The NBA regular season is winding down, and that means awards season is right around the corner. Thanks to the Bulls' incredible turnaround, several players could be honored.
The most obvious player to look at is Joakim Noah, who has played like an MVP candidate over the past few months. While Noah won't win the MVP award, it should be a surprise to nobody if he winds up in the top-five in voting. Perhaps even as high as third.
What Noah does have a great chance of getting are Defensive Player of the Year and All-NBA First Team. When the Pacers were running rough shod over the league with historically great defense earlier in the year, Roy Hibbert seemed like a lock for the award. But with Hibbert and the Pacers falling off, I feel Noah has a superb chance at winning. Since the Luol Deng trade, the Bulls are 7.8 points per 100 possessions better defensively when Noah is on the floor, per NBA.com's stats page.
As for All-NBA, I feel the injury to Dwight Howard has opened the door for Noah to be voted on the first team. Howard was having a superb season prior the injury, and I probably would have voted for him if he stayed healthy. But Howard has missed a bunch of time lately and Noah has stayed healthy, which has been key to the Bulls' sustained success. Al Jefferson and DeMarcus Cousins (to a much lesser extent), are also candidates.
The Bulls have started to do some promoting for Noah, specifically for Defensive Player of the Year. Several other players are also getting promoted for defensive honors, according to K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:
No wonder the Bulls media relations staff joined the leaguewide tradition for this time of year by promoting players for postseason honors Tuesday. Joakim Noah got promoted for Defensive Player of the Year, while Jimmy Butler and Kirk Hinrich were touted for the All-Defensive team.
Butler is certainly deserving, as he has done an excellent job playing a ton of minutes and defending the opponent's best player. Hinrich hasn't been as good as Butler, but he has had some really nice moments, including a lock down job against Stephen Curry.
However, there's a name that's conspicuously absent: Taj Gibson.
Gibson is obviously a big part of the defense, and you'd think the Bulls would want to promote him for those honors as well. Gibson does have bonuses tied to making the All-Defensive Team, with him slated to earn $250K if he makes the second team and $500K if he makes the first. So for the suspicious folk, one might wonder if the Bulls aren't promoting Gibson because of luxury tax concerns.
However, the Bulls aren't really in danger of hitting the tax at this point unless both Noah and Gibson get their $500K bonuses. Even with Ronnie Brewer in tow, the Bulls can afford Noah getting his $500K and Gibson getting $250K. I'm pretty sure even another player could be signed on top of that, and as great as Gibson has been this year, I really can't see him getting on the first team.
[Note by yfbb, 11:18 AM CDT: Just to add a bit, not only is there a luxury tax implication with these incentives, but any incentive that is hit becomes 'likely' for the next season, and is thus added to the cap number for this coming offseason, one where (if they amnesty Boozer) the Bulls want the most space they can get.]
So I'm thinking (hoping?) the Bulls have a separate campaign promoting Gibson for Sixth Man of the Year, which is something he really deserves. There are several other excellent candidates, including Manu Ginobili, Jamal Crawford and Markieff Morris to name a few. But Gibson is as deserving as anybody, and ESPN recently touted him as a great choice when discussing their newest advanced stat. So that was cool.