As the NBA moves on from its biggest All-Star weekend ever, the races for the league's annual awards are shaping up to be as predictable as the end of Titanic. LeBron James (29.9 points, 8.3 assists, 7.1 rebounds per game) is cruising toward his second straight MVP trophy. Sacramento guard Tyreke Evans (20.2 points per game) has opened a wide lead for top rookie. And Jamal Crawford (17.8 points per game) of the Hawks is a lock for the Sixth Man Award. To liven things up, SI is handing out its own first-half hardware:
Jim McIlvaine Award for the Most Overhyped Free-Agent Signing: Rasheed Wallace, Celtics
Wallace, who signed a two-year deal for the mid-level exception, was supposed to strengthen Boston's interior defense and be an inside-out threat off the bench. Instead, he's been a step slow on D and has treated the lane as if it were populated by rabid dogs. According to 82games.com, 87% of Wallace's shots have been jumpers. And he isn't exactly draining them: He's shooting 29.6% from three-point range.
Cyclone Roller Coaster Award: Nate Robinson, Knicks
Benched for 14 games in December, Robinson returned to the rotation with a 41-point explosion against the Hawks on New Year's Day. Later that month he was named a starter, an experiment that lasted all of two games. Last Saturday in Dallas, Robinson became the league's first three-time slam dunk champion, putting him back on top. For now.
Gigli Award: the Wizards
Add two double-digit scorers to a team with three All-Stars, a defensive-minded center and a talented young bench, and what do you get? In the case of the league's biggest flop, 17 wins in 50 games and a midseason overhaul (see box). The Wizards have tuned out one of the main tenets of Flip Saunders's flex offense: passing. Just 49.5% of the Wizards' field goals this season have been assisted, the second-lowest percentage in the league behind the Grizzlies.
Diane Lane Graceful-Aging Award: Jason Kidd, Mavericks, and Steve Nash, Suns
The NBA's oldest starting point guards (combined age: 72) remain two of the league's best. Kidd ranks in the top five in assists (9.3) and assists per turnover (3.9), and he's connecting on a career-high 41.6% of his threes. For the second time in his career, Nash is on track to average 18 points and 11 assists. The only other thirtysomething to pull that off: Magic Johnson.
Scrooge Award: the Hornets
If only AIG had been as fiscally ruthless as New Orleans. To avoid a $500,000 luxury tax bill—and to receive a $4.3 million tax payment—the Hornets last month all but gave away key reserves Devin Brown (9.7 ppg) and Bobby Brown (6.6 ppg). Good for business. Bad for basketball—especially for a team that's two games out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
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An Eastern Conference scout weighs in on the trade that sent Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson from the Wizards to the Mavericks for Josh Howard, Drew Gooden and two others: "I get the feeling you are going to see a rejuvenated Butler (below) in Dallas. A lot of his struggles this season had to do with all the b.s. going on in Washington. You could tell he was fed up. When he's on the floor with Dirk [Nowitzki], he's always going to have the second-best frontcourt defender on him. He's going to be able to score, and in a variety of ways. Haywood helps because as good an offensive rebounder as Gooden was, he couldn't match up with the [centers] in the West. Now when Erick Dampier has to sit, the Mavs can bring a true center off the bench and not miss a beat."
Photograph by GREG NELSON
STILL ON FIRE Nash, 36, lit the Olympic flame last Friday, then torched the East two days later.
LOU CAPPOZZOLA (BUTLER)