By Rick Bozich
WDRB Sports

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — I am not here to argue that we will get an NBA franchise in Louisville. That is  another column, one that has been written bi-annually since 1977.
I am here to argue there is substantial NBA interest in Louisville.

In the players. In the coaches. In the gossip. In the regular season. In the playoffs. In the draft. In the post season awards. In the trade winds. Pick a topic.

Follow along.

1. Strong TV Numbers

This was a good but hardly great year for local players in the NBA Draft.

No first-round possibilities from Louisville. No top of the first-rounders from Kentucky. No first- or second-rounders from Indiana.

No Donovan Mitchell, Anthony Davis, John Wall or Victor Oladipo.

You still watched.

According to the Nielsen numbers that ESPN shared with me, Louisville tied for seventh (with Charlotte) for the markets with the highest NBA Draft ratings with a 3.8.

Ahead of Cleveland. Ahead of New Orleans. Ahead of Indianapolis. Ahead of the Bay Area and several more NBA markets.

The markets that topped Louisville were: 1. Memphis (4.4); 2. Philadelphia (4.3); 3. Kansas City (4.2); 4. Raleigh-Durham (4.0); 5. Salt Lake City (3.9) and 6. Columbus, Ohio (3.9).

The ratings were also solid for the NBA Awards Show on TNT Monday night. The show drew a rating of 1.0. That was a 67 percent increase from 2017. Louisville ranked 24th nationally, a jump from No. 47 in 2017.

Without an NBA franchise.

2. Six Awards, Six Local Contenders

How is this for confirmation for how much impact the local hoops connections have in the NBA?

The league distributed six awards that were voted on by the media Monday.

Somebody with local connections was a finalist in all six categories.

Former Kentucky player and assistant coach (and WKU assistant coach) Dwane Casey won the Coach of the Year award — and promptly thanked Joe B. Hall, Eddie Sutton and Clem Haskins.

Victor Oladipo made the recruiting gurus, the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Orlando Magic and Oklahoma City Thunder look bad by winning the Most Improved Player Award.

The recruiting gurus did not rank Oladipo a Top 100 recruit before he signed with Indiana in 2010.

Cleveland took Anthony Bennett with the first pick before the Magic took him with the second pick in 2013. The Magic traded him to OKC which sent him to Indiana last summer.

My prediction is the Pacers will keep him until somebody cuts of his sneakers.

Donovan Mitchell finished the runner-up to Ben Simmons as Rookie of the Year but was clearly the best player, not the 13th pick, from the 2017 NBA Draft.

Anthony Davis finished third in MVP and Defensive Player for the Year voting.

Former Indiana star Eric Gordon was runner-up in Sixth Man of the Year voting, an award Gordon won in 2017.

3. Last Word on Donovan Mitchell

I get why Simmons won. His across the board numbers were terrific. He turned the Sixers from a clown show to a contender (with considerable help from Joel Embiid). He performs in a more impactful market. He carried the cred of being a former Number One overall pick.

But … Mitchell deserved more than 11 first-place votes.

Simmons won the award 90 votes to 11.

That’s silly.

In a season when the Jazz were supposed to sink without Gordon Heyward, they remained a force. Credit Mitchell — and not simply because he was the top rookie scorer.

Mitchell played with purpose, resolve and a fierce competitive streak — and the Jazz won 48 games in the ultra-competitive Western Conference.

That was merely a three-victory drop from 2017, considerably better than most pre-season projections.

4. Next Step for Anthony Davis

James Harden doesn’t play defense. The reason everybody jokes about it is because it’s true. The reason Harden did not respond to the no-defense jokes Monday night is because it’s true.

My theory: Voters gave Harden the MVP award because he scored a ton of points, the Rockets had the best record in the NBA, they were tired of giving it to LeBron and they didn’t want Russell Westbrook to be repeat winner.

So scratch Harden as a top contender next season. He will not repeat.

LeBron James is always a contender. He’ll remain a contender next season, although if he joins some of his pals to form a Super Team, a minor backlash could form.

Who does that leave as a top contender?

Anthony Davis.

He cracked the top three this season — and then upped his game in the playoffs when the Pelicans upset the favored Trailblazers in four straight.

Davis is primed to win an MVP Award. If the Pelicans can add one more piece and become legit contenders in the Western Conference, he might do it next season.

I like his chances.

5. Wait til Next Year

What’s on the docket for next season?

Davis will be a serious contender for MVP and defensive player of the year.

Gordon will be a frontrunner for the Sixth Man award, although Terry Rozier is a threat to squeeze into the race if he returns to that role with Boston.

If he squeezes significant improvement out of the Pistons, Casey can win back-to-back Coach of the Year awards with two franchises

Kevin Knox will start the season in the second tier of Rookie of the Year contenders.

And basketball fans in this area will continue to show they’re interested in the NBA.

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