Derrick Rose was right--he can be NBA MVP
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The first “huh” moment of the NBA season seemed to be at Bulls media day in September, when Derrick Rose casually mentioned he might be the league’s Most Valuable Player. I remember Rose saying it as he addressed reporters and there being an awkward silence with no follow up question. It’s not that everyone didn’t think Rose was terrific, but MVP? With LeBron and Durant and Wade and Kobe and the like still around?
"The way I look at it, why can't I be the MVP in the league?” Rose said matter-of-factly. “Why can't I be the best player in the league? I don't see why not. I work hard, I dedicate myself to the game and sacrifice a lot of things at a young age.”
You sort of felt like patting him on the head and smiling, “Uh, Derrick, MVP? We’re still trying to get you in the top five among point guards.”
But you know what? One month into the NBA season, I have Rose No. 1 for league MVP if the season ended today.
And you figure the Miami Heat might wish that with what they’re going through as the latest was the national media examining the meaning of James bumping into coach Erik Spoelstra coming off the court during Saturday’s desultory loss in Dallas. Was it a message to Spoelstra? Was LeBron telling Pat Riley to give Spoelstra a push? Had LeBron gotten dizzy watching Caron Butler run circles around him? See, even I fell for it.
OK, back to the vote.
It’s a unique season thus far, and a long way to go with things changing as in a horse race or marathon the first out rarely wins. But with Miami’s struggles and James paired up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, none are even in the MVP discussion. Kobe Bryant has played well, but even in Los Angeles they’re asking if Pau Gasol could be league MVP. Steve Nash is with a sinking team and having less impact, Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan and Shaq have slowed and Allen Iverson is in Turkey. Those would be the MVPs of the last decade except for Dirk Nowitzki in 2007, and Nowitzki would be the only one among them I’d even have in this season’s MVP conversation so far.
You say it’s a home town choice as this is Bulls.com. But if you check carefully, I know I never gave an MVP vote for Kirk Hinrich, Ben Gordon or Luol Deng, though I was hesitating at one time when Marcus Fizer had that 30 and 20 game.
But the way this season has gone thus far, I believe you can make a strong case for Rose as MVP, though there never is a clear definition of the criteria. It could be interpreted as the player who does the most for his team, but then you could give it to Gerald Wallace. It generally goes to the approximation of the player having the best season with one of the top teams. And I’ll add in the player having to do the most with the least help. Not that the Bulls are bereft of talent, but the Bulls have been without the player counted on to be the second, or perhaps first, scoring option in Carlos Boozer. And this at a time when the Bulls were playing one of the top five toughest schedules by opponent record. So here’s a look at my MVP ballot today:
1. Derrick Rose, Bulls: He’s second in the NBA in scoring at 26.6 per game, trailing only Kevin Durant, but shooting substantially better than Durant, even on threes. Rose is eighth in the league at 8.2 assists per game and just brought the Bulls off perhaps their toughest road trip in a decade with a 4-3 record while averaging 30 points. And this with every defense focused solely on him with no other true scorer on the team, certainly no one to create a shot.
2. Deron Williams, Jazz: So, I guess I decided Rose is the best point guard. Not necessarily as Williams probably still has a slight edge. Williams has been terrific, 15th in scoring at 21.7, a career best and third in assists for the division leading Jazz, who has fought back from huge deficits like the Bulls. But Williams has much more offensive help in Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson even with Mehmet Okur out and generally a much deeper team.
3. Dwight Howard, Magic: I give him the next spot in the category with Rose of doing most with the least. Vince Carter remains in and out with various maladies and there’s really no second guy you can rely on. Jameer Nelson? Rashard Lewis? C’mon. Howard has finally developed some offensive game around the basket, though he still cannot make free throws. He’s averaging a career best 22.6, 12th in the league, and is fifth in rebounds for the division leading Magic. By the way, Rose and Howard meet Wednesday to open December and I’m not advocating violence, but if I were the Bulls I’d activate Kurt Thomas to get Howard’s attention after those two hammering shots on Rose last season that were — though no one wants to say it and Rose would be the last to make an excuse — dirty and flagrant and intended to injure.
4. Dirk Nowitzki, Mavs: Again, more of the one man band guy, though like with Howard he has a load of role playing pieces, some pretty good ones, but no A-listers. Like Orlando, they have some $90 million in talent, but whenever they need anything, and they often do, they go to Dirk, averaging 26.1, third in the NBA.
5. (tie) Kobe Bryant, Lakers: He is fourth in the league in scoring at 25.6 per game, and as he showed in that win against the Bulls, he can get what he wants as he went into the post late and either scored or passed for scores. He’s such a smarter player now, if not quite the dominant athletic figure. But he’s got the best so called supporting cast in the league with near MVP Gasol, Lamar Odom playing at a high level and some terrific additions for now one of the best benches in the league. He doesn’t carry his team like he once did, but he doesn’t have to. He’s going for Finals MVP.
5. (tie) Chris Paul, Hornets: They were the early story of the league, though they’ve started to slip some. Paul is second in the league to Rajon Rondo in assists and leads in steals, but he cannot come close to the others in delivering on offense for a team, which generally is required in basketball. This is different in baseball, of course, where the award voters apparently don’t watch the games but just the statistics as I noted they recently voted a 13-12 pitcher the best. Sorry, but isn’t winning the goal? Based on that thinking, Sleepy Floyd might have had several MVPs.
5. (Tie) Kevin Durant, Thunder: He was supposed to be the favorite with James distracted with the Heat and likely not to have quite the dominant role. And though he leads the league in scoring, he’s taken way too many bad and forced shots and may not even be the best player on his team this season with Russell Westbrook having huge games. But he figures to come on with his shooting.
LeBron and his overhyped Heat head to Cleveland
-- The highlight of the week in the NBA this week is to be the return Thursday to Cleveland of the man who once was beloved in Cleveland, LeBron James. Yes, we know he’s going to be booed, security is increased and the Cavs owner is asking for less profanity (than usual?).
Like most of these celebrated returns, it won’t end up being much and just become a basketball game. Meanwhile, it’s a general disaster area with the much overhyped Heat, who, at a pedestrian 9-8 and apparently not on the way to 70 wins, convened a long team meeting to hash out grievances after their loss in Dallas Saturday. Of course, I cannot imagine how that went as it’s the fault of James, Dwyane Wade, who appears to be in semi-retirement, and Chris Bosh, whom I saw yelling at teammates during a timeout. Of all guys—does he have one charge in his NBA career? There may never have been a player who was more an oxymoron for his position of power forward, especially on defense. So it’s the fault of Joel Anthony and Eddie House? I’m not saying things are bad, but I heard Michael Jordan wants his number unretired in the Miami arena. Or something like that.
So Spoelstra is supposed to be replaced by Pat Riley, whom I believe doesn’t want to coach because he knows his GM didn’t complete the job with no point guard and no center. Though the players need stronger leadership, I think Riley can see he doesn’t have the pieces yet. Mike Miller, who is injured, was probably the big mistake. Not because he’s brittle, but because they need a point guard to get James and Wade off the ball. Of course, since Phil Jackson said Spoelstra might be replaced, you know Riley can’t do it now. They’re 1-7 against winning teams, James and Wade probably should be running more 2/3 pick and rolls to take advantage of their quickness, but both seem to isolate mostly. And take really bad threes. And both have been missing on defense as it was painful to watch Caron Butler abuse James Saturday, even cutting for a layup for the clincher with James well behind and teams now isolating the man whom Wade is guarding because Wade is so busy arguing with referees and playing the gaps to try to get steals.
Though given all that, perhaps the worst part is the absolute lack of joy and enthusiasm there is in their play. Many have said James made a mistake by not choosing Chicago with a point guard and center and, in effect, full team. But he really should have stayed in Cleveland, where he was with a 60-some win team and looked like the happiest player in the world. The city worshipped him, the franchise would have and did everything for him. They would have gotten better players. He loved his teammates and vice versa.
I often wonder about pro athletes who take the money and run (away). The grass, as the cliché paraphrases, is not often greener. It’s like the Derek Jeter negotiation playing out in New York. So Jeter’s upset because they paid Alex Rodriguez more? So leave and find out what Joe Namath did or Babe Ruth or Joe Montana. It’s often what I wonder about when players want to go to New York. How much more money is it worth to go from where you love life and are having fun to just chase something. LeBron presumably went for the championships, but that’s always uncertain. James was a joy to watch before no matter what you thought of him and his joy in the game, the dancing and pregame shows, however offensive, were infectious. I suppose if they win, and they still can, it can return. But never like that.
There’s also a rub to all this. Some in Denver believe LeBron’s discomfort may be giving Carmelo Anthony second thoughts about looking to get away, especially to places like New Jersey, that it may not be better than Denver and his chances to win perhaps even less. I didn’t see that in his studied indifference about the game with the Bulls until the end, but it also suggests Denver continues to be in no hurry to make any decisions as maybe Anthony will change his mind the more Miami sinks back in the standings and the public mind.
Long season in the works for Philadelphia
-- Doug Collins’ nightmare season continues. The 76ers had to suffer the worst loss of the season last week when Evan Turner missed two free throws with seconds left and a three point lead and then Jrue Holiday fouled a running John Wall maybe 35 feet from the basket and Wall cleverly threw up something and got three foul shots, a tie and win in overtime. Said Holiday: We’re just thinking to ourselves, ‘How is this happening?’” Then the 76ers go from that to losing in Miami, though the only statistical category they didn’t win or tie in the box score was free throws, perhaps a further indictment on the Heat who got dominated by that kind of 76ers team. Said Collins of the game in Miami: “We outshot them from the field, outshot them from two, outrebounded them, had more assists… and we lose.” As the Bulls of the ‘90s knew, that aura of invincibility can get you a few wins. Lacking that, which Miami is, evens the playing field. … Touted by Avery Johnson in training camp as a potential league Sixth Man of the Year, Terrence Williams was assigned to the D-League after what was said to be numerous team violations. He is the essence of what is wrong with NBA scouting. Everyone was warned he was a problem guy and would be a troubled teammate, but there’s always someone who thinks they can be a miracle worker. It rarely works. Having a group that works together and accepts its roles maybe doesn’t win championships without great talent. Real chemistry, which LeBron’s Cavs had despite a lack of talent, is rare and vitally important. You can be very good and entertaining when the players get along and accept who they are. You rarely get miracles trying to sneak talent by everyone else. But teams never learn. … He’s not getting Rookie of the Year or Most Improved, but if there was a surprise award it might go to the Knicks’ Landry Fields, a rookie second rounder who wound up the Knicks starting two guard and is averaging 10.8 points and 6.9 rebounds and a double/double the last three games, 13 points and 10.7 rebounds. Going back into a game against Charlotte last week with the Knicks down, Fields said his thought was, 'Maybe I'll get a rebound on the offensive end to spark us.' " The Knicks actually made a good draft pick? … The New York media was all over Amar’e Stoudemire comments that, "I was just never taught (defense), through high school, and I also think in the NBA. I think last year I watched a lot of film and took it upon myself to be better. I got to give it to (Suns coach) Alvin Gentry. He implemented some strategies that were helpful for me. I just took it and learned from that and carried it over to this season." Stoudemire, of course, was coached before Gentry last season by current Knicks’ coach Mike D’Antoni, never a fan of Stoudemire’s defense, or lack. But missing on LeBron and Wade and Bosh can make strange bedfellows. That said, this is the best the Knicks have played in years, if mostly against teams with losing records. … Curtis Jerrells, one of the free agents previously working out for the Bulls, signed in Belgrade.
Biggest Central challenge may be Pacers
-- It turns out the Bulls biggest threat in the Central Division may be the Indiana Pacers, perhaps the biggest surprise of the early season along with the Hornets, the latter who has stumbled of late and Sunday at home against rival San Antonio in front of a half filled arena. The Pacers beat the Lakers on the road Sunday after earlier beating the Heat in Miami. Indiana ranks second in the league in field goal defense with center Roy Hibbert sixth in blocks. Danny Granger said he thinks the team has taken more charges this season than in the last two combined. … Now the Pistons have moved gimpy Tracy McGrady ahead of Ben Gordon in the rotation. Again, better watch out what you wish for. It’s hard to imagine Ben is enjoying his life more than he did in Chicago. So he better be having fun with that extra $10 million over six years Detroit paid him that he turned down in Chicago. … For those Richard Hamilton fans, he threw up another one of those indifferent five for 16 games in Sunday’s double overtime loss to the Knicks and last week got his second ejection for complaining too much. … By George, he may have gotten it. JaVale McGee is averaging 13 points and 12.2 rebounds the last six games. McGee told the Washington Post: "I just don't want to get yelled at anymore. I'm not really worried about getting points, I'm just trying to get rebounds."…Things seem to becoming undone in Charlotte, where longtime media friendly types like Gerald Wallace and Stephen Jackson have been avoiding interviews. Meanwhile, owner Michael Jordan is off to Australia to assist buddy Fred Couples as an assistant for the President Cup matches, though not until next year when there probably will be a lockout, anyway. … The rumors around the Magic are pretty open now that with Howard basically a one man band they finally are looking to cash in their depth for a top player. They most have their eyes on Anthony, who seems a long shot to settle in Orlando. Gilbert Arenas actually remains a possibility given a long term relationship with Magic GM Otis Smith, who was a Warriors assistant when Arenas played there. With John Wall out, Arenas has looked fully recovered from knee and weapons issues, averaging 22.4 points and eight assists the last five games, creating for himself, which Orlando doesn’t have, and playing 40 minutes per game.
Johnson failing to produce in Atlanta
-- The Hawks also joined the players only meeting list already last week amidst some early finger pointing and questions about coach Larry Drew. Meanwhile, when the team was in New York over the weekend, free agent Jamal Crawford said he’d love to return there. But perhaps the biggest culprit has been Joe Johnson, shooting 40 percent and 26 percent on threes, though averaging about 17 points, his career average. Yes, Joe went for the money as, according to sources close to him, was about to sign last summer with the Bulls. You can’t blame him given he got the biggest contract of all the free agents, but he would have been the ideal two guard for the Bulls. I’m sure he would have gotten much better shots and shot better, especially without Josh Smith, who vastly increased his jump shot total this season. And given Johnson is close with Derrick Rose, perhaps been in a better frame of mind and place than playing before a half empty arena in Atlanta. Will the rest of Joe’s life be better with now basically no chance to play for a great team? Enjoy your money, Joe. Too bad $16 million wasn’t enough to get by. … In the what were they thinking category last week had to be Oklahoma City’s extension for Nick Collison. They made it like some coup in Oklahoma City in using $6.5 million in cap room this year for a front loaded deal so Collison makes $13.2 million this season and then through 2014-15 averaging maybe $2.7 million. OK, but this is a good team with a chance maybe to get to the conference finals. Wouldn’t you have wanted to save that cap room until trading deadline maybe to make a major move to put you over the top? To get Collison cheap down the road? I know they’ve done good things there, but c’mon, that can’t make sense.
Hornets cooling off—quickly
-- After that great start credited to their new defense, the Hornets have lost three of four, including to the Clippers, and been blown out by the Jazz and Spurs. The Hornets’ defense has remained reasonable, but they have trouble scoring. Deron Williams is now 12-3 in games against Chris Paul. Didn’t think that, eh? It’s no lock that we don’t hear unrest from Paul again sometime. It will be interesting watching Monty Williams, who has been integral in the Hornets’ good start. He was prickly to deal with as a player, though he is a strong family man and has a rule, according to the Portland Oregonian for his assistants I’m guessing Pat Riley never did: They must leave work and be home by the time their kids arrive from school. After some family time, they can then watch game film and complete their duties at home, steps from their kid's bedrooms. I don’t think Tom Thibodeau has that rule, either. … The Mavs are crediting Tyson Chandler for injecting a positive spirit through the team. A notoriously poor shooter, Chandler is shooting 70 percent on free throws this season and made 13 of 16 when the Mavs stopped the Spurs winning streak last week. He is truly one of the good guys, so good for him. Perhaps Brendan Haywood doesn’t agree as he and coach Rick Carlisle got into it and Haywood was suspended last week. Everyone said it wasn’t over his role, which certainly meant it was as Haywood resigned expecting to start. But Chandler beat him out, and should. He’s averaging 16.7 points and 14.3 rebounds the last three games as the Mavs are rolling. … Speaking of good guys with talent, Manu Ginobili is one of the best and I remain stunned my colleagues (not me) voted moody and sulky Chris Bosh the Magic Johnson award for cooperation and professionalism over Ginobili. Ginobili is one of the best most upbeat guys in the league, and having a terrific season, averaging 21.5 and shooting 40.4 percent on threes and making the key plays for the surprising Spurs. Though in typical Ginobili fashion, he cracked, “I’m almost positive I won’t play like this for 82 games.”
NBA news and notes
-- The Bulls in Sacramento got a good look at that lack of offense with Tyreke Evans, a shoot only point guard, and Beno Udrih not exactly endorsing coach Paul Westphal. The Kings were 13-15 last season when they turned the ball over to Evans, who won Rookie of the Year as the team has gone 15-52 since with Evans at point. Said Udrih to the Sacramento Bee: “We're predictable. We don't make other teams work for anything, never attack from different sides of the floor. We don't move the ball. It's all one-on-one." Though rookie DeMarcus Cousins also hasn’t met a shot he doesn’t take. … Blake Griffin is putting up huge numbers and dunks for the losing Clippers with comparisons to Shawn Kemp, which sound about right, at least in physical skill. Getting a fifth chance with the injured Clippers is former Illini Brian Cook, who is shooting 58 percent on threes and should be able to help teams with his perimeter shooting. … It’s tough to be the king or replace the king. Jamario Moon got about 12 games as James’ replacement at small forward with the Cavs before Joey Graham got the job. … Hakeem Warrick now has replaced Hedo Turkoglu in the starting lineup for the stumbling Suns. Turkoglu, arguably the worst offseason addition, has had a zero and two point game among the last six, which seems almost impossible when you start for the Suns. … Marcus Banks can’t be that bad. No one’s bad salary has been a throw in on more deals and moved to the Hornets he was told to stay home and they’d send the checks for the rest of the season. He’s in his last season and making $4.8 million.
-- Everyone is assuming the Grizzlies move O.J. Mayo now that Xavier Henry has replaced him in the starting lineup. But the Grizzlies are telling teams with Mayo under a reasonable contract and their bench weak, there’s no reason to move him. If anyone is traded, I’d say it would be Zach Randolph first as I personally don’t see them paying him, though that’s just my hunch. … He’s not making the All-Star team, but Darko Milicic the last six games is averaging 16.5 points and 8.3 rebounds while shooting 56 percent and leading the NBA in blocks for the season. He still wasn’t worth taking ahead of Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, but, hey, it looks like he might have a career. … Not surprisingly, it’s headed down fast in Portland where they’re eighth in the West and fading with a loss Sunday to the Nets. Will they look to deal?....Up high on that Most Improved list has to be former bust Dorell Wright, who passed on DePaul for the NBA. After 30 with nine threes to beat the Timberwolves, he’s averaging 15.5 and shooting 44 percent on threes. … Jazz coach Jerry Sloan on why you cannot be a team that gives in: “You're going to let people know who you are. The whole world knows if you won't fight back. Everybody's got televisions and stuff like that.” I heard they now have color TV back home in Jerry’s hometown McLeansboro.