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Giving the players their own award: Performer of the Year

POSTED: Feb 18, 2015 12:35 PM ET

By Steve Aschburner

BY Steve Aschburner


All-Star Practice: Kevin Durant

Rachel Nichols catches up with Kevin Durant to talk all things All-Star Weekend.

No matter how resentful or dismissive NBA players occasionally sound about the owners of the league's 30 franchises, they're never inclined to accept the business challenge that invariably comes back at them: Start your own league if you want.

Now that Kevin Durant has gone resentful and dismissive of the NBA media, complaining about the writers and broadcasters who vote for the league's annual awards, the challenge is pretty much the same: Start your own if you want.

There's a lot of guys that play extremely well for years and years and [are] just starting to get MVP consideration.

– Thunder's Kevin Durant

No, seriously. This one seems more realistic than finding and leasing 30 sufficiently sized venues, incurring all the costs to get those buildings up-and-running, cutting contracts with vendors, broadcasters and licensees, marketing your upstart alternative to the NBA to a skeptical public and then convincing all your peers to climb aboard in the venture on a make-good basis, dangling sweat equity where there used to be guaranteed eight- or nine-figure contracts.

Christening, voting on and bestowing a new award or even a set of awards wouldn't be nearly as troublesome. You design and buy some trophies, send out electronic ballots, compile the results and voila! you have your winners.

There even is an obvious award category that could be offered up and controlled by the players. Something like this:

The NBA Performer of the Year, presented by the National Basketball Players Association.

Now this might not undermine the current awards, which seemed to be part of Durant's motive when he spoke about it at All-Star Weekend in New York. The Oklahoma City forward, in his newly cantankerous mode, sounded more intent on impugning the credibility of the traditional voters than he was in making a case for player involvement.

"I think media [get] too much power to vote on stuff like that. Quite frankly I don't think you really know a lot about as much we know about it," Durant said during the Friday availability session.

He added: "You guys aren't in the scouting reports, you're not in the team meetings and the film sessions to really break down each player's games. I don't see why you have more power in voting than we do. We are out there on the court playing with them. We appreciate how you guys blow the game up and bring attention to the game but at the same time, to keep it pure, the players should have more say in that stuff."

Wouldn't it be better, though, to have their own award? One that doesn't fall under the auspices of the league at all, one that starts out new and clean and free from the bungling of the past?

There would be a bonus benefit to this, too. If the league's players sponsored and cast votes for a Performer of the Year, they would help unpack some of the confusion that goes into the Most Valuable Player voting each spring.

Every year, late in the schedule, voters grapple with the definition of "valuable" and how best to apply it to a range of stellar performances in a variety of team contexts. Is the MVP the statistically most impressive player? Or is he the player without whom -- either based on real absences or imagined ones -- his team would fall the furthest in W-L record?

How does one account for a star turn by a great player on a very good team, as opposed to a heroic grind by another guy whose supporting cast clearly stinks? If the former finishes first and the latter squeaks into the postseason, does that matter? Should it?

Often, the traditional MVP award does wind up going to the unofficial "player of the year." Other times, voters seem to put more emphasis on intangibles and on context. Even Durant mentioned the notion of "narrative" in his criticism of the current voting system.

"You guys vote on the MVP and I think MVP is a lot about narratives and what may happen during that time," he said. "There's a lot of guys that play extremely well for years and years and [are] just starting to get MVP consideration. ... If you look at a guy like James Harden, he's been doing it for three years, same things and people start to act like it's new."

I think media [get] too much power to vote on stuff like that.

– Kevin Durant

Frankly, Durant is right. Awards voters, like everybody else, can fall prey to their short attention spans or their tastes for something different. Michael Jordan might have lost a couple of MVP awards when voters turned to Charles Barkley and Karl Malone, focusing more on what changed for Barkley's and Malone's teams those seasons than on Jordan's continued and unparalleled excellence.

The same thing was said about Derrick Rose interrupting LeBron James' run of four MVPs in five years, even though no GM in the league would have picked Rose over James in a playground game that 2010-11 season. A similar case could be made about Durant's MVP trophy last spring -- as terrific as he was and as much impact as he had on the Thunder, would your average NBA exec or even fan have preferred him as the cornerstone to their team over James?

Here's a chance for Durant to get his wish and for the players to help streamline the whole system. By voting on and naming a Performer of the Year, they would free up the media who select the MVP to truly factor in the warm-and-fuzzies, the intangibles and the soft data, such as guessing how far a team would drop if the player weren't available. (Or sometimes not guessing, as with OKC's 17-9 record with Durant vs. its 11-16 mark without him.)

Right now, the vote is a mish-mash of criteria, only one of which calls for the league's best player, period, to be named MVP.

Now, considering all that expertise and insiders' knowledge the players have about each other, it would be intriguing if they also voted on an NBA Underperformer of the Year. Y'know, help out the media with some of the criticism that comes with that responsibility, too. Presumably the players are the ones who know best, too, when someone is jaking it or idly cashing paychecks.

But that might be too much, too soon. So better to start with the basics and actually help solve a problem instead of just grumbling and taking a cranky swipe at other folks' credibility.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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