<
>

Last word on LeBron vs. 'Melo

The expectations on Carmelo Anthony, right, weren't as high as the unprecedented hype over LeBron James. 

On the final day of the regular season comes our final thought on what quite possibly ranks as the biggest non-Kobe storyline of the season: LeBron James vs. Carmelo Anthony.

Two final thoughts, actually.

Kiki Vandeweghe wondered aloud Monday "how you can not vote for Carmelo" for Rookie of the Year. Hundreds of hate e-mails received here after Kiki's lobbying demanded further explanation to support my ROY selection of LeBron.

Fine. Here are two justifications.

The first comes courtesy of my colleague David Aldridge, who explained his choice thusly in a column Monday: "No one -- not Jordan, not Magic, not Russell or Wilt -- came into the L with more light and heat on him than James, and he responded almost every night. He did better than expected at the point, and when he got back to his natural position, he exploded. Yes, the Cavs came up short in a weaker conference. But it wasn't because of LeBron. He was everything everyone said he would be. And that's amazing." Amazing, indeed. I made a similar case in my Stein Line awards column last Friday -- also built upon James' membership in a 20-5-5 Rookie Club that only has two other members: Michael Jordan and Oscar Robertson -- but DA said it better.

The second explanation is my latest theory, which calls for a hypothetical trade. In response to everyone who says 'Melo should be the ROY because his team made the playoffs, let's imagine LeBron played for the Nuggets and 'Melo played for the Cavs. Now tell me if Cleveland would have made the playoffs with Anthony as the front man, even in the East.

Nope.

'Melo had a fabulous rookie season, but he doesn't have the multi-faceted game yet to overcome everything Cleveland was missing. Cleveland has a makeshift bench. Cleveland doesn't have a single perimeter threat. Cleveland doesn't have a defender even close to the Marcus Camby class. Cleveland likewise didn't have consistent play at the point for 50-odd games, having (mistakenly) allowed Cleveland's own Earl Boykins to sign with the Nuggets to back up ex-Cav Andre Miller. The Cavs nonetheless sit one game out of a playoff spot, largely because of a kid who went straight from playing against a bunch of high school runts to lifting the play of Carlos Boozer and Zydrunas Ilgauskas when he wasn't wowing adults across the nation with his own stuff.

I suppose it wouldn't be the worst thing if LeBron and Carmelo shared the award. But voters aren't allowed to split votes. Voters can only pick one of them and the case for LeBron, like we said Friday, was irresistible. Yet we repeat: There will be no shame for 'Melo in finishing second. Magic Johnson lost 1980's ROY race to Larry Bird and still turned out OK.


After Kevin O'Neill is formally dismissed by the Toronto Raptors on Thursday or Friday, look for Golden State's Eric Musselman to go next.

But ...

The likelihood, insiders say, is that Musselman would be dismissed before Chris Mullin is formally placed in charge of the Warriors' front office ... even though everyone knows Mully has had major input on personnel decisions for months.


I hope it's true that Lawrence Frank will be getting the Nets' job full-time no matter what the two-time defending Eastern Conference champs do in the playoffs. That would be one less team to monitor on the NBA's never-stops coaching carousel.

It also makes sense for the Nets because A) their players have clearly responded to Frank's coaching and B) they really don't have the financial flexibility to start bidding for bigger coaching names after signing Jason Kidd and Alonzo Mourning last summer and with expensive commitments forthcoming to Kenyon Martin and Richard Jefferson.


There was a push at Stein Line HQ to rescind Bob Sura's Male of the Week honors after his faux triple-double Monday night. But the league's ruling to nullify it was punishment enough, because Sura's crime wasn't nearly as profound as, say, shooting at the wrong basket to get a rebound.


NBA TV is taking another make-good step with its public by planning a nationwide free preview from April 17 through May 5 on cable distributors which carry the channel. That'll be handy for lots of you with up to eight first-round games scheduled for exclusive coverage on NBA TV.


I might be crazy, but so many people are convinced that Dallas will lose in the first round that I've now reached the point where I almost expect the Small Ballers to win a series. Almost.


Nothing said above is meant to diminish what 'Melo and the Nuggets accomplished this season, because their improvement was truly historic. Only two other teams in NBA annals have made the playoffs in the season after losing 65 games, or after sporting a winning percentage as low as Denver's Mendozian .207 from last season.

The San Diego Rockets went from 15-67 in their debut season in 1967-68 to 37-45 after landing Elvin Hayes with the first pick in the '68 draft. Phoenix went 16-66 in its inaugural season in 1968-69 before improving to 39-43 the following season. Denver has already topped both of those turnarounds, at plus-26 entering Wednesday's season finale against San Antonio.

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