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Sonics, Bird, Duncan flying high as NBA season hits midway point

Introducing the NBA Middys. An answer to ESPN's Espys and the entertainment industry's Emmys, Grammys and Tonys. Also, a way to recognize midseason achievement in the world of professional basketball.

Winners here won't take home any hardware, but they will get their names in the newspaper.So without further pomp and circumstance, the envelopes please . . .

Most Valuable Player

- GARY PAYTON, SuperSonics: The Glove fits. Payton has not only led Seattle to the league's best midseason record, but he has done so with Vin Baker reeplacing Shawn Kemp in the line-up. Seattle's point guard ranks in the top 20 of four statistical categories. He averages 19.3 points, 8.7 assists and 4.9 rebounds.

Coach of the Year

- LARRY BIRD, Pacers: The former Boston Celtics great has come home for a new challenge -- restoring pride to a franchise that dominated the old American Basketball Association, but has yet to make much impact since joining the NBA in 1976-77. In his first year on the bench, Larry Legend has Indiana off to its best-ever start. Bird and his staff will coach the Eastern Conference in next Sunday's NBA All-Star Game.

Rookie of the Year

- TIM DUNCAN, Spurs: New Jersey's Keith Van Horn may be closing the gap, but he's got plenty of ground to make up. Duncan, who was named a Western Conference All-Star, is averaging 17.7 points and ranks in the top eight in three other categories -- 11.5 rebounds (fourth), .559 field-goal percentage (second) and 2.42 blocks (eighth). He has formed a successful Twin Towers attack with David Robinson that has the Spurs atop the Midwest Division. San Antonio missed the playoffs last season.

Executive of the Year

- JOHN NASH, Nets: He and executive vice president of basketball operations/head coach John Calipari have New Jersey heading toward to the playoffs after a three-year absence. The deal that brought Van Horn to the Nets from Philadelphia has paid off, as has last season's heist of Sam Cassell and Chris Gatling from Dallas.

Most Improved Player

- CORLISS WILLIAMSON, Kings: A switch from power to small forward has the third-year pro establishing new career bests across the board. Williamson is averaging 16.3 points, 5.8 rebounds and three assists this season.

And now for a few other special honors: Latrell Sprewell, Warriors (O.J. Simpson Spirit Award); Chris Webber, Wizards (Dope Award); Denver Nuggets (CBA Championship Trophy); coach Darrell Walker, Raptors (One-finger Salute Medallion); referee Joe Borgia (Honesty Award); Dennis Rodman, Bulls (Citizenship Award); Atlanta Hawks (Hare and Tortoise Award); Don and Donn Nelson, Mavericks (Nepotism Award); Penny Hardaway, Magic (All-Star Recovery Award); Tom Chambers, 76ers (Retirement Award); Lloyd Daniels, Raptors (Welcome Back/See Ya Award); coach Doug Collins, Pistons (On the Hot Seat Award); Patrick Ewing, Knicks (Tough-Luck Award); Shaquille O'Neal (Tummy Award); fans who selected starters for the NBA All-Star Game (Travesty Award); John Stockton, Jazz (Quick Recovery Award); broadcaster Marv Albert (Didn't Realize You Weren't Around Anymore Award); Michael Jordan, Bulls (Lifetime Achievement Award); A.C. Green, Mavericks (Ironman Award); Mitch Richmond, Kings (Patience Award); and Karl Malone, Jazz (Consistency Award).