All the trades are in the books and we have a very clear picture of what every team in the NBA should look like for the rest of the year. While most awards and predictions for the rest of the season were given a few weeks ago, now seems like the most appropriate time, so let's get down to it.
MVP: LeBron James
This is LeBron's award for years to come unless the voters get bored and vote for somebody else. The Cavaliers were on a 13-game winning streak going into the All-Star break, the majority of these wins coming without number two scoring option Mo Williams.
LeBron is leading a team without a true number two scoring option to the league's best record for the second straight season. It will undoubtedly be the second of many similar seasons.
Defensive Player of the Year: Dwight Howard
Another boring pick, but Howard is leading the league in rebounds and blocks for a second straight year and anchors the league's seventh-best scoring defense with mostly average or below average defenders around him.
If Howard hadn't won this award last season, he'd be a lock to win again. The voters might want to switch things up, but I do not. Howard is the best defensive player in the league this season.
Rookie of the Year: Tyreke Evans
Let's take a look at two player's statistics from their rookie seasons. We'll name them player A and player B.
Player A averaged 20.3 points, 4.8 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.5 blocks, and 2.9 turnovers, while shooting 46 percent from the floor through the All-Star break.
Player B averaged 20.4 points, 5.7 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.7 blocks, and 3.7 turnovers, while shooting 40.5 percent from the field through All-Star weekend.
Player A is Tyreke Evans. Player B? LeBron James. I don't think Evans is the next LeBron, but his potential to be a great player is far greater than most had previously projected.
Most Improved Player: Marc Gasol
Kevin Durant has been the popular choice for this award by most experts, but his year by year improvement of a superstar is just the natural progression of most prodigies like Durant.
Gasol's emergence from the surprising Grizzlies is far more surprising. He's averaging a solid 15 and 9.5 while shooting close to 60 percent and playing good post D. He's arguably a top five center in the league right now.
Of the Grizzlies young players Gay, Mayo, and Gasol, Gasol could surprisingly turn out to be the best of the group. Maybe when their careers are over with, we will look at Marc as the better of the Gasol brothers.
Coach of the Year: Scott Brooks
The Thunder went just 23-59 last season, but were a more respectable 22-47 under Scott Brooks after P.J. Carlesimo was relieved of his coaching duties after a 1-12 start.
It is likely if Brooks had had control from the beginning, that the Thunder would have been much more successful last season. Now in his first full season as a head coach, Brooks has the Thunder out to a 32-21 start and in contention for a division title.
They've already improved on last year's win total by nine games, and they have 29 games to go. They should win more games this year than in the previous two seasons combined (43 wins).
While Durant's emergence as a true ultra star has been a big contributing factor, Brooks leadership has been a big factor to the Thunder's success this season as well.
Best Free Agent Signing: Andre Miller (Portland)
Miller's start in Rip City did not begin well. There were questions of him coexisting in the backcourt with Brandon Roy. Before he arrived, Steve Blake was already named the starting point guard, and there were rumors he would be used as trade bait since the first game of the year.
Despite all of those things, Miller has been a big reason that Portland is still in the playoff hunt, even with the catastrophic slew of injuries that they have suffered. His 52-point outburst against Dallas is the second-highest scoring total in the NBA all season (Brandon Jennings' 55-point game is the first).
His veteran leadership is invaluable to a team that has gone through losing it's two centers, along with playing about a fourth of it's season without it's star Brandon Roy. What was seen as a desperation use of cap space by Portland, now looks like a very smart move by the Blazers' front office.
Best Trade Acquisition: Stephen Jackson (Charlotte)
Charlotte made a questionable decision by trading Emeka Okafor to New Orleans for underachieving center Tyson Chandler, but have made up for that move bigtime with their move to get troubled swingman Stephen Jackson.
Jackson has been a revelation in Charlotte, providing them with a true scorer for the first time in franchise history. At 31, Jackson is putting up the best numbers of his career in many areas of his game.
For once, the Bobcats made a good personnel move. If we're gonna blame MJ for most of the dumb decisions they've made, we have to give him some props for this move.
Most Surprising Player: Juwan Howard
I think most of us thought Juwan Howard was either retired or dead. Sure enough, he's been the starting center on a probable playoff team for most of the year.
Hey C-Webb, you called the timeout and were out of the league before Juwan. At least Webber still looks under 50. And probably makes more money.
Most Surprising Team: Oklahoma City Thunder
We knew this team was up and coming, but nobody saw them as a team that might end up with home court advantage in the first round. NBA teams just don't go from 23 wins to 50 wins as the Thunder could very well end up doing.
I didn't think the Thunder would ever develop into a contender with a Durant-Westbrook-Green core, but they are forcing me to think otherwise now. Sorry, people of Seattle, I feel your pain (as a Blazer fan, watching Durant and as a former Hornets fan, watching a greedy owner uproot the franchise).
Most Disappointing Team/Player: Washington/Gilbert Arenas
Obviously a franchise never wants a player that they've recently given a 100 million dollar contract to miss the entire season for any reason. They definitely do not want to have him also hurt the reputation of their franchise at the same time, which is what Gilbert has successfully accomplished.
Arenas wasn't leading the Wizards to a winning season regardless, but without him and with his distractions, this team is in disarray. A fire sale of Jamison, Butler, and Haywood has taken place.
It's pretty sad that the hockey team is the most popular team in the nation's capital these days (Although being a Capitals fan at the moment would be smooth sailing).
Predicting the rest of the season
*These are my predictions for what the final standings, awards, and playoff results will be when the season ends.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers: For the second straight season the Cavs will finish as the favorites going into the playoffs. Hopefully for them, the playoffs will go a little bit differently.
2. Orlando Magic: After going through their fair share of struggles, the Magic have finally hit their stride. They are deep and talented and will outlast the younger, less experienced Hawks to grab the number two seed.
3. Atlanta Hawks: The Hawks spent many, many years in the cellar of the East, but eventually all those high picks pile up and make a difference. Stealing Joe Johnson from Phoenix has helped just a bit as well. This is a dangerous team.
4. Boston Celtics: It's sad what has become of KG. The "big three" in Boston now consists of Pierce, Allen, and Rondo instead of Garnett. His career won't last too much longer, and neither will Boston's run as Eastern contenders.
5. Toronto Raptors: Chris Bosh is having an MVP caliber season and really looks like a franchise player even without significant contributions from newcomer Hedo Turkoglu. This isn't a contract year phenomenon either, Bosh is the real deal: a top 10 NBA player.
6. Charlotte Bobcats: Charlotte might not be a contender, but they make for a very dangerous first-round opponent. Stephen Jackson can score as well as anybody and Larry Brown will out coach many of his adversaries. Bobcats fans (if they exist) finally have been given a team they can be proud of.
7. Chicago Bulls: This is the team that should be the front runner to land one of the big dogs of 2010, not New York. They already have a very talented supporting cast (including a budding superstar point guard) and cleared up a good amount of cap space for this summer. They are not walking away empty-handed.
8. Miami Heat : The injury bug might have finally caught up to Dwyane Wade (maybe it's karma from all of the brain injuries he causes to people trying to spell his seemingly easy first name). They couldn't land the big name they wanted at the deadline, and their season will likely end in a first-round exit because of it.
9. Milwaukee Bucks: This team is really still alive for a playoff spot? Shouldn't they be down near the bottom of the standings? Somehow this group of no names continues to flirt with .500 behind the emergence of lottery picks Bogut and Jennings. Not the prettiest team, but they're fighters and will be until the final game.
10. Philadelphia 76ers: There just isn't much to be excited about as a Sixers fan right now. I like Andre Iguodala, but as a number two option, not a number one. They need to figure out a way to rebuild.
11. Detroit Pistons: A few years ago this was a team that was coming off of it's sixth straight Eastern Conference Finals birth. Now they could be looking at a streak of six straight non-playoff seasons. The future is about as bright as the Marianas Trench right now for the Pistons.
12. New York Knicks : Wow, somehow the Knicks managed to unload Jered Jeffries at the deadline and landed a rejuvenated T-Mac as well. If they can get McGrady and Lee to stick around at reasonable prices, they could very well draw one of the big names that free agency will offer. We'll just have to see.
13. indiana Pacers: The Pacers always get unlucky and end up with the 8-9 pick in the draft, missing out on the top players every year. This year will probably end up the same way. It can't be fun to be a Pacers fan (at least they've got the Colts)
14. Washington Wizards: When a team trades their best two players and only gets the league's biggest party boy in return, that's usually not a good sign for that franchise. Good news though, they're now under the luxury tax! I'm sure Wizards fans are thrilled that their owner doesn't have to shell out a few extra million of his hundreds of millions of dollars.
15. New Jersey Nets: The Nets have been the best team in the NBA at losing this year. Hopefully, for their fans sake, they don't continue their bad luck and lose the lottery (AKA John Wall). Wall-Lopez-Harris-a decent free agent=playoff contender next season.
1. Los Angeles Lakers: Does the Lakers' dominance without Kobe even leave a question about who the best player in the league is now? This is essentially the same Lakers team that won the title last year. They should make it there again.
2. Denver Nuggets: Carmelo Anthony has taken his game to a new level this season. When talking about the top five players in the league now, he has to be in there or at least strongly considered. I've never been a big Melo fan, but he's undeniably a truly great player now.
3. Utah Jazz: A great point guard, a great coach, two very good power forwards. That makes a pretty good NBA team. And the Jazz have all three of those things right now.
4. Dallas Mavericks: Their additions of Butler and Haywood aren't necessarily game changers. Since when is Haywood been considered a better than average NBA center? They should be about the same team that they've been all year.
5. Oklahoma City Thunder: Kevin Durant is unbelievable. He's totally taken the Thunder on his back and made them into a very dangerous team in the West. Guess what? He's only 21 years old.
6. San Antonio Spurs: The Spurs aren't impressing anybody right now, but it's hard to see them missing the playoffs while trotting out a lineup that includes Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili. The question is, how often can they have all of those guys out there?
7. Portland Trail Blazers: The addition of Marcus Camby is huge, especially if Brandon Roy is going to miss extended time again. This Blazers team is tough enough to hold up even without Roy for much of the season. They will need Roy to make any sort of noise in the playoffs though.
8. Phoenix Suns: Being a Suns fan must be horrible. They have a top fivr center playing in the perfect system for him with a historically great point guard, and they're trying to ship him off for 30 percent of his worth. Owners, if you have enough money to buy a professional sports franchise, pay your players and make your fans happy. Disgraceful.
9. Houston Rockets: They didn't want to have to part ways with Landry, but they did. That's about all that they gave up for two potential lottery picks, a very good wing scorer, and some other good pieces for the future. I'd give up Carl Landry for all of that.
10. New Orleans Hornets: With Chris Paul in the mix they might have been able to sneak into the playoffs this year. Without CP3, no way.
11. Memphis Grizzlies: All good stories come to an end, and it looks like this one is coming to a halt now. Zach Randolph, Rudy Gay, and O.J. Mayo can only share the ball for so long.
12. Los Angeles Clippers: Another great trade by Mike Dunleavy. Trading one of the league's best defensive players and rebounders for a backup point guard and a guy who has barely been on the court this season. If that opportunity ever arises, the trigger has to be pulled.
13. Golden State Warriors: Stephen Curry was a steal where Golden State got him. Who would have thought that this kid would be a 15-point, five-assist, and four-rebound player right away? I don't know if anybody thought he'd be a four-rebound player ever. Imagine Memphis or Oklahoma City with Curry. He'd really be helping them right now.
14. Sacramento Kings: Tyreke Evans is a man, but his teammates don't seem to love him very much. He is a bit of a ball hog and unless he changes that, the Kings will keep losing. Getting rid of their only other true scorer can't help his selfish ways.
15. Minnesota Timberwolves : If the Clippers didn't exist, the T'Wolves would be the symbol for a dysfunctional franchise. Their top pick won't even play for them, they can't get two talented big men to play well together. They have lots of problems, and they aren't getting better soon.
Eastern Conference Finals: Cavs over Magic in seven
Western Conference Finals: Lakers over Nuggets in seven
NBA Finals: Cavs over Lakers in six
LeBron's Summer Destination: Cleveland