Originally Published: April 12, 2013

1. Stein's Awards Ballot

By Marc Stein | ESPN.com

LeBron JamesNathaniel S. Butler/Getty ImagesLeBron James is in position to land another Podoloff trophy, making that four in the past five years.

The NBA, for the first time in 60-odd seasons of operation, is collecting year-end award ballots electronically.

The Weekend Dime, as always, signs off until November in the only manner we know, zooming ballot by ballot through all the votes we'll be submitting via the latest technology to the league office next week.

With those votes not officially due until Thursday afternoon, I'll wait until the buzzer just to make sure not to exclude the final five days of the regular season from consideration. In the unlikely event that something between now and next Wednesday night forces a tweak to any of the following selections, I'll tweet out an update.

Otherwise ...

Here we go:

Most Valuable Player
LeBron James, Miami Heat


Easiest. Ballot. Ever.

I suspect that LeBron won't be a unanimous selection for Most Valuable Player because A) there's never been a unanimous MVP in the NBA and B) there's bound to be at least one voter, presumably based in the 405 area code, who won't be able to bring themselves to vote against poor Kevin Durant.

But there might never been an easier choice in this space than James For MVP in 2013, which, yet again, is saying something when you saunter over to Box 3 and reacquaint yourself with some of the stuff Durant has done since Halloween.

KD's problem? LeBron came back from last season's breakthrough championship with the Heat, followed by Olympic gold with Team USA, with the very vengeance Miami prez Pat Riley warned us about. No longer burdened by past failings and unwavering in his confidence, James has merely uncorked the most across-the-board statistically dominant campaign witnessed since Michael Jordan's 1988-89 masterpiece.

At 26.9 points, 8.1 rebounds and 7.2 assists, LeBron's averages entering Friday's play have been matched or exceeded by only four players in history over the course of an entire season: Jordan once, Larry Bird once, John Havlicek twice ... and the incomparable Oscar Robertson five times. Yet he's also shooting a seemingly unfair 56.3 percent from the floor, 40.3 percent from the 3-point range and happens to be known as the most versatile defender in the game given his ability to guard four positions ... maybe even all five in a pinch.

And ...

James' role in sparking the second-longest winning streak of all-time -- 27 Ws in a row from Feb. 3 to March 25 -- should have eradicated any remaining shred of doubt that Durant or anyone else deserves a single first-place vote. If there's any justice this voting season, James will join Bill Russell on the short list of players to win four MVP trophies in a span of five seasons in a first-ever whitewash that would finally trump Shaquille O'Neal's record 120 of a possible 121 first-place votes in 2000.

The only race here, if you insist, is for third place, which we'll narrowly award to Carmelo Anthony over Chris Paul thanks to New York's springtime resurrection to reclaim the East's No. 2 seed from Indiana. Or the race for fifth place, actually, with Tim Duncan in the lead by an even slimmer margin over Kobe Bryant and James Harden ... although Kobe's utter refusal to let the Lakers miss the playoffs or even go the bench for a minute or two off in the month of April leaves open the possibility that we'll end up giving the last spot on the ballot to No. 24. Provided that the Lakers do indeed make the playoffs.

Yet in the grand MVP scheme, I probably should have just made it easy for everyone. Should have listened to the Eastern Conference official who, knowing that I always cap a season's worth of Weekend Dimes with my award picks, said of the need to explain myself in this particular category: "Hahahahahah."

That's what I should have written.

Stein's ballot: 1. LeBron James; 2. Kevin Durant; 3. Carmelo Anthony; 4. Chris Paul; 5. Tim Duncan

October prediction: LeBron James

Coach of the Year
George Karl, Denver Nuggets


The Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year races were such gimmes that I feel guilty launching into my usual whiny lament about how complicated the Coach of the Year equation is.

Not that the guilt stopped me from whining away Thursday via my Twitter feed.

It's as true in 2012-13 as it's ever been: There are several potential outcomes here that you'd totally embrace with when reigning COY Gregg Popovich has had three best players together for only 45 games and is still threatening to usher San Antonio to the top seed out West. And when Mike Woodson is getting more out of Melo and the enigmatic J.R. Smith than any coach before him and has thus managed to steer the Knicks, through countless injuries, to their first division title since 1994. And when Mark Jackson has helped change the culture in Golden State, even without projected defensive anchor Andrew Bogut and key reserve Brandon Rush for much or all of the season, to guide the Warriors back to the playoffs for just the third time in the past two decades.

All Erik Spoelstra did in Miami, meanwhile, is oversee a 27-game winning streak and play his part in keeping a bunch of big-time personalities in Miami connected, selfless and locked in at a time of the season when the defending champs were widely presumed to have absolutely nothing to play for.

We could go on and on but don't really have the room. There just isn't the time or space to dig deeply into the good work in the face of various health crises submitted by Indiana's Frank Vogel, Chicago's Tom Thibodeau or Boston's Doc Rivers in the East ... or the withering team D coming from all three of those teams. Ditto for four more good coaching jobs going well under the radar out West: Oklahoma City's Scotty Brooks, Memphis' Lionel Hollins, Houston's Kevin McHale and Dallas' Rick Carlisle.

But that's because the focus, from here, rightly shifts to Karl, who has the Nuggets in prime position to snag the West's No. 3 seed despite the fact that Denver has no All-Star -- let alone a superstar -- and has seen its two top scoring threats (Ty Lawson and Danilo Gallinari) go down with serious injuries.

By dragging Denver through an outrageously difficult early schedule and then turning a group of mostly good-but-not-great players into legit contenders fueled by their boundless energy and good chemistry, Karl has established himself as the Nuggets' star, alongside the young front-office whiz -- Masai Ujiri -- who put this team together.

Lawson's health, as much as anything, figures to determine what sort of playoff team Denver can be, but the best regular season in the Nuggets' NBA history has enabled Karl, by the slimmest of margins, to prevent Pop from a COY repeat.

Stein's ballot: 1. George Karl; 2. Gregg Popovich; 3. Mike Woodson

October prediction: Doug Collins

Rookie of the Year
Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers


He's a few days away from becoming just the fourth rookie in history to reach the finish line averaging better than 19 points and six assists, following in the footsteps of Allen Iverson (1996-97), Damon Stoudamire (1995-96) and a certain Oscar Robertson (1960-61).

He's also logged an eye-popping 3,012 minutes through 78 games, which is my favorite Damian Lillard stat.

Throw in all the injury torment endured by Anthony Davis, Andre Drummond, Bradley Beal and Dion Waiters -- who generally rank as the most eye-catching rookies not based in Portland -- and you can see why Lillard looks poised to be named just the third unanimous Rookie of the Year selection in league history.

Ralph Sampson in 1984, David Robinson in 1990 and Blake Griffin in 2011 are the only previous ROYs to win unanimously. Chris Paul fell one vote shy in 2006. If Lillard doesn't join them, after the six months he (and his competition) just had, somebody seriously mis-voted.

What we all really want to know, of course, is what the future holds for Davis and whether his seemingly unending succession of injuries in Year 1 has established a worrisome trend. Or if he's just getting it all out of his system as a Hornet before becoming a Pelican.

In the 64 games he did play, before a knee sprain this week ended his season, Davis averaged a solid 13.5 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.8 blocks, good for a still-robust PER of 21.79.

Stein's ballot: 1. Damian Lillard; 2. Anthony Davis; 3. Bradley Beal

October prediction: Davis

Dimes past: March 26 | 27 | 28 | 29-30 | 31 | April 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5-6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11

Marc Stein | email

ESPN Senior Writer
• Senior NBA writer for ESPN.com
• Began covering the NBA in 1993-94
• Also covered soccer, tennis and the Olympics

2. Stein's Awards Ballot, Part Deux

Sixth Man of the Year
Kevin Martin, Oklahoma City Thunder


The best Sixth Man Award race ever?

It's gotta be up there.

If there's been a better one in my decade-plus at ESPN, at the very least, I can't remember it.

You really need six spots on this Sixth Man ballot with so many worthy contenders. New York's J.R. Smith, Golden State's Jarrett Jack and Jamal Crawford of the Los Angeles Clippers all have a worthy claim to the trophy, while New Orleans' Ryan Anderson, Utah's Gordon Hayward, Denver's Andre Miller (or Corey Brewer), Dallas' Vince Carter and the best sixth man of the modern era -- San Antonio's Manu Ginobili -- can't be forgotten, either.

Smith's most under-control season and second-half surge in particular, which really got the Knicks' climb back to No. 2 in the East started before Melo got so hot, only makes establishing a 1-2-3 order even harder. And Jack's been so important to Golden State's first playoff team since 2007, as a playmaker and locker-room leader, that I can't even squeeze Crawford into my top three ... even after Crawford threw one of my favorite passes all season.

Yet not one of the other candidates in the discussion faced the pressure of replacing a franchise player and reigning Sixth Man Award winner like Kevin Martin did. James Harden -- and remember he wasn't actually shipped off to Houston until after training camp ended -- but Martin stepped into the mammoth void by leading the league in made 3s off the bench without ranking in the top 20 in 3s attempted. The Thunder, furthermore, are closing in on the top seed in the West without ever flirting with the dropoff doomsayers predicted, while pretty much every available metric suggests that Martin is statistically clicking alongside Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook as well as Harden did.

The playoffs, of course, will be the ultimate referendum on the Harden deal, with the pressure on Martin soon to be ratcheted up another notch or three. In regular-season terms, though, Martin had the toughest assignment and more than delivered. So he's the one.

Stein's ballot: 1. Kevin Martin; 2. J.R. Smith; 3. Jarrett Jack

October prediction: Jason Terry

Defensive Player of the Year
Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs


We've been saying it pretty much since Thanksgiving: Dwight Howard's subpar season, by Dwight Howard standards, has thrown this category w-i-d-e open. As open, really, as it's ever been.

From almost every team that ranked in the top 10 in defensive efficiency as of Friday morning, I could present you with multiple DPOY candidates. Notable tag teams include Roy Hibbert and Paul George in Indiana, Marc Gasol and Tony Allen in Memphis, Joakim Noah and Luol Deng in Chicago, Kevin Garnett and Avery Bradley in Boston, and Al Horford and Josh Smith in Atlanta.

The push for LeBron as DPOY is likewise gaining steam ... and I can't forget to mention another handful of defensive stalwarts: Oklahoma City's Serge Ibaka, Denver's Andre Iguodala, Milwaukee's Larry Sanders, the L.A. Clippers' Matt Barnes and Eric Bledsoe, and reigning DPOY Tyson Chandler in New York.

From that jumble, though, Timmy Duncan has still managed to stick out. The Spurs are up to third in the league in defensive efficiency this season after slipping all the way down to a very un-Spurs-like 11th last season. And Duncan, in this turn-back-the-clock season of his at 36, is where it all starts, with San Antonio's defense four points better when TD's on the floor (97.0 points per 100 possessions compared to 101.0 points per 100 possessions without him).

The fact that Duncan, unlike Gasol, isn't joined in the Spurs' starting lineup by an Allen or a Mike Conley helped nudge him to the front of the line. Ditto for the fact that Noah, who led this pack after each of the first two trimesters, is flanked by the likes of Deng, Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler and faded largely because of his late-season injury woes.

Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green are fine defenders -- and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich knows a thing or two about implementing a defensive system -- but Duncan was the unquestioned anchor of a unit that made a significant leap while putting together his best-ever season as a shot-blocker. And that bumped him to the top of a race that's always so hard to call with so little available statistical data to help us sort things out.

Stein's ballot: 1. Tim Duncan; 2. Roy Hibbert; 3. Marc Gasol

October prediction: Dwight Howard

Most Improved Player
Jrue Holiday, Philadelphia 76ers


Has anyone nominated LeBron Raymone James for the MIP trophy?

I'm kidding, of course, since that would clearly violate my long-running policy to exclude former lottery picks from MIP consideration -- especially former/reigning MVPs -- since lottery picks are drafted to become fully fledged cornerstones when they're fully developed.

He has improved quite a bit since last season, though, hasn't he?

But fear not: LeBron ain't getting my MIP vote. Nor is James Harden, Steph Curry or Paul George, who all took a significant step forward but were ultimately disqualified from consideration, again, because they were drafted with the expectation that they could/would become elite players.

It's the we-never-saw-it-coming types, as always, who stand out most here, led by Milwaukee's Larry Sanders, Orlando's Nikola Vucevic and New Orleans' Greivis Vasquez. All three, though, were ultimately trumped by the rise of Holiday from the fifth point guard selected in the 2009 draft to the first All-Star from that group, which also includes Ricky Rubio, Jonny Flynn, Curry and Brandon Jennings.

Sanders was close, having done little in his first two seasons -- production- or composure-wise -- to suggest that he could give fellow MIP nominee Ibaka his closest push in the race for the league's shot-blocking title. George's own rise from promising swingman to face of the franchise and what that meant for the 50-win Pacers, in the wake of Danny Granger's knee troubles, did make it tempting to break from tradition here and vote for the former No. 10 overall pick. (I also want to mention Houston's Omer Asik, our preseason choice, who wound up collecting more than 30 double-doubles after posting just one in his first two seasons in Chicago.)

But Holiday's season, despite a rough final month while shouldering such a massive load in Philly, won out.

Stein's Ballot: 1. Jrue Holiday; 2. Larry Sanders; 3. Nikola Vucevic

October prediction: Omer Asik

3. Personal Space


He's not going to win the MVP trophy.

There's a decent chance he won't be winning his fourth straight scoring title, either.

And the sense that tension is never far away from bubbling to the surface with such a young (some would say still immature) team in Oklahoma City won't go away.

None of that, though, has stopped Kevin Durant from assembling an unforgettably epic regular season in his own right. Irrespective of what LeBron James has achieved through 78 games of the 2012-13 schedule.

Not even the shock of James Harden's departure less than a week before the start of the regular season could stop Durant from expanding his game to new all-around heights and playing closer to LeBron's zip code than anyone else on the NBA map.

It was thus decided at Stein Line HQ -- without even consulting the KD-obsessed boys, aged 9 and 6, who live here and can't stop asking Dad to buy more of their hero's signature socks -- to carve out some prime and personal cyberspace devoted to recognizing Durant's individual brilliance:

• Durant is averaging 28.3 points, 7.9 rebounds and 4.6 assists in 2012-13. The last player to average those numbers over an entire season was David Robinson in 1993-94.

• If he could nudge his rebound average into the 8s during the final week of the regular season, Durant would become just the 10th player in NBA history to average at least 28.0 points, 8.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists. The nine players who've already done it: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Elgin Baylor, Larry Bird, Wilt Chamberlain, John Havlicek, Michael Jordan, Bob McAdoo, Oscar Robertson and Robinson.

• Durant is also floating in the rarefied air of the 50/40/90 club, poised to become just the eighth player in NBA annals to shoot at least 50 percent from the floor, 40 percent from 3-point range and 90 percent from the free throw line for an entire season. KD's seven predecessors:

• All three of Durant's triple-doubles in the NBA are from this season ... to go with that career-high assist average.

• Durant is also averaging 26.3 points per game at home and a whopping 30.2 PPG on the road. The 3.9 points per game difference in away games is tops in the league.

• As we've noted before, Durant will go down as just the second player ever to lead the league in scoring without leading his own team in field goal attempts if he manages to win the scoring crown. Durant takes 17.8 shots per game to Russell Westbrook's 18.9, something we haven't seen from a scoring champ since 1954-55, when Philadelphia's Neil Johnston led the NBA at 22.7 points per game but finished second on his own team in FGAs behind teammate Paul Arizin.

• Durant's Thunder, winning by an average nightly margin of plus-9.3 points, are on course to tie the mark for the sixth-highest average margin of victory since the 3-point shot was ushered into the NBA starting with the 1979-80 season. And every other team on the list went on to win the championship.