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Saturday, May 12, 2012

MVP Depreciation? (5.11.12)

Do you remember when winning the NBA MVP meant that player was going to be doused in champagne in the final game of the season? You don't? It's alright. I couldn't remember either. After crunching the numbers, I realized that 35 out of 56 MVP winners did not win the championship during their MVP season. Upon closer examination, 28 of those MVP's didn't even make the finals that season. Does the MVP carry any significance if the best player on the best team isn't winning the championship? I'll leave that up to you to decide.

LeBron James is about to pull down his third NBA MVP in nine seasons. Yet for all of his regular season greatness, LeBron is rather infamous for his inability to capture a title. I am as big of a LeBron hater as there is. I love the fact that the guy hasn't won a ring. I understand and recognize his talent, but I also understand how much he shirks away from the big moments. LeBron is the greatest front runner in NBA history. Nobody plays better when they have a nice lead and everything is going their way. Once things get tough, LeBron folds. He has had his impressive moments. The first that jumps to mind is the 48 he dropped on a great defensive Pistons team in the '07 playoffs. LeBron scored 29 of the final 30 points for the Cavs in that game and led Cleveland to a two point victory. At 22 years old, many felt LeBron would continue his impressive ascent to Jordan's level. But, and there is always a but, I have seen LeBron quit, and so have you. He did it in '09 against the Magic in a year he was destined to meet Kobe in the finals. He followed that up by quitting in his final game ever as a Cavelier against the Celtics. Do you remember how he ripped off that Cavs jersey? He couldn't get that jersey off fast enough. Then he mentally checked out in the fourth quarter of games two through six last year against Dallas. Three straight years, three straight exits when he was a favorite. Oh, and don't forget, he was the MVP in '09 and '10.

Following last season's flame out against the Mavericks, I sent a text to many LeBron lovers and stated, "What did the King say to the Prince? Nothing, he just slapped him with his five rings." This is obviously a Kobe-LeBron dig, but the bigger picture points to the moniker of LeBron, "King James." Kings wear rings, where are LeBron's? Kobe Bryant is the greatest basketball player of the post-Jordan era, yet he only has one MVP title in now his sixteenth season. This is a travesty. Historians will look at Kobe's career and wonder how this ever happened. Especially in a season where Kobe scored 62 points in three quarters, outscoring the Mavericks 62-61. A month later Kobe dropped 81 on the Raptors, a feat that some consider more impressive than Wilt's 100. Seriously, how did Kobe lose to Steve Nash in the MVP voting? Kobe Bryant will never win another MVP. LeBron is too versatile and just puts up too many numbers in the assist and rebounding categories, numbers that Kobe can't touch, and isn't asked to touch. The only guys who can seriously contend with LeBron for MVP in the next ten years are Durant, Rose, Paul, Griffin, Love, Howard, and maybe, just maybe, Bynum. LeBron is going to win another three MVP's, guaranteed.

Yet, how many rings is LeBron going to sport? Well, let's just say LeBron is about to become the only three time MVP without a championship to his name. LeBron can change all of that this season. His Heat are poised for a run to the finals, especially considering the team most felt could give the Heat problems, the Bulls, were just knocked out in the first round by the 8 seed Sixers. So, LeBron is the front runner, will he pull it out this time? He usually succeeds as a front runner, uh oh. His only resistance to the finals will be decrepit Boston. As a Lakers fan, I absolutely detest Boston, but I will definitely be rooting for LeBron to fail. I'm not sure why I have so much joy when LeBron fails. Maybe it's because I understand his talent. I know how good the guy is. I know what he can do. I know that he is an unstoppable freight train. I also know that the only person that can stop LeBron is LeBron. I think that is where the joy comes from. Nobody beats the guy but himself. Maybe I'm delusional, but I feel that if I was LeBron, I'd win. Irrational? Probably. Where else can the hate stem from though?

So, back to the MVP discussion. Do you know who was the last MVP to win the NBA championship in that same season? Well if you guessed Tim Duncan, you are right. Duncan won his second straight MVP in '03 and his Spurs defeated the Nets in a series no one watched. The series was the lowest rated finals series ever, until the Spurs swept LeBron's Cavs in '07. Yes, the golden child of the league was a part of the lowest rated NBA finals matchup ever. So what does it all mean? Well, pretty much, it means that no one is Michael Jordan or Bill Russell. MJ and Russell carry the greatest success rate as an MVP being the champion, an 80% success rate. Both won MVP five times, and both won the championship four of those five seasons. Isn't that what MVP is all about? Shouldn't the best player in the league always win the championship? Well it doesn't necessarily work that way. If anything, the MVP trophy holds a lot less value to team success. Ironically, the MVP is almost always given to the best player on the best team.

With that in mind, how do so many MVP winners come up short? Are the sports writers of America missing something and only focused on fitting a narrative? Probably so, but honestly, why aren't MVP's leading their team to victory? The only spotless MVP's ever are Shaq with one MVP and a championship in '00, Olajuwon with one MVP and a championship in '94, Willis Reed with one MVP and championship in '70, and Bob Cousy with one MVP and a championship in '57. That's it. Notice that each of those guys only won once. They dominated for a year and brought home the hardware. Impressive, but not Jordanesque or Russell-like. Shaq probably deserved at least one more MVP during that three-peat in the early 2000's. Every other MVP has tasted defeat at least once. Greats like Magic, Bird, Kareem, Russell, and Chamberlain all won multiple MVP's but lost a championship in at least one of their MVP seasons. Guys like Nash and Karl Malone each have two MVP's but no hardware. At least Malone made the finals, Nash will go down as the most undeserving two time MVP in NBA history. Since 2000, only Shaq and Duncan have held up both the MVP and the Larry O'Brien trophy.

Let's look at those recent winners. Derrick Rose was shut down by LeBron in the conference finals and the Bulls lost. LeBron quit against Boston in the conference semifinals. LeBron quit against the Magic in the conference finals. Kobe lost to the Celtics in the finals. Dirk exited in the first round against the 8 seed Warriors. Nash was upset by the 4 seed Mavericks in the conference finals. Nash was steamrolled by the Spurs in the conference finals. KG was handled by Shaq and Kobe and upset by the 5 seed Lakers in the first round. Duncan delivered a championship. Duncan was bounced in the semifinals by the lower seeded Lakers. Iverson lost in the finals to the Lakers. Shaq delivered hardware. So there's the list. Two guys delivered rings. Two other guys led their team to the finals. The rest all flamed out.

LeBron James has the chance to become like Wilt Chamberlain and Moses Malone. Moses won his third MVP in a five year stretch, and his second in a row during the '83 season. Moses left the Rockets via free agency after his '82 MVP season and he carried the '83 Sixers in a sweep versus the Lakers for a championship. Similar to Moses, LeBron has been dominant in a recent span, and he also left via free agency to join another team and win MVP. Then there's the Wilt comparison. Wilt won his third MVP in '67. At the time, Wilt had no hardware. That season, Wilt led the Sixers past the Warriors for his first NBA championship. Wilt also knocked off the Celtics in the conference finals and ended their streak of eight consecutive championships. Maybe Wilt and LeBron aren't all that different. Both are absolute freaks of nature. Both are bigger, faster, and stronger than everyone else in their era. Both filled up the stat sheets. Both famously failed. Wilt couldn't defeat Russell. LeBron can't defeat himself. What peer is Wilt's-Russell to LeBron? No one. The only guy in the way is in his head. Maybe this will be the season that LeBron captures that first ring and shuts up many, many critics. I won't be one of them. Not until LeBron wins at least two rings. Three is more impressive and noteworthy, but two reminds us that the first one wasn't just a fluke.

With the MVP usually not capitalizing on greatness, will this be the season that the trend stops? Who knows? All I know is that LeBron is very talented, is on the best team in the East, and is a three time MVP. The rest is up to the Heat. History says the MVP won't win the championship.

Maybe the NBA MVP isn't really all that valuable of an award.

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