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.

Kevin Knox won over Knicks and now expects to win over their fans

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GREENBURGH, N.Y. (AP) — Kevin Knox took a call from someone who knew exactly what he experienced on draft night.

New Yorkers didn’t welcome Kristaps Porzingis with open arms, either.

“He asked me how the fans reacted and I told him I got the same amount of boos as he got,” Knox said Friday. “He just laughed and he said it’s all motivation and fuel to the fire, and he said just work and he said sooner or later they’ll be cheering for you.”

That’s what happened with Porzingis, who quickly won over those who loudly booed his selection in 2015 with his talent, competitiveness and work ethic.

The Knicks see the same traits in Knox, convincing them that the Kentucky freshman was not only the player to take with the No. 9 pick but that he’s ready to start and match up with the NBA’s best small forwards next season.

That’s why they decided a day before the draft they were taking Knox if he was available and didn’t waver from that even when Michael Porter Jr. was still on the board – disappointing some at Barclays Center who chanted for Porter and then booed Knox.

“I love the fact that he wanted to be at Kentucky, that he wanted to be a Knick,” Knicks coach David Fizdale said. “Says a lot about that kid that he wants challenges and so I think he’s going to fit exactly the way we want to build our culture.”

Beyond the 15.6 points he averaged last season while sharing SEC Freshman of the Year honors with Collin Sexton – drafted one pick earlier by Cleveland – Knox impressed the Knicks with his confidence. He chose to play at Kentucky out of Tampa Catholic in Florida and compete for playing time with the other talented players in Lexington, then agreed to play 3-on-3 in workouts when many top prospects prefer to do them individually.

And the annual outsized expectations faced by John Calipari’s teams should help Knox prepare for the pressure of New York, perhaps giving him a quicker adjustment period than Frank Ntilikina, the Knicks’ lottery pick last season, had after coming to the U.S. from France.

“That actually is going to be up to Kevin, what the learning curve is and how long the adjustment takes,” team president Steve Mills said. “But what I will say is that while all college basketball programs prepare guys to play in the NBA, the sort of pressure and the limelight and the spotlight you’re under when you make a decision to play at Kentucky I think does prepare you in a different way to play in a place like New York. So I think some of the things that are tougher for rookies to make adjustments to are some things that he’s already been through.”

The adjustment is likely much longer for 7-footer Mitchell Robinson, who the Knicks took with the No. 36 pick. A high school All-American in 2016-17, he enrolled at Western Kentucky but never played, instead leaving school and opting to train for the draft. He said he worked out daily, but hasn’t played competitively in a year so it’s unknown how soon he could contribute.

But Fizdale sounds ready to put Knox on the court right away on a team that used Tim Hardaway Jr. and Courtney Lee as undersized small forwards last season.

“They’re both 6-5 and he’s got to guard LeBron and (Kevin) Durant and those are the 3s in our league,” Fizdale said. “So I feel like it’s a very good opportunity to have a chance to start.”

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

As expected, Denver’s Wilson Chandler to opt into $12.8 million next season

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Wilson Chandler played a workmanlike role for the Nuggets last season — more than 30 minutes a game (in 74 games), 10 points a night, shot 35.8 percent from three. His efficiency and value slipped from previous seasons but he still played a role for the team.

Not the kind of role that’s going to earn him a big payday as a free agent, so he will opt into the $12.8 million for next season, a story broken by Chris Haynes of ESPN.

Denver Nuggets forward Wilson Chandler will exercise his player option for the 2018-19 season, league sources tell ESPN.

Chandler, 31, is opting into a $12.8 million salary instead of entering free agency this summer. Denver was notified of his decision on Friday.

Chandler’s name has come up in trade discussions in recent years, and no doubt the Nuggets would be happy to move his salary now, too. However, in a tight financial market it’s unlikely that’s happening without Denver throwing in a sweetener, and that’s not likely either. So it will be another season of Chandler in Denver.

Deandre Ayton arrives as symbol that Suns are on the rise

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PHOENIX (AP) — Since the heady days of Steve Nash came to an end, there have been few signs of joy from a dwindling fan base that watched the Phoenix Suns tumble to the bottom of the NBA standings and miss the playoffs for the eighth year in a row.

Then came the announcement that Deandre Ayton would go to the Suns with the first overall pick. A huge cheer went up from the several thousand fans at Talking Stick Resort Arena on Thursday night for the draft party. General manager Ryan McDonough, owner Robert Sarver and coach Igor Kokoskov came out of their meeting room to watch and bask in that rare moment of sheer joy from the fans.

“It was a pretty special moment for our franchise,” McDonough said.

Not only that, but McDonough engineered a last-minute trade for swingman Mikal Bridges of Villanova, the 10th pick. It was a spendy move because Philadelphia demanded and got Miami’s unprotected 2021 first-round pick. But the Suns are weary of stockpiling assets. It’s time to cash in, they figured, and did it with that trade.

“We weighed the pros and cons of trading it heavily and carefully,” McDonough said. “We were only going to put it in play if we had a chance to get a special player and that’s how we feel about McKell.”

All four of the Suns’ picks showed up on a crowded dais in Phoenix on Friday – Ayton, Bridges, French point guard Elie Okobo (chosen 31st) and forward George King of Colorado (the 59th selection).

The 7-foot-1 Ayton towered over the others, in a white unbuttoned collared shirt and a sharp blue suit, but he looked and sounded a bit weary from the whirlwind of being the No. 1 draft pick. His only sleep lately, he said, was a couple of hours on the plane ride from New York on Tuesday.

“I’m just excited to finally get a jersey on and be able to play five-on-five again,” Ayton said.

Ayton had been the frontrunner for the No. 1 pick ever since the draft lottery and any doubts were erased when he went through an individual workout with the Suns, the only team which he did so.

McDonough said that Ayton’s workout “in and of itself was as impressive as I’ve ever seen in my 16 drafts in the NBA.”

Ayton is seen as strictly a center, so how does he fit in the modern style of the NBA, when center plays is diminished and players are essentially interchangeable, is a question. Ayton replied that he’s no ordinary center.

“I don’t like it when people think I’m just a guy down low,” he said. “They haven’t watched me shoot the basketball.”

Ayton and Bridges say they got to know each other well at the college awards ceremony in Los Angeles but never figured they’d be on the same team.

“It’s like I’ve known him my whole life,” Bridges said.

Now comes the hard work, molding a team with Ayton, Devin Booker and Josh Jackson. A billboard of those three already has been erected downtown.

The Suns, so bad for so long, seem on the brink of being relevant.

“We’re very hungry,” Ayton said. “I think the great team chemistry and the work ethic that we have, especially us guys coming in, we’re going to bring it to the next level. We’ve got young lets. We can run all day. … We can really start a winning legacy.”

And Ayton is the reason for the sudden leap in optimism, even though he won’t turn 20 until next month.

“I embrace it a lot,” he said of the expectations placed upon him. “Through my career I’ve always had that on my shoulder, the expectations. I represent a whole nation (Bahamas) I just do that the best that I can and just help this community start over and be the best player I can possibly be. I just want to be the best great player.”

Kokoskov says Ayton possesses “a unique talent for the decades.”

Ayton said he wants “to be the best person on and off the court.”

Now the Suns move on to the next phase. Free agency starts July 1 and McDonough wants some veteran players to add to this very young core. He said the team should have $15 million to $20 million to spend.

“We were aggressive last night with the picks and the trade up to get Mikal,” McDonough said. “We’re going to continue to be aggressive for the next couple of weeks in free agency. We’ve got some money to spend and we’re looking to spend it on the best players we can get.”

Hornets GM Kupchak: Kemba Walker focal point of franchise going forward

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — General manager Mitch Kupchak wants point guard Kemba Walker to end his NBA career right where it started — with the Charlotte Hornets.

Kupchak said Friday that Walker is “revered” in the Charlotte community, and that he and owner Michael Jordan look at the two-time All-Star as “the focal point of this franchise going forward.”

The 28-year-old Walker has been the subject of possible NBA trade talks as he prepares to enter the final year of his contract with the Hornets. That speculation has amped up recently because it is a practical impossibility for Charlotte to sign Walker to an extension before he becomes a free agent in July of 2019 since the Hornets are so tight under the salary cap.

“I think everybody is aware of the situation, if you follow basketball a little bit, it is unique that he is on an extension that may make it a challenge going forward to figure out before he becomes a free agent,” Kupchak said.

At $12 million per year, Walker well underpaid when compared to the other top point guards in the league.

But that doesn’t mean Kupchak is giving up hope the team can keep Walker in Charlotte.

“I don’t think it is anybody’s goal to lose him in free agency,” Kupchak said. “But going forward, in the community, in the franchise, this is a player that we hope is with us – not only for the next couple of years, but ends his career here.”

The Hornets don’t have much experience behind Walker at point guard.

They have last year’s first-round draft pick Malik Monk and drafted Devonte Graham from Kansas in the second round on Thursday night.

Graham said he is excited to pick Walker’s brain when it comes to basketball.

“I have never met him, but I remember watching him play when he was at UConn though,” Graham said. “I’m just excited man to learn from someone like that and just be around someone like that who is winner, and knows how to win and compete. I am looking forward to being able to learn from him.”