April 18, 2008
You'll have to believe me when I tell you that I spent a lot of time and a lot of effort - though not as much as I would have liked to spend, early-spring head, nose and throat issues being what they are - on this decision. This isn't some lame attempt at backing up what I wrote back in March. Last week, I had a Chris Paul post just about ready.
A few days ago, I had the Kevin Garnett picture for this post all picked out. I'm not saying that to cover my bases. I've wanted to give my pseudo-vote to other players. In the end, it didn't matter.
LeBron's still the MVP.
He won't win it, we all know that. Guilt over passing over Kobe Bryant back in 2005-06 (when LBJ, Kobe, and Dwyane Wade all could and should have won it; though a sheepish Steve Nash somehow took the hardware home) and a sense of "he's finally doing it right" will have voters throwing the plaudits Kobe's way.
And that's pretty sad. I'm not going to get too far into what I've already gone over a couple of times before, so I'm just going to address the Kobe issue (and why this is a three-man race) one more time:
*If he's the best player in the NBA right now, then why hasn't he played the best basketball of any NBA player this year? At what point does reputation ring hollow?
*Stop giving him credit for "trusting his teammates." From 2004-07, no thinking observer should have wanted him to trust his teammates. Nobody should have demanded that. His teammates stunk. If Kobe gave up the ball in those seasons as much as he has this season, then the Lakers don't even make the playoffs in 2006 and 2007.
*He's played brilliant basketball, but he's had great teammates. The acquisition of Derek Fisher, the gradual ascension of his other younger backcourt mates (finally making the open shots off Kobe passes that they were missing off Kobe passes last year and the year before), and half a year apiece of Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol have turned the Lakers into the rightful favorite to win the toughest conference in NBA history.
He's the best player on the best team, and one of the best players in the NBA. Can't that be enough? Should we overlook better and more productive seasons from players who have had better years just because Mitch Kupchak finally put it all together? How fair is that? Kobe had nothing to do with that stuff, so why are we crediting him for the improvement? We should award the MVP to the great player who finally got good teammates?
(And you know this is going to happen to LeBron in a few years. He'll be playing the same brand of ball, but Danny Ferry will turn Ben Wallace's expiring contract into something good, the Cavs win 58 games, and voters will turn their attention to James mainly because we was finally paired with a great teammate.)
The NBA purposefully declines to give out criteria for this award, mainly because they love to see the sheer amount of comments that will register on this (and other) websites in reaction to this or any other opinion piece.
Because the award doesn't reference being the best player on the best team, or giving an individual credit for the privilege of playing alongside other great players, it boggles the mind as to why certain people think one player should get an award based on how aggressive Lamar Odom is on the boards this season, or because the Memphis Grizzlies were more interested in cap relief than young talent (thereby sending Pau out West, instead of somewhere else).
So let's grow up, stop being lazy, and take the time to watch and regard who was the best player in the NBA this year.
And, yes, let's also lose the, "man, it's the most VALUABLE player award!" Literal translation of that word in the middle of the hardware will get you nowhere.
In fact, the literal translation takes you well beyond the, "where would [this team] be without [this player]?" Stop it. The literal translation of the word "valuable" would not only take you there, it would lead you toward a place where we would prefer someone like Chris Paul or Deron Williams for their contributions above players like LeBron, KG, or Kobe.
After all, these guys are on rookie contracts, playing for (on average) about 1/5th of what the LeBron/Kobe/KG-types are playing for.
In fact, more literal translation would probably throw the award at Yao Ming: not because he was brilliant until his foot fell apart this year, but because he makes his team and the league untold millions in a market that most of us have no idea about.
So let's not litter our brains with the tired, "take [so-and-so] away from the [hometown team, usually], and what do you have? A lottery team." Lame, man. Lame.
At the end of your casual Friday, remember this:
It's a team sport, and an individual award.
This is an award for the league's best player. We shouldn't be handing extra points out because players were glossed over in the past, or sold a bunch of jerseys for a team that nobody used to care about, or piled fans inside an arena that once echoed nothing but squeaking sneakers and 20-footers gone wrong. We shouldn't be passing on giving it to certain talents because, "well, he'll get his eventually. And this is Kobe's year." Come on. Can't we be more honest with ourselves?
And, most of all, we shouldn't be looking over a player who has played the best pro basketball of anyone in pro basketball, and certainly not because he has to work amongst a lot that has no place playing as many minutes as they do.
Not sure if you can grok this, but Zydrunas Ilgauskas ain't Pau Gasol. He's not even Andrew Bynum anymore. Check the stats. Drew Gooden and Joe Smith ain't Lamar Odom, Delonte West can't hold a candle to Derek Fisher, and Ben Wallace passed away several years ago.
I want to give it to Garnett. I really do. If anyone deserves the lifetime achievement MVP, even as a former winner, it's him. KG's played as good a batch of defense as I've seen in eons, something that can barely be qualified with statistics. I can get past the fact that he missed 12 games, but I can't get past the fact that he's played only played 33 minutes per game.
And that's OK. The man would trade in a 2008 MVP trophy, the 2005 trophy, several toes and 14 cars if it only meant that he could hoist the Lawrence O'Brien trophy next June. As it stands, he's a close number two. That defense, man.
Same goes for Kobe. You think, should the Lakers continue apace and run towards another title, anyone is going to be talking about Kobe's MVP award - win or lose? Hell no. All this stuff means absolutely nothing in two months, especially to Kobe, who wants another ring. Was anybody talking about Dirk Nowitzki when Tim Duncan and Tony Parker stood amongst the confetti last June?
Was anybody talking about Steve Nash when Dwyane Wade was scoring at will the June before?
It doesn't have to be perfect. It's OK for Chris Paul come out of nowhere with a point guard season for the ages, pack the stands in New Orleans, and not come away with an award that rewards such behavior. Paul's been brilliant, a deserving number three, but his defense is lacking. It's OK for Kobe or KG (or, perhaps, CP3) to hoist two trophies on a podium this June and still not come away with the MVP.
And it's also OK to reward the best player we have in the game today, who had the best season of any basketball player this year.
No, the wins didn't pile up. And the Cavaliers are a pretty good bet to be bounced in the first round. Such is life with Ben Wallace and Delonte West piling up the minutes.
But he's been brilliant. And you know it. And if you relax, and watch the games, compare the defenses, and look at the stats (you know, indicators of actual production), you know you're there.
And you know you don't like it. I might not even like it. Kevin Garnett is my favorite player. I respect Kobe more than any other player in the NBA for the sheer amount of work he puts into his game. I've been banging the, "please, pay attention to Chris Paul" drum to the point where people are probably rolling their eyes every time they see me gush about the guy.
And LeBron ticks me off more than just about any player in this league. He doesn't push the ball enough. He falls in love with his jumper. Likely worried about his image, he doesn't speak up about a coach and general manager that have made mistake after mistake with his hometown team.
I went out of my way several times over to try and find a way to give it to someone besides LeBron, just because I want the perfect package. I want KG on top. I want Kobe's return to championship glory to be paired with a regular season trophy. I want Chris Paul darting his way to greatness. I want what you want.
But reification ain't my thing. Never has been. LeBron is the MVP. He's the best player we have in this game. It's a team sport, and these championship-level teams outside of Cleveland will get what they deserve as spring melts into summer. But it's an individual award.
And it should go to LeBron James.