With the All-Star Game less than a week away, let's dole out some midseason awards.
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER: Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers. Easy choice. Apologies to New Orleans point guard Chris Paul and Boston forward Kevin Garnett, but it's practically indisputable. He's the best player in the league on a great team. Bryant has the numbers -- 27.8 points, 45.3 percent shooting, 6.3 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 1.8 steals -- and his team is among the best in the dreadfully deep Western Conference. Before his Lakers acquired post Pau Gasol from Memphis, Bryant had the least help of any star in the league.
MOST DISAPPOINTING: Vince Carter, New Jersey Nets SG. Point guard Jason Kidd and swingman Richard Jefferson are having career years, and young big men Josh Boone and Sean Williams have been pleasant surprises. So why are the Nets struggling? Carter gets a lot of the blame. Not only does he not dominate anymore, he doesn't even dunk anymore. So then what good is he?
BEST COACH: Byron Scott, New Orleans Hornets. Who knew the Hornets were this good. They've got some talent at their core, led by Paul. But Scott has them all -- Paul, center Tyson Chandler, forward David West -- having career seasons. These Hornets know how to win, despite being new to the NBA's elite society.
WORST COACH: Pat Riley, Miami Heat. No way any team with Dwyane Wade should be this bad. Miami has some talent and experience -- forward Udonis Haslem, small forward Dorrell Wright, swingman Ricky Davis. They shouldn't be the worst team in the East.
BEST EXECUTIVE: Mitch Kupchak, Los Angeles Lakers. Kupchak edges out the Celtics' Danny Ainge. Not only because he stole Gasol from Memphis (seriously, Kwame Brown, two first-round draft picks and rookie point guard Javaris Crittendon was all it took?), but because Kupchak kept his cool during the Bryant trade demands. Not to mention getting Derek Fisher out of Utah and trading for athletic swingman Trevor Ariza.
STRUGGLING EXECUTIVE: John Paxon, Chicago Bulls. Failed to land Gasol or Bryant. Couldn't come to terms with young stars Luol Deng and Ben Gordon after overpaying point guard Kirk Hinrich (five years, $47.5 million) and small forward Andres Nocioni (five years, $38 million). Drafted Joakim Noah, who is redundant with forward Tyrus Thomas on the roster. Fired the head coach without a good back-up plan. Now he's got to move center Ben Wallace, whom Paxon obviously overpaid as well.
DEFENSIVE STUD: Kevin Garnett, Boston Celtics PF. The Celtics lead the league in points per game allowed (88.97) and field goal percentage defense (42.1). They are fourth in steals per game (8.85) and have given up 100 points or more just seven times. And it's because of Garnett.
DEFENSIVE LIABILITY: Steve Nash, Phoenix Suns, PG. The offensive wizard keeps his team adjusting because of his struggles guarding fellow star point guards. The Suns are exposed to mismatches as they are forced to switch and help. With Shawn Marion -- who often defended opposing point guards -- in Miami, Phoenix coaches will have to be even more creative on defensive strategy.
MOST IMPROVED: Rudy Gay, Memphis Grizzlies SF. His numbers are up across the board, highlighted by an increase in scoring average from 10.8 points to 19.9 points. Most important, he has taken the throne as the franchise player. He did so well, the Grizzlies were ready to start over and rebuild around him.
MOST REGRESSED: Luke Ridnour, Seattle Sonics PG. Not only did he lose his starting spot to Earl Watson, he's lost his minutes. Ridnour, who was invited to try out for Team USA -- an honor not bestowed on some of the league's top point guards, including the Warriors' Baron Davis and Denver's Allen Iverson -- last summer, is down to fewer than 20 minutes per game and is approaching career lows in scoring (5.9 points), assists (3.7) and field goal percentage (37.1). Good thing for him he's under contract for $13 million over the next two years after this one.
BEST ROOKIE: Al Horford, Atlanta Hawks PF. The obvious choice is Seattle's star Kevin Durant. But look beyond the hype, and you'll see Horford averaging nearly a double-double (9.2 points, 9.8 rebounds) in 31.3 minutes for a playoff contender.
MOST IRRITATING ROOKIE: Noah, Bulls PF. His arrogant, exaggerated act is getting old already. There should be a rule against rookies excessively celebrating after getting fouled on a putback, punishable by suspension.
Contact Marcus Thompson II at firstname.lastname@example.org.