The basketball season stretches most of the calendar, a fall opener concluding with the championship series as summer nears.
There are, however, a few months as the temperatures drop and NBA fans are left only with memories of last season and thoughts of the next. During these months, they gather, stoking the embers of last season’s passion, engaging in speculation, and making bold predictions about the coming season. This fan is no different, reader, so please come a little closer, warm yourself as the wind of conjecture stirs up the flames surrounding next season’s MVP race.
Below, I’ll examine the circumstances of the top four contenders before fearlessly naming the player who will hold the Maurice Podoloff Trophy at the end of the season:
Carmelo Anthony was the league’s leading scorer last season, averaging about 28 points per game. He also led the New York Knicks to their first win in a playoff series in over a decade, but fell short in the second round against Indiana. With the addition of Andrea Bargnani, a potential solid scorer, and Metta World Peace, expectations for the Knicks — and Anthony — are rising.
Derrick Rose, the youngest player to make the list, clearly proved himself among the best players when named the youngest-ever MVP in the 2010-2011, leading the Bulls to a 62-win season and the Eastern Conference Finals. A number of injuries slowed him the following year; he sat out all of last season recovering from a torn ACL. If Rose is able to return to his earlier form, the Bulls are a title contender and Rose will be in the running for a second MVP Award.
LeBron James is clearly the best player in the league. Already a four-time MVP, James’ chances to repeat seem overwhelming. A star recruit out of high school, he sometimes appears to be a man playing among children. Last season, his average of 27 points per game was just shy of league-leading Anthony’s. And the points he scores win championships, having led the Heat to consecutive titles. His play has, if anything, gotten better in recent years — both his shooting percentages were at career-highs last year.
Last is full-time forward, part-time actor Kevin Durant. Durant, much like Rose, belongs on a team that, when healthy, has proven to be competitive with the NBA-juggernaut Heat. Durant has been runner-up in the MVP voting in three of the past four seasons, as well as leading the Oklahoma City Thunder to the NBA Finals in 2012. The team looked well on their way to a return to the Finals in 2013 until Thunder point guard and key scorer Russel Westbrook injured his knee in the first round.
So who will it be? If history is any indicator, circumstance is not in favor of James winning a third-straight MVP title. A three-peat last happened back in the early ’80s, meaning it’s something that even Michael Jordan, the Greatest, failed to do. Plus, cracks in the Heat are starting to show. The team is aging. Injuries appear to be slowing Dwyane Wade. Then, as a Cleveland fan, I still hope for some karmic justice: I just can’t pick James in good conscience.
Derrick Rose would seem the next logical choice based on ability. Some athletes recovering from torn ACLs return better than ever , but the evidence seems to prove them exceptions to the rule. Having cut my NBA teeth watching injuries lead to the slow decline of top-flight talents Penny Hardaway and Grant Hill, color me skeptical that Rose will be back to MVP form this season. I’m pulling for him, but I wouldn’t bet on it.
Carmelo Anthony is a very good player, but has yet to prove that the Knicks are title worthy. Without a huge boost from Bargnani and World Peace, or without suddenly scoring 35 points a game, there’s just not enough separating him from the others on the list — and they’re all on better teams. My prediction: He’ll remain a very good player on a pretty good team.
My choice for 2013-2014 MVP is Kevin Durant. Why? Because the NBA loves a good underdog story — remember Linsanity? When Westbrook returns, if the Thunder are able to get into anything near championship form, it’ll make great headlines. And because of the whole karma thing: Kevin Durant hasn’t deserted his fans. In fact, he’s the antithetical basketball player: well-spoken and generous, Durant’s a philanthropist who donates to various charities — a player of David Stern’s dreams. I suspect Stern would like Durant to become the face of the NBA and may pull a few strings to make it happen. Oh, and Durant’s a damn good ball player, too.