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.

LeBron James first star in decades to face former team in NBA Finals

Lakers star LeBron James vs. Heat
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When LeBron James left the Heat in 2014, he claims someone from Miami told him, “You’re making the biggest mistake of your career.”

Heat president Pat Riley said his plan for Miami “all of a sudden came crashing down.”

Six years later, LeBron and the Heat are in the NBA Finals.

LeBron remains a driving force of championship contention. After Miami, he led the Cavaliers to the 2016 title (proving wrong his doubter with the Heat). Now, he’s flourishing with the Lakers. Even at age 35, LeBron is a superstar who held the allure to recruit a co-star in Anthony Davis. That’s a championship recipe.

The Heat have nearly completely turned over their roster since LeBron left. (Only Udonis Haslem remains.) Riley remained committed to winning immediately throughout this post-LeBron era and hit on the right combination of players for this moment. Miami lured Jimmy Butler, drafted and developed Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro, traded for capable veterans Goran Dragic, Jae Crowder and Andre Iguodala and found undrafted gems Duncan Robinson and Kendrick Nunn. It’s a remarkable story of team-building.

Now, LeBron and his former team meet on the biggest stage.

This is just the third time an All-Star has faced his former team in the NBA Finals:

  • LeBron James (Los Angeles Lakers) vs. Miami Heat in 2020
  • Wilt Chamberlain (Philadelphia 76ers) vs. San Francisco Warriors in 1967
  • Ed Macauley (St. Louis Hawks) vs. Boston Celtics in 1957

After years of coming up short, Wilt Chamberlain and the Warriors grew tired of each. San Francisco traded him to Philadelphia, bottomed out and drafted Rick Barry. Barry and Nate Thurmond – who moved from power forward to his more-natural center with Chamberlain’s exit – lifted the Warriors to the 1967 NBA Finals, where they lost to Chamberlain and the 76ers.

The Celtics were so smitten with a young center from University of San Francisco, they traded star center Ed Macauley to the St. Louis Hawks for the No. 2 pick in the 1956 NBA Draft… Bill Russell. Russell led Boston to more than a decade of dominance, NBA Finals trips in his first two seasons coming against Macauley’s Hawks. The teams split, the Celtics winning in 1957 and St. Louis winning in 1958.

A few other players were All-Stars in another season and still producing near – using that term generously in some cases – that level when facing their former team the NBA Finals:

  • Adrian Dantley (Detroit Pistons) vs. Los Angeles Lakers in 1988
  • Paul Westphal (Phoenix Suns) vs. Boston Celtics in 1976
  • Charlie Scott (Boston Celtics) vs. Phoenix Suns in 1976
  • Paul Silas (Boston Celtics) vs. Phoenix Suns in 1976
  • Dick Barnett (New York Knicks) vs. Los Angeles Lakers in 1970
  • Ed Macauley (St. Louis Hawks) vs. Boston Celtics in 1958

It’s obvious why these situations are rare. When on a team that could be good enough to reach the Finals without him, stars usually stay put. After losing a star, teams usually fall off.

But these are unique circumstances.

A Northeast Ohio native, LeBron wanted to win in Cleveland. Then, he wanted to live in Los Angeles. He still has the talent to dominate and the power to get his teams to mortgage their futures to surround him with immediate talent.

Riley is one of the greatest executives in league history. He created a culture in Miami that helps the Heat get through thick and thin. It’s one of the reasons LeBron joined the organization. Even after he left, the Heat focused on winning quickly and player development – then hit enough right breaks on this run through the bubble.

Make no mistake: Miami is the underdog of this story. LeBron’s continued reign was far more predictable. The Heat have been in precarious situations over the last few years before coming out ahead now.

That’s why Riley was so upset in 2014. He said he even considered going Dan Gilbert until a friend talked him out of it.

In his infamous letter, Gilbert wrote, “I PERSONALLY GUARANTEE THAT THE CLEVELAND CAVALIERS WILL WIN AN NBA CHAMPIONSHIP BEFORE THE SELF-TITLED FORMER ‘KING’ WINS ONE.” Of course, the Cavs came up comically short. They were awful while LeBron won two titles in Miami.

And LeBron has already won a ring since leaving the Heat. But Miami has the opportunity for revenge that Gilbert could only dream of.

LeBron has an opportunity, too. In 2016, when the Cavaliers and Heat had a chance to play in the Eastern Conference finals, LeBron called it his preferred matchup. That was somewhat about his friendship with Miami star Dwyane Wade, who has since retired. But there are are still plenty of familiar faces in the Heat organization.

You know what they say about familiarity…

Report: 76ers stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons don’t get along

76ers stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons
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76ers stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons aren’t the cleanest on-court fit. Occasionally, they’ve shown signs of personal animosity.

But is there a full-blown rift between Embiid and Simmons?

Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer (writing about Tyronn Lue’s coaching candidacy, which has taken a backseat to Mike D’Antoni’s):

As a Los Angeles Lakers player, Lue won NBA titles in 2000 and 2001 while playing with Hall of Famers and Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, who like Simmons and Embiid didn’t get along.

The Shaq-Kobe feud cut wide and deep. Does the Embiid-Simmons situation really match that?

It doesn’t have to in order to be a problem.

Shaq and Kobe were such good basketball players, they won three championships together despite their issues. Winning cures most ills. Shaq and Kobe worked through their differences while the Lakers were on top.

Though premier young talents, Embiid and Simmons aren’t Shaq and Kobe as players. The 76ers lost in the first round, a disappointing result that only increases pressure and tension.

For years, Philadelphia has committed to building around Embiid and Simmons. That appears to remain the plan.

That’s tricky enough simply based on their skill sets. It’s even more difficult if those two don’t get along.

Boston offseason: Offer Tatum max extension; watch Hayward pick up option

Jayson Tatum
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Boston fans may be frustrated that their team didn’t advance to the NBA Finals — the Celtics beat the defending champion Raptors in the second round, while the top-seeded Bucks had been cleared out of the path — but this is still a team that made strides this season. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown evolved into franchise cornerstones, with Tatum now looking like a No. 1 option, plus Kemba Walker proved a better fit with this team than Kyrie Irving. Throw in role players like Daniel Theis stepping up, and there are reasons for optimism even as the East gets better.

Two things to expect from Boston and team president Danny Ainge this offseason: Paying Tatum the max and watching Gordon Hayward pick up his $34.2 million option.

There will need to be other moves to add depth — they have Memphis’ No. 14 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft and two other first-rounders, as chips to use — but Tatum and Hayward are the most expensive decisions.

With Tatum, it seems a no-brainer now to offer him a max extension to his rookie contract. He has become the alpha for this team, averaging 23.4 points and seven rebounds a game this season, even if he learned some hard lessons this past week about the demands of that role deep in the playoffs. Tatum made Third Team All-NBA this season, meaning he is eligible for 28% of the salary cap, make the team again next season and that jumps to 30%, meaning a max extension worth more than $189 million over five years (if the salary cap stays flat at $109 million, more than likely it goes up from there).

“I ain’t even thought about that yet,” Tatum said of an extension after Miami eliminated Boston from the postseason. “I was just focused on this season. Like you guys know, that’s a process the front office and my agent have to talk about it…

“So stuff like that, when it happens, if it happens, that’s not really my concern right now. I’m not even thinking about that. Just trying to think about the great season we had and the great players, great guys I was around. This was a hell of a year and I enjoyed it and I’m appreciative of everybody. But at the end of the day, this was fun. I’m not really thinking about the other stuff right now.”

With Hayward, the buzz around the league is he will pick up his player option for $34.2 million.

This also is pretty obvious. While Hayward showed flashes of being the All-Star player he was before his devastating leg injury, and versatile wing players are in demand around the league, there is not anything near $34 million waiting for him on the open market. Especially not in a coronavirus-impacted world where NBA owners have taken a financial hit. Hayward is going to take his money then see what the demand for his services looks like in 2021 (which looks to be a very deep free-agent class).

Boston will make some roster tweaks, but will run back the core of a young team — Tatum is 22, Brown is 23 — that is improving. A core than made strides this season, but will find those final steps into contender status are the toughest ones.

 

LaMelo Ball among those participating in 2020 NBA Draft Combine

2020 NBA Draft Combine
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It may be virtual this year with “pro day” video being made, but some of the traditions of the NBA Draft Combine will be here in 2020.

Including the top players skipping it. Anthony Edwards, James Wiseman, and Obi Toppin are among the big names sitting this one out, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

One interesting note: LaMelo Ball is participating.

But that may be for the interview portion only, reports Jeremy Woo of Sports Illustrated.

The 2020 NBA Draft Combine will see players do team interviews via videoconference starting this week (and running through Oct. 16).  Players also can be part of an individual on-court program consisting of strength and agility testing, measurements (height, reach, plus vertical leap and more), shooting drills and a “Pro Day” video, and a medical exam, all conducted by league officials and the information (and video) given to teams. 

The 2020 NBA Draft is set for Nov. 18.