LeBron James and an award we’ve made hollow

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For just about anyone else winning the NBA’s Most Valuable Award would be a good thing, with no downside. It’s an award that carries legitimate weight, not just in terms of current cultural cache, but longer-lasting greatness in the context of a player’s legacy. It should be cause for celebration.

But for LeBron James, it’s somehow another reflection of his failures, another illustration of what he’s not.

To be clear, James was the winner of the award as the AP reported Friday for good reason. He put in not the most efficient season of his career, or the most statistically significant. It wasn’t his best season defensively, he wasn’t the best player on the best team (a terrible way to decide the award) , and he certainly didn’t carry his team further than the other candidates given his sparkling supporting cast.

But for James, this was his most impactful season. You saw him everywhere, and you saw him controlling the game. Running the offense, finishing on the break, blocking chase downs, locking up the best perimeter players, locking up the best post players, playing in the post on offense, hitting shots on the outside. Even his fourth quarter foibles took a step up in the last month of the season. There should be nothing but celebration and praise for James’ play.

But there won’t be. There will, however, be a lot of this.

“That’s OK, LeBron, but where are your rings?”

and

“Individual MVPs don’t make champions.”

As if James, who did not lobby for this award, who did not ask for his third in four years, who never insinuated that this award means anything other than the respect of the voters, asked to be held by this standard, to be anointed as champion based on winning a Kia. I get it. The “Chosen One” tattoo. The King moniker which is as much a Nike marketing ploy as anything. There’s no doubting it’s obnoxious. But the bitterness surrounding what has truly been a magnificent season is still shocking.

James was voted the league’s most valuable player, but in his context, it means something entirely different. It would be a pain to fit on the trophy, but “Most Valuable Player despite a considerable portion of the voters  hating him and deliberately withholding votes last year based on his decision to hold a televised event regarding his free agency which probably also impacted this year’s vote and in  spite of a stunning revilement of the idea of going to play with the best of your peers in a league featuring six teams with multiple stars angling for a title in the playoffs” is a bit more accurate. James didn’t just win the vote this year, he won the vote despite people’s intentions.

If there was a way for the voters not to vote for James in good conscience, they would have found it. This isn’t to say Kevin Durant wasn’t worthy. He most certainly was. But if anything, this award should impress you more. He managed to have people basically say “Look, I don’t like it, but he really was the best/most impactful/most outstanding/most valuable basketball player this season.” That’s a pretty impressive accomplishment. And yet it won’t be held as such. It only makes the pressure greater. It’s like throwing bits of cheese on top of Kilimanjaro, but that’s not the point. Winning MVP isn’t validation for James, it’s just another indictment. “You won the individual award, but what about the championship which we always say is about the team unless we’re debating your legacy in which case you need to single-handedly do everything at all times?”

And here’s the kicker. I’m not even complaining that it’s not fair. It is fair. Well, maybe not fair, but it’s simply how this gig works. It’s the price for that “great life” he talked about after the Game 6 loss last year in the Finals. This is what comes with having James’ gift. He’s the most gifted athlete of our time, and his failures, while pretty understandable and relatively on track with that one guy who we stupidly compare everyone to, are undeniable. The rings, they have not come. And so James will accept another trophy, another car to donate to charity, the accolades and backhanded compliments that come with it.

And if he does manage to win a ring, becoming one of the few over the past twenty years to win MVP and the title in the same season?

Well, then, that’s a whole other conversation we’re going to have to have.

(Side note: There’s also a lot of this today: “Just saying, LeBron! Very few players have won the title the same year they won MVP!” as if one thing had anything to do with the other. What, are the voters failing to elect the right person because he doesn’t win the title? Does the real best, or most valuable, or most exceptional, or most whatever you want to call him player always win the title? Was the MVP Dirk Nowitzki last year? Or Kobe Bryant in a comparatively down season in 2010? How about Dwyane Wade in 2006? Furthermore, is that supposed to spook James? Not that he reads the random twitter babbling of idiots, but if he did, is he really going to say “Oh, man, trying to beat Kevin Garnett and the Celtics who have expelled me from the playoffs every season but last when Rajon Rondo was injured and the Spurs/Thunder/Lakers is one thing, but having to win despite a correlation with absolutely no causation that’s occurred, that’s real pressure?” )

Report: Otis Smith withdraws from Kings’ job search

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The Kings need to replace Scott Perry – an important vacancy in what has been a clownish front office run by Vlade Divac and overseen by Vivek Ranadive.

Sacramento won’t be hiring Otis Smith, the former Magic general manager who met with the Kings.

Brad Turner of the Los Angeles Times:

https://twitter.com/BA_Turner/status/891002351594622976

I wouldn’t beat up the Kings about this. They quite possibly chose not to hire Smith and allowed it be framed this way as a favor to him – a fairly common courtesy.

But that the Kings were even considering Smith, despite all his failings in Orlando, doesn’t bode well for their search.

Kevin Durant breaks Guinness world record in India

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NEW DELHI (AP) Kevin Durant is in India to help the NBA make inroads in a nation of 1.3 billion.

Durant took part in a camp in New Delhi, where the Golden State Warriors star helped set a Guinness world record Friday for the largest basketball lesson – 3,459 participants across multiple venues. The NBA Finals MVP met young players at the NBA Academy, with hundreds more joining by satellite from four other cities across the country.

Durant’s first trip to India is the latest move by the league to grow the game there, much as it is doing in China.

The academy opened in May to train some of the country’s top talents. Since 2008, the NBA has staged more than 1,500 events in 30 Indian cities.

Clippers sound like they’re pulling out of Kyrie Irving trade pursuit

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The six teams – Spurs, Clippers, Suns, Timberwolves, Knicks, Heat – that have reportedly proposed trades to the Cavaliers for Kyrie Irving are falling by the wayside, one by one.

The Heat denied making an offer. And it sounds as if the Clippers’ offer is leading them out of the chase.

Brad Turner of the Los Angeles Clippers:

The Clippers have DeAndre Jordan, who has made All-NBA teams in the last three years. They also have Patrick Beverley whose dogged defense and quality spot-up 3-point shooting would fit well with LeBron James, and Beverley would be a lower-paid replacement for Irving at point guard. Their only player on a rookie-scale contract is Brice Johnson, who has disappointed. But they can still trade their 2022 and 2024 first-rounders, theoretically one to Cleveland and one to get a rookie-scale player already in the league.

Jordan would be a bad fit in a frontcourt that already includes Tristan Thompson, Kevin Love and LeBron. But it seems a three-team trade could work.

Alas, if the Clippers have resigned themselves to not finding a three-team trade, that matters much more than whether one is plausible.

Kyrie Irving confidant, reportedly: "He’s saying he’s not about to let LeBron ‘SON’ him"

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In the wake of Kyrie Irving‘s trade request – clearly a reaction to LeBron James – I’ve often thought about the above video.

A reporter asked Irving how LeBron has been like a father to him. A clearly flabbergasted Irving responds: “He’s been a great leader for us. I wouldn’t – I have one father. That’s my dad, Drederick Irving.”

LeBron never called himself Irving’s father. LeBron didn’t direct the reporter to ask Irving that question.

But LeBron’s presence, his leadership, how he presents his leadership all led the reporter down that road. Even if LeBron, like the rest of us, would’ve cringed at the question, the mere fact that he plays on the same team as Irving made it so Irving was put into that awkward position.

So, there may or may not be personal animosity between Irving and LeBron. There could still be a disconnect between the Cavaliers’ biggest stars.

Stephen A. Smith of The Undefeated:

“Kyrie isn’t saying he’s better than LeBron and should be seen that way,” a close confidant of Irving’s told me. “He’s saying he’s not about to let LeBron ‘SON’ him … treating him like he’s the child and LeBron’s the father or big brother he’s supposed to look up to.

“Kyrie knows he’s a franchise-caliber talent. He wants to be treated like it. And he’s tired of hearing about what LeBron needs, and he’s damn sure tired of hearing LeBron sound like he always needs more. As if the crew they have isn’t enough.”

Is this about LeBron repeatedly saying the Cavs needed another point guard last season? He was clearly talking about a backup for Irving, not replacing Irving. Perhaps, Irving or someone close to him took it differently?

Or maybe LeBron makes even more noise behind the scenes about needing more.

He doesn’t have enough – not to have a reasonable chance of beating these Warriors. Irving and Kevin Love lead a strong supporting cast, but Golden State is one of the greatest teams of all time. For LeBron to win another title, he needs more. I don’t blame LeBron for pushing for it.

I also understand that – and so much else of what LeBron naturally invites – wearing on Irving.