Noteworthy Events from Last Night's 2018 NBA Awards

By Michael Vesci
Jun. 26, 2018

For an NBA fan, the end of the regular season means it is time to hand out the regular season awards for the top players in the league. That is until the NBA introduced the NBA Awards in 2017 which showcased these players in a two hour show over two months after the end of the regular season. While clearly an attempt to elongate the NBA's presence in the sports world once the offseason rolls around, it is harder to look back on the regular season with the NBA Finals and teams having just finished their playoff runs in the weeks prior to the show.

Gone are the days of the press conference for the Most Valuable Player in the league and in are the days of the 1-2 minute acceptance speeches before players or coaches are off the stage to give way for musical entertainment, a commercial break, or commentary by the TNT announcers. Something about handing out regular season awards in June seems out of place for the NBA and less intriguing for fans to engage in. The interest was there for me only to see who would be the Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player.

1. Bill Russell Flips Off Charles Barkley

Let us keep this one short and sweet. While Charles Barkley was speaking on stage, he thanked Bill Russell and the camera flipped to a shot of Russell at his table. The Celtics legend flipped off Barkley in a joking manner from his seat in response to Barkley's on stage "thank you" to him. In a tweet soon after, Russell said, "Sorry everyone. I forgot it was live TV and I can’t help myself whenever I see Charles it just is pure instinct." You can see the video below for yourself:

This is not the first time Russell has given the bird out in public. A photo back in February of him and Chauncey Billups showed the pair sitting together with Russell again flipping the middle finger. For an old man, the basketball legend still has a strong sense of humor that we can all appreciate.

2. Hip, Hip, Harden!

This was James Harden's year to win the Most Valuable Player in the NBA. Harden got 86 of the 101 first-place votes for the award and had 965 points. LeBron James got the other 15 first-place votes and Anthony Davis got none. I made it quite clear why I liked Anthony Davis as MVP back in May when the finalists were announced. I cited his dominance with New Orleans in the regular season which helped lead the Pelicans on a stretch that got them into the playoffs after the DeMarcus Cousins injury seemed like a death sentence for their season. Davis was my vote for MVP this season, but with the likings of James and Harden in the MVP race it was unlikely he would win it anyways.

Harden played 72 games this year and scored a career-high 30.8 points per game to help lead the Houston Rockets to the best record in the NBA this season at 65-17. While they may have come up just short of beating the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals, it goes without saying that Harden deserved it for his regular season efforts. After being a runner-up for the award twice in his career, Harden is finally on top.

3. Simmons Stirs the Rookie Debate

Ben Simmons took home the Rookie of the Year Award and it enabled the debate about if he truly is a rookie in the NBA. While classified by the league as a rookie given his absence from the court all of last season, many believe he is not a rookie since he was drafted in 2016 to the Philadelphia 76ers and sat out the season due to injuries. Taking away the rookie debate which I said back in May should have no impact on the voting, I still feel Donovan Mitchell was more deserving of the award as opposed to Simmons.

No question both players had great seasons, but the Utah Jazz were not a team expected to compete for a playoff spot after the depature of Gordon Hayward to Boston. Nobody expected a rookie like Donovan Mitchell to come into Utah and become a leader on the team so quickly, helping them reach the playoffs in a competitive Western Conference. Of course you cannot take away from the record book setting number Simmons set in regards to triple-doubles and the 38 double-doubles he had during the season. But Mitchell helped keep the Jazz relevant in my mind while Simmons expedited the Sixers "Process" by a year or two. Mitchell also proved himself as the better long range shooter and in my opinion the better all-around player. His leadership will be felt for years to come, something I feel Simmons does not have as much of with the Sixers. Do not be surprised if Mitchell's name comes up in the MVP debate in a few years.

4. From Fired Finalist to Hired Winner

The Toronto Raptors fired Dwane Casey two days after he was announced as a Coach of the Year finalist. He helped lead the Raptors to a franchise-best 59 wins and the top seed in the Eastern Conference this past season. But the Raptors playoff woes continued as they were swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second round. After seven seasons in Toronto he was out of a job, playoff success was never a staple for Casey during his time with the Raptors. Whether that is to be blamed on him for his coaching or DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry for disappearing in big moments reamins to be seen if and when the Raptors return to the playoffs.

But in June the Detroit Pistons hired Casey as their new head coach and the 61-year-old had a job again. On Monday, he was awarded the Coach of the Year for the 2017-2018 season with the Raptors...the team that fired him, talk about awkward. But Casey had nothing but good things to say about the players and his time in Toronto, mentioning how proud he was of all of them for the past few seasons. While the next chapter of Casey's coaching career is about to begin, so will the next chapter of the Raptors' franchise as they hired Nick Nurse as their new head coach earlier this month. Time will tell what the issue was in Toronto with their playoff woes as well as what Casey can do with his new team in Detroit.

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