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Summer Dreaming: Who wins the Kia MVP next season?

Taking an extra-early look at some names to note in Most Valuable Player Award race for the coming season

POSTED: Sep 1, 2015 10:47 AM ET

By Fran Blinebury

BY Fran Blinebury

NBA.com

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LeBron James and James Harden have strong, if different, arguments as to why they are MVP candidates.

We've got dry, cracked lips from licking the salt off the rims of all those margarita glasses. Our arms are sore from that canoe paddling across a blue mountain lake. We've got criss-cross marks up and down our backs after so many lazy afternoons spent taking naps in a rope hammock. The signs of a long, hot, sultry summer are all around.

While we're still several pages on the calendar away from the 2015-16 season openers, we're shaking the sand out of our beach shoes and taking off from the free throw line to soar all the way to April for the top five contenders on my MVP ballot.

Send us your picks here.

Summer Dreaming: Kia Most Improved Player of the Year

Summer Dreaming: Kia Sixth Man of the Year

• Summer Dreaming: Kia Defensive Player of the Year

• Summer Dreaming: Kia Rookie of the Year

Summer Dreaming: Coach of the Year

Summer Dreaming: Comeback Player of Year

Summer Dreaming: Executive of the Year

Summer Dreaming: First time All-Star

Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder: We know Stephen Curry will run hot. We know LeBron James will boil over the edges of the pot. But there simply will not be another elite player in the league next season whose fire will burn as hot as Durant's. Not after missing 55 games due to foot problems and surgery. Not after seeing his Thunder settle for just 45 wins. Not after sitting out the playoffs for the first time in his career. A healthy, rehabilitated K.D. is a driven, fearsome K.D., ready to re-engage as the most unstoppable offensive force in the league. On top of all that, it's the season leading into Durant becoming the prize free agent in the summer of 2016. Not that he's got to sell himself to anyone, but it never hurts to go onto the market as everybody's most desired bauble. New coach Billy Donovan might bring in a few new tweaks to the attack. But nobody has to strike a match to light this fuse. Durant will be all-in from Day One to add a bookend to his 2014 MVP trophy.

LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers: Has it really been more than two years since the best player in the game was officially recognized as the best player in the game? Greatness this consistent and so far off the charts has a way of becoming mind-numbing and taken for granted. That's the only way to explain why Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant won just one of these apiece. James does so much so often that too much time is spent trying to find minor errors and minuscule flaws. The first season back in Cleveland started slow and came up just short of turning into a driven, underdog success against the outmanned loss to Golden State in The Finals. If James eventually gets a healthy Kyrie Irving back in the lineup to go with a healthy and re-signed Kevin Love, he's already instilled in the Cavs the belief that they are good enough. He's watched Kevin Durant and then Steph Curry take home the hardware for the past two seasons. But as he flatly said during The Finals, he is the best player in the world and MVP No. 5 would be the definitive stamp.

LeBron James' Top 10 Plays from 2015

Check out LeBron James' Top 10 plays from the 2014-15 season.

Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors: Look, he's going to get a certain amount of votes just because he can put up so many points without having the stature of Durant or the sheer physical presence of James. But the truth is that this wisp of a point guard is a sheer force of nature in his own way. He's always finding cracks in the defense to slip through and finish with difficult reserve flips, assorted finger rolls or by creating separation from a defender to step back and toss in a preposterous, jaw-dropping 3-pointer. While it's true that that Warriors are a machine that hums along due to the contribution of so many moving parts, Curry is the main cog that makes everything go. He's the bail-out option on every offensive possession, the one that takes the Golden State offense from the sublime level to sheer ridiculous. If he can follow up last season's run with another that gets the Warriors anywhere close to 67 wins again, going back-to-back for titles and MVPs isn't out of the question.

Steph Curry's Top 10 Plays from 2014-15

Check out the top plays from Stephen Curry's 2014-15 season!

James Harden, Houston Rockets: It was a neck-and-neck race with Curry through all of last season and some of us cast our votes this way simply because Harden had to carry so much of the burden, physically and mentally, for the Rockets. He played without center Dwight Howard for exactly half the regular season. Power forward Terrence Jones missed the first several months. Point guard Pat Beverley and big man Donatas Motiejunas went down at the end. Yet Harden ran the offense, scored the points and made all of the clutch shots to win the Rockets their first division title in nearly two decades. Then he admittedly didn't measure up in a showdown with Curry in the Western Conference finals. But if newly-acquired Ty Lawson can carry some of the weight of setting up the offense, if Howard can stay healthy, Harden could take his game to even greater heights and be right back in the MVP conversation.

James Harden's Top 10 Plays from 2014-15

Check out the top plays from James Harden's 2014-15 season!

Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans: If it were only about numbers, Davis would have won his first MVP award last season when his 30.81 PER ranked as the 11th-best all-time, trailing only luminaries such as Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan and LeBron James. But if it were only about numbers, it wouldn't get to the depth of what Davis brings to the court. If he's not finishing on the break, he's thriving in the paint and around the rim to score hoops. His shooting range has steadily expanded and now new coach Alvin Gentry wants to add a 3-pointer to his arsenal and, well, that just might not be fair. All that offensive excellence doesn't take into account his prowess at the other end of the court, where the long, lanky Davis can guard virtually any position. He's not smothering his man down in the low post, he's leaping out of of the pack in the paint at the last split-second to block what seemed like a wide-open jumper at the 3-point line. His defensive skills are jaw-dropping. In short, due to his age and his still growing potential, Davis would be the No. 1 pick in the league by every GM to build a new team around. All that being said, the MVP has also been traditionally tied to the standings and until Davis can get enough help from teammates for the Pelicans to break into the upper half of the brutal Western Conference, he's going to lag in the MVP race.

Anthony Davis' Top 10 Plays from 2014-15

See why Pelicans center, Anthony Davis was selected to the first team All-NBA this season.

Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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