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Mid-Season NBA Award Picks: James Harden edges LeBron for MVP. For now.

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Three-games into the NBA season there were people trying to anoint Giannis Antetokounmpo MVP — end of season award talk cannot start soon enough for some. At NBC, we decided to wait until we were midway into the season — and had a healthy body of work to look at — before we threw our picks out there.

We’ve reached that point.

Nothing is decided yet, this is more like a horse race that is just coming out of the backstretch and starting the sweeping turn towards the finish line — a lot of things can change, and there will be players making late runs at some of these awards.

That’s not going to stop us from making picks for all the major categories — plus the best movie of 2017. Because we can. Below are the picks for Kurt Helin, Dan Feldman, and Dane Carbaugh of NBC Sports.

MOST VALUABLE PLAYER

Kurt Helin: James Harden
Two players have separated themselves from everyone else in this race for me — James Harden and LeBron James. Right now I’d give Harden the edge. The Rockets’ guard’s insane efficiency — not just scoring, but with more assists, fewer turnovers — gives him a slight edge. That said, durability is part of this award and with Harden likely out for a while with a hamstring issue LeBron could (and likely will) take over the top spot before season’s end. I’d have Giannis Antetokounmpo third and then things open up.

Dan Feldman: James Harden
Nobody has ever neared Harden’s combination of usage and efficiency. Like last year, he’s a big-time distributor, but now he has his turnovers under control. His injury absence will hurt his year-end case, making it more likely LeBron James — who’s not far behind — overtakes him. But, so far, Harden is MVP.

Dane Carbaugh: James Harden
I’m not really sure how it can be anyone else. Harden has been magnificent for the Rockets this season as the team has steadily climbed up the ladder in the Western Conference. They look like legitimate contenders this year for a Western Conference Finals run, and Harden has played well both beside Chris Paul and as they take over duties alternating in the rotation for the Rockets.

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR

Kurt Helin: Ben Simmons
From opening night, Ben Simmons has looked every bit the No. 1 pick, a cornerstone player for Philadelphia for the next decade or so. He’s averaging 16.9 points and 7.6 assists per game, shooting 51 percent from the field (mostly without a jumper), and his passing is still the best part of his game. That said, Utah’s hot Donovan Mitchell is a close second, with Jayson Tatum and Kyle Kuzma trying to find a spot in the top three.

Dan Feldman: Donovan Mitchell 
Ben Simmons looked like he’d run away with this award, but his play has slipped enough to leave the door open for someone else. Mitchell has burst right through it with a prolonged stretch of efficient scoring as the Jazz’s go-to player.

Dane Carbaugh: Ben Simmons
Simmons has been excellent this season, with high efficiency marks that offset his lack of shooting ability. In fact, Simmons is shooting better than 50 percent from the field this year, a stark contrast to many who thought his overall shooting abilities might hamper him. Of course, he’s getting many of his own points closer to the rim, while still dishing out assists and grabbing rebounds for Philly. Jayson Tatum is right there too, this race will be interesting down the stretch.

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR

Kurt Helin: Joel Embiid
This is the most wide-open race on the board — two of the expected frontrunners (Kawhi Leonard and Rudy Gobert) have missed time with injuries, and defending DPOY Draymond Green has been good but not quite his elite self. Embiid has been elite — the Sixers are 7.7 points per 100 possessions better defensively when he is on the floor, allowing less than a point per possession — but I don’t feel good about it because of all the time missed. That said, he is a defensive force. Green, Andre Roberson, and others could easily win this award.

Dan Feldman: Joel Embiid
Presumed candidates Kawhi Leonard and Rudy Gobert have missed too much time with injury, and reigning champion Draymond Green isn’t quite locked in defensively. So, I guess that leaves Embiid, who’s effective protecting the rim and switching onto the perimeter while on the court. His missed games and somewhat limited minutes reduce his defensive impact, but nobody else has jumped into the forefront. Maybe that changes in the second half.

Dane Carbaugh: Draymond Green
Despite what Green says, it’s still not immediately clear that Kevin Durant is more important to the Warriors’ defense than he is. Green had a monster year on defense last season, and is still close to where he was a year ago despite some eye-popping stats from Durant, whose blocks are through the roof. Andre Drummond should get a mention here, too, as he has suddenly become the league leader in defensive rating, defensive box plus/minus, and defensive win shares. If that continues, perhaps we’re talking about Drummond here at the end of the year.

SIXTH MAN OF THE YEAR

Kurt Helin: Lou Williams
Williams made his point Wednesday night dropping 50 on the Warriors (as a starter for a night, but still) — Los Angeles is still in the playoff hunt in the West despite a rash of injuries because of Williams. He has been the classic “gunner off the bench” sixth man. Eric Gordon could get in the mix for this award if the Rockets can ever get healthy and send him back to the bench regularly, he has started too much so far. Tyreke Evans has been good as well.

Dan Feldman: Lou Williams
Williams has provided steady, big scoring for the Clippers, who badly need it amid all their injuries. Given that he’s producing in the way most appreciated by voters — scoring — expect him to run away with the actual honor come spring (or summer if the NBA hasn’t given up on its award show).

Dane Carbaugh: Lou Williams
Williams is still one of the best players off the bench in the NBA and he’s having an even better offensive season this year in LA than he did for Houston in 2016-17. His 3-point shooting and assist percentages are up, and his offensive box plus/minus is strong. Is he a net positive? Yes, barely. But Williams is also extremely important for a hobbled Clippers squad lacking CP3, Blake Griffin, and Danilo Gallinari. That sticks it for me.

COACH OF THE YEAR

Kurt Helin: Brad Stevens
Two coaches have found ways to keep winning despite radically shaken up rosters, Stevens in Boston and Gregg Popovich in San Antonio, and that speaks to both the job they have done this season and the culture both have built with their franchise. Third on my ballot right now would be Dwane Casey in Toronto, but there are other coaches on the fringe of this discussion having strong seasons.

Dan Feldman: Gregg Popovich
LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol are his primary big men. Kawhi Leonard has barely played. Effective athletes Dewayne Dedmon and Jonathon Simmons left in free agency. Yet, the Spurs still rank second in defense. Popovich has done an incredible job of getting everyone to fill their roles on a low-mistake defense.

Dane Carbaugh: Mike D’Antoni
D’Antoni has found a way to integrate both Chris Paul and James Harden into an offensive and defensive scheme that makes sense for the Houston Rockets. There was some real trepidation from fans and writers alike that Paul and Harden would be too much of a good thing: a duplication of services. That has proven not to be the case, and the man that revolutionized the NBA a decade ago has done it again in a new world order.

MOST IMPROVED PLAYER OF YEAR

Kurt Helin: Victor Oladipo
If there is one run-away winner with an award at the mid-season mark, Oladipo with MIP is it. He spent the offseason putting in the work to improve his body, focused on the weaknesses in his game, then when presented the opportunity in Indiana he has thrived. He will be an All-Star and could make an All-NBA team if he keeps playing like this.

Dan Feldman: Victor Oladipo
Cast as a go-to player for the first time in his career, Oladipo is more efficient than ever. He developed a pull-up 3-pointer that’s dangerous on its own, but also opens up so much more for the Pacers.

Dane Carbaugh: Victor Oladipo
This one feels obvious. Oladipo has been the talk of the first half of the season as the Oklahoma City Thunder have floundered with Paul George, who was swapped in exchange for both Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. Oladipo looks like a legitimate star after years of uneven development, and he’s made much of the NBA world re-think the value of the PG trade.

BONUS: BEST MOVIE OF 2017

Kurt Helin: The Shape of Water
I still have young children, which means most of my movie-going experiences this year were along the lines of making sure that if I had to sit through “Boss Baby” I at least went to the stylish new theater with a bar. (Not sure I make it through Boss Baby without drinks.) Of the handful of actual movies I saw, I like ones that do a good job creating their own universes, and my two favs were “Baby Driver” and “Shape of Water.”

Dan Feldman: Pitch Perfect 3
I haven’t even seen it yet, but after the first two, I believe it’ll be acca-awesome.

Dane Carbaugh: The Big Sick
2017 wasn’t a great year for movies. Another 38 comic book flicks came out, all with unintelligible titles and the kind of comic relief that plays well with the middle of the bell curve that consumes “The Big Bang Theory” on a nightly basis. Real movies were few and far between, with Get Out, and I, Tonya sticking out of the ones I saw. The Big Sick was solid, but lost some of its striking power in that the true life story felt too unbelievable. It’s packed with a great cast — Holly Hunter and Ray Romano steal the show as the parents — and the result is satisfying. At least it didn’t have Zoe Kazan flying around in space after being blown out of the bridge of a starship.

Rumor: People close to Kawhi Leonard think he’ll re-sign with Raptors

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Kawhi Leonard has made it known that he wants to play in Los Angeles. Specifically with the Lakers, although playing for the Clippers reportedly has become more of an option as of late for Leonard.

Still, for the meantime the former San Antonio Spurs star will be playing with the Toronto Raptors, at least to start the season. Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri leveraged his goodwill from the city as well as the future of his team by trading DeMar DeRozan to get Leonard. Now, the question is whether Leonard will be healthy enough to play, or whether he will prove difficult much in the way he was last season in Texas.

Rumors are already swirling in Ontario about whether or not Leonard will prefer to stay with the Raptors after this season when he can opt out of his current deal. According to at least one rumor, some close to Leonard think he will stay with Toronto.

Via The San Diego Union-Tribune:

Here’s what someone who knows Leonard as well as anybody told me privately: “He’s going to fall in love with Toronto – it’s going to happen. He’s not going to leave, I’m telling you.”

We have to treat this as hearsay at this point, as a lot of the recent talk from people rumored to be close to Leonard has turned out to be inaccurate.

Even further, Leonard’s wants and actions have been hard to predict. Two years ago, Leonard changed agents and with the help of his uncle, has taken a new direction with his business management. It’s been staunch, and conservative, and stubborn. On paper, forcing his way away from the best-run franchise in the NBA is a real head-scratcher.

That’s also why you can’t necessarily dismiss the idea of Leonard staying in Ontario. His wants and needs seem to shift, and what will affect him one day to the next seems hard to gather. It’s entirely possible that he ends up liking playing in Toronto, and the city itself, which is magnificent.

Yes, we all saw the rumor that Leonard doesn’t like the cold, but that contradicts with the idea that Leonard is “all about basketball”. It’s not as though the basketball situation in Los Angeles is better than the basketball situation in Toronto. And despite their playoff failures, you could say that management installed in Canada is better than those acting in Southern California.

We will see whether Leonard even plays a significant amount of games for the Raptors. We all thought it was impossible that he would sit out an entire season for San Antonio last year, and now we can’t dismiss that possibility moving forward. Getting him on the floor and in a Raptors jersey is first.

Then we can talk about him re-signing in Toronto.

Do you have burning NBA questions you want answered? Submit your questions to Pro Basketball Talk for our mailbag! E-mail us at pbtmailbag@gmail.com to get your question featured right here on PBT.

JR Smith finally says goodbye to LeBron 21 days after Lakers announcement

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Cleveland Cavaliers guard JR Smith isn’t the most aware player on the court. We learned that the hard way during the NBA Finals.

But life in Cleveland will move on, and with Smith apparently still on the roster for the foreseeable future. Smith was at one point in time a favorite of LeBron James, who is now wearing a Los Angeles Lakers jersey.

Apparently, that fact has finally kicked in for Smith. On July 22nd, three weeks after James made it clear that he was heading to the Lakers, Smith decided to finally acknowledge the departure of The King.

Via Instagram:

Thanks bro @kingjames

A post shared by JR Smith (@teamswish) on

NBA players were not shy about sending out their reaction to James heading to the Lakers on social media the day it happened. No doubt actual teammates of LeBron would need to take some time to process it, but even guys like Cedi Osman were more punctual with their well wishes.

Some people bring out the worst in you, others bring out the best. And there are remarkably rare ones, who just bring out the most of everything that even you don't know that you have. They build you up. They make you feel alive. They make you feel strong. They make you feel indisputable. From the first moment we met, you’ve always been that rare one for me, King. I don’t believe in coincidences. I choose to believe my path crossed with you for a reason. And that reason will be uncovered as I continue to walk through. Please accept my highest gratitude for your support and appreciation for your inspiration. I’m truly blessed to have been surrounded by your charm. Bazı insanlar doğanızdaki kötü tarafları ortaya çıkarır; bazıları ise içinizdeki iyiyi katlayarak yansıtmanızı sağlar. Ama bazı özel insanlar vardır ki, onların sayısı çok azdır, sahip olduğunuzun farkında bile olmadığınız yönlerinizi parlatmanızı sağlar. Sizi geliştirir, yaşadığınızı hissettirir ve güçlü olduğunuzu hatırlatır. Kral, ilk buluşmamızdan itibaren benim için eşsiz biri oldun. Biliyorum ve inaniyorum ki seninle yolumuz özel bir nedenle kesişti. Bu özel neden, hayatım boyunca benimle olmaya devam edecek. Verdiğin tüm destek için sana kalpten teşekkür ediyorum. Seninle geçirdiğim her dakika için minnetarım. Yolun açık olsun…

A post shared by Cedi Osman (@cediosman) on

Los Angeles and Cleveland will be interesting teams to watch next year, and largely for the same reason. Each might end up being a complete tire fire, although they will attack things from different ends of the spectrum. How Smith operates in that void for the Cavaliers will be interesting to watch.

Do you have burning NBA questions you want answered? Submit your questions to Pro Basketball Talk for our mailbag! E-mail us at pbtmailbag@gmail.com to get your question featured right here on PBT.

DMV in Cleveland tapes a photo of LeBron to their camera to stop people smiling

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A trip to the DMV is never at the top of anyone’s list of ways to spend an afternoon. Still, it’s a necessary evil of adult life.

The DMV is a place for rules, one of the most common ones is that you are not allowed to smile in your picture for your driver’s license. In Cleveland, the DMV there has decided to make a small alteration to their camera setup to ensure that citizens follow this rule.

Specifically, they taped a photo of LeBron James in a Los Angeles Lakers jersey to the camera that takes the driver’s license photos.

Via Twitter:

At least for this year, putting a photo of LeBron on a camera at the DMV in the Cleveland should keep straight faces on people getting their photo taken. However, seeing as the Cavaliers probably won’t be very good moving forward, it might be just as easy to tape a photo of the team logo up there.

It appears that everyone is upset about Lebron leaving for the LA.

Do you have burning NBA questions you want answered? Submit your questions to Pro Basketball Talk for our mailbag! E-mail us at pbtmailbag@gmail.com to get your question featured right here on PBT.

DeMar DeRozan with classy goodbye to Toronto fans

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DeMar DeRozan did not want to be traded from the Raptors.

He will eventually warm to San Antonio and the Spurs, but for a franchise that has seen star after star push their way out of town — Chris Bosh, Vince Carter, Damon Stoudamire, and on down the list — DeRozan was the one guy who embraced the city, repped it, and not only said he wanted to stay but did just that. DeRozan was all in on Toronto and loyal, and they shipped him out anyway. It may well have been the right basketball move, but it was cold. And a lot of Raptors fans were not happy about how it went down.

DeRozan, classy as always, thanked the Raptors fans in a heartfelt Instagram post.

Someday they will retire DeRozan’s jersey in Toronto. Deservedly so.