With six weeks left until the playoffs, we bring you the latest, up-to-the-minute look at the NBA postseason awards picture:
MVP: Leader - the Lakers' Magic Johnson. Contenders - Chicago's Michael Jordan, Houston's Akeem Olajuwon, the Jazz's Karl Malone and Philadelphia's Charles Barkley.Magic is the clear reason the Lakers still have the best record in the Western Conference. Yes, Chicago without Jordan is much worse off than the Lakers without Johnson, but most voters will say the MVP has to play for a title-level team.
Coach of the Year: Leader - Golden State's Don Nelson. Contenders - Phoenix's Cotton Fitzsimmons, Cleveland's Lenny Wilkens, Milwaukee's Del Harris and New York's Rick Pitino.
How the Warriors won only 20 games last season is a better question than how they've won 34 already this year, but their improvement under Nelson is still amazing.
Rookie of the Year: Leader - Golden State's Mitch Richmond. Contenders - San Antonio's Willie Anderson, the Clippers' Charles Smith, Indiana's Rik Smits and New York's Rod Strickland.
Richmond closely trails Nelson on the list of reasons for the Warriors' turnaround; he's a solid, polished player.
Defensive Player of the Year: Leader - the Jazz's Mark Eaton. Contenders - Jordan, Olajuwon, the Lakers' Michael Cooper and New York's Patrick Ewing.
Eaton is the reason the Jazz are playing the best defense in the league in 15 years, and his defensive rebounding is much better.
Sixth Man: Contenders - the Jazz's Thurl Bailey, Phoenix's Eddie Johnson, Philadelphia's Ron Anderson, Detroit's Dennis Rodman and Milwaukee's Ricky Pierce.
Nobody is a clear favorite, although Bailey was the choice in a players' survey at midseason.
Most Improved Player: Leader - Boston's Reggie Lewis. Contenders - Anderson, Phoenix's Kevin Johnson, New York's Johnny Newman and Denver's Michael Adams.
Lewis defines this award, as a second-year player who got his chance and delivered.
Executive of the Year: Leader - Cleveland's Wayne Embry. Contenders - Fitzsimmons, Nelson, New York's Al Bianchi and the Lakers' Jerry West.
The key people in Cleveland's development - Brad Daugherty, Mark Price and Hot Rod Williams - were obtained before Embry was officially hired, which is another story. And Tree Rollins and Darnell Valentine were fairly meaningless summer acquisitions, but trading for Larry Nance last season has paid off.
***** AT RANDOM: Frank Layden will meet this week in New York with CBS Sports executive producer Ted Shaker about a halftime commentary role. He's also interested in regular apparances with David Letterman and is considering becoming a spokesman for one of several companies. All this, besides serving as the Jazz president and making all kinds of speeches. "I don't want to get caught up, where I'm back in the rat race," admits Layden . . . Scott Layden's pre-NCAA Tournament top five players: Duke's Danny Ferry, Michigan's Glen Rice, Oklahoma's Stacy King, Arizona's Sean Elliott and Louisville's Pervis Ellison. Nobody is a definite No. 1 choice this year. "Maybe you're better off picking third or fourth or fifth," notes Layden. "It's going to be less expensive - not much, but less." . . .
Ex-Ute Danny Vranes, who fled Greece and finally returned home last week, has left again to join an Italian team for tournament play . . . Bart Kofoed, close to a contract settlement with the Jazz, skipped Rochester's last three games - the Flyers missed the CBA playoffs - and joined a team in Belgium. In 17 CBA games, Kofoed averaged 7.4 points and 3.6 assists . . . The Lakers avoided the Jazz's troubles in Miami this season, winning by 47 and 40 points. After the latest win, Coach Pat Riley said of the Heat, "They're outmanned. That's no news bulletin." . . .
Larry Bird's delayed return may help ex-Ute guard Kelvin Upshaw to stay longer than 10 days in Boston, although the Celtics signed him mostly for practice purposes. "We've been shorthanded in practice and we haven't been able to do some of things we'd hoped," said Coach Jimmy Rodgers . . . Marc Iavaroni, who has 11 scoreless games as a Jazz starter, has company. Seven times, involving five different players, a Miami starter has not scored . . . Dallas GM Norm Sonju finally confesses, "Taking Karl Malone would have been an awesome thing, and we made a mistake." . . .
The Jazz remain the only NBA team not to play overtime; this could be the first season in franchise history that they've played only regulation minutes . . . The Lakers' A.C. Green says he's not a true enforcer, which he defines as "somebody who verbally and physically tries to overpower you. They do more talking than player, I think. I just try to turn it around and do more playing."