By A. Sherrod Blakely
BOSTON When the D-League was first created, there was a stigma attached to it.
The league promoted it as a developmental league. To the casual basketball fan, the 'D' stood for demotion.
But in recent years, it has become clear that the D-League is indeed about helping develop and evaluate young talent.
And that's why Celtics first-round pick Avery Bradley is exactly where he belongs right now with the Maine Red Claws.
Even before he needed offseason ankle surgery, Bradley was going to have a tough time breaking through a Celtics guard rotation filled with talented, proven veterans.
And with the Celtics looking for him to become more of a point guard, the challenge of playing appeared even more daunting.
However, Boston recognized that there is value in him being surrounded early on his career with savvy, battle-tested veterans such as Ray Allen, Rajon Rondo and Delonte West.
His older teammates have praised him often for his willingness to listen, learn and ask when he's not sure about how to do something.
"That's what I'm supposed to do," he told CSNNE.com. "I feel like I would be stupid not to ask questions, being on a team like this with stars like this. I can learn so much from them."
The same can be said for his time in the D-League.
In two games with the Red Claws, Bradley is averaging 13.5 points, four assists and two rebounds per game.
This season has been filled with a number of coaches doing an impressive job, with some getting it done under less-than-perfect circumstances. And it is because of that latter point that I have to give my midseason Coach of the Year award to Chicago's Tom Thibodeau.
The former Celtics assistant has not looked like a rookie coach, which is impressive when you consider the number of proven veterans he has inherited and the fact that he has had to endure a number of injuries to key players.
The Bulls are very much in the hunt for home court advantage in the playoffs. Their talented roster obviously has a lot to do with that.
But so has the leadership displayed by their rookie head coach.
Here's a rundown of my other midseason award winners:
Rookie of the Year
Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers: The rookie of the Year award is a given. How about league MVP?
Sixth Man of the Year
Glen Davis, Boston Celtics: Davis' stiffest competitors for this award (Jason Terry of Dallas and Jamal Crawford of Atlanta) have already won one.
LeBron James, Miami Heat: His numbers, impact on his current and former team (Cleveland) give him a slight edge over the rest of the field.
Perkins returns as a starter?
There's no denying that having Shaquille O'Neal in the starting lineup has been a major plus for the Celtics this season. But with Kendrick Perkins officially back in the fold in a few weeks, one can't forget how successful the C's have been in recent years with him manning the middle.
So what does Doc Rivers do?
It's simple, really.
You go right back to Perkins.
Since suffering a torn MCL and PCL in his right knee during Game 6 of the NBA Finals last June, Perkins has worked diligently to ensure he'll be able to compete at a high level upon his return which he hopes will be Feb. 4 against Dallas.
The biggest reason you bring Perkins back as a starter, is because he and Kevin Garnett are arguably the best frontcourt defensive tandem in the NBA.
"As far as me with the starting five, or me and KG being the best tandem on defense, we pretty much know each other," Perkins said. "We all got flaws on certain parts of the defensive end. With him, he knows how to cover up my weaknesses. I know how to cover up his."
And by moving O'Neal to the bench, this gives Boston's second unit a huge advantage in the middle against most opponents. But to get the most out of O'Neal with the reserves, the C's have to start developing chemistry with that second unit which hasn't been easy because of all the injuries.