By Steve Aschburner, for NBA.com
Posted Feb 19 2010 10:57AM
With only a smattering of games since the All-Star break, there wasn't much opportunity for players to climb or fall in The Race -- although Carmelo Anthony sure seized what was there Thursday night in Cleveland, didn't he?
That doesn't negate the need for the committee's weekly meeting, though. No post-All-Star snooze for The Race, not with post-trading deadline news to address.
The trading deadline generated a flurry of team activity to factor into The Race. No one among the many fellows sent packing -- or, to take a half-full perspective -- "hotly pursued" Thursday had suited up in time for this week's monitoring, but they all had arrived in spirit and on paper.
How do spirit and paper impact The Race before they impact the standings? Easy: It changes supporting casts. While none of our Top 10 changed teams, several of their teammates did and it's well-established that teammates, pro and con, can dramatically affect an NBA star's MVP prospects. The more help a No. 1 guy has -- the closer his team gets to having a 1A and 1B, rather than clearly defined Nos. 2 or 3 -- the more his MVP claims tend to dip.
In essence, The Race is a sort of Strongman contest. The greater the load a candidate has to carry, and the farther he carries it, the higher he ranks in the eyes of the committee. When you really think about it, this turns the traditional views of team-building topsy-turvy.
An NBA star who does everything he can to chase a ring cannot help it if his GM doesn't surround him with sufficient help to get that job done. Meanwhile, an MVP candidate who does everything to win that particular bauble cannot help it if his GM surrounds him with so much help that his need to be super-human -- and really impress all of us -- is lessened.
That gets us back to the original point: Did Cleveland, by acquiring forward Antawn Jamison, improve itself enough around LeBron James that James' MVP prospects are dimmed? After all, Jamison seems like an ideal choice to provide enough firepower and defensive size to cope with or push rivals in Orlando, Boston and Atlanta. There could be nights when the emancipated Washington Wizard paces the Cavs in scoring or rebounding, giving LBJ a breather. His unbridled joy at winning the equivalent of an Eastern Conference lottery -- stuck in Washington's mess one moment, landing on Cleveland's championship-focused express the next -- could boost chemistry off the floor, too; even without the joy, he is a solid character guy on a team with lots of them.
And by my count, the Cavaliers now have four current or former All-Stars -- James, Jamison, Shaquille O'Neal, Mo Williams -- among their top eight. There even was rumbling Thursday that a fifth, trusty center Zydrunas Ilgauskas, could be headed back if Washington cuts him loose and he opts to wait the required 30 days before returning.
So is James less likely to win the MVP now? Nah.
The Race regrets pulling the rug out from under its own preamble, but as long as Cleveland motors along with the league's best record, as long as James stays healthy and as long as he can produce numbers like he did in defeat to Denver Thursday (43 points, 13 rebounds, 15 assists), he can count on having a second Maurice Podoloff trophy to bookend the one he got in 2009.
Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA for 25 years. You can e-mail him here.
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