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Steve Aschburner

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Look for Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant to battle for MVP supremacy in the coming season.
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images

Summer jockeying by players sets stage for true MVP race


Posted Aug 2 2010 2:35PM

Certain NBA sticklers discount the significance of the league's Most Valuable Player award even in the thick of basketball season. The games in June are the ones that matter, they'll cry in touting the superiority of the Finals MVP trophy.

Here at The Race we respectfully disagree, because a prize sought by as many as 450 candidates across six months seems more desirable than one that, one way or another, will be handed out to one of 24 contestants after two weeks of work.

2009-10 MVP voting results
Rank Player Points
1. LeBron James 1205
2. Kevin Durant 609
3. Kobe Bryant 599
4. Dwight Howard 478
5. Dwyane Wade 119
6. Carmelo Anthony 65
7. Dirk Nowitzki 55
8. Steve Nash 49
9. Deron Williams 7
10. Amar'e Stoudemire 5
11. Manu Ginobili 3
12. Chauncey Billups 1
12. Chris Bosh 1
12. Stephen Jackson 1
12. Joe Johnson 1

It would be one thing if the Finals MVP were occasionally held back, shelved, and only presented in those years when someone truly achieved greatness in the championship round. Now that really would honor Bill Russell, the Boston Celtics icon after whom the award is named. But the trophy is bestowed every June, no exceptions, and -- since in all but one case it's gone to a player from the winning team -- the pool of eligibles is really just 12-guys deep. Any shallower and it would be like the "Best Dad" trophy your kids got you on Father's Day. Sweet and all but, uh, who else exactly was in the running?

Besides, if you really must know, members of The Race committee need something to justify their existence. A gig that can be stretched to a half year always is better in an economy like this than one that begins and ends in a span of 14 days.

As a matter of fact, a gig that can begin three months earlier -- at least with this Summer Edition one-off -- is even better. But there is a legitimate reason, too, to check in on the top finishers from last season's Race: Given the amount of player movement in the NBA this offseason, the balance of power and the intra-team dynamics have shifted in enough precincts to alter the MVP pecking order before the first ball gets rolled out at training camp. The committee felt it was worth weighing in on those shifts, however slight or dramatic. (Therefore, the committee will be expensing its big lunch tab at Morton's over which this installment was discussed.)

The aforementioned sticklers might want to avert those rolling eyes. But for the rest of you, here is the MVP Race, Summer Edition:

1. Kobe Bryant, L.A. Lakers
GMPGPPGRPGAPGSPGBPGFG%3P%FT%
7338.827.05.45.01.60.3.456.329.811
Last Week's Rank - NA
If what transpired in Miami over the past five weeks -- buddy ball elevated to alleged dynasty-building -- had Bryant sharpening his knives for 2010-11 in terms of a third straight Lakers championship, we can assume that the hyper-competitive L.A. star also sees a big, fat opportunity on the MVP front. Bryant owns two Russell awards as Finals MVP but only one of the Maurice Podoloff variety for the regular season (2007-08). That's four fewer than his career target Michael Jordan and one less than LeBron James. But James' apparent step back from this competition has created not just an opportunity for Bryant but, as he likely sees it, a necessity.

2. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
GMPGPPGRPGAPGSPGBPGFG%3P%FT%
8239.530.17.62.81.41.0.476.365.900
Last Week's Rank - NA
Durant will have so much going for him in The Race this season: His skills still are in their ascendancy, he is the best player by far on his Oklahoma City team (thus shouldering the heaviest load for winning and excelling) and he generated tremendous good will by quietly signing his contract extension with the Thunder. In fact, if this were a popular vote, Durant might rank No. 1 on this August list. Still, the committee members also are susceptible to emotions (occasionally, even ones that aren't base).

3. Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic
GMPGPPGRPGAPGSPGBPGFG%3P%FT%
8234.718.313.21.80.92.8.612.000.592
Last Week's Rank - NA
If this Superman is the real deal -- we're talking George Reeves or Christopher Reeve, not Brandon Routh -- then this ought to be a breakthrough season for Howard. Or, depending on your perspective, yet another one. It was bad enough that the 2010 postseason ended two rounds and a Larry O'Brien trophy short of the Orlando Magic's ambitions, with the Boston Celtics "handling him" and some folks characterizing Howard as a thug by that series' end. Then things got worse when the Heat, right in his team's backyard, stole the offseason spotlight and, without playing one game together as Super Friends, were considered by many to be Eastern Conference favorites. If this Man of Steel is ever going to have a mean streak -- and a more complete offensive game -- he has reasons and the necessary focus now.

4. Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks
GMPGPPGRPGAPGSPGBPGFG%3P%FT%
8137.525.07.72.70.91.0.481.421.915
Last Week's Rank - NA
The cast around him in Dallas still is terrifically talented, but Nowitzki remains the essential Mavericks player. He signed for less money than maximally possible -- a classy MVP move right there -- and he's a past winner of this award. The Mavericks would need to finish with one of the top three records, probably, and more attention to defense (if possible at this stage of the 32-year-old's career) would earn him extra votes.

5. LeBron James, Miami Heat
GMPGPPGRPGAPGSPGBPGFG%3P%FT%
7639.029.77.38.61.61.0.503.333.767
Last Week's Rank - NA
From back-to-back MVP seasons to a fifth-place ranking here would qualify as a serious plummet, and the zany part is that James wasn't pushed. He jumped. Leapt at the chance, actually, to team up with Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the cast of ring-sniffers, bandwagon-jumpers and salary-sacrificers Heat prez Pat Riley has assembled in Miami. But instead of being the ultimate MVP candidate he was in Cleveland – franchise anchor with a yawning performance gap between him and his team's No. 2 -- James' impact could be blurred by the presence of two recent regulars on The Race charts. Blurred enough – barring the wild talk about James perhaps averaging a Big O-like triple-double -- to drop to No. 5, with Wade and Bosh slipping off this edition entirely, also by their own hands.

6. Deron Williams, Utah Jazz
GMPGPPGRPGAPGSPGBPGFG%3P%FT%
7636.918.74.010.51.30.2.469.371.801
Last Week's Rank - NA
Williams could benefit as an MVP candidate from the turnover on the Utah Jazz's roster. If a team can lose quality players like Carlos Boozer, Kyle Korver and Wesley Matthews and still win -- which the committee fully expects, thanks to Williams, coach Jerry Sloan and the incalculable benefits of consistency -- its All-Star triggerman will get much credit. Even if newcomer Al Jefferson plays at an All-Star level himself, Williams will be praised for providing the boost.

7. Carlos Boozer, Chicago Bulls
GMPGPPGRPGAPGSPGBPGFG%3P%FT%
7834.319.511.23.21.10.5.562.000.742
Last Week's Rank - NA
Chicago is ready for Carlos Boozer to get serious MVP consideration; the city's NBA fans were drooling for James, Wade or Bosh and will impose a lot of those expectations on the solid if unflashy power forward with the Salt Lake City postmark. The Bulls need Boozer to assert his veteran self, and he has a coach in Tom Thibodeau who will burn midnight oil to ensure that Boozer thrives. But there's a familiar snag here: Derrick Rose is Boozer's new Williams, maybe even more so, and the irrepressible point guard will siphon off MVP influence as he develops into a Wade-like performer.

8. Amar'e Stoudemire , New York Knicks
GMPGPPGRPGAPGSPGBPGFG%3P%FT%
8234.623.18.91.00.61.0.557.167.771
Last Week's Rank - NA
Stoudemire got neglected in The Race last season because he played alongside Steve Nash, who elevates teammates' games the way most of us breathe. Also, it was hard to know what portion of Stoudemire's heroics were contract-driven in the weeks before free agency. Now, though, he is The Man for what enough delusional fans still consider to be The Franchise. This could set the stage for some Bob McAdoo-like results -- big numbers, small team results. Except that McAdoo actually won himself an MVP in 1975.

9. Carmelo Anthony, Denver Nuggets
GMPGPPGRPGAPGSPGBPGFG%3P%FT%
6938.228.26.63.21.30.4.458.316.830
Last Week's Rank - NA
A scoring race with Durant that goes down to the season's final week or, better yet, final night would help drive Anthony up this chart. So would Denver finally fulfilling its playoff potential, hopefully with George Karl on board to make it happen. Anything short of either, though, and Anthony will generate most of his attention through speculation about his 2011-12 whereabouts.

10. Steve Nash, Phoenix Suns
GMPGPPGRPGAPGSPGBPGFG%3P%FT%
8132.816.53.311.00.50.2.507.426.938
Last Week's Rank - NA
You were expecting Chris Paul at this spot (or higher)? That would be nice, after the New Orleans' playmaker picked up labels such as "petulant" and "impatient" this offseason like bathroom tissue stuck on the bottom of his shoe. What about Milwaukee's Brandon Jennings, who showed glimpses of MVP worthiness last season? Or Joe Johnson or Rudy Gay? Oops, one committee member just did a spit-take on that. Doesn't matter anyway, because Nash -- a two-time MVP -- will have a retooled team in Phoenix, which is like giving Emeril Lagasse a full 'fridge and a kitchen's worth of weaponry. You just know Nash will whip up something.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA for 25 years. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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