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2017 PBT Awards: Most Valuable Player

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Kurt Helin

1. Russell Westbrook, Thunder

2. James Harden, Rockets

3. Kawhi Leonard, Spurs

4. LeBron James, Cavaliers

5. Isaiah Thomas, Celtics

There’s a reason this was the most interesting and discussed MVP race in more than a decade — this decision was incredibly difficult. You can put the top three in any order and it will be defendable. I end up with Westbrook on top based on his value to his team and how much he lifted them up, and his clutch play. Also, Thomas just edged out the Greek Freak for that fifth slot.

Note: Helin has an official ballot this year.

Dan Feldman

1. Russell Westbrook, Thunder

2. James Harden, Rockets

3. LeBron James, Cavaliers

4. Kawhi Leonard, Spurs

5. Stephen Curry, Warriors

I could build a compelling case for each of the top four candidates that, when presented on its own, would convince myself that player must be MVP. But when that happens four times, it doesn’t really work.

Russell Westbrook and James Harden separated themselves slightly from the other two with their other-worldly individual production. But did Westbrook contribute more to the Thunder or Harden to the Rockets? No matter how many different ways I slice it, it looks extremely close.

But here’s what I can’t get over: Westbrook was so much better in the clutch than Harden. Clutch stats are often overrated, small samples that aren’t predictive of the future. I’m not saying Westbrook will be clutch in the playoffs. I’m not saying he’ll be clutch next season. But he was clutch this year, turning numerous games in Oklahoma City’s favor that would have been losses if it weren’t for him. That’s on his record, whether or not it’s sustainable – and aspects look sustainable. Nobody can tear through a locked-in defense like Westbrook, and that allowed the Thunder to play defensive-minded players around him down the stretch. So, even though Westbrook is far from the best defender, his singular offensive ability helped Oklahoma City’s defense, especially late. Harden, who scored efficiently himself and created high-percentage shots for teammates, couldn’t quite match that.

Dane Carbaugh

1. Russell Westbrook, Thunder

2. James Harden, Rockets

3. Kawhi Leonard, Spurs

4. LeBron James, Cavaliers

5. Isaiah Thomas, Celtics

We’ve argued endlessly about this, but there’s no way around it: How would you feel if the best player on a playoff team averaged a triple-double for a season, broke the single-season triple-double record, and then DIDN’T win MVP? That’s where I’ve circled on this thing for months, and there’s just no way around it. Harden’s season has been incredible, and he’s helped Houston to a high spot in the West. But Harden’s also had more help, including a coaching system built for his game, two Sixth Man of the Year candidates, and Ryan Anderson. Westbrook is playing with Steven Adams, sometimes Victor Oladipo, and the kind of roster filler you put together for your franchise on NBA 2k17. The 2017 NBA MVP is Russell Westbrook, whether you or I like it or not.

Report: Teams are calling Clippers about DeAndre Jordan trades

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Injuries have ravaged the Clippers. They started the season 4-0 have been without three starters from opening night: Milos Teodosic (plantar fascia injury, he is still in a walking boot), Danilo Gallinari (strained left glute), and now point guard Patrick Beverley is out for the season after microfracture surgery on his knee.

All this has led to the Clippers losing nine in a row before beating the Hawks Friday night. All the weight of the offense has fallen on Blake Griffin‘s shoulders, and while he’s been good most of the game in the fourth quarter his numbers have plummeted, and the Clippers have stumbled.

It’s left the Clippers with a couple of hard questions.

Do they need a coaching change? There was a sense from sources around the league that Rivers is already on his way out — he was stripped of GM/president powers over the summer — and what kept him around was the couple of seasons at $10 million a year on his contract. That’s a lot of money for an owner to eat, even Steve Ballmer, but the time may be coming as a way to shake up the team.

The other, what to do with DeAndre Jordan? They could not work out a contract extension with him (Jordan was acting as his own agent), and one of the league’s top traditional centers is a free agent next summer, but new head basketball guy Lawrence Frank said they want Jordan to be a “Clipper for life.” Does Jordan want to be a Clipper for life? Do the Clippers really want him back, and if so at what price? Does a Clipper franchise trying to get approvals for a new arena in Inglewood want to rebuild now, because it does not help that process? If it’s time to move on and rebuild, do they need to trade him now?

Teams are calling about Jordan, reports Tim Bontemps of the Washington Post.

DeAndre Jordan, who can become a free agent after the season, has been coming up in trade conversations, with multiple teams talking potential trades. Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations Lawrence Frank said last month that Jordan will be a “Clipper for life,” muddled matters, as does the limited number of teams who need a center and the size of Jordan’s contract ($22.6 million).

Jordan is an All-NBA center, a defensive force in the paint who sets a strong pick, rolls hard to the rim, can finish with the best of them, and is averaging 10.4 points (scoring and attempts are down without Chris Paul feeding him) and 13.4 rebounds a game. Jordan knows who he is and plays within himself.

It’s not hard to imagine how he could help teams such as Cleveland, Washington, Milwaukee, and a host of others. The question is what would teams be willing to give up to get him — they have to send back salary to match, but will not want to give up assets that help them win now. The Clippers will be looking for good young players and picks back in the package, which makes it hard for a team such as Cleveland to put together a package.

But before they discuss trade scenarios, the Clippers need to figure out what they want to do. Life has come at them fast this season and led to a lot of big-picture questions that Frank and Ballmer need to answer.

Lonzo Ball finishes one-handed alley-oop on Willie Cauley-Stein (video)

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So much attention is paid to Lonzo Ball‘s father, jumper and passes. Those are the major storylines for the Lakers rookie.

But he has such a diverse skill set, and this is absolutely part of it. Ball is a savvy off-ball cutter in the halfcourt with the athleticism to get above the rim and finish alley-oops.

But finish them over 7-footer Willie Cauley-Stein, who was tracking the play (though slightly late)? That’s an eye-opener, even in the Kings’ 113-102 win.

Marc Gasol makes 3/4-court shot just after buzzer (video)

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When Marc Gasol‘s 3/4-court attempt went through the net, it seemed to barely matter the ball left his hands just after the first-quarter buzzer. After all, the Grizzlies led the Mavericks by 15, anyway.

Turns out, Memphis really needed that basket.

Watch Knicks string together 28-0 run against Raptors

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Toronto has been the second best team in the East this young season. Not that anyone is really convinced they will be called that by the time we get to the playoffs (or even the All-Star break, or even Christmas), but for the first 16-18 games of the season their new move-the-ball offense had them at 11-5 and looking solid.

Wednesday night the Knicks dismantled the Raptors.

Especially in the third quarter when the Knicks went on a 28-0 run to blow the doors off the Raptors (video above). The Knicks dominated the third 41-10, when Toronto shot just 1-of-16 from the floor.

New York is gaining confidence with each win this season, they are a fun team to watch that is starting to find an identity (now that a certain three-sided shaped one is not being forced upon them). Kristaps Porzingis is a monster, and while the Knicks overpaid the market for Tim Hardaway Jr. he has lived up to his contract this season. With rookie point guard Frank Ntilikina showing some nice defense and playmaking skills as a rookie (although he is undoubtedly still a work in progress), you can see a path to a strong future unfolding. There are real reasons for hope in New York. Someone just keep James Dolan distracted and away from the basketball operations side of the building.