This is the problem with the NBA awards process: it actually matters a lot, yet so often the voters, whether they be the media, coaches or team executives, pay it short shrift. NBA award placement actually affects contracts -- the Rose Rule allows fatter second contracts for players with MVPs or multiple All-NBA nods, incentive clauses are becoming increasing popular and awards are often the basis of price points agents set. Awards matter because history matters and because independent judgment matters.
But in the NBA, award season has become something like a circus. The MVP ballot goes five deep; in 2010-11, LeBron James' first season in Miami, nine voters in the media left him off of their ballot completely. The only possible explanation was that they made protest votes against The Decision ... which is stupid. That same year, Pat Riley -- the man who brought in LeBron and Chris Bosh to join Dwyane Wade in the biggest coup since Castro -- had to share the Executive of the Year award with Gar Forman. The best part is that three voters -- NBA GMs -- had not even remembered Forman existed, and instead voted for his boss John Paxson. If those voters had properly nodded to the Bulls and voted for Forman, Riley would have been in second place. After nabbing LeBron and Bosh and keeping Wade. Those guys are no Carlos Boozer! And for the past [infinite] years, Most Improved Player has gone to a guy who has seen a massive increase in minutes, whether he's actually improved or not.
So basically, the award season has become a long-running joke, and the only easy cure -- other than voters who unanimously like basketball and care about this stuff, which I know is such a huge ask -- is transparency. If you vote, everyone gets to know for whom and you get to defend yourself or feel the shame you properly deserve.
That's why I'm fascinated by and thrilled with the mysterious person who gave Portland's Luke Babbitt a third-place vote for Sixth Man of the Year. Your first instinct is absolutely correct: Luke Babbitt does not deserve a Sixth Man of the Year vote. If the ballot went 10 deep, it would still be a massive, massive stretch. He barely played, and when he did, he was pretty bad. Portland elected not to pick up the option for his fourth year before the season began. It would have paid him $2 million. The Blazers decided in October that their 24-year-old wing would not be worth $2 million in 2013-14, and then Babbitt went out and basically proved them right. So, no, this is not just a math hipster pick by some voter. No.
This is a protest vote. This is an accurate statement that NBA award voting is ridiculous. I mean hell, why not vote for Babbitt? Someone's going to mistakenly vote for Jordan Crawford anyway. That's right: someone accidentally gave a first-place vote to Jordan Crawford; everyone assumes this vote was meant for Jamal Crawford, but the voter had a brain slip. It counts all the same, and now Steez will be listed as the No. 7 finisher in 2013 Sixth Man voting. It's alright -- in the 2003 California gubernatorial recall election, a totally unknown dude named George Schwartzman got 12,000 votes (enough to finish No. 9 out of 135 candidates), presumably because his name was similar enough to that of winner Arnold Schwarzenegger. (Schwartman ended up behind Larry Flynt and Gary Coleman, but ahead of porn star Mary Carey and watermelon assaulter Leo Gallagher. Again, this was in an election that gave the state's top civil position to The Terminator. Voters!)
The moral of this story is that without disclosure and sunshine, NBA award voters are going to continue to give varying levels of thought to their ballot decisions. Luke Babbitt Voter is a breath of fresh air in that he realizes the lack of seriousness involved and is willing to highlight it. If Luke Babbitt Voter continues his campaign -- Jimmer Fredette vote in Defensive Player of the Year, perhaps? -- perhaps the NBA or the writers' association will consider full vote disclosure. The vote for Luke Babbitt can only lead to greater things.
I actually hope we do find out the identity of Luke Babbitt Voter. He deserves nothing less than to be feted as a hero.