My annual NBA Awards ballot:
Most Valuable Player: 1. Kevin Durant, 2. LeBron James, 3. Blake Griffin, 4. Stephen Curry, 5. Kevin Love. Thoughts: I have no problem with someone voting for James, but Durant was brilliant in compensating for Russell Westbrook’s absence. Toughest omission: Chris Paul, when healthy, is obviously a special player.
Most Improved Player: 1. Goran Dragic, 2. Lance Stephenson, 3. D.J. Augustin. Thoughts: On this one I trust my eyes; Dragic blossomed in a way that was fun to watch. Toughest omission: Enes Kanter made quiet progress in Utah.
Coach of the Year: 1. Jeff Hornacek, 2. Steve Clifford, 3. Tom Thibodeau. Thoughts: Even if the Suns don’t make the playoffs, Hornacek had an incredible first season. Toughest omission: Dwayne Casey would be top-3 almost any other season.
Rookie of the Year: 1. Michael Carter-Williams, 2. Trey Burke, 3. Victor Oladipo. Thoughts: Carter-Williams was a clear choice in a so-so rookie class. Toughest omission: Mason Plumlee played impact minutes for the Nets with Kevin Garnett out.
Defensive Player of the Year: 1. Joakim Noah, 2. Roy Hibbert, 3. Anthony Davis. Thoughts: Noah has been good in so many ways in an incredibly challenging Bulls season. Toughest omission: Marc Gasol always belongs in this discussion.
Sixth Man: 1. Jamal Crawford, 2. Dion Waiters, 3. Manu Ginobili. Thoughts: Easy to vote Crawford almost any season, but Waiters is a head-turner. Toughest omission: Luis Scola defined an impact reserve.
First team: Durant, James, Curry, Chris Paul, Noah.
Second team: Griffin, Love, James Harden, Damian Lillard, Al Jefferson.
Third team: Tim Duncan, Carmelo Anthony, John Wall, Ty Lawson, Dwight Howard.
Five stray thoughts about the Charlotte Bobcats and the NBA:
• Clifford rolled his eyes and changed the subject recently when Orlando media asked him about the possibility of being Coach of the Year. Not surprised; Clifford is about substance over style – nothing like a self-promoter or an egomaniac. That’s part of what makes him good at the job.
• I don’t know whether ex-Charlotte Hornet Rex Chapman has serious inside information that Kentucky coach John Calipari is ticketed to being the next coach of the Los Angeles Lakers. Chapman tweeted like this is a strong possibility.
I do know this: If Calipari was interested in giving the NBA another try, his struggles with the Nets shouldn’t be a big deal. The NFL’s Bill Belichick was a failure in Cleveland, then a genius in New England. Calipari is more than sharp enough, particularly teaching dribble-drive offense, to succeed in the NBA. Even more so with the Lakers’ resources.
• Speaking of that, former Maryland coach Gary Williams made a solid point a while back when he said it’s a fallacy college coaches innately become overmatched NBA coaches. Williams said most of the time college guys get stuck with the worst situations in the NBA. True.
• A year ago I thought those N.C. State underclassmen turning pro when they did was foolish, and draft night proved as much. T.J. Warren turning pro is different: He’s proved his case. Sticking around might be more of a risk than any potential bonus.
• While anyone choosing to go back to a great college, rather than jump into the working world, is an understandable choice, I sure wish the system reduced the risk of a likely top-10 pick forestalling turning pro – as in free disability insurance and guaranteed tuition so long as that person keeps working toward a degree.
Rick Bonnell: (704) 358-5129; Twitter: @rick_bonnell