. Kobe Bryant
4. Tracy McGrady
5. Jason Kidd

P.S. One disclaimer: If San Antonio ends up handing the West's No. 1 seed back to Dallas this week, and Minnesota hangs onto No. 4, KG can still wrest the vote from TD.

San Antonio's Tim Duncan. In this cyberspace, remember, the selection of a Most Valuable Player is based, rather unscientifically, on the idea that the best individual season is being rewarded, with team success factored in heavily. That's why Duncan tops a field that proved as tightly bunched as envisioned back in early March. You indeed could have made a heartfelt case for anyone in the top four on this five-man ballot and not be wrong, because MVP (along with Most Improved) has always been such a tough award to define. In the end, Duncan stood out for leading the Spurs past Dallas for the best record in the league, in spite of Dallas' 14-0 start. In spite of the fact, furthermore, that Duncan's supporting cast is really no deeper or more accomplished than Kevin Garnett's in Minnesota. Prime example of TD's impact: Bruce Bowen, a defensive specialist rapped for his shooting since his college days at a fine institution in the Disneyland area, is threatening to win the league's 3-point percentage title. That's because Bowen has improved his jumper significantly, but also because Duncan opens up the floor for Bowen and makes all his teammates better. Garnett's campaign featured the best bribe paraphernalia -- the Wolves sent out Minnesota vanity license plates bearing a "KG 4 MVP" message -- and his best-ever season claimed the No. 2 spot, since KG lifted his teammates to new levels just like Duncan. The Lakers' Kobe Bryant, meanwhile, slipped to third at the finish, despite his unquestioned standing as the game's consistently best clutch player and most spectacular individual. L.A.'s roller-coaster season hurt Bryant here more than anything, even though we still say it was Bryant who hauled Shaquille O'Neal and the rest of the champs back from 11-19, not a rarely motivated Shaq. Orlando's Tracy McGrady, as MVP of the lesser East, wound up fourth, and New Jersey's Jason Kidd rallied into fifth after a midseason blip, having overcome his team's many injuries and fatigue from doing more than ever to have his best offensive season and still lead the league in assists.

Coach of the Year

1. Rick Adelman, Sacramento
2. Jerry Sloan, Utah
3. Flip Saunders, Minnesota

Sacramento's Rick Adelman. This one's harder than the MVP vote, and the next five categories only call for three selections on each ballot. Any of the four coaches we left off deserves to win: San Antonio's Gregg Popovich and Dallas' Don Nelson have the only teams still in the running for 60 wins; Detroit's Rick Carlisle probably did a better job this season than he did last season as the COY winner; and Golden State's Eric Musselman squeezed more out of the Warriors than even he dared to dream. Sorting out the top three proved no simpler, because that meant not voting for Minnesota's resilient Flip Saunders or Utah's Jerry Sloan, who amazingly and regrettably has never won the thing. Since a 64-18 season in 1996-97, Utah's winning percentage declined for five straight seasons before this season, when Sloan established ideal roles for Matt Harpring and Andrei Kirilenko to give fortysomethings Karl Malone and John Stockton the athletic assistance they've needed to stay competitive in the West. Sloan's problem is that none of the above can overrule what Adelman has done with the Kings. Adelman's X-and-O acumen is often criticized, and he'll be the fan scapegoat if the Kings falter in the postseason, but he's kept Sacramento among the league's elite in the face of two straight seasons filled with long-term injuries to star players. There had to be some coaching in there somewhere.

Rookie of the Year

1. Yao Ming, Houston
2. Amare Stoudemire, Phoenix
3. Caron Butler, Miami

Houston's Yao Ming. For months we surmised that the No. 8 spot in the West would be the ROY tiebreaker between Yao and Suns sensation Amare Stoudemire. At the buzzer, even though Stoudemire and the Suns claimed it, we just couldn't deny Yao. Manly as Amare was, leaping from high schooler to NBA impact player a year after we had all lost faith in prep stars, Yao made a more daunting and historic transition, coming all the way from China to the heady heights of starting center in the All-Star Game and, for one night in January, legitimate Shaq foil. April has indeed been his worst month, after a great December (17.1 ppg, 10.2 rpg, 2.7 bpg) and February (16.5 ppg, 8.8 rpg), but Yao repeatedly dodged the Great Rookie Wall and hushed a lot of skeptics, all in the face of a relentless press following. No shame, meanwhile, for Miami's Caron Butler finishing third behind these two, especially with a Stein Line favorite (Denver's Nene Hilario) looming fourth.

Most Improved Player

1. Gilbert Arenas, Golden State
2. Matt Harpring, Utah
3. Troy Murphy, Golden State

Golden State's Gilbert Arenas. The criteria here might be even tougher to pinpoint than MVP qualifications. Do you like the guy who came from nowhere to secure a role of prominence? Like Golden State's Troy Murphy. Or the guy who went from good to great? Like San Antonio's Tony Parker. Or maybe you prefer the jump from really good to sensational ... as traversed by the Suns' Stephon Marbury. You can go any of those directions, but we gravitated to an either/or between Golden State's Arenas and Utah's Harpring. And Arenas is the selection, by a fraction, for blossoming in a more toxic environment. No slight to Harpring, who's having a career year with a team he was born for, even though his playing time has only increased marginally. But Arenas has emerged as a legit point guard in a league that needs as many as it can find. Little wonder Arenas has also emerged as one of the NBA's most coveted free agents.

Sixth Man Award

1. Michael Redd, Milwaukee
2. Bobby Jackson, Sacramento
3. Malik Rose, San Antonio

Milwaukee's Michael Redd. You know we love our lefties, which makes it extra tough to vote against Dallas' Nick Van Exel and especially Milwaukee's Redd. San Antonio's Malik Rose, Indiana's Al Harrington, Utah's Andrei Kirilenko, Golden State's Earl Boykins and Detroit's Corliss Williamson (2001-02's winner) are all game-changers, too. Sacramento's Bobby Jackson, of course, is the only member of the group who briefly played at an MVP level -- through the season's opening third, while Mike Bibby was injured. Jackson, though, was injured for more than a month, and if games missed have ruled Shaq out of the MVP derby, they have to affect Bobby the same way. So Redd shades it.

Defensive Player of the Year

1. Ben Wallace, Detroit
2. Kevin Garnett, Minnesota
3. Doug Christie, Sacramento

Detroit's Ben Wallace. It doesn't feel right not awarding something to Garnett, but it also doesn't feel right voting against Wallace, who personifies defense for the team with the league's only scoring defense holding the opposition under 90 points per game. Garnett will have to settle for Versatile Defensive Player of the Year, as a guy who chases after little guys and post players as a rover in Minny's 3-2 zone, and Sacramento's Doug Christie edges out Indiana's Ron Artest for Perimeter Defensive Player of the Year ... but only because of Artest's inability to avoid suspensions and controversy. Opposing coaches and scouts continually tell us that Artest is just fantastic on the ball. Someday, perhaps, Artest can loosen the recent big-man monopoly on this award if he ever calms down.

All-NBA team
The rules stipulate that voters select players at the position they play regularly. Here goes:

First team
F Tim Duncan, San Antonio
F Kevin Garnett, Minnesota
C Shaquille O'Neal, L.A. Lakers
G Kobe Bryant, L.A. Lakers
G Tracy McGrady, Orlando
Second team
F Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas
F Chris Webber, Sacramento
C Ben Wallace, Detroit
G Jason Kidd, New Jersey
G Allen Iverson, Philadelphia
Third team
F Jermaine O'Neal, Indiana
F Jamal Mashburn, New Orleans
C Yao Ming, Houston
G Stephon Marbury, Phoenix
G Steve Nash, Dallas

All-Interview team
The league asks us to vote for any five players and a coach. We like to vote by position, or as close as we can get, for continuity's sake. Here goes again:

F Jamal Mashburn, New Orleans
F Rick Fox, L.A. Lakers
C Chris Webber, Sacramento*
G Avery Johnson, Dallas
G Wally Szczerbiak, Minnesota
Coach: Doc Rivers, Orlando

*Not quite a center, obviously, but he has to make the squad, by a hair over San Antonio's David Robinson in his farewell season.

Executive of the Year
Detroit's Joe Dumars and San Antonio's Gregg Popovich and R.C. Buford. The media don't get the EOY vote, and the media aren't allowed to split votes in any of the other categories. So we're throwing in our two shekels' worth as a bonus and splitting them for the fun of it. Dumars had the gumption to bring in a whole new backcourt after a 50-win season and, after this 50-win season, should re-sign the promising Rip Hamilton for less than Jerry Stackhouse was expected to demand. Joe D. is also in position to upgrade the Pistons again this summer with Memphis' lottery pick forthcoming (unless it's No. 1 overall) and a trade-friendly payroll below the luxury-tax threshold. As for the Spurs, their outlook is even brighter. San Antonio has a championship team in the present -- coached masterfully by Pop and helped immensely by Buford draftees Parker and Manu Ginobili -- and the cap space this summer or next (as Pop and R.C. planned together) to put a new All-Star next to Duncan. Add it all up and that's why there's no room, splitting or not, for Sacramento's perennially outstanding Geoff Petrie, who added Keon Clark and Jim Jackson to the league's deepest team.

Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here. Also, send Stein a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.