LeBron James and an award we’ve made hollow

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For just about anyone else winning the NBA’s Most Valuable Award would be a good thing, with no downside. It’s an award that carries legitimate weight, not just in terms of current cultural cache, but longer-lasting greatness in the context of a player’s legacy. It should be cause for celebration.

But for LeBron James, it’s somehow another reflection of his failures, another illustration of what he’s not.

To be clear, James was the winner of the award as the AP reported Friday for good reason. He put in not the most efficient season of his career, or the most statistically significant. It wasn’t his best season defensively, he wasn’t the best player on the best team (a terrible way to decide the award) , and he certainly didn’t carry his team further than the other candidates given his sparkling supporting cast.

But for James, this was his most impactful season. You saw him everywhere, and you saw him controlling the game. Running the offense, finishing on the break, blocking chase downs, locking up the best perimeter players, locking up the best post players, playing in the post on offense, hitting shots on the outside. Even his fourth quarter foibles took a step up in the last month of the season. There should be nothing but celebration and praise for James’ play.

But there won’t be. There will, however, be a lot of this.

“That’s OK, LeBron, but where are your rings?”

and

“Individual MVPs don’t make champions.”

As if James, who did not lobby for this award, who did not ask for his third in four years, who never insinuated that this award means anything other than the respect of the voters, asked to be held by this standard, to be anointed as champion based on winning a Kia. I get it. The “Chosen One” tattoo. The King moniker which is as much a Nike marketing ploy as anything. There’s no doubting it’s obnoxious. But the bitterness surrounding what has truly been a magnificent season is still shocking.

James was voted the league’s most valuable player, but in his context, it means something entirely different. It would be a pain to fit on the trophy, but “Most Valuable Player despite a considerable portion of the voters  hating him and deliberately withholding votes last year based on his decision to hold a televised event regarding his free agency which probably also impacted this year’s vote and in  spite of a stunning revilement of the idea of going to play with the best of your peers in a league featuring six teams with multiple stars angling for a title in the playoffs” is a bit more accurate. James didn’t just win the vote this year, he won the vote despite people’s intentions.

If there was a way for the voters not to vote for James in good conscience, they would have found it. This isn’t to say Kevin Durant wasn’t worthy. He most certainly was. But if anything, this award should impress you more. He managed to have people basically say “Look, I don’t like it, but he really was the best/most impactful/most outstanding/most valuable basketball player this season.” That’s a pretty impressive accomplishment. And yet it won’t be held as such. It only makes the pressure greater. It’s like throwing bits of cheese on top of Kilimanjaro, but that’s not the point. Winning MVP isn’t validation for James, it’s just another indictment. “You won the individual award, but what about the championship which we always say is about the team unless we’re debating your legacy in which case you need to single-handedly do everything at all times?”

And here’s the kicker. I’m not even complaining that it’s not fair. It is fair. Well, maybe not fair, but it’s simply how this gig works. It’s the price for that “great life” he talked about after the Game 6 loss last year in the Finals. This is what comes with having James’ gift. He’s the most gifted athlete of our time, and his failures, while pretty understandable and relatively on track with that one guy who we stupidly compare everyone to, are undeniable. The rings, they have not come. And so James will accept another trophy, another car to donate to charity, the accolades and backhanded compliments that come with it.

And if he does manage to win a ring, becoming one of the few over the past twenty years to win MVP and the title in the same season?

Well, then, that’s a whole other conversation we’re going to have to have.

(Side note: There’s also a lot of this today: “Just saying, LeBron! Very few players have won the title the same year they won MVP!” as if one thing had anything to do with the other. What, are the voters failing to elect the right person because he doesn’t win the title? Does the real best, or most valuable, or most exceptional, or most whatever you want to call him player always win the title? Was the MVP Dirk Nowitzki last year? Or Kobe Bryant in a comparatively down season in 2010? How about Dwyane Wade in 2006? Furthermore, is that supposed to spook James? Not that he reads the random twitter babbling of idiots, but if he did, is he really going to say “Oh, man, trying to beat Kevin Garnett and the Celtics who have expelled me from the playoffs every season but last when Rajon Rondo was injured and the Spurs/Thunder/Lakers is one thing, but having to win despite a correlation with absolutely no causation that’s occurred, that’s real pressure?” )

Suns’ GM says there is “overwhelming likelihood” team keeps No. 1 pick

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It takes a rare kind of courage, an extraordinary level of organizational backing, and a special kind of draft to do what Danny Ainge did a year ago trading the No. 1 pick. While a consensus had formed around Markelle Fultz as the best player in the draft, Ainge was a Jayson Tatum guy. Doubts about the top pick are common, but that alone is far from enough to trade that pick away — most GMs don’t have the job security to know if they miss on moving the pick and sliding down they will not be let go. Ainge had that, and he had his confidence in his scouting, so he made the move to trade the No. 1 pick to Philadelphia. (While it looks good now for Ainge, it’s too early to judge how that pick plays out — Fultz has barely played, we don’t know what extra pick the Celtics will get out of this, it takes time to fully judge these kinds of moves.)

This year is different. DeAndre Ayton is more of a clear No. 1, a guy with franchise changing potential. Plus Suns’ GM Ryan McDonough may not be standing on the kind of bedrock that allows for the trade of a No. 1 pick.

Recently McDonough said he’d listen to trade offers for the pick. That’s very different from trading it, as Scott Bordow of the Arizona Republic had the GM saying Friday.

Because they should do their due diligence, the Suns will look at Luka Doncic (who does have a relationship with new coach Igor Kokoskov) and Marvin Bagley III, among others. Rumors may leak, spun by agents or other teams. However, at the end of the day, good luck finding anyone around the league who thinks Phoenix will not take Ayton — who attended college in Arizona — to be the inside to Devin Booker‘s outside. It’s the smart play.

Kokoskov and the Suns have a lot of work to do to build a foundation for success with this franchise. However, that almost never starts by trading away the top pick in the draft.

Rumor: Paul George’s agent telling people client will re-sign with Thunder

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That rumor Paul George will leave the Thunder?

How about the exact opposite?

Dean Blevins of News 9:

Allegedly, apparently, Paul George plans to stay with the Thunder. I know. It’s not what people believe. But in separate conversations, I’m told P.G.’s agent has told people associated with the NBA that P.G. believes the injury loss of Andre Roberson was huge and he’s staying. Disclaimer, though: Believing everything that agents allegedly say can be dangerous to your health.

This, by Blevins’ own admission, isn’t the staunchest reporting. Nonetheless, I appreciate him sharing and contextualizing it. We can evaluate it for what it’s worth.

George is known to share his plans – though the previous example was him planning to sign with the Lakers. And he might have really believed it at the time, when he was still with the Pacers.

But throughout the season, George seemingly went out of his way to profess his affection for Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony and the Thunder. That only raised expectations in Oklahoma City of George staying, and if he leaves after doing that, he’d be inviting even more backlash. I think he’s smart enough to understand that, which is why I thought he made those especially strong pro-Thunder comments only after deciding he’d likely stay.

On the other hand, even if my assessment was correct, conditions change. The Jazz brutally exposed Oklahoma City’s flaws, and if George re-signs and Anthony opts in, the Thunder will have minimal cap flexibility to upgrade the roster. In fact, they might take a step back with the supporting cast to keep the luxury-tax bill manageable. George could see free agency as his chance to escape that mess.

Roberson was a huge loss, and if George is focused on that, that would bode well for Oklahoma City. Though Roberson was just a role player, he was pivotal to the Thunder’s defense. And his teammates had learned how to play around his offensive shortcomings. Oklahoma City didn’t have any good replacements for him on the roster. Roberson getting healthy is the clearest way for the Thunder to improve next season.

Of course, that’s predicated on George returning, too. Will he?

One last note of caution: People often believe what they want to hear. It’s easy to see someone in Oklahoma City hearing George bemoan the loss of Roberson and elevate that to George planning to re-sign, even George wasn’t going that far.

Draymond Green guarantees Warriors will beat Rockets in Western Conference finals

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Warriors coach Steve Kerr is confident despite his team trailing the Rockets 3-2 in the Western Conference finals.

Golden State forward Draymond Green goes further.

Green, via Marcus Thompson II of The Athletic:

“We still winning this,” Draymond Green said. “Book it.”

Of course, Green is confident. He’d never say he expects his team to lose.

But he didn’t need to frame it this way. He could’ve said he was just focused on the next game rather than make such a bold proclamation.

He’s taking pressure upon himself and putting his reputation on the line. If Golden State loses, especially in Game 6 at home with Chris Paul out, Green will be widely mocked.

If he and the Warriors pull through, he’ll probably deserve praise for setting a tone that helped them advance.

Danny Green: Kawhi Leonard told me he wants to stay with Spurs

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The Spurs are reportedly worried Kawhi Leonard‘s camp wants to get him to the Lakers, Clippers, Knicks or 76ers.

Leonard hasn’t said much himself – except apparently to San Antonio teammate Danny Green

Get Up on ESPN:

Green:

I talk to him here and there, check up on him, see how he’s doing.

I think he wants to be in San Antonio. He’s let me know that. He’s let me know verbally he wanted to be there. So, we’ll see what happens.

Green has tried playing peacemaker throughout this saga – going as far as denying tension that clearly exists. He’s not the most reliable source.

And even if Leonard explicitly told Green he wants to remain in San Antonio, I’m not sure Leonard is confrontational enough to tell Green he wanted out, even if he did.

Those caveats acknowledged, this could be a huge revelation.

If Leonard wants to stay with the Spurs, the next step is meeting with them, mending their relationship and convincing them he deserves a super-max extension (which projects to be worth $219 million over five years). No matter how Leonard feels about San Antonio right now, if the Spurs don’t trust investing so much in him, that could lead to a fractured relationship and his exit.

So, there’s still a lot to sort out. But Green saying this means something.