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As usual, Kobe Bryant worthy of MVP status

How can the best player of this generation have just one MVP award? Every year, everyone pretty much agrees Kobe Bryant is the best player in the game, the player you’d most want with one shot or one game. Yet Bryant has as many MVPs as Allen Iverson, Kevin Garnett and Dirk Nowitzki and one fewer than Steve Nash.
"Kobe plays," writes Sam Smith of Bryant, who he says deserves consideration for NBA MVP. "What’s he got now? A fractured wrist? Broken nose? Sucking chest wound? You never even know as the guy doesn’t take any games off. This is not a charity vote for an old guy."
(Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty Images)

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

Sam Smith Mailbag

Sunday’s Heat/Thunder game was being considered by many--at least in Miami, Oklahoma City and on ESPN--as a Finals preview. Which I assume forced Tom Thibodeau to break his TV and I hope the Bulls are buying him a new one.

But it didn’t feel like it should be coming in, as the Heat has been anything but feared, while the Thunder turn most games into adventures with losses recently to Cleveland, Houston and Utah and wild wins like in overtime over Minnesota with half the Timberwolves’ team out. So it wasn’t exactly like the league was sitting back wondering how to beat those teams.

If it wasn’t quite yet a Finals showdown, it may have been one for the MVP award.

This season, it’s all but been conceded to LeBron James, though I have some trouble with that given his preference to defer at the end of games. It’s not a clincher as Steve Nash won. So did Bill Russell and Bob Cousy, hardly closers. And James had been having a terrific all around season, though he’s averaging about 17 points and 40 percent shooting since banging his elbow and hitting his head a week or so ago. He says it’s no problem and didn’t miss any games, though it keeps getting brought up. James was vastly outplayed pretty much head to head Sunday by Kevin Durant, though James gets another shot next week after the Bulls visit Oklahoma City April 1.

But my underdog late pick for the award may be Kobe Bryant.

I know it’s not a lifetime achievement award, but how can the best player of this generation have just one MVP award? And when every year, everyone pretty much agrees he’s the best player in the game, the player you’d most want with one shot or one game.

It’s like with Michael Jordan looking back. Sure, Jordan won five MVP awards. But how did he not win every year? Look, it’s human nature and probably fair to share these things a bit as there are other great efforts, and Charles Barkley and Karl Malone had some big seasons. Yes, Shaquille O’Neal won only once. But he barely tried during the regular season. He deserved all those Finals MVPs, but you wish he didn’t skip 15 to 30 games virtually every season.

Kobe plays. What’s he got now? A fractured wrist? Broken nose? Sucking chest wound? You never even know as the guy doesn’t take any games off. This is not a charity vote for an old guy.

Bryant is averaging 28.5 per game in leading the league in scoring. He’s third in minutes played behind Kevin Love and Luol Deng at 38.6 per game. Not predicted by many to do much, the Lakers are leading the division again and third in the Western Conference despite a total team makeover with a new coach, trading away Lamar Odom for nothing and changing the offense. Bryant is averaging 4.7 assists, among the most for shooting guards, and 5.6 rebounds, his most in five years. His shooting is down and shots are up, though as much because he’s been asked to do so much with uncertainly at point guard and the recent trade of Derek Fisher.

James has been good, but he doesn’t feel like an MVP the way Dwyane Wade has to bail out the Heat so often and the way the Heat lose to so many top teams. Durant is terrific, but his team gets caught up in confusion playing with Russell Westbrook and a talented all around group with depth and size. You could say the Lakers have done more with less.

And, really, Kobe Bryant with as many MVPs as Allen Iverson, Kevin Garnett and Dirk Nowitzki and one fewer than Steve Nash while his teams were winning five titles and in the Finals seven times in 12 years?

Give it up for Kobe Bryant.

NBA news and notes

-- Sure, the Knicks are playing much better since Mike Woodson replaced Mike D’Antoni as coach. They are fighting to pass Boston and the 76ers in the Atlantic Division to get a top four spot in the first round. And 76ers coach Doug Collins said, “Miami and Chicago doesn’t want to see New York at seven or eight, I can guarantee that. They’re loaded. They just cracked Indiana twice, and Indiana is a good team. I’m seeing more energy, tenacity. New York is playing like a totally different team. The intensity is higher.” But what does it say about a group of players, though mostly Carmelo Anthony — “The last three games, my focus was to have an energy that I haven’t had so far this season, especially on the defensive end,” Anthony said last week — that they don’t try hard or play defense until they get the coach fired whom they didn’t like? Is that the sort of team that can stand up and produce under playoff pressure? The sort of players you want to go forward with to build a winning foundation? You still figure you have to look at New York if they crack in the playoffs as a team with enough talent to make a deal with Orlando for Dwight Howard. After all, you figure the Magic after this season won’t go into next season and repeat this past season’s mess unless they have a commitment from Howard to move forward with them. Tyson Chandler and Anthony would have to be on the table with another poor playoffs. ... It didn’t take long for Nene to go out, sitting out with back spasms Sunday after three games with Washington. Since missing the 2005-06 season with knee surgery, Nene has averaged missing 25 games per season with various injuries and missed almost a full season with a cancer treatment. ... The Wizards shut down Andray Blatche for being out of shape, a sad commentary for a player with three years and about $24 million on his contract after this season. You’d think he’d be a perfect exchange for fellow underachiever Tyrus Thomas, who is owed $26 million for three years after this. It is why the philosophy of character over talent often is the way to go? In the not bad guy department but also way overpaid, underused and vastly available is the Warriors Andris Biedrins, owed $18 million the next two seasons. ... In need of a center when Anderson Varejao went out, the Cavs went to Ryan Hollins, who was a disaster, booed by home fans and taunted for getting his shot blocked often by the bottom of the rim and averaging barely two rebounds. So the Cavs let him go and suddenly he’s in demand as three playoff teams were after him and he signed with the Celtics. And Ronny Turiaf, an injury prone career five point scorer, suddenly becomes the balance of power changer as he signs with the Heat after spurning the Bulls. Has everyone gone nuts? "I don't think anyone ever feels like they have enough size," says Magic coach Stan Van Gundy. So DeAndre Jordan gets an extension averaging more than $10 million a year and Nene gets five years at $65 million, and Golden State trades for Andrew Bogut and his $13.5 million average salary even though he routinely misses half the season and Marc Gasol and Tyson Chandler are making about $14 million a year and aren’t nearly the top two guys on their teams. It’s a conundrum for teams like the Bulls with strength up front. How can you afford to keep it when Ryan Hollins is in demand? With Turiaf getting the reserve minutes immediately, the Eddy Curry experiment is probably now off until next season.

-- It’s always nice to see the experts reacting like fans. After the Thunder’s impressive win over Miami Sunday, Magic Johnson agreed with Jon Barry that with Miami losing recently to the Lakers, Bulls and now Thunder in so-called statement games, the Bulls probably are the tougher team and favorite to get to the Finals. Yes, but what about if the Bulls lose to Denver on Monday? But give the ABC/ESPN studio group credit for sticking to basketball talk instead of the nursery school hijinks that has become the once terrific TNT show. With Shaquille O’Neal now making a mockery of commentary and analysis and undermining Charles Barkley, ESPN delivers the better product. And after years of hiring all sorts of new experts ESPN finally figured it out: Let the other guys hire Shaq. Too bad for Ernie Johnson, who is classy and still tries, and the rest of us for losing what was a truly entertaining sports program. ... Interesting New York Times story on Glenbrook North and Duke’s Jon Scheyer’s travails playing in Israel, where he is last man off the bench for Maccabi. It’s been a tough road for Scheyer, whose career almost was ended by a serious eye injury after going undrafted. He wants to return to the NBA, but it probably is too much of a longshot. ... The NBA.com box score for the 76ers/Spurs Sunday lists Tim Duncan as “Did Not Dress—Old.” That’s cold. ... One of the big surprises in the Bucks’ resurgence into contention for the eighth spot is Mike Dunleavy, shooting 58 percent the last 10 games and 49 percent for the season. Coach Scott Skiles says he believes Dunleavy is having his best pro season. Said Skiles: "You're almost surprised when he misses a shot right now. He's really putting the ball right in the middle." ... In winning six straight, the Bucks had the Eastern Conference player of the week in successive weeks in Drew Gooden and Ersan Ilyasova. I’m not sure, but I assume the last time Bucks players repeated for that award was when Kareem won it every week. Skiles when asked after beating Charlotte about how the Bucks were able to get 72 points in the paint: “We weren’t playing the Celtics.”

-- The Pacers are going more with George Hill at point guard with inconsistent play from Darren Collison while the Kings have finally gotten Tyreke Evans out of point guard. The surprise is they’ve gone to Isaiah Thomas, the final pick in the 2011 draft who is sort of Nate Robinson without the crazy. The Kings have played somewhat better of late with Robinson averaging 14.6 points and five assists as a starter the last month. It’s been a nice story, though the Kings are pushing him for Rookie of the Year, apparently not yet having seen Kyrie Irving, who already looks like one of the league’s top 10 point guards. ... Wonder if the Hawks still will be tired Wednesday when they host the Bulls after that four overtime marathon Sunday, their third game in three nights. Five players including former Bull Kirk Hinrich played at least 44 minutes as Atlanta basically used only eight players. Avoiding the trading deadline, Hinrich has come on strong, his defense holding John Wall to one of 10 and Devin Harris to four of 18 Sunday. Averaging barely over six points this season, Hinrich is now 11.5 points and 47 percent shooting the last six games. ... When Orlando beat Cleveland with all five starters scoring in double figures, J.J. Redick, showing off being from Duke, declared, "Democracy and capitalism is good for America. Socialism is good for the Orlando Magic.” He apparently meant something about sharing the ball, but Mitt Romney filed papers to have him deported, though asked if he’d go willingly. ... It’s been shocking to watch the continued decline of John Wall, who dribbled out the clock without taking a shot to end a two point loss to Indiana. With Wall at the helm, the Wizards blew a 22-point lead to the Pacers and then a 16-point lead to the Hawks as Wall continued to go to Jordan Crawford for bad outside shots while Nene had been having his way inside. The Wizards’ issue remains how you teach your leader how to play basketball.

-- It’s not a complete disadvantage to be in a small market. The Spurs had one of the best buyout/release hauls picking up Boris Diaw and Patty Mills and being one of the teams that gives the Thunder trouble. ... After Gilbert Arenas shot two of nine in his first two games with Memphis, both losses, the Grizzlies didn’t play him Sunday and beat the Lakers. ... One of the game’s most shocking declines has been that of Lamar Odom, averaging 6.8 points this season but 4.7 this month on 29 percent shooting and 15 percent on threes. Though owner Mark Cuban keeps covering for Odom, he is being booed in the arena and blasted in the local media. A celebrity gossip magazine said Odom was blaming his reality personality wife for ruining his career. I’m not sure if that was the one with the story about the Christian alien rabbi. ... It’s been a tough last two games for Denver’s Andre Miller, averaging just 14 points and three assists on 62.5 percent shooting. Miller suffered a dislocated and separated right shoulder Wednesday but refused to miss any games. Miller, though, is that kind of guy and once had a streak of 632 straight games stopped only by a suspension. The Bulls see the fading Nuggets Monday as Denver is tied or the final West playoff spot. ... Miami’s loss Sunday to Oklahoma City should be encouraging to the Bulls the way the Thunder play. Not necessarily with Kevin Durant’s 28 points, but Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka combining for 35 points and pounding Miami inside. The lack of an interior game remains the Heat’s Achilles heel. "They (Ibaka and Perkins) did too much damage," said Chris Bosh. ... Kevin Love continues to put up amazing numbers, now averaging 26.2 points and 13.7 rebounds after 30 points and 21 rebounds in Sunday’s win over Denver after 51 points in that wild loss to Oklahoma City Friday. Although it will be sorted out in the summer, Olympic team insiders believer Love has the extra forward spot clinched with his perimeter shooting over LaMarcus Aldridge and Blake Griffin. It looks now like eight definite from 2008 in LeBron James, Deron Williams, Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Chris Bosh, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose and Love from the 2010 team and a final spot possibly for Tyson Chandler. Though I still think the committee made a mistake not inviting any knockdown three point shooter like Ray Allen to the summer tryouts. ... Oklahoma City’s Nick Collison on the team adding Derek Fisher: “It’s good to have another adult around here." Fisher has shot three of 16 in his three games with Oklahoma City as they are 3-0.

-- The Jazz should have a most interesting offseason as they transition to young players and likely will consider offers for Al Jefferson, who is having a strong season. Likewise, they pretty much have stopped playing Raja Bell as they list him injured while he says he can play. "This is going to be a great team one day,” Jefferson told the Salt Lake Tribune. “I take my hat off to (GM) Kevin O’Connor. He went and got some great guys. If I’m with them or I’m not, this is going to be a great team one day." ... There was much talk about that amazing jersey retirement ceremony for Chris Mullin last week in which new owner Joe Lacob was booed to the point Mullin and then Rick Barry had to appeal for calm. Sure it was boorish, but what the heck was the brand new owner doing taking over the ceremony after the season dumping trade of popular Monta Ellis for injured Andrew Bogut? Lacob is obviously popular and quoted regularly in Bay Area media and clearly loves the spotlight. But the owners’ manual used everywhere says when you are below .500 and especially after a controversial trade you let a popular broadcaster do that sort of master of ceremonies. Heck, the Bulls were winning championships and smart enough to let Johnny Kerr handle those duties. What you wonder with this new breed of owner is how they got so rich in the first place. Fans certainly were angry. But when you basically trade off your highest scorer for an injured guy and basically give up to get into the lottery (and they don’t even get their pick if it isn’t top seven), you still are charging fans for those tickets. ... So Vinny’s in trouble again, and we’re hearing the same stuff: Unimaginative offense, some players underutilized, curious rotations and timeout calls. And suddenly a game and a half out of ninth in the West. So much for Chris Paul’s MVP. The sense is Vinny survives this season and only a strong playoff run carries him beyond. And so who is in the wings? So far this season Paul Westphal, Flip Saunders, Mike D’Antoni and Nate McMillen are out with only Keith Smart in Sacramento likely to stay. So there’s Vinny and most likely also to go Paul Silas and perhaps Avery Johnson and Stan Van Gundy, though I’d gobble up Van Gundy if he left. Does Larry Brown get another shot? John Calipari if he wins the national title? A Portland writer mentioned Fred Hoiberg there. I don’t know if he even wants to do it, but if you are looking for the next Tom Thibodeau, it’s Thibodeau’s top assistant, Ron Adams on the Bulls staff, whose career basically paralleled Thibodeau’s. ... And if you are looking for the next player to be a coach how about Phoenix’s Jared Dudley. Dudley, the unheralded guard from Boston College, has raised his scoring average all four seasons he’s been with the Suns. He also is the Suns leading scorer since the All-Star break at 16.1 per game as they got hot and into playoff contention. The Suns may be the most unathletic team in the NBA, but they may also have the highest of basketball IQs, obviously with Steve Nash and Grant Hill. But I love the things Dudley does, like when the Suns best the Pacers last week. One of the worst things NBA coaches do is fail to foul leading by three in the closing seconds. They basically don’t trust their players with images of Larry Johnson’s famous playoff four-point play to beat the Pacers. So in the last 12 seconds, Dudley fouled both Danny Granger and then Paul George, allowing neither to get off a game tying three around a pair of Steve Nash free throws. It seems simple, but is rarely even tried by coaches and here’s a player executing it twice. That’s a guy to watch.

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