NBA MVP: LeBron being denied unanimous win means it's time for a change

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Well, the worst kept secret of the year is out, and LeBron has his second MVP award.

We could wax on here about his season, the dominant play from baseline to baseline, the chasedown blocks, the versatility, the improved shooting numbers across the floor, the physical prowess, the, well, everything. LeBron James is the best player in the NBA, and it’s clear.

Or at least it should be.

Look, it’s a subjective award, and there are a million ways to interpret its parameters. Best player. Best player on best team. Most outstanding player. Most valuable to his team’s success. Greatest impact on the floor. However you want to interpret it. And at the end of the day, it’s just an award, and doesn’t mean much to those without a ring.

But if we’re going to hold this award up as a symbol of respect, to recognize what is widely accepted outside of NBA-centric circles as an indication of the best basketball player on the planet for a given season, the NBA and its media partners need to give the voting process the respect it deserves.

116 out of the 122 voters plus the 1 vote by the fans through online vote voted for LeBron James in first place. The other seven? They constitute a viable line of reasoning for a revamping of the vote process.

There are plenty of reasons why these seven voters elected to vote the way they did. Some of the votes were likely the result of something our own Ira Winderman touched on a few days ago, namely that many of these votes go to team personnel (radio and television play-by-play), and many to beat writers who only see one team consistently.

But if we truly want to have the best voting process we can, we’re going to need to make changes to who votes and how. Many have argued as our Rob Mahoney has that the process needs to open to public record. But I have no doubt that some of the seven would defend their vote publicly if forced to.

After all, FanHouse’s Tim Povtak wrote that James did not deserve the award because he chose to rest in pursuit of a championship. And he backed up that threat. So in this instance we have an agenda-driven vote, if that was the reason Povtak voted for Howard. I respect Povtak tremendously as a writer and value the fact that he and I both write for FanHouse, though my contributions are in a lesser role. Povtak lives and covers Orlando, but the vote was a statement against the act of a player resting to end the regular season. A fine sentiment, but is voting for this award, which helps determine a player’s legacy and Hall of Fame criteria the right forum to take such a stand?  (This is all before you factor in the fact as Kevin Harlan first commented on James’ elbow on April 9th after a regular season game in Chicago, meaning that James’ rest could be considered completely justified.)

In an email, Povtak replied that he genuinely felt that Howard made more of an impact at both ends of the floor, and as it is not solely an offensive award, he felt like Howard was the best vote. If that’s honestly how Povtak thought, given the attention he gives to the entire league, it’s a valid one. The possibility that such a vote could have been cast, though, remains a dangerous possibility given the impact the award has on a player’s legacy.

Even if you feel that James’ resting of the regular season was “cowardly,” surely the phenomenal season he had, the impact on the Cavaliers, his position as best player on the best team record-wise, his performance in the clutch, and astounding numbers would lead you to vote otherwise… IF the vote itself was more valuable than what you say with it. But as it currently stands, the league takes a very hands-off approach.

It doles out the votes to PR departments and lets them decide. And in doing so, they allow for the voters to vote based on whatever criteria they wish. If they want to vote based on the fact that they don’t feel players over 7 feet should be considered, they can. And did, apparently, give the fact that only 86 voters had Dwight Howard in the top three. They can vote to simply get a guy some recognition, as one voter did with Stephen Jackson as a fifth place vote. Manu Ginobili received a fourth place vote.

To be honest, I don’t see any problem with making your fifth choice based on whatever criteria you decide. The top vote is what matters most, obviously. And the second and third can really be the difference. If after voting for the four players who you honestly and objectively saw as the MVP, feel free to lobby for whatever unheralded player you’d like. But those top votes? They need to be for the players you decided was the best by whatever measure you chose, and not influenced by personal bias or agenda. You want to throw someone a single point vote? Go for it. But those top five need to be based on the evidence of who was the best, by whatever measure you choose. You want the MVP to remain subjective? Use whatever criteria you want. But any reasonable criteria still would have resulted with the selection of LeBron James this year. I say this as a someone who most often elects to pull for the underdog and who rarely agrees with the consensus.

Maybe the writers genuinely felt that LeBron wasn’t best. After all, David Steele went that route,  But then, almost all of his reasons are easily applicable to LeBron. And while Dwight Howard is a better defender than James, the gap between Dwight’s offense and LeBron’s is far wider than that between James’ defense and Howard’s, particularly when Howard is fouling his way to the bench every thirty five seconds.

But I digress. If you honestly felt that James wasn’t the MVP, you’re likely responding to local bias, but at least you’re not acting in the pursuit of something other than the correct selection of the MVP. If you feel another player deserves attention for his contributions, feel free to make such a selection as the fifth vote. But don’t confuse “underrated MVP” with “actual MVP as in the real MVP who should win the MVP.”

The issue is that if you are granted a vote in the MVP race, even though it’s a subjective award, it does have enough of an impact on a career to warrant giving the vote the consideration it deserves. And that requires considerable knowledge of the entire league, and an honest act without bias. Is it possible that those that live and work with Orlando covering the Magic simply thought Howard was superior having watched him night in and out? Absolutely. But isn’t it more likely that if the writers were to reside in the state of Ohio that their votes might differ?

It’s also interesting the gap that exists between those that work every day, focused on a particular team, but absorbed in basketball, and those who devote their free time to the league. As an example, when queried on Twitter, the author of Orlando Pinstriped Post, an Orlando Magic blog that receives over 100,000 pageviews per month as part of SBNation said that if given a vote, he would have voted LeBron first.  So an author of a blog with no professional obligation to maintain objectivity, though it is credentialed, would elect to vote for James. Because he was the
best player.

An
other example is Royce Young of DailyThunder.com, which covers the Thunder. Young covers the Thunder with a fan-centric voice, while carrying out what can only be considered new journalism, with a blogger’s approach through journalism’s lens. And while he authored a thesis for why Durant would be worthy of an MVP vote, he also concurred, the vote must be for James

This isn’t conclusive proof by any means, but it’s an indication that while blogs continue to be considered beneath certain members of the media, it may be time to consider their inclusion in the voting process. Kelly Dwyer of Ball Don’t Lie was recently given a vote, in a rare stroke of progressiveness towards internet media. The core of this is that the votes should be given to those who have a deep respect and interest in authentically selecting the Most Valuable Player. There’s nothing wrong with not considering the vote that big of a deal, what with life’s demands, and a grueling grind of a job. But the vote itself has to maintain legitimacy, and to do that, not only must bias be removed from consideration (while subjective opinion remains), but a full and complete perspective of the league and its players must be factored in.

Another part of Winderman’s argument was that there are only so many people who can be given votes, and as a result, some may not value the result of the voting as much as the power of their own vote. But in this day and age, with so many more intelligent writers contributing to the discussion and anlaysis of basketball, is it possible that it’s time for an overhaul of the voting system? Do we need to rely on people’s whose livelihoods depend on the team?

This is not to say that a blogger such as myself should be given a vote. The arguments against younger, more inexperienced writers are sound ones. And yet, the strengths of experience can be nullified by the tunnel vision of team-centrism and professional or moral agenda. There is a middle-ground that must be balanced between experience and perspective. 

This isn’t to say that the system itself is broken. After all, 116 writers did get it right.  And again, it’s not to say that there won’t be variety in voting which is a good thing. A plurality of opinions is a good thing in any field, especially in that of the MVP voting. And both Kevin Durant and Dwight Howard (and sure, why not, third place Kobe Bryant) deserve consideration. They had tremendous seasons and are absolutely worthy of a 2nd or 3rd place vote. But in considering all the facts, given James’ statistical domination by any measure, given the Cavs performance, given his impact at both ends of the floor and the sheer complete nature of his game and the level to which he excels in all those areas, James was the only choice.

Dissenting opinions only carry weight when they’re built from a conviction of truth, not simply to force a sense of controversy or carry an agenda. It’s entirely possible that the seven voters who elected to have James 2nd or 3rd merely carried strong, well reasoned convictions to that end. It’s also likely that they did not.

Change is needed.

Update 12:57AM: Sean Keely of SBNation.com notes that two of Howard’s three first place votes along with Povtak include the above-mentioned David Steele who works for the Magic as does the other voter, John Denton of orlandomagic.com.

Dwight Howard on Hornets’ coach Clifford: “It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you”

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Dwight Howard‘s game is much better than his reputation among fans.

He’s not the Defensive Player of the Year/All-NBA/MVP candidate level player he was back in Orlando, but Howard is still one of the best rebounders in the game, he’s strong defensively, and he’s an efficient scorer inside. He’s a quality center, if he plays within himself and is used well. His perception as a guy who does not take the game seriously and held back Houston and Atlanta in recent years has validity (he plays better in pick-and-roll than on the move, but wants the ball in the post), but the idea he is trash is flat-out wrong. He’s still good.

Howard wants to change his reputation, rewrite the final chapters of his career, and told Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN that Steve Clifford’s Charlotte Hornets are the place that is going to happen.

“The other places I was, the coaches didn’t really know who I am,” Howard told ESPN. “I think that they had perception of me and ran with it. Cliff knows my game. He knows all the things that I can do. I’m very determined to get back to the top. It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you. They aren’t just saying it; they believe it. It really just pushed me to the limit in workouts: running, training, everything. I want to do more.

“In Orlando, I was getting 13-15 shots a game. Last season, in Atlanta, it was six shot attempts. It looks like I’m not involved in the game. And if I miss a shot, it sticks out because I am not getting very many of them. But I think it’s all opportunity, the system. I haven’t had a system where I can be who I am since I was in Orlando.”

Howard averaged 8.3 field goal attempts per game in Atlanta, which is about five a game below his peak. Last season 75 percent of Howard’s shots came within three feet of the rim — is is not there to space the floor, however, he can still move fairly well off the roll and is a good passer for a big.

Last season, 28 percent of Howard’s possessions came on post ups, and he averaged a pedestrian 0.84 points per possession on those. On the 21 percent of shots he got on a cut, he averaged a very good 1.36 PPP. When he got the ball back as a roll man (again on the move), it was 1.18 PPP. The challenge long has been Howard is better on the move but doesn’t feel involved unless he gets post touches, and if he doesn’t feel involved and engaged he’s not the same player.

Maybe Clifford can make this all work with some older plays where Howard feels comfortable.

Charlotte, with Howard in the paint and on the boards, should get back to being a top 10 NBA defensive team, not the middle of the pack as they were last season. Clifford is better than that as a coach, and Howard is an upgrade in the paint (on both ends). Charlotte should be a playoff team again in the East.

But it all will come back to Howard. Fair or not. And Wojnarowski is right, this is Howard’s last best chance to write the ending he wants to his career.

Friday afternoon fun: Watch James Harden’s 10 best plays from last season

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James Harden had a historic season in Houston.

Since it’s Friday afternoon and your sports viewing options consist of watching guys about to be cut from NFL rosters try to impress, why not check out Harden’s best plays from last season. It’s worth a couple minutes of your time.

Mavericks sign Jeff Withey to one-year contract

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Jeff Withey‘s ex-fiancée accused him of domestic violence, but he was not charged.

That frees him to continue his basketball career, which he’ll do in Dallas.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

The Mavericks could use another center, even if they re-sign Nerlens Noel. Salah Mejri is the only other true center, though Dirk Nowitzki will now play the position.

Withey is a good rim protector. Just don’t ask him to do anything away from the basket.

Dallas annually brings excess players to training camp and has them compete for regular-season roster spots. Whether or not his salary is guaranteed, Withey will likely fall into that competition.

Marc Gasol: If Grizzlies don’t share my goal of continued growth, we might have to revisit things

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The Grizzlies’ Grit & Grind era has ended.

Zach Randolph signed with the Kings, and Tony Allen appears likely to leave Memphis, too. The Grizzlies are prioritizing younger/cheaper players like Ben McLemore and Tyreke Evans.

Marc Gasol via Ala Carta, as translated by HoopsHype:

I’m very ambitious and I’ve wanted Memphis to be a great franchise. We’ve grown a lot the last 6-7 years, but we have to keep growing. If this is not lined up, maybe we may have to revisit things.

Gasol has been loyal to Memphis, and his first wish is probably winning there. But Giannis Antetokounmpo put it well: Teams must also do right by their players. Gasol is 32 and doesn’t have much time in his prime left. I see why rebuilding wouldn’t interest him.

But what will he do about it if the Grizzlies don’t prioritize the present? They made their push last summer with a max contract for Chandler Parsons, but because Parsons can’t stay healthy, that deal only inhibits team growth.

Gasol is locked up for two more years before a player option. He doesn’t have much leverage. This is part of the reason LeBron James keeps signing short-term contracts. Gasol doesn’t have the same ability to steer his team in his desired direction

On the potentially bright side, rebuilding teams often don’t have much use for 32-year-olds guaranteed more than $72 million over the following three years. If the fit devolves, Memphis becomes more likely to trade him.