NBA MVP: LeBron being denied unanimous win means it's time for a change

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Well, the worst kept secret of the year is out, and LeBron has his second MVP award.

We could wax on here about his season, the dominant play from baseline to baseline, the chasedown blocks, the versatility, the improved shooting numbers across the floor, the physical prowess, the, well, everything. LeBron James is the best player in the NBA, and it’s clear.

Or at least it should be.

Look, it’s a subjective award, and there are a million ways to interpret its parameters. Best player. Best player on best team. Most outstanding player. Most valuable to his team’s success. Greatest impact on the floor. However you want to interpret it. And at the end of the day, it’s just an award, and doesn’t mean much to those without a ring.

But if we’re going to hold this award up as a symbol of respect, to recognize what is widely accepted outside of NBA-centric circles as an indication of the best basketball player on the planet for a given season, the NBA and its media partners need to give the voting process the respect it deserves.

116 out of the 122 voters plus the 1 vote by the fans through online vote voted for LeBron James in first place. The other seven? They constitute a viable line of reasoning for a revamping of the vote process.

There are plenty of reasons why these seven voters elected to vote the way they did. Some of the votes were likely the result of something our own Ira Winderman touched on a few days ago, namely that many of these votes go to team personnel (radio and television play-by-play), and many to beat writers who only see one team consistently.

But if we truly want to have the best voting process we can, we’re going to need to make changes to who votes and how. Many have argued as our Rob Mahoney has that the process needs to open to public record. But I have no doubt that some of the seven would defend their vote publicly if forced to.

After all, FanHouse’s Tim Povtak wrote that James did not deserve the award because he chose to rest in pursuit of a championship. And he backed up that threat. So in this instance we have an agenda-driven vote, if that was the reason Povtak voted for Howard. I respect Povtak tremendously as a writer and value the fact that he and I both write for FanHouse, though my contributions are in a lesser role. Povtak lives and covers Orlando, but the vote was a statement against the act of a player resting to end the regular season. A fine sentiment, but is voting for this award, which helps determine a player’s legacy and Hall of Fame criteria the right forum to take such a stand?  (This is all before you factor in the fact as Kevin Harlan first commented on James’ elbow on April 9th after a regular season game in Chicago, meaning that James’ rest could be considered completely justified.)

In an email, Povtak replied that he genuinely felt that Howard made more of an impact at both ends of the floor, and as it is not solely an offensive award, he felt like Howard was the best vote. If that’s honestly how Povtak thought, given the attention he gives to the entire league, it’s a valid one. The possibility that such a vote could have been cast, though, remains a dangerous possibility given the impact the award has on a player’s legacy.

Even if you feel that James’ resting of the regular season was “cowardly,” surely the phenomenal season he had, the impact on the Cavaliers, his position as best player on the best team record-wise, his performance in the clutch, and astounding numbers would lead you to vote otherwise… IF the vote itself was more valuable than what you say with it. But as it currently stands, the league takes a very hands-off approach.

It doles out the votes to PR departments and lets them decide. And in doing so, they allow for the voters to vote based on whatever criteria they wish. If they want to vote based on the fact that they don’t feel players over 7 feet should be considered, they can. And did, apparently, give the fact that only 86 voters had Dwight Howard in the top three. They can vote to simply get a guy some recognition, as one voter did with Stephen Jackson as a fifth place vote. Manu Ginobili received a fourth place vote.

To be honest, I don’t see any problem with making your fifth choice based on whatever criteria you decide. The top vote is what matters most, obviously. And the second and third can really be the difference. If after voting for the four players who you honestly and objectively saw as the MVP, feel free to lobby for whatever unheralded player you’d like. But those top votes? They need to be for the players you decided was the best by whatever measure you chose, and not influenced by personal bias or agenda. You want to throw someone a single point vote? Go for it. But those top five need to be based on the evidence of who was the best, by whatever measure you choose. You want the MVP to remain subjective? Use whatever criteria you want. But any reasonable criteria still would have resulted with the selection of LeBron James this year. I say this as a someone who most often elects to pull for the underdog and who rarely agrees with the consensus.

Maybe the writers genuinely felt that LeBron wasn’t best. After all, David Steele went that route,  But then, almost all of his reasons are easily applicable to LeBron. And while Dwight Howard is a better defender than James, the gap between Dwight’s offense and LeBron’s is far wider than that between James’ defense and Howard’s, particularly when Howard is fouling his way to the bench every thirty five seconds.

But I digress. If you honestly felt that James wasn’t the MVP, you’re likely responding to local bias, but at least you’re not acting in the pursuit of something other than the correct selection of the MVP. If you feel another player deserves attention for his contributions, feel free to make such a selection as the fifth vote. But don’t confuse “underrated MVP” with “actual MVP as in the real MVP who should win the MVP.”

The issue is that if you are granted a vote in the MVP race, even though it’s a subjective award, it does have enough of an impact on a career to warrant giving the vote the consideration it deserves. And that requires considerable knowledge of the entire league, and an honest act without bias. Is it possible that those that live and work with Orlando covering the Magic simply thought Howard was superior having watched him night in and out? Absolutely. But isn’t it more likely that if the writers were to reside in the state of Ohio that their votes might differ?

It’s also interesting the gap that exists between those that work every day, focused on a particular team, but absorbed in basketball, and those who devote their free time to the league. As an example, when queried on Twitter, the author of Orlando Pinstriped Post, an Orlando Magic blog that receives over 100,000 pageviews per month as part of SBNation said that if given a vote, he would have voted LeBron first.  So an author of a blog with no professional obligation to maintain objectivity, though it is credentialed, would elect to vote for James. Because he was the
best player.

An
other example is Royce Young of DailyThunder.com, which covers the Thunder. Young covers the Thunder with a fan-centric voice, while carrying out what can only be considered new journalism, with a blogger’s approach through journalism’s lens. And while he authored a thesis for why Durant would be worthy of an MVP vote, he also concurred, the vote must be for James

This isn’t conclusive proof by any means, but it’s an indication that while blogs continue to be considered beneath certain members of the media, it may be time to consider their inclusion in the voting process. Kelly Dwyer of Ball Don’t Lie was recently given a vote, in a rare stroke of progressiveness towards internet media. The core of this is that the votes should be given to those who have a deep respect and interest in authentically selecting the Most Valuable Player. There’s nothing wrong with not considering the vote that big of a deal, what with life’s demands, and a grueling grind of a job. But the vote itself has to maintain legitimacy, and to do that, not only must bias be removed from consideration (while subjective opinion remains), but a full and complete perspective of the league and its players must be factored in.

Another part of Winderman’s argument was that there are only so many people who can be given votes, and as a result, some may not value the result of the voting as much as the power of their own vote. But in this day and age, with so many more intelligent writers contributing to the discussion and anlaysis of basketball, is it possible that it’s time for an overhaul of the voting system? Do we need to rely on people’s whose livelihoods depend on the team?

This is not to say that a blogger such as myself should be given a vote. The arguments against younger, more inexperienced writers are sound ones. And yet, the strengths of experience can be nullified by the tunnel vision of team-centrism and professional or moral agenda. There is a middle-ground that must be balanced between experience and perspective. 

This isn’t to say that the system itself is broken. After all, 116 writers did get it right.  And again, it’s not to say that there won’t be variety in voting which is a good thing. A plurality of opinions is a good thing in any field, especially in that of the MVP voting. And both Kevin Durant and Dwight Howard (and sure, why not, third place Kobe Bryant) deserve consideration. They had tremendous seasons and are absolutely worthy of a 2nd or 3rd place vote. But in considering all the facts, given James’ statistical domination by any measure, given the Cavs performance, given his impact at both ends of the floor and the sheer complete nature of his game and the level to which he excels in all those areas, James was the only choice.

Dissenting opinions only carry weight when they’re built from a conviction of truth, not simply to force a sense of controversy or carry an agenda. It’s entirely possible that the seven voters who elected to have James 2nd or 3rd merely carried strong, well reasoned convictions to that end. It’s also likely that they did not.

Change is needed.

Update 12:57AM: Sean Keely of SBNation.com notes that two of Howard’s three first place votes along with Povtak include the above-mentioned David Steele who works for the Magic as does the other voter, John Denton of orlandomagic.com.

Are struggling Mavericks on the clock with Luka Doncic?

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Luka Doncic is in the first year of a five-year, $215.2 million contract. More than that, when asked recently if Mavericks fans should be worried about him wanting out as the team has stumbled at points to start this season, Doncic didn’t sound like a guy looking to bolt:

“I don’t think they’re worried about it right now. I got what, five years left here, so I don’t think they should be worried about it.”

The Mavericks’ front office should be worried about it — teams are always on the clock with a superstar.

The Mavericks let Jalen Brunson get away in the offseason, then brought in Christian Wood (whose defense is an issue and he is coming off the bench). This remains a team a player or two away from contending despite having a potential MVP in Doncic carrying a historic offensive load.

That doesn’t mean Doncic will ask out at the deadline or this summer (he won’t), but if his frustration grows over the next couple of years… who knows. Tim MacMahon of ESPN put it well on the Hoop Collective podcast (hat tip Real GM):

“I think they have a two-year window. This season and next season going into that summer [2024]. I think they have a two-year window where, you know, like Milwaukee did with Giannis [Antetokounmpo], I think in that window they really need to convince Luka that he has a chance to contend year in and year out right here in Dallas. If they can’t get it done in that two-year window, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that he’s going to force a trade or ask for a trade. I’m just saying at that point if he’s not happy, he has all the leverage in the world if he would be looking to leave..

“I don’t think Luka will look for reasons to leave. I think he’d be perfectly happy spending his entire career in Dallas. But if he doesn’t have to look for reasons and they’re slamming him in the face, then that’s a problem. He’s also a guy who is a ruthless competitor, which means he loves winning. He’s used to winning. He won championships with Real Madrid. He won a EuroBasket championship with the Slovenian national team. He also detests losing. Like can’t handle it.”

The Mavericks made the Western Conference Finals last season, knocking off the 64-win Suns in the process — this team is not that far away. Not with Doncic handling the ball. But it feels like a team that has taken a step back from those lofty levels this season. There are many more questions than answers, and it’s impossible to guess how Doncic will feel after this season’s playoffs, let alone the ones ending in the summer of 2024.

But the Mavericks stumbles this season have to put the Dallas front office on notice — this team is not good enough. And if we know it, you can be sure Doncic knows it.

Curry thinking retirement? ‘I don’t see myself slowing down any time soon’

2022 Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year Awards Presented by Chase
Kimberly White/Getty Images for Sports Illustrated
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Stephen Curry is playing at an MVP level this season: 30 points a game, hitting 43.2% from 3 with a 66.4 true shooting percentage, plus pitching in seven assists and 6.6 rebounds a game. He remains one of the best-conditioned athletes in the sport.

In the face of that, even though he is 34, asking him a retirement question seemed an odd choice, yet a reporter at the Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year award ceremony — Curry won the award, if you didn’t know — asked Curry about it seems he’s not interested.

Curry should not be thinking of retirement, but there is a sense around these Warriors that this era, this run is coming to an end in the next few years. Curry may be defying father time, but Draymond Green and Klay Thompson (especially post injuries) are not. There is a decline in their games (and this season, the role players have not stepped up around them the same way). With that comes a certain pressure to take advantage of the opportunities, there aren’t going to be as many.

Which is why the Warriors are a team to watch at the trade deadline (and will they sell low on James Wiseman to a team that still sees the potential in him?).

As for Curry, he will still be around and producing for a few more years. Nobody is ready to think about his retirement. Including Curry himself.

Block or charge: Alperen Sengun dunks on Zach Collins

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To borrow the catchphrase of the great Rex Chapman:

Block or charge?

The Rockets’ Alperen Sengun caught a body and threw one down on the Spurs’ Zach Collins but was called for the offensive foul.

NBA Twitter went nuts.

Rockets coach Stephen Silas challenged the call, but it was upheld (from my perspective, the replay officials are always looking to back the in-game officials if they at all can).

By the time Collins slid over and jumped, Sengun was already in the air — if anything that was a block. What the officials called was Sengun using his off-arm to create space.

I hate the call — that’s a dunk and an and-one. Not because it’s a great dunk — although it is that, too — but because Collins literally jumped into the path of an already airborne Sengun, Collins created all the contact. It’s on him. Under the spirit of the rules, Sengun’s off-arm is moot at that point — Collins illegally jumped in Sengun’s way and caused the collision.

Terrible call by the officials.

It was a good night for the Spurs, overall. San Antonio played its best defense in a while and Keldon Johnson — one of the few bright spots in a dark Spurs season — hit his first nine shots on his way to a 32-point night that sparked a 118-109 San Antonio win over Houston, snapping the Spurs 11-game losing streak.

Three things to know: Watch Jamal Murray drain game-winning 3 to beat Blazers

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Three Things is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out NBCSports.com every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks that make the NBA must-watch.

1) Watch Jamal Murray drain game-winning 3 to beat Blazers

This game felt like a 2019 playoff time capsule, with Damian Lillard and Jamal Murray trading blows in a dramatic game.

Lillard landed more of them, he finished with 40 points — and his final three were vintage Dame Time.

But Murray had the final word.

The final minutes of this game were insane.

It was a needed win for a Denver team that some nights look like they can compete with the best in the league, then turn around 48 hours later and mail in a loss to a tanking team. Nikola Jokic scored 33 against Portland (with 10 boards and nine assists) — he is again putting up numbers that will have him in the MVP conversation (even if it’s a longshot he wins it). However, the Nuggets’ bottom-five defense makes them inconsistent night to night.

Portland revamped their roster to get younger and more athletic around Lillard this past offseason, but one of the results of that is the inconsistency of youth. The Blazers don’t bring the same level of execution every night. If they don’t learn that lesson, they may be different in makeup but the results will be the same as many Portland teams of the last decade — an early playoff exit.

2) Brittney Griner is home on U.S.soil

After spending 10 months in Russian jails — including being convicted and sent to a penal colony — on trumped-up drug charges that made her a political pawn in a massive geo-political battle, Brittney Griner is finally home on U.S. soil, her plane landed in Texas overnight.

The Biden administration worked out a prisoner exchange with Russia that brings Griner home to be with her wife, family and friends — that is something to be celebrated.

Of course, there was some pushback online/in the media from people who care only about trying to score political points for their selfish ends. Fortunately, we had the family of Paul Whelan — a Michigan corporate security executive who has been behind bars in Russia since December 2018 on trumped-up espionage charges — who praised the president for bringing Griner home and making “the deal that was possible, rather than waiting for one that wasn’t going to happen.”

An American citizen is home. She happens to be a WNBA star and a two-time Olympic gold medalist, but those things are not what matters most, and are secondary to her family who are just happy to hug her and tell her they love her again. We all hope that day comes soon for American political prisoners held around the globe (including Whelan), but we should celebrate the big victory of Griner being back on U.S. soil.

3) Spurs snap 11-game losing streak behind 32 from Johnson

Keldon Johnson — one of the few bright spots in a dark Spurs season — hit his first nine shots on his way to a 32-point night that sparked a 118-109 San Antonio win over Houston, snapping the Spurs’ 11-game losing streak.

“This has been the first game in a while where we were clicking defensively,” Johnson told the Associated Press after the game. “You can tell when we get stops, get out and run and be able to get out front. If we can keep that mindset of defense first, get stops and we let the offense take care of itself, we’ll be in great shape.”

All of that is interesting, but the real debate of the night: Was this an offensive foul by Alperen Sengun, or a block by Zach Collins?

Sengun was in the air when Collins came over, but he also used his off hand to create space for the dunk. This is a bang-bang call and the challenge of the block/charge call — I think that’s a block by Collins, but that’s not how the referee or many others have seen it. How would you have called it?