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?” )

Irving’s 47 lead Celtics past Mavericks to maintain streak

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DALLAS (AP) — Kyrie Irving scored 10 of his season-high 47 points in overtime as the Boston Celtics rallied once again from a double-digit deficit to beat the Dallas Mavericks 110-102 on Monday night and extend their winning streak to 16 games.

The Mavericks led by as many as 13 points in the fourth quarter, but as they have several times during their winning streak, the Celtics stormed back.

The winning streak ties the fourth-longest in Celtics history.

Boston tied the game at 96 when Irving stole the ball from Dirk Nowitzki and fed Jayson Tatum for an alley-oop lay-up that hung on the rim for a full second before dropping through.

Irving scored his team’s first six points of overtime. Then after Jaylen Brown gave Boston a 104-102 lead with a jumper with 1:39 to play, Irving went to work on Yogi Ferrell, backing him down and drawing contact on a lay-up with 48.5 seconds to play. Though Irving missed the free throw to keep the score 106-102, Dallas never got closer.

Harrison Barnes scored 31 points and Wesley Matthews had 18 for Dallas, which came back from an early double-digit deficit as the Celtics went cold for much of the second and third quarters.

Irving and Barnes had chances in the final 30 seconds but both missed shots that would have given their teams the lead.

The Mavericks fell behind by as many as 15 points in the first half, outscoring the Celtics 55-35 over the second and third quarters.

Dallas took its biggest lead of the game when Yogi Ferrell fed a cutting Dwight Powell for a lay-up to make it 87-74 with 7:47 to play before the Celtics rallied.

Boston shot just 10-for-34 over the two middle quarters after building the early lead.

 

DeMarcus Cousins ejected after elbowing Russell Westbrook in head

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DeMarcus Cousins‘ history of flagrant fouls certainly didn’t help him here, but if anyone elbows a guy in the head, he’s going to get tossed.

And that’s what Cousins did here.

Midway through the third quarter in New Orleans, Cousins blocked a putback attempt by Russell Westbrook, then grabbed the rebound. Westbrook tried to reach in across Cousins’ body for the steal, and Cousins cleared out space with his elbow — right to Westbrook’s head. Cousins walked around saying “no, no, no” afterward, and he likely thinks the officials had it out for him here because he was just getting a guy off him, but we go back to the original point — elbow a guy in the head, get tossed. The league is cracking down on blows above the neck. Westbrook did not leave the game.

The Pelicans went on to come from 19 down to win the game 114-107, behind 36 points and 15 boards from Anthony Davis.

Damn, Paul George with the in-game bounce pass alley-oop to Jerami Grant

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The game has been close (as of midway through the third quarter), but that didn’t stop Oklahoma City from putting on a show in New Orleans.

Paul George had the ball on a 2-on-0 fast break and decided to throw the playground bounce-pass alley-oop, which Jerami Grant got up and finished with authority. This could be one of the dunks of the year.

We’re going to see that highlight for a while.

Jusuf Nurkic’s agent says big man wants to stay in Portland this summer

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Last season, after his trade from frustrated backup big in Denver to new starter in Portland, there was a honeymoon — the Blazers went 14-6, their defense was better, and Nurkic was a big man setting big picks for quick guards in Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum.

This season the honeymoon is over, things have been up and down, but far from time to say the marriage should end, as he is a free agent next summer. Nurkic is the only real starting center on the roster (even if coach Terry Stotts left him on the bench in the fourth quarter in favor of Ed Davis a few games back). Nurkic is averaging 14.6 points and 7.2 rebounds a game, and the Blazers’ defense is 1.5 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court. However, his effort level has been up and down, and his shot is off, with a true shooting percentage of just 49.4, and he is shooting just 56.6 percent in the restricted area.

Nurkic wants to stay in Portland, his agent told Ben Golliver in a story at Sports Illustrated (that story is worth the read for the Nurkic origin story, which is amazing).

“I feel like the Blazers are very happy with Jusuf and Jusuf is very happy there,” Tesch, the agent, told The Crossover by telephone this week. “We had some [extension] talks but we decided to play it out this year and engage in talks again in July. He has already proven that he can help the team. There is a fit for Jusuf in Portland and he’s looking to stay there long-term.”

The two sides talked extension before the season, but Portland understandably wanted to make sure there was more to this relationship than just a honeymoon. It gave Nurkic a chance to drive up his asking price.

Portland and Nurkic likely will find a long-term deal next summer because it just makes sense for both sides. There are not a lot of teams with max free agent money next summer (4-6, I was told by an insider), or a lot of money to spend in general, and both DeAndre Jordan and DeMarcus would be centers on the market who rank ahead of Nurkic. Portland will offer more than other free agent destinations, if not as much as Nurkic dreamed of, and they will find common ground.

But there is a lot of season to play out before then. The Blazers feel like a team that should be better than its record so far, and Nurkic is part of that untapped potential. If things change, that’s good for Nurkic — and the Blazers.