by Lang Whitaker

First of all, on Tuesday night we aired our final episode of the season of The Beat on NBA TV. I had a great time working the NBA TV crew all season, and a big thanks to NBA TV for letting me invade their air and rep SLAM once a week. Shout-outs to Marc Fein, David Aldridge, Damon Fisher, Jeremy Levin, Tony Lamb and Jim Allen. Hopefully we’ll do it again next year.

I’m still waiting for my Suncatcher Awning, by the way.

Changing gears, yesterday I turned in my official NBA Postseason Awards ballot. Last week I posted some general thoughts on the awards, and let you guys have your say. I read all the comments, chewed on it over the weekend, then filed my ballot today. Here’s how I voted, and why I voted the way I did.

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
MY VOTE: 1) Tyreke Evans 2) Stephen Curry 3) Brandon Jennings
MY REASONING: As far as Reke, the Kings put the ball his hands from day one and basically tossed him out there, and he managed to produce all season, even getting doubled throughout. In my mind, voting for the other two spots was much closer. We discussed this in the office this morning before I submitted my ballot, and Ben vehemently disagreed with my voting here, believing that Brandon should have been at least second. Ben’s thought was that while Curry had good numbers, they didn’t mean anything because he’s on the Warriors, where D-league guys are throwing up 20 points in a game. And I understand that. But I’ve watched a bunch of Bucks and Warriors games the last few weeks. Curry was unquestionably the best all-around player on the Warriors. He had defenses keying on him, and he averaged 17 ppg, 6 apg and shot 46 pct from the floor and 43 pct (!) on threes. Brandon was terrific, too, but he wasn’t as consistent from the floor (shot 37 pct) and he sat frequently in the fourth quarters of games. And as a fan, watching my team play against these teams, I found myself more concerned about Curry than Brandon. Brandon might end up being the best of all three of these rookies—I think he’s the most explosive of any of them—but this season, Tyreke was the best, Steph was second-best, Brandon was third. At least to me.

COACH OF THE YEAR
MY VOTE: 1) Jerry Sloan 2) Scott Brooks 3) Nate McMillan
MY REASONING: This could have gone about ten different ways, but here’s what I settled on. I went with Sloan for a couple of reasons. The Jazz started the season with a franchise player who didn’t want to be there. They gave away their starting two guard and their back-up point guard. They’ve had injuries to key players all season — nobody will finish the season having played in all 82 games. And yet they still won 53 games and finished tied with Denver for the best record in the Northwest Division. Brooks took a team that nobody expected much from and squeezed out 50 wins. While Portland had one of the most ridiculously injury-plagued seasons anyone could ever imagine, Nate McMillan overcame the injuries, front office issues, a screaming match with Andre Miller and a center posting nude photos of himself on the internet to win 50 games. It was only because the Blazers came into this with a stacked roster and Nate Dogg had a lot of depth at his disposal that I didn’t rate him higher.

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
MY VOTE: 1) Dwight Howard 2) Josh Smith 3) Gerald Wallace
MY REASONING: Does this mean the Southeast Division is the most defensive? I thought this award was pretty obvious. I saw a couple of other writers reveal their ballots and say that they’d voted for Josh Smith. I watched pretty much every Hawks game this season, and as much as I like Smoove, he just didn’t have the consistent, dominant impact on games that Dwight Howard had.

MOST IMPROVED PLAYER
MY VOTE: 1) Andrew Bogut 2) Aaron Brooks 3) Marc Gasol
MY REASONING: I know Aaron Brooks had a significant jump in his PPG, but to me, if you’re a point guard playing 35 minutes a game who averages five assists and 16 shots a night, it’s not that difficult to have a jump in points per game. I really thought Bogut had shown a dramatic improvement this season, not just in putting up bigger numbers, but in having more of an impact on games and being a presence on the floor, no to mention the way he organized the Section 6 fans and was super-active on Twitter, uniting Bucks fans.

ALL-NBA TEAMS
MY VOTE:
FIRST TEAM: LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade
SECOND TEAM: Carmelo Anthony, Dirk Nowitzki, Amare Stoudemire, Deron Williams, Steve Nash
THIRD TEAM: Pau Gasol, Tim Duncan, Andrew Bogut, Joe Johnson, Brandon Roy
MY REASONING: I think these are all pretty self-explanatory, aren’t they?

MOST VALUABLE PLAYER
MY VOTE: 1) LeBron 2) Kobe Bryant 3) Kevin Durant 4) Dwight Howard 5) Dwyane Wade
Working backward, I thought Wade was even better — more complete — this year than last year, and considering that roster he was given to play alongside, winning 47 games was incredible. Dwight quietly averaged 18 and 13, and he really was the anchor of the second-best team in the Conference. KD was KD, averaging 30 PPG and developing into a superstar way before most people expected. Kobe might not have had his most impressive season statistically, but I agree 100-percent with Dr. Jack Ramsay, who said Kobe “is the guts of the Lakers.” I don’t know how to show you numbers or a graph that proves this, but it’s true.

As for LeBron, there was a column on Monday by Fanhouse’s Tim Povtak that said LeBron owes fans in Orlando a refund for not playing on Sunday against the Magic. That didn’t bother as much as Povtak saying he wasn’t going to vote for LeBron for the MVP. Because…seriously?

LeBron sat out that game because it didn’t matter. The Cavs had already clinched home court advantage during the Playoffs. There’s the obvious “but fans bought tickets to see LeBron” angle. Maybe so, and it’s too bad for them that he didn’t play. But again, it’s just too bad. Stuff happens. There’s no guarantee any NBA player will play, injured or healthy, on any night. The Spurs have sat guys all season long when they need a rest.

Povtak writes “If James wants some rest, he should reduce his playing time significantly, and sit out the second half. It’s just not fair to the paying customers, who are too often forgotten by the me-first players like James.”

But if LeBron wanted to give the Cavs the best chance to beat Orlando, knowing that if he WAS going to play he wouldn’t be playing the entire game and if he did play, he wouldn’t be going all-out, then NOT playing at all was probably the best thing he could have done for the team. Isn’t not playing at all the most team-first thing he could have done? Wouldn’t playing limited minutes have been the MOST me-first thing he could have done?

Povtak also invokes Malone and Stockton, who frequently played all 82 games. Which is great. And how many titles did they win again?

It’s really a lose-lose situation for the teams and players. Sasha Vujacic sprained his ankle last night in a totally inconsequential game and is out for a while in the Playoffs. If that had been Bron or Dwight Howard or some other first-team All-NBA guy, writers would start in with the “Oh, they should have sat him” columns. If he played half the game and said he’d done it because the fans in Orlando wanted to see him play, people would write about how selfish he was being.

Look: LeBron isn’t is this to win a scoring title or any of that other stuff. He wants a ring and he wants it now.

That said, LeBron was by far the best and most complete player in the NBA this season, regardless of whether he played in 78 or 82 games.

He averaged more points per game than Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade or Kobe Bryant.

He averaged more rebounds per game than Mehmet Okur, Andre Iguodala or Jermaine O’Neal.

He averaged more assists per game than Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook or Chauncey Billups.

He averaged more steals per game than defenders like Ron Artest, Gerald Wallace or Corey Brewer.

He had the highest efficiency rating in the entire NBA.

The Cavs won more games this season than any team in the NBA.

To me, the only question is how anyone COULDN’T vote for LeBron.

You might not like LeBron’s personality or the way he carries himself, and that’s fine, that’s your choice. But there is no way any rational person can say LeBron was not the most valuable player in the NBA this season.