Amare Stoudemire

Sorry, New York, but Stoudemire is no MVP. Rose either.

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We all want to be smart, clever, cutting edge. Nobody wants to give the tired, same old answer. Even if it’s the right one.

Ask “experts” and fans who the best player in the NBA is and they’ll talk about how Player X is better than LeBron James. Kobe has more rings and finishes better, Durant has taken his scoring mantle, etc. Sorry, but the answer is LBJ. Has been for a few seasons now. Nobody is forcing you to like LeBron, but respect the game.

The same theory holds with the MVP discussion. We don’t want to state the obvious few guys because they don’t show us as forward thinking. We seem staid and boring saying LeBron should have a third straight MVP.

So we fall in love with the new guy and their fresh narrative. We sell their story. Amar’e Stoudemire has brought the Knicks back to relevance, carrying all of Manhattan on his broad shoulders, so he should be MVP. Derrick Rose has made this Bulls team the best since you know who, so he is in the MVP discussion.

Sorry, no.

Both Rose and Stoudemire are having genuinely fantastic seasons, they deserve truckloads of praise. Neither should have to buy a dinner in their respective cities. But MVP is another discussion entirely. Neither of them should be in that discussion once it gets serious.

Here’s the thing about Stoudemire — he’s the same player now he was in Phoenix. The numbers are close. Go ahead and point out he is scoring three more points per game than he was in Phoenix and I’ll note his shooting percentage — traditional and true shooting percentage — is down. Yes, he’s scoring three more points per game but he’s taking four more shots to do it.

Spare me the “defenses are focusing on him now” bit — if you think that defenses didn’t plan for him in Phoenix, you didn’t watch any of their games.

Which is kind of the point — Stoudemire was great in Phoenix but never got credit because people weren’t watching and too many of those that were became captivated by Steve Nash. Again, not to bash Nash, but he drew some of the attention that rightfully belonged to Stoudemire. Now, Stoudemire is getting that adulation on the big stage.

He has lifted the Knicks up to… average. The Knicks are not a good team folks, they’re just no longer craptastic. Credit Stoudemire for that — but that is very different than the MVP discussion. And you’d be shortchanging Raymond Felton. The truth of the campaign is that Stoudemire is New York’s favorite son and so all these Knick fans — including my bosses, so enjoy this column because I am biting the hand that feeds me — think he is now deserving of the league’s highest honors. No. He didn’t change, the Knicks changed a little with him and Felton. Stoudemire is not even having his best season (07-08).

As for Rose, you can make a better case for him — he is having his best season (of three, but still) and the Bulls are on the bubble of contender in the East. So he passes those criteria.

But Rose is also doing that in part because the team around him is better. The real MVP of the Bulls is Tom Thibodeau and his ability to coach defense. Then there are the  comparisons: Rose is undoubtedly good, but he is not as efficient a player other elite team leaders such as LeBron or Dwyane Wade. Chris Paul has a true shooting percentage of 60.4, LeBron is 57.7, Rose is closer to the league average at 53.8.  He’s about the same in terms of usage as Kevin Durant but not nearly as efficient a scorer. Rohan broke it all down well right here, I will not rehash it.

As Tom Ziller points out, the Durant of last season is a good comparison for Rose now because the casual basketball fan base is falling in love with his game for the first time, hence the glowing stories like Rick Riley’s on espn.com. The “he’s a good person, we love his game” meme. Which all may be true, but that is different than an MVP discussion. For me MVP should be about efficiently leading your team to a higher place than they could go without you. Rose and Stoudemire both do that to a degree, but others do it better.

The problem is the NBA issues no guidelines on how to define MVP. Best player in the league? Best player on the best team? Guy who meant the most to his team? Best player to make a rap video cameo? You can define it however you wish.

In the absence of direction, many NBA writers are drawn to the guys with narratives. Writers like stories. We do. Here’s the thing: We’re like the rest of you — we want our job to be easier. Guys who come with their own narratives attached make our jobs easier. So many in the media root for those storylines. Guy changes the fortunes of New York/Chicago makes a great story.

It does not make an MVP.

To be fair, here are the three guys at the top of my list right now. Feel free to tell me how inadequate they are:

Chris Paul. The Hornets stunk last year and are good this year — 30-16 and currently riding the longest winning streak in the league. What’s the difference? CP3 is healthy. (And Monty Williams deserves a nod here in part). Paul is the best point guard in the game — you may be wrong, Barkley — and he somehow gets undervalued. He can shoot or dish like Nash. He carries this offense. He has lifted his team farther than any other player this season and done it efficiently.

LeBron James. Best player in the Association on one of its elite teams. Sure, he’s the same guy as the last two seasons, but that guy was MVP.

Dirk Nowitzki. If you’re one of those who say you can tell how good a player is by his absence from his team, then Nowitzki is your guy. Remember that Dallas was 24-5 (largely against a tough schedule of above .500 teams) while Nowitzki was shooting 55 percent (a career best) before his injury. He left and the team collapsed. What hurts his candidacy is what has happened since his return, which is unimpressive.

Thunder beat Pelicans; teams mourn Ingrid Williams’ death

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Basketball didn’t matter much to Kevin Durant on Thursday night.

Thunder assistant coach Monty Williams’ wife, Ingrid, was involved in a car crash Tuesday night in Oklahoma City and died Wednesday. Monty Williams coached the Pelicans last season before coming to Oklahoma City to help new coach Billy Donovan, so as his two most recent teams met, both played with heavy hearts. A moment of silence was observed before the Thunder’s 121-95 victory.

Durant was distraught earlier in the day while discussing the situation after the team’s shootaround, and he said it remained fresh in his mind after the game.

“We love the game so much, but that’s not really what’s important,” Durant said. “It’s definitely something that we love to do, but relationships, family – those things – that’s what’s most important in life, not the latest trends or the fashion world or all that stuff. It’s cool and all that stuff, but the stuff that lasts forever is relationships, family and love.”

Donovan wasn’t sure how his team would deal with all that happened. Durant scored 23 points, Russell Westbrook had 23 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds, and Serge Ibaka added 18 points.

“I really appreciated all of our guys, the way they all have handled a really difficult situation these past 24 hours and being able to go out and play,” Donovan said.

Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday each scored 23 points for the Pelicans. Davis, who was emotional on Twitter after learning of the death, still was disappointed in the way the Pelicans played.

“We’ve got to go out there and still compete,” he said. “Go out there and play. We had a job to do tonight.”

Oklahoma City has won 14 of 16 heading into the All-Star break to join Golden State and San Antonio as the only teams with at least 40 wins. The Thunder don’t feel much needs to change to compete for the title.

“No switch-up, just enhance and get better at what we do.”

The Thunder led 62-53 at halftime behind 18 points from Westbrook and 17 from Durant.

Westbrook got his 10th assist on Ibaka’s 3-pointer that gave the Thunder a 79-65 lead. He had his ninth rebound with just under 3 minutes to go in the third quarter before heading to the bench for his usual rest and the Thunder ahead 86-68. Oklahoma City led 95-74 at the end of the third quarter.

Oklahoma City’s backups expanded the lead early in the fourth quarter, and Westbrook didn’t return.

“I don’t know what we can take out of it other than we competed like crazy in the first half,” New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry said. “Tried like crazy in the second half, but when they got separation, it was really difficult.”

The Thunder found an escape from pain through playing.

“Basketball, the effect it has, it allows you to forget about things a little bit, and it also brings you together as a group,” Durant said. “Thankful for that.”

 

TIP-INS

Pelicans: Shot 53.5 percent from the field in the first half, but just 43.2 percent for the game. … Were outrebounded 50-31 … Committed just nine turnovers. … Norris Cole scored 15 points.

Thunder: Shot 52.3 percent from the field. … Thunder G Andre Roberson remained out with a right knee sprain. … Anthony Morrow scored 10 points. … Enes Kanter finished with 11 points and 12 rebounds.

 

Bucks go into All-Star break with 99-92 win over Wizards

MILWAUKEE, WI - FEBRUARY 11: Khris Middleton #22 of the Milwaukee Bucks drives to the hoop for two points during the first quarter against the Washington Wizards at BMO Harris Bradley Center on February 11, 2016 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images)  *** Local Caption *** Khris Middleton
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MILWAUKEE (AP) — Khris Middleton scored 27 points, Giannis Antetokounmpo had 17 points and 13 rebounds, and the Milwaukee Bucks held off the Washington Wizards 99-92 on Thursday night.

Middleton scored 14 points in the final quarter, giving the Wizards trouble off the dribble and from the perimeter.

Washington got within three when John Wall made two free throws with 1:36 left. But Middleton answered again, hitting a jumper in the lane on the next possession before setting up a drive-and-dish to Greg Monroe that gave the Bucks a 97-90 lead with 15 seconds left. Middleton tied a season high with nine assists.

Bradley Beal scored 19 points for the Wizards, and Wall had 15 points and 10 assists.

The Wizards go into the All-Star break 3-7 in their last 10 games.

The Bucks will take a modest but badly-needed two-game winning streak into the break. At 22-32, Milwaukee needs to inch back closer to .500 before it can start thinking about making a run at a second straight playoff appearance.

At least the Bucks gained confidence from the win after the lead see-sawed much of the night against Washington.

Sparked by better defense, the Wizards rallied from an 11-point deficit late in the second quarter to turn it into a tight contest after halftime.

Milwaukee used a 25-5 surge in an eight-minute span to help build a 55-44 lead with 45 seconds left in the second quarter. Jabari Parker scored 12 points during that quarter, when the Bucks made their run using primarily a three-guard lineup that attacked with the ball.

Middleton made the clutch plays in the end to spark the win.

TIP-INS

Washington: Wall had his 30th double-double of the season. … The Wizards went 0 of 10 from the field with three turnovers during the Bucks’ second-quarter run.

Milwaukee: Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry is taking part in the All-Star celebrity game Friday in Toronto. Asked before the game if the boss was ready, coach Jason Kidd said with a straight face: “That’s a very good question. We’ll see if he needs the asthma inhaler.” … O.J. Mayo was assessed a flagrant foul after Washington’s Otto Porter Jr. fell hard to the floor on a layup attempt with 10 minutes left in the third quarter.

 

Report: Some Warriors executives believe Golden State will sign Kevin Durant

Oklahoma City Thunder's Kevin Durant (35) loses the ball next to Golden State Warriors' Marreese Speights during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016, in Oakland, Calif. The Warriors won 116-108. (AP Photo/George Nikitin)
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An NBA general manager reportedly believes Kevin Durant will sign with the Warriors.

That general manager, unless it was Bob Myers in the first place, has company.

Chris Broussard of ESPN on Durant:

There are people in Golden State that think they’re getting him.

People in management, and I think some players, too.

Blind optimism? Definitely possible.

Echo-chamber participation? Totally conceivable.

Genuine insight? Also believable.

It’s that last possibility that makes this so intriguing. Durant has reportedly researched the Bay Area, and why shouldn’t that include back-channel talks between his people and the Warriors? Golden State definitely could have legitimate reason to believe Durant is coming.

One reason this is so important: The Warriors don’t have enough cap space to re-sign Durant. What lengths they’ll travel to clear it depends on their perceived odds of signing him.

Whether or not Golden State actually gets Durant – count me in the camp that believes he hasn’t made a decision – this belief he’ll sign with the Warriors could definitely influence the rest of their offseason and maybe even smaller moves before the trade deadline.

Shaq, Yao, Iverson look to take next step to Hall of Fame

LOS ANGELES - DECEMBER 25:  Yao Ming #11 of the Houston Rockets posts up Shaquille O'Neal #34 of the Los Angeles Lakers on December 25, 2003 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California.  The Rockets won 99-87.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)
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TORONTO (AP) Shaquille O’Neal should be a lock. Yao Ming and Allen Iverson could join him.

Two larger-than-life big men and one of basketball’s most exciting little guys highlight the list of players, coaches and contributors who are eligible for induction this year into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

O’Neal and Iverson must get past an extra step by first being chosen as finalists Friday at a press conference during the NBA’s All-Star weekend festivities. If they do, they would then require 18 votes from the 24-member Honors Committee, as do all nominees from the North American and Women’s Committees.

But Yao was nominated by the Hall’s International Committee, recognized as much for his impact in the growth of basketball in his native China as his play in the NBA. That committee elects players directly to the Hall.

The class of 2016 will be unveiled April 4 in Houston on the day of the NCAA championship game, and the enshrinement ceremony is set for Sept. 9 in Springfield, Massachusetts.

O’Neal, Yao and Iverson earned a chance to be a part of it after a recent rule change that made players eligible for nomination after four full seasons of retirement. Previously, they had to wait five years, which meant they were actually six years removed from their playing days by the time they could take their place in the birthplace of basketball.

O’Neal won four NBA championships, an MVP award and is in the league’s top 10 in career scoring. Iverson, just 6-feet tall, won four scoring titles and was the league’s MVP in 2001, when his 48-performance for Philadelphia in Game 1 of the NBA Finals handed O’Neal’s Lakers their only loss of the most dominant postseason in NBA history.

Yao doesn’t have as impressive a resume, his career cut short by multiple foot injuries. But the 7-foot-6 center lasted long enough to make an enormous impact on and off the court after being selected No. 1 overall in 2002.

A look at some others who could be Springfield-bound in September:

JERRY KRAUSE: On the 20th anniversary of the Chicago Bulls compiling the best record in NBA history, perhaps it’s time to honor the executive who was one of the architects of the six-time champions?

TOM IZZO: The way he consistently gets his Michigan State teams to peak in March, don’t be surprised if he’s got a game to coach in Houston when the class he should be in appears during Final Four weekend.

SHERYL SWOOPES: The first player signed by the WNBA went on to win three MVP awards and four championships in the league, but it was her 47-point performance in leading Texas Tech to the 1993 NCAA championship that many think of first when talking about one of the greats of women’s basketball.

MARV ALBERT: Already a Hall of Famer as a broadcaster, Albert, like Krause, is now nominated by the Contributor Committee that directly elects to the Hall. Should he be honored again? As Albert might exclaim while calling a game, “YES!!”

DARELL GARRETSON: He officiated more than 2,000 games in the NBA and spent 17 years as the league’s chief of officiating. There aren’t many easy calls for referees, but this seems an easy call about one.