clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The NBA Offseason Awards

A year-round league deserves year-round awards

Getty Images/Elias Stein
Getty Images/Elias Stein

The NBA’s existence as a year-round sport began, in earnest, with LeBron James’s decision to join the Miami Heat in 2010. To explain what the hell had just happened, how it was possible, and what might occur next, we needed a new kind of NBA discourse. It required an at-least semifunctional understanding of the Association’s arcane salary cap, a working knowledge of analytics, and an awareness of the history of player movement in the NBA and sports in general. This coincided with the rise of social media, which allowed hardcore NBA fiends to get their fixes pretty much around the clock, and helped create the tone for this conversation. We imagined slights between players, analyzed body language, indulged in conspiracy theorizing, and did some pure shitposting. NBA discourse is simultaneously smarter and dumber than ever before. That contradiction — like Michael Jordan becoming the universal symbol for defeat — is why the NBA is the greatest.

The sports world was ready for the year-round NBA to fill the vacuum. Of course, summertime in non-Olympic/World Cup years is a wasteland of groggy baseball and MLS soccer anyway. By the time of the 2011 lockout, I wasn’t sure how I had ever followed the league before Twitter.

Every summer since 2011 has had its own emblematic offseason story, each a Frankenstein hybrid of highbrow and lowbrow drama.

2012: The end of Linsanity in New York, with Knicks GM Glen Grunwald playing hide-and-seek in Las Vegas with Daryl Morey’s “poison pill” offer sheet.

2013: Mikhail Prokhorov’s Nets take out a subprime mortgage on their future by acquiring Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Jason Terry.

2014: The tracking of Dan Gilbert’s airplane reveals LeBron’s plan to return to Cleveland; 29 years after the frozen envelope, conspiracy culture becomes mainstream.

2015: The unforgettable DeAndre Jordan hostage situation and ensuing emoji war, which caused me to exceed my monthly allotment of cell data in the space of a cab ride.

So far, during the 2016 offseason, we’ve welcomed the besieged and bedraggled Sixers back into respectable conversation; pondered KD’s signing with the Roman Empire; basked in the vast marketing potential of a purple-and-gold-clad Yi Jianlian; considered the level of animosity between John Wall and Bradley Beal; and watched nearly everybody — except Lance Stephenson (get your passport renewed, Mr. Ready), Dion Waiters (genuinely pulling for him), Josh Smith (only 30 years old!), and J.R. Smith (TBD) — get very, very paid.

Yes, the NBA is a year-round sport. All the offseason needed was its own awards.

G Mike Conley

If the Grizzlies are a 1989 Ford Econoline cargo van that has duct tape around the muffler yet somehow still runs, Conley is the steady hand on the wheel. We tend to overlook Mike, unless he’s doing something so storybook-tough — like hanging 22 points on the Warriors in the playoffs while nursing a shattered face. Conley doesn’t put up big numbers, or have out-of-this-world athleticism, but no one else could drive that van.

Oh, actually, now Iron Mike does put up big numbers. We’ve been talking about the bacchanal of spending that would be the summer of 2016 ever since the new television deal was announced two years ago. And even still, Conley’s contract — $153 million over five years — was a “whoa” moment; the shiver that presaged the fever.

G C.J. McCollum

Journalist. Champion of journalism. Mentor.

Also: radio DJ. Perhaps, even: aspiring menswear model. Or, possibly, just a dude who’ll get in Kyrie’s mentions to bust balls. McCollum is all those things, and, of course, a noted improved basketball player. C.J. signed a four-year, $106 million extension last month with the Trail Blazers. Which, not to make this list all about the money, but it’s very much about the money (mostly).

F Harrison Barnes

To paraphrase the subtext of Mark Antony’s funeral oration in Julius Caesar: I come to praise Harrison Barnes, not to roast him. Yes, Harrison’s 2016 Finals performance was like watching a two-week-long panic attack. And, sure, his regular-season numbers — 12.3 PER, minus-0.2 box plus/minus, a minus-1.28 real plus/minus — suggest a slightly better-than-replacement-level player who benefited mightily from having incredible teammates. And, OK, Barnes spent the Olympics making the “this is fine” face because Coach K had him bolted so firmly to the bench that a tornado wouldn’t have dislodged him.

Forget all of that. As previously noted: cash. Harrison Barnes makes First-Team All-Offseason on the strength of his four-year, $94 million contract with the Dallas Mavericks (and getting engaged).

F Carmelo Anthony

It’s fair to say that a certain portion of the Knicks fan base has been slow to warm to Carmelo Anthony. That’s not an ideal state of affairs going into Melo’s seventh season headlining Madison Square Garden, but what can you do?

Chill out, I guess. This summer, a new, more relaxed Anthony has emerged. He’s speaking out on issues of race and politics as forcefully as any player in recent memory. He won a men’s-basketball-record third gold medal at his fourth Olympics, and he allowed the world to see how much that meant to him. This came after a 2015–16 season in which he notched a career-best assist rate (22 percent) and a non-trash-fire real plus/minus (2.24), and also seemed to genuinely enjoy the company of young lord Kristaps Porzingis.

Besides, everyone knows you’re not really a New Yorker until you’re comfortable enough to hit the bodega in your bathrobe.

C Hassan Whiteside

Two things that we know for sure about Whiteside: One, he’s mercurial — which is the word for a low-to-mid-key-unreliable person who you have no choice but to rely on. Two, he’s 7 feet tall. The former is the reason Hassan was cast out to the lower rungs of world basketball for a couple of seasons; the latter is the reason he’s back with the Miami Heat. Fourteen points, 12 rebounds, and a league-high 3.7 blocks per game are pretty good too.

One more thing I know about Hassan: No free agent on this list got a bigger raise and no free agent period reacted more entertainingly to getting paid.

My favorite thing about this video (besides everything) is the gray AssistiveTouch circle, which strongly suggests that the iPhone that recorded it had a broken home button. Whiteside legitimately has one of the best social media presences in the NBA, which is another thing you can’t teach. Even better, I’m 100 percent sure Pat “if you got the guts” Riley fucking hates it.

Offseason 2015 was brutal for Parsons. It began in April, when a knee injury knocked him out of the playoffs. It continued through the July dog days, with the DeAndre Jordan saga, when his peerless reputation as a Champagner and campaigner sunk under a savage assault of airplane emoji. It wheezed into September, when it was revealed that Chandler’s knee surgery in the spring was related to a dreaded microfracture injury (though, I guess a relatively “minor hybrid” version?). He started the following season in Dallas slowly, never earned coach Rick Carlisle’s trust (which played out awkwardly), then suffered another season-ending knee injury.

This offseason? The Grizzlies — flush with television cash, looking to end a multiseason, Javert-like mission to find 3-point shooting — overlooked Parsons’s injury history and signed him to a four-year, $94 million deal.

At long last, Joel Hans Embiid is ready. He’s dunking on trainers. He’s blocking little kids’ shots into the stands to the dulcet tones of Nico & Vinz while (unwisely) wearing Yeezys.

He’s signing autographs with “trust the process.” He has yet to play a second of NBA basketball, but he’s already a treasure.

Sidebar: Embiid will also be the Rookie of the Year, because Ben Simmons has no killer instinct.

Sidebar to the sidebar: For the parents, if your child doesn’t know to back off Simmons to play him for the jumper, then you haven’t been doing your job.

This award came down to Towns and Embiid. In the end, it was the sheer ruthlessness of KAT’s block on a camper, combined with a dunk that is literally child abuse, that pushed him over the top.

Immediately after Game 7 of the Finals, then-35-year-old Jefferson, dripping Champagne, announced his intention to retire via Snapchat. About two weeks later, R.J. took to Snapchat again, this time to announce his re-signing with the Cavaliers for three years, $7.6 million ($5 million guaranteed). The best description of R.J.’s Snapchat account (rjeff24) comes from a January Reddit post: “He has no idea what he’s doing and all his snaps are him talking to his teammates about how he doesn’t know what he’s doing.” Same, R.J.

As a member of a member of the U.S. Olympic basketball team, Mini-Green is, simply, the most important international basketball statesmember’s member ever.

A defensive visionary, Thibs was the best of the crop of experienced head coaches to be up for jobs this offseason. That, by itself, would be enough to win the award.

But there’s also the world debut of American Eagle Thibs from Las Vegas summer league.

The Warriors:

  • Are a 73-win team with an embarrassing array of basketball talent
  • Are located in a top media market that’s also the world center for tech innovation
  • Are owned by a bunch of super-rich plutocrats who could theoretically get a movie about your mother green-lit
  • Count celebrity chef Guy Fieri as perhaps the team’s biggest fan

Minus Fieri, that package sells itself. But just in case, the Warriors have Jerry West on call. The team is lucky to have him. West was instrumental in pushing for the trade that shipped out Monta Ellis for Andrew Bogut; he threw himself on the tracks to stop a proposed Klay Thompson–for–Kevin Love deal; and this summer, he provided the hammer for the Warriors’ pitch to Kevin Durant.

I like to imagine Adam Silver, and David Stern before him, regularly waking up drenched in sweat at the thought of West suing for billions in back royalties because the NBA used him as its logo. The league has always been careful to never confirm that West’s silhouette is its iconic symbol.

Derrick Rose

The newest member of the Knicks superteam tried to have the name of the accuser in his ongoing sexual assault case revealed to the public.

Dion Waiters

Sometimes you lose when you bet on yourself. That’s life. Waiters cost himself about $3 million this season by not accepting the Thunder’s $6.8 million qualifying offer, allowing Pat Riley’s Heat to swoop in for a bargain-basement two-year deal. Still, there are worse places to ruminate on poor life choices than Miami.

John Wall

A short list of things John Wall is totally not mad about this offseason:

Bradley Beal making more money than him: “I’m not mad. I’m happy. He’s my teammate. He came out at the right time when the contract money came up. I can’t control that.”

Translation: I’m so un-mad that I’m actually at peace.

Arguing with Beal on the court: “If I starting arguing with somebody I’m cool. I’m just playing basketball.”

Translation: Actually, you’re the one who’s mad.

Beal not knowing his role: “I want it all to be on me. At the same time I want him to be right there with me. He’s my sidekick.”

Translation: I’m not mad, but why is my sidekick the highest-paid player on the team?

Guards making more money than him in general: “Stop saying I’m watching money. I’m not.”

Translation: I’m not mad. Actually, I find this funny.

Lance Stephenson

A future Chinese Basketball Association MVP.

Josh Smith

Again, only 30 years old, Smith, a crackerjack career defender, rebounder, and rim protector, looks to be out of the league because of attitude problems and a general unwillingness to stop shooting 3s.