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NBA Today: April 15

  • Tracy McGrady, 30, says he will retire if he cannot return to his prime form.
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Expectation Series: Part 2 (Most Surprising Teams)

Over the next four days, I’ll be writing on what I call my Expectation Series — a four-part set of rankings for the following: most disappointing teams, most surprising teams, most disappointing players, and most surprising players.

Andrew Bogut propelled the Bucks to unfathomable heights this season.

Amid the plenitude of disappointment around the league, there have been, too, a variety of teams that have exceeded expectations and put together notable campaigns in 2009-2010. Here I’ll run down the five most significant positive surprises.

No. 5 — Oklahoma City Thunder

The Thunder have shown they can play competitively against any team in the West, and come playoff time, opponents are going to fear the accompanying lightning. While Kevin Durant was a very solid player last year, very few could have anticipated he would make this transition to elite status this season. In conjunction with the quality play of Russell Westbrook, Jeff Green, and James Harden, Oklahoma City is a great team. It’s just that no one thought it would click so soon chalk that up to coach Scott Brooks.

No. 4 — Houston Rockets

The news that Yao Ming would miss the entire season recovering from foot surgery was troubling around the entire league,  but it was especially so for the Rockets and their fans. Then, Tracy McGrady displayed his trademark attitude problems, and basically all hope was lost. Nevertheless, the Rockets stood strong. Benefiting from strong performances from Trevor Ariza, Shane Battier, Carl Landry, and most-improved candidate Aaron Brooks, the Rockets managed to play over .500 for the first half of the season. The midseason trade that sent McGrady and Landry away was a setback for the team, and it won’t make the playoffs this year. However, they accomplished what they did in the absence of their star center.

No. 3 — Memphis Grizzlies

Talk about attitude problems. Everyone wrote off the Grizzlies in fear of a tempest of a locker-room catastrophe led by Zach Randolph and Allen Iverson. AI shows inklings of trouble at the beginning of the season, but management was smart enough to quickly get him what he wanted and shipped him out of town. Meanwhile, Zach Randolph put up all-star-caliber numbers and was a model citizen for the very young team. Playing alongside center Marc Gasol in the post, Rudy Gay and O.J. Mayo on the wing, and Mike Conley at the point, Randolph has led the team to a very respectable season. While Memphis, like Houston, will not make the playoffs, they exceeded the horribly low cellar-dweller preseason expectations.

No. 2 — Charlotte Bobcats

The Bobcats don’t have much to work with on their roster, as Stephen Jackson and Gerald Wallace serve as the primary focal points of the offense. Still, they’re going to make the postseason this year. Wallace has been playing out of his mind, racking up over 12 boards a game, and he’s a candidate for defensive player of the year. Most importantly, though, the Bobcats have systematically dismantled opposition on their home floor, going 30-9 there. That’s the fourth-best home record in the Eastern Conference. Attribute it to the experience of coach Larry Brown and the willingness of the players to get this franchise somewhere it has never been in the short history of  its existence.

No. 1 — Milwaukee Bucks

What a tragedy it was that Andrew Bogut had to brutally injure his arm last week, as he’ll be missing the rest of the season. And the Bucks will be missing him. Milwaukee, which surged behind rookie Brandon Jennings’s strong play for the first half of the season, and John Salmons’s for the second half, had Bogut as a constant producer since November. He really turned it on in the second half when Salmons the sparkplug showed up, and accordingly the Bucks’ second-half record has been rather absurd. They’ll be in the playoffs even without Bogut, but a first-round matchup against the Boston Celtics or Atlanta Hawks looks a lot less promising without the team’s menacing center.

Come back tomorrow for the season’s most disappointing individual players.

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MVP selection to account for fan voting

The NBA’s MVP selection will now be partly selected by the fans. The player who garners the most fan votes will be awarded one vote in the selection process. I must say this is bad for the league.

I know what you’re thinking: it’s only one vote, so how can it make that much of a difference? It’s true that it probably won’t play much of a role in the crowning of an MVP this year, but it opens the door for fan voting to become increasingly integral in deciding the recipient of the league’s awards. And NBA fan voters are probably the most irresponsible of those of any of the other main professional leagues. So irresponsible are they, in fact, that they chose Allen Iverson and Tracy McGrady to start in this year’s all-star game in Dallas.

Now, having fan votes determine all-star starters is all well and good — the all-star weekend is for the fans and has no impact on regular season or postseason play (the World Series representative of the league that wins the MLB all-star game is given home-field advantage in that final series). But to allow the fans input into deciding the MVP is a bad idea. If the fan influence expands, you’ll never see an MVP from a small market again, as too many casual fans will just vote for the stars and the headliners.

Honestly, if we’d had fan voting throughout this decade, Steve Nash probably wouldn’t have won either of his MVP awards and Dirk Nowitzki certainly wouldn’t have won his. It would have been a joke of an award going to Shaq, LeBron, or Kobe every year.

If you insist on hearing the fans’ voice, David Stern, please don’t give them any more than the one vote you just did. It’s only fair.

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