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It's never too early for postseason awards Pro Basketball

THE BALTIMORE SUN

With the onset of the NBA season, it's time to break out predictions for awards, some official and some a little off the beaten path.

(By the way, if any come to fruition, be sure and remember where you read them first. If they don't, let's forget any of this ever happened, OK?)

Most Valuable Player: Jason Kidd, New Jersey Nets.

With all due respect to last year's winner, Tim Duncan, Kidd should have captured the 2001-2002 trophy, for no one was more central to his team's success than Kidd. In his first season in New Jersey, Kidd drove the Nets to their first-ever Finals appearance, and he may do it again. Unfortunately, because voters are caught up with numbers, Kidd, whose scoring figures are average at best, won't wow many. But that doesn't mean he's not deserving.

Runner-up: Shaquille O'Neal, Los Angeles Lakers.

Coach of the Year: Eric Musselman, Golden State Warriors.

Call it a wild hunch, but Musselman, in his first head-coaching job, looks like the guy to start to break up years of misery in Oakland. Already, the underachieving Antawn Jamison is raving about how Musselman, whose father, Bill, was the first coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves, treats the Warriors like champions. That's not going to happen soon, but Musselman should start the ball rolling.

Runner-up: Doug Collins, Washington Wizards.

Rookie of the Year: Emanuel Ginobili, San Antonio.

The Spurs were willing to wait a year for the 6-foot-6 Ginobili, the two-time MVP of the Italian League. Ginobili's play in the World Championships, where he helped Argentina to a silver medal, included 15 points in an 87-80 win over the United States.

Ginobili likely will supplant Steve Smith in the starting lineup to give San Antonio an all-international backcourt, alongside Tony Parker, and should succeed Memphis' Pau Gasol as the second foreign top rookie.

Runner-up: Caron Butler, Miami Heat.

Team on the rise: Houston Rockets.

The Rockets stumbled through a miserable, injury-riddled campaign last season, but all of the parts should be back, including Eddie Griffin, Maurice Taylor and Glen Rice. Add them to a mix of Steve Francis, Cuttino Mobley and first overall draft pick Yao Ming, and you've got a team that should get to the postseason.

Runner-up: Washington Wizards.

Team heading for a fall: Boston Celtics.

OK, Thursday's record-setting drubbing in Washington notwithstanding, the Celtics, who were as driven by chemistry as any team in the league last season, messed with their formula by dealing Kenny Anderson to Seattle and letting Rodney Rogers go to New Jersey.

Sure, they got back Vin Baker and Shammond Williams, but Baker's career has been in free fall for a long time, and Williams is unproven. Can you say lottery?

Runner-up: Detroit Pistons.

Best offseason move: Jerry West to the Memphis Grizzlies.

The Grizzlies have been locked in mediocrity since their founding in Vancouver, but getting West, the architect of the Lakers' title march, to run things is the smartest thing owner Michael Heisley has ever done. It will take awhile for West to change the culture of losing that surrounds the Grizzlies, but it will happen.

Runner-up: New Jersey's acquisition of Rogers.

Worst offseason move: Detroit's trade of Jerry Stackhouse for Richard Hamilton.

Let's see: The Pistons win the Central Division last season for the first time in more than a decade, behind the muscular Stackhouse, a bona fide big-time scorer who had embraced taking fewer shots and playing better defense as well as getting to the foul line. In return they get the scrawnier Hamilton, who shrinks from contact and has yet to register a defensive stop in three years in the league. Good luck defending the division title, Pistons. You'll need it.

Runner-up: Boston's acquisition of Baker and Williams.

Quiz

Here's a weird but interesting fact collected by the NBA office. The average league player weighs 225.4 pounds, up from last year's 224.05 pounds. With the league's biggest player, O'Neal, on their roster, the Lakers are tied with an Eastern Conference team as the heaviest in the NBA, with an average weight of 235.07 pounds.

Which club are they tied with? Here's a hint: It's a team the Lakers have beaten during their title threepeat.

End of the line?

Tucked in the early season transactions was the potential end of former Maryland center Tony Massenburg's NBA career.

Massenburg was cut last week by Memphis, the 10th team he played for in his 11-year career. He was the personification of a journeyman center, always seeming to be on the bubble, but always managing to stick on a roster by virtue of his work ethic.

Here's hoping Massenburg, who as a Terp played for Lefty Driesell, Bob Wade and Gary Williams, will catch on with someone else.

Cash for air

It seems the Wizards won't quite collect the full money they were supposed to make from the Denver Nuggets if Michael Jordan played in a recent preseason game at Pepsi Center.

In an arrangement similar to what college football powers arrange with smaller schools for home dates, the Nuggets agreed to pay Washington about $200,000 for a date in Denver if Jordan played and about $50,000 if he didn't.

Jordan, who made his comeback from knee surgery last March in Denver, hemmed and hawed about playing, only agreeing to play the day of the game. As a result, Nuggets officials couldn't get word out in time and only 10,221 showed up for the game.

Quiz answer

Despite having the league's third-lightest player, Allen Iverson, the Philadelphia 76ers are tied with the Lakers for the NBA's heaviest roster.

By the way, Washington's Juan Dixon at 164 pounds is a pound lighter than Iverson, but four pounds heavier than Detroit's Chucky Atkins, the league's lightest player.

Quote of the week

"I think they're bridging that gap as teammates. One is rap, one is jazz, but they have a great respect for each other. Whether they go to the same concert, I don't know if we'll see that, but on the court it's phenomenal." - Orlando Magic coach Doc Rivers on Grant Hill and Tracy McGrady.

Compiled from interviews, wire services and reports from other newspapers.

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