Jason Terry, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo

PBT Extra: Atlantic Division preview… this is one deep division

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It’s back — PBT Extra has returned just in time to start doing some division previews for the NBA season.

Matt Stroup and I start off our run of previews in the Atlantic, which is as deep a division as there is in the NBA. There are playoff teams and the Raptors are going to be better than people think.

Boston should still be the class of the group — their off-season acquisitions of Jason Terry and Courtney Lee should make them a tough team to beat in the regular season. The Knicks should be good but they have to show they can fit all the pieces together, the Nets will score points but defense is a question, and the Sixers have some good young players that need to take the next step forward this season.

I still think four teams in this division will finish within five games of each other at the end of the season. Health and some lucky breaks will determine who wins and who faces the tougher playoff seedings.

Keep your eyes out, over the next couple of weeks we will preview every division in the NBA on PBT Extra.

James Harden: “I am the best player in the league. I believe that.”

James Harden, Stephen Curry
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James Harden was the MVP last season — if you ask his fellow NBA players.

The traditional award (based on a media vote) went to Stephen Curry (in the closest vote in four years), and that was the right call (in my mind). But from the time it happened Harden did not buy it. And he still doesn’t buy it. In the least — and he’s using that as fuel for this season. That’s what he told Fran Blinebury over at NBA.com.

“I am the best player in the league. I believe that,” he said. “I thought I was last year, too.”

Well, it’s a more realistic claim than Paul George’s.

“But that award means most valuable to your team. We finished second in the West, which nobody thought we were going to do at the beginning of the year even when everybody was healthy. We were near the top in having the most injuries. We won our division in a division where every single team made the playoffs.

“There’s so many factors. I led the league in total points scored, minutes played. Like I said, I’m not taking anything away from Steph, but I felt I deserved the Most Valuable Player. That stays with me.”

That’s very Kobe Bryant of you to turn that into fuel. Defining the MVP Award is an annual discussion that nobody agrees on.

I could get into how Harden was the old-school, traditional stats MVP, how that ignores how Steve Kerr used Curry, and how that opened up the Warriors’ offense to championship levels. Curry put up numbers, but he was also the distraction, the bright star that Kerr used to open up looks for Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and others. Curry’s strength was not just what he did with the ball in his hands, but his gravity to draw defenders even when he didn’t. Did the Warriors stay healthier than the Rockets? No doubt. Should Curry be penalized for that?

It’s simple for Harden — if he can put up those numbers again, if he can be the fulcrum of a top offense, he will be in the discussion for MVP again. And, if he can lead the Rockets beyond the conference finals, nobody will talk about that MVP snub anyway.