By the time MVP announced in June ceremony, playoffs will have changed the narrative

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It’s the most anticipated matchup of the first round of the NBA playoffs: Oklahoma City vs. Houston.

Or, more accurately, Russell Westbrook vs. James Harden.

MVP candidate vs. MVP candidate.

Those two have gone back and forth all season, trading monster stat lines and putting up historic numbers, both pushing their teams. It all led to as intense and evenly split MVP debate we have seen in more than a decade, and these two are the frontrunners (although watch Kawhi Leonard is going to get a lot more votes than some people expect).

What happens in this playoff series starting Sunday in Houston will shape the narrative of the MVP debate. If Harden puts up big numbers and the Rockets wipe the Thunder out in five games, The Beard will look like he should run away with the award. If Westbrook puts up four or more triple-doubles in a series that goes seven games, he will look like the MVP when it is done.

And none of it will matter.

That’s because the media voters for the award must have their ballots in by midnight Eastern this Friday. Before this series even tips off.

Also, for the first time the NBA is putting on an awards show, to be broadcast on TNT, where all the league’s end-of-season awards will be handed out in one night. It’s a made for television event similar to what the NFL and NHL have done.

The NBA ceremony is June 26. Two months after the votes were taken.

After the NBA Finals.

After the draft.

When everyone’s minds have turned to free agency, the NBA is going to turn back the clock to the regular season one more time.

As a byproduct of that schedule, by the time the league announces the award winners, the playoffs will have changed how all of us perceive the race.

Fans — and the media members who vote — can’t help but have their perceptions of the season altered by what we all will witness in the playoffs. And not just the Harden vs. Westbrook matchup, it could include Leonard — if he can lead the Spurs to the Western Conference Finals and push (or beat) the Warriors, he will look more and more like the  rightful MVP.

Intellectually voters will be able to say “my vote is a valid one based on the regular season” and they would be right — a vote for Westbrook, Harden, Leonard, or LeBron James is completely justifiable. There is no wrong answer among those four. Today.

But it will feel different by the time we learn who won two months from now.

The league used to roll out its awards over the course of the first round of the playoffs and guys would get the chance to celebrate the awards with their fans. To use the examples of likely winners this season, Giannis Antetokounmpo could receive the Most Improved Player award in front of the Milwaukee fans. Houston fans could celebrate Mike D’Antoni winning Coach of the Year with him.

Not this time — it’s all being packaged for TV.

Which works for the NFL because their awards ceremony falls between the Conference Finals and the Super Bowl — the season just ended one month ago and the interest in the game is near it’s zenith.

But for the NBA, it will all come after the Finals, maybe a couple of weeks after someone hoists the Larry O’Brien trophy (depending on how long it goes). Fans will have turned their focus to if their team can land Blake Griffin or Gordon Hayward or whomever else in free agency for next season, not the long-past regular season anymore.

So remember who you picked for MVP today, because how you may feel in a few weeks may be different — and it will not matter.

Three questions the New York Knicks must answer this season

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The NBC/ProBasketballTalk season previews will ask the questions each of the 30 NBA teams must answer this season to make their season a success. We are looking at one team a day until the start of the season, and it begins with a look back at the team’s offseason moves.

Last season: 31-51, missed the playoffs. Again.

I know what you did last summer: Last weekend, the Carmelo Anthony era came to an end in New York as he was traded to Oklahoma City for Enes Kanter and Doug McDermott (plus a high second-round pick). The Carmelo era came to an end because former team president Phil Jackson poisoned that well, but that and a stupid pissing match with Kristaps Porzingis cost Jackson his job this summer as well. A new front office of Steve Mills and Scott Perry then went out and overpaid for Tim Hardaway Jr., bringing him back to NYC (after the Hawks did the work of developing him). The Knicks also revamped the point guard spot letting Derrick Rose walk and adding Jarrett Jack (free agent) Frank Ntilikina (No. 8 draft pick), and Ramon Sessions (free agent).

THREE QUESTIONS THE KNICKS MUST ANSWER:

1) Kristaps Porzingis, are you ready to lead a team?
Anthony was traded for one primary reason… well two primary reasons: He wanted out, and the Knicks wanted to turn the page and make this entirely Porzingis’ team, getting him out of ‘Melo’s shadow. Well, they got their wish, now it falls to Porzingis to prove he is ready to lead a team — and I don’t mean Latvia in EuroBasket (where he played well, but it’s not the same thing).

Redo the 2015 draft and Porzingis goes second (behind Karl-Anthony Towns), but that is based as much on potential for who he can be as what he has shown for far — and he has shown plenty. Porzingis has all the tools to be an All-NBA player — he can space the floor as a three-point shooter, he’s tougher than people think and can score inside, he’s athletic and can protect the rim — but now he has to put it all together in one improved package. He’s the man, the Knicks are his team, he has to make the plays. And do it consistently. Anthony isn’t isn’t there to stop the ball and jack up shots, particularly in crunch time, now everything should run through KP. He can score, but he needs to improve his passing and playmaking (because they don’t have the point guards to do it this season).

Another part of this is the Knicks need Porzingis to evolve into an elite defender. (Phil Jackson had hoped Joakim Noah would fill that role, paid him $72 million despite injuries and a declining game, and Noah has not been healthy and is the shell of his old self when he was. That contract is now an anchor.) Porzingis has shown some rim-protecting skills, but they need more than a couple blocks from him now, he must quarterback the defense.

Asking Porzingis to be an All-NBA player this season may be a little much (although he should get close), but he should make the All-Star team in a depleted East. If not, the Knicks have bigger issues.

2) Is Tim Hardaway Jr. ready for his turn in the spotlight? The Knicks needed more perimeter scoring, and they went to an old friend — Tim Hardaway Jr. The former Knick had gone to Atlanta and developed under Mike Budenholzer into a quality rotation player who can hit threes (35.7 percent last season), defend on the perimeter, and he had the promise of getting even better at age 25. The Knicks believed in that promise, but to get the restricted free agent they knew they had to come in big. They did, paying $71 million over four years to get him, far more than anyone else was bidding. Even the Hawks walked away. It was one of the more head-shaking contracts of the summer.

Hardaway will get the chance to prove those who questioned his contract wrong. He’s going to get opportunities, he’s going to get touches, and he should put up more than the 14.5 points a game he did last season. Can he remain efficient when taking on a bigger load? Can he and Porzingis develop chemistry? Hardaway got paid, now he has to prove the Knicks didn’t overvalue him.

3) Freed from the triangle, can Jeff Hornacek get a young team to buy into his style? The answer to that question may start with another question: What is Jeff Hornacek’s style? He would be quick to say it is up-tempo, with plenty of ball movement and certainly more three-point shooting.

That, of course, begs another question: Can he run that system without a good point guard? The Knicks drafted Frank Ntilikina, and he shows promise, but he is an 18-year-old raw rookie about to make a massive leap in the level of competition he faces. Don’t expect too much from him this season. Journeyman Ramon Sessions is probably the best playmaker on the roster. If needed, Ron Baker is there at the guard spot (another guy the Knicks dramatically overpaid this summer using the room exception).

The Knicks were middle of the pack team offensively last season (18th in points per possession), playing through the strange on-again off-again triangle hybrid offense they used. Freed from that, the Knicks need to be better on that end, with Hardaway providing the outside to Porzingis’ inside. That has to start with the players being unleashed to shoot the three ball, the Knicks were bottom 10 in the NBA last season in threes attempted and three-point shooting percentage, Hardaway has to lead a turnaround in that category.

The biggest question facing the Knicks (or at least 1A tied with do they get any point guard play?) is can they get enough stops? The Knicks were 26th in the NBA in defense last season, and swapping out ‘Melo for Enes Kanter isn’t going to improve things. Porzingis can be a rim protector, but he has to do more and quarterback the defense. Hardaway needs to lead an improvement the defense on the perimeter. Hornacek will talk about coaching offense, but getting this team to buy into a defensive plan may be the biggest key to him keeping his job.

It’s going to be a long season in New York, even in a down East, this is not a playoff team. But Knicks fans want to see steps forward, they want hope. And that starts with this becoming Porzingis’ team.

This is why Shaq says he knows Kobe respects him (VIDEO)

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Do Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant hang out these days? Probably not.

But do the to respect each other? The answer, apparently, is yes.

During an interview for Oprah Winfrey’s OWN network, O’Neal said he knows that Kobe respects him because of a certain play. That play?

Prepare yourself for this one Portland Trail Blazers fans: it’s the famous alley-oop with 41 seconds left from Game 7 of the 2000 Western Conference Finals that put the Lakers up by six points.

That play was the exclamation point on an impressive fourth quarter, one in which the Blazers went hilariously ice cold from the field while the Lakers made up a huge deficit.

Here’s how Shaq tells the story:

Game 7. We’re down. I’m telling Kobe ‘Hey man, I’m open’.

[And Kobe responded with] I got you.

He crosses up Scottie Pippen, and he catches eye contact with me like, ‘OK this is the one you wanted.’

He throws it up super, super, super high. I have to go up and get it and throw it down. Puts us up by five [it was six] and I know we’re going to win, we’re going to the Finals.

If you go back to the footage after we win [the game] who jumps in my arms? Kobe Bryant.

Meanwhile, a 12-year-old Dane Carbaugh’s heart still aches from that game.

Carmelo Anthony lands in OKC, gets greeted by fans at airport (VIDEO)

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Carmelo Anthony is now a member of the Oklahoma City thunder.

Man that is still really weird to type.

But this has been an insane offseason, and nevertheless the former New York Knicks forward is now a teammate of Russell Westbrook and Paul George.

We are not sure how these teammates are going to play together next season given their propensity for high-usage play, but we are definitely all ready to watch it very soon.

Meanwhile, Anthony was greeted by fans in Oklahoma at the airport after arriving to be with the team.

Via Twitter:

Do you think this will get Carmelo to stay in OKC?

Guess we will just have to find out.

Cavaliers are frontrunners, but where will Dwyane Wade land?

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Dwyane Wade and the Chicago Bulls reached a buyout agreement — he will take an $8 million haircut to become a free agent. Not that we should feel bad for Wade, I wish someone would pay me $15 million to go away.

The next question: Where will Wade play this season?

The smart money is on Cleveland, but it’s not that simple. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN got the ball rolling, but others chimed in.

OKC is an interesting option on the court, if their ownership group is willing to eat a little more tax to make it happen (the Thunder would pay about $24 million, based on their current payroll). Alex Kennedy of Hoopshype shed a little more light on that and other options.

It’s probably going to be the Cavaliers — his good friend LeBron James is there, they are the best team in the East so a trip to the Finals (and a shot at a ring) are very possible, and he could start for them. That’s probably enough to get the deal done.

Expect Wade to take a little time with this decision. Veterans are not big fans of training camps, he may be willing to miss a little, spend some time with the family, listen to pitches, then choose Cleveland where he wants to play this season.