Trimester grades: Best and worst
Editor's note: Every Wednesday, senior NBA writer Marc Stein gives his take on the league in "Slams and Dunks."
Hopefully you are safely tucked away with family for Hanukkah and the rest of the holidays.
Hopefully you know what else the calendar calls for now.
Yep. With the bulk of the league having played at least 27 games -- all but Washington (26) and a curious thicket of Pacific Division clubs (five are at 26 and the Clippers are at 24) -- it's time to take stockings of the season. One-third of it is already gone.
So here goes.
East MVP of the Trimester: None. Toronto's Vince Carter, Indiana's Ron Artest and New Orleans' Baron Davis were all candidates here. But then we decided that no one in the East -- not even Indy, any more -- is playing well enough to merit an MVP candidate. Pick it up, lads.
Coach of the Trimester: Jerry Sloan. The Midwest Division has three or four Coach of the Year candidates by itself. Denver's Jeff Bzdelik and Memphis' Hubie Brown are going to be jostling with Sloan at season's end if all three teams can maintain their present pace. But let's get real. Not even the Nuggets' brief flirtations with the Midwest lead are more shocking than the Jazz, without John Stockton and Karl Malone, amassing a record that would lead the Atlantic Division. Sloan is as good as ever and as seriously self-deprecating as ever. Last week he stared right through me and said: "I'm not important." I had a good chuckle over that one. The shame, though, is that he's getting more attention for his coaching now than he did at any point in the past 15 years.
Division of the Trimester: Midwest. All the powers struggled early -- Spurs, Wolves and the still-struggling Mavericks -- but the improvements from everyone else are such that all seven teams are over. 500. All seven can likewise claim more road wins than home defeat, even Dallas in spite of its 3-10 road record. One or more of these teams is going to be fuming when the playoffs come and they're excluded.
Looking ahead to Trimester 2:
Conference of the Trimester: East. The Leastern lads get our appreciation for a couple reasons. A) We're finally up to seven teams with records of .500 or better, which must be a season-high. B) It's gets old bashing them (but we stick with the fact there isn't an MVP).
Surprise Team of the Trimester: Denver Nuggets. If Sloan beats out Bzdelik for Coach of the Trimester, and LeBron edges 'Melo for Rookie of the Trimester, we have to give Denver something. How 'bout Executive of the Trimester for Kiki Vandeweghe?
Disappointing Team of the Trimester: New Jersey. Phoenix and Dallas were contenders here, but the Nets top the list. Why? Because we're tired of seeing and hearing that they're not giving Byron Scott their best. Jersey will have a new coach next season, but a change now isn't going to do any good. So it'd be nice to see Jason Kidd and his mates suck it up and grind through the rest of the schedule without complaint, which doesn't seem like a lot to ask.
Real Disappointment of the Trimester: Injuries. There are still too many guys that we haven't even seen a dribble from yet. Hurry back, fellas. That means you Jamal Mashburn, Jerry Stackhouse, Wally Szczerbiak, Dajuan Wagner and, of course, C-Webb. Dare we even say ... Grant Hill?
Embarrassment of the Trimester: Rasheed Wallace's exploitation "speech." As Charles Barkley recently said: "What Rasheed said may be the stupidest thing I've ever heard in 20 years in the NBA. People who work for huge corporations and aren't making any money, those are the people being exploited."
Dunker of the Trimester: Stromile Swift. Stro has been finishing so strong at the rim that I'm starting to wonder if he's the new Shawn Kemp. The sort of power dunker who isn't tailor-made for a dunk contest, but breathtaking to watch when a dunk opportunity materializes in game-situation traffic. Of course, it remains to be seen if all Stro's slamming gets him any closer to getting traded, because Memphis has been dangling him for ages.
Anti-Dunker of the Trimester: Darko Milicic. I was there in Cleveland when Darko got knocked back by the rim, and embarrassing isn't the word for it. It was just plain sad.
All-Star Starters of the Trimester: We leave the All-Star ballots for the fans in real life, but this is how we'd be voting if we did punch a ballot, going by positions as the players are listed: