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The Most Valuable Player inside the bubble was __________.
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Steve Aschburner: Jimmy Butler. Look, LeBron James is the more obvious choice for what he’s credited with doing on and off the court, as well as for the trophies with which he walked off the floor Sunday night. But I’m applying the same standards to this question as I apply to Kia MVP ballots. Having two MVP candidates on the same roster limits each of their cases, in my view. Take either James or Davis out of L.A.’s lineup, the Lakers still can beat a lot of teams. Take Butler out of Miami’s and they’re done after eight seeding games. Better yet, keep Butler in the lineup while removing Goran Dragic and hampering Bam Adebayo, and you still get a Heat team pushing to six games a Lakers squad flaunting two of the league’s best players. Butler’s triple-doubles in Games 3 and 5 gave the NBA’s TV partners more earning opportunities and fanned some fan flames that might have been flickering with a sweep.
Shaun Powell: LeBron James didn’t have a poor game or terrible moment or any lapse from the steep level he built for himself. It seems like an easy answer, choosing the Finals MVP for this question, but he simply outlasted all other bubble MVP candidates (Damian Lillard, Jamal Murray, Luka Doncic), and that must stand for something.
John Schuhmann: There are cases to be made for Jimmy Butler (for a couple of huge games in The Finals) and Anthony Davis (for two-way play), but the Heat’s success was more of an ensemble affair and Davis took a back seat in the Lakers’ offense at times. LeBron James never took a back seat and was, simply, the best player on a team that went 16-5 in the postseason. James’ own offense was a reason the Lakers got off to a slow start in the bubble, but there shouldn’t have been any doubt about his ability to turn it up in the postseason. His jumper will always come and go, but his ability to get to the basket (he scored 76 more points in the restricted area than Davis in the playoffs) hasn’t diminished with age, and this was probably his best defensive season since he was in Miami.
Sekou Smith: Since he’s clearly not a fan of the narrative nature of awards season, I’m sure it will pain LeBron James to know that he’s the glaringly obvious pick here for that very reason. You know the script: legendary talent in his 17th season, leads the league in assists, guides the historic franchise (which had not won a title in a decade) out of the darkest time in the organization’s history in a tumultuous, longest-ever season that ends with them securing banner No. 17. If there were any doubters left before this fourth title run for LeBron, they’d be wise to lay down their arms now. The guy has earned his status as the best player on the planet and one of the truly greatest to ever do it, whether you agree with his methods or not. Three franchises, four titles, four Finals MVPs and the most recent one coming in an unprecedented environment that none of his Mount Rushmore brethren had ever dealt with strengthens his case. No player in the bubble impacted the culture or bottom line for his franchise greater than LeBron (though Jimmy Butler is a close second).
Michael C. Wright: If you asked this question two weeks ago, it would have been Damian Lillard, no question. But Jimmy Butler catapulted himself into this spot with the grit he displayed in The Finals. In five of the six games, Butler played at least 43:26, and in Game 5, he played all but 48 seconds. We all saw the camera shots of Butler exhausted with seemingly nothing left to give throughout the series. But he kept coming back for more and finding ways to win without necessarily filling it up in terms of scoring. Butler’s leadership proved contagious for an undermanned Miami Heat squad in The Finals, and it was almost heartbreaking after Sunday’s Game 6 loss to hear him say, “I didn’t hold up my end of the bargain.” Yes, you did, Jimmy. Yes, you did.