Don't forget about LeBron in heated MVP discussion

Don't forget about LeBron in heated MVP discussion

Is James lost in the mix with Curry, Harden, and now Westbrook?

LeBron James did not win the MVP award last season. The trophy went toKevin Durant, who was fabulous, although if you chose sides in an NBA pickup game in 2013-14, Durant would've gone second.

LeBron probably won't win MVP this season, either.

Not if you believe the "buzz," that unscientific noise generated by fans and some media that goes great lengths to create an impression and mold public opinion.Stephen Curry was the buzz's choice early in the season, and then James Harden's campaign gathered steam, and now here comes Russell Westbrook, giving everyone whiplash as he supposedly blows by them, LeBron included.

LeBron could actually finish fourth; again, if the vibe we're getting and hearing and feeling is real. Fourth!

Kia Race to the MVP Ladder

There are eight weeks left in the season, plenty of time to allow the candidates to strengthen or weaken their case. Plenty of time for honest and legitimate conversation to be held. But there's one thing that won't change between now and then and, actually, will never change. We still don't have a consensus on what constitutes a Most Valuable Player.

When the NBA distributes ballots to the voters, the league conveniently leaves out the part about guidelines and qualifications and what not. The NBA is hardly alone; none of the professional sports leagues are specific about what type of player should be seriously considered for their highest individual honor. They'd rather be vague, then throw the ballots to the decision-makers and let them have at it, guidelines be damned. And when that happens, chaos is sure to follow when there's no "clear-cut" choice. As in, this season.

When left up to the voters to describe and define an MVP, everyone brings his or her agenda. They attach their own weight to the unwritten rules. Such as: An MVP cannot come from a team with a losing record, or even a mediocre record. An MVP must play an unspecified minimum number of games. An MVP must be at or near the top in at least one statistical category. An MVP must pretty much be the best player at his position, or second-best, although there's no uniform ranking order to follow.

In other words, it's a free for all.

Some voters will reward Westbrook for Durant's injury. That's what's happening now. Durant is out for at least another week with a foot injury and Westbrook has played exceptionally well without his co-star, averaging 26.3 points (on 50 percent shooting, 45 from deep), 7.5 rebounds and 10.8 assists in his last six games. The belief is Westbrook, too, is silently thrilled at going solo, which gives him a chance to boost his credibility as a star and enhance his candidacy as an MVP now that he's free of Durant's shadow. This notion wouldn't be a stretch; just two weeks ago Westbrook was hell-bent on winning the All-Star Game MVPright from the jump, breaking the record for most points in a first half.

Westbrook missed 14 games with a broken right hand. That was held against him by some in the court of public opinion for an All-Star spot, but should have no bearing for anyone considering him for MVP. If anything, recovering so quickly, and emphatically, from that injury is in Westbrook's favor. The man simply refuses to be sidetracked, either by a hand injury or knee surgery.

"He does so many things and he does it every night," said OKC coach Scott Brooks. "He's a no-excuse player. A great leader. He's been playing this way for a long time, for a lot of years."

Playing without Dwight Howard, likewise, has turned Harden into a beastly candidate. 

Harden leads the NBA in scoring (with Westbrook second and climbing) mainly because he doesn't have a strong point guard who could distribute the ball to others, or a No. 2 scorer on the Rockets.

Therefore, he dominates the ball perhaps like no one else in the NBA; the Houston offense begins and usually ends with Harden.

His teammates spread the floor and let him go 1-on-1, often to success. And make no mistake, Harden loves having so much control and clout.


It's not the type of basketball that Wooden or Auerbach would endorse, but it is an offense designed to get big numbers for Harden and the notice of MVP voters.

I'm not just a scorer," Harden said. "I'm a playmaker as well ... getting my guys involved, doing whatever it takes to win basketball games, that's what's important."

There's also the best-player-on-the-best-team reasoning that sways some voters. That's why Curry received plenty of love in November and December.

He had the numbers and averaged 22 points and almost 8 assists and 5 rebounds in those two months.

And the Warriors broke hard from the gate, finished 36-6 at the midway point and put distance between themselves and the NBA until the Hawks put together a massive run starting around the holidays. Still, if anyone could point to a defining performance by any Warrior this season, it's Klay Thompson and his 37-point quarter.

On the eve of Curry and the Warriors playing the Cavs, Curry heard what LeBron said during the All-Star break, that he'd give Curry his vote.

"He's won it four times," Curry said. "He knows what it takes to do that. It's more encouragement to keep doing what I'm doing. Hopefully that dream comes true."

Meanwhile, LeBron has the Cavaliers soaring up the standings in the East and, after setbacks suffered by the Bulls (Derrick Rose), the Cavs are now the darlings of the Vegas casinos to reach the NBA Finals.

When LeBron returned from missing eight games with a knee tweak, the NBA season took a sharp turn. Suddenly, a gloomy start by the Cavs is a distant memory. LeBron has that much gusto, especially when he's locked in and determined, as he's been the last six weeks.

His numbers -- 25.7 points, 5.6 rebounds, 7.3 assists -- are lower than Westbrook's, for example, and not as bombastic as years before, when he won MVP. But: Cleveland began a 12-game winning streak in his second game back and has never looked back at its ugly, controversial start when all appeared bleak. They're 2-8 without him in the lineup. They're 17-2 since he recovered and also returned a more determined player.

The year he's having is typical, and when that happens, it's easy to take him for granted. Such is the penalty for greatness and consistency. Michael Jordan was the pacesetter for that. He was so good, for so long, that after a while, folks came up with reasons to push the MVP in the direction of others. To which Karl Malone and Charles Barkley are forever thankful for "Jordan fatigue."

And now, there's every reason to suspect the basketball public is weary of LeBron getting the award every year, even if he's deserving. How could LeBron get more MVPs than Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain and Larry Bird and Magic Johnson? That'll be the argument if and when he gets a fifth.

"It's not where my mind is right now," James said at the All-Star break. "I've won those (before) and right now I'm focused on trying to do what I haven't done."


Meaning: Win a title in Cleveland.

And that raises another point. The MVP is universally considered the most cherished if not desired individual award by players, and every superstar, no matter how many times he's won, craves it.

But it's not the most important. It's not even close to MVP of the NBA Finals. Because with the exception of Jerry West in 1969, that award came with a trophy and a ring.

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