Simmons selected over Wade, Prince
LOS ANGELES -- Bobby Simmons of the Los Angeles Clippers was a runaway winner of the NBA Most Improved Player award Thursday, easily topping Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade and Detroit Pistons standout Tayshaun Prince despite playing on a losing team.
Simmons, who will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, is the first Clippers player to win the award that started following the 1985-86 season. Portland's Zach Randolph won it last year.
Simmons said hard work and a chance to play paid off.
"I never had the opportunity to show what I can do," he said Thursday. "Coach (Mike) Dunleavy gave me that opportunity. I just wanted to take every game like it was my last."
Simmons was watching an NBA playoff game when he was told he won the award.
"It pretty much caught me off guard," Simmons said, adding he immediately called his parents to share the good news.
Simmons received 59 first-place votes and 384 points in voting by sports writers and broadcasters. Wade got 15 first-place votes and 129 points, and Prince had 14 first-place votes and 107 points.
Charlotte's Primoz Brezec was fourth with 75 points, and New Orleans' Dan Dickau was fifth with 68. Players were awarded five points for each first-place vote, three for each second-place vote and one for each third-place vote.
The 24-year-old Simmons averaged career highs of 16.4 points, 5.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.4 steals and 37.3 minutes in 75 games, including 74 starts.
A year earlier, in his first season with the Clippers, he averaged 7.8 points, 4.7 rebounds and 24.6 minutes in 56 games, including eight starts.
"It's been a great pleasure to coach Bobby for the last two years," Dunleavy said. "I never dreamed he could take it to another level the way he did. He's an incredible professional from a work ethic standpoint and very cerebral as a player. This award is very much deserved."
Dunleavy and general manager Elgin Baylor both said re-signing Simmons was a top priority.
"Bobby's been terrific for us," Dunleavy said. "The first day we can talk to him is July 1. The first day we can sign him is July 15."
Simmons said he would love to return because of the bond he's developed with his teammates.
"They made it a lot easier for me on and off the court," he said. "I'm looking forward to making the playoffs next year. We're so close. Next year, I would love to be in the playoffs playing for the championship."
The Clippers went 37-45 in failing to qualify for the postseason for the eighth straight year. But they have high hopes with players like Elton Brand, Corey Maggette, Chris Kaman, Shaun Livingston and, potentially, Simmons among those who return next season.
Simmons, a 6-foot-6 forward from DePaul, signed a two-year, $1.575 contract with the Clippers two years ago after being released by the Washington Wizards. He was a second-round draft choice of Seattle in 2001 before being traded to Washington, where he averaged 3.5 points in a total of 66 games over two seasons.
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press
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