King of MVPs?

Victor Corona

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According to many ESPN.com NBA experts, the Most Valuable Player this season is as easy a pick as 1-2-3. Seventeen out of 18 analysts selected the Cavaliers’ Lebron James for the award while Miami’s Dwyane Wade received the other lone first-place vote. An almost-unanimous pick is a bit offline, especially with the 2008-09 season Wade and the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant have had.

Not to take anything away from James, who deserves the accolade after leading Cleveland to its best regular season in franchise history and home-court advantage throughout the postseason. But looking back and breaking down the player teams’ and their individual statistics, it shows why the MVP award is not a shoe-in like these ‘experts’ make it seem.

Bryant, the reigning MVP, was the favorite in the clubhouse not too long ago after helping the Lakers to a 6-0 road trip which included back-to-back wins in Boston and Cleveland. Bryant followed that up by winning co-MVP honors at the All-Star game in Phoenix along with former teammate, the Suns’ center Shaquille O’Neal.

But by the middle of March, James had overtaken Bryant at the top of the list by leading the Cavaliers to the league’s best record. Wade, on the other side, had his late MVP charge stamped in a 55-point performance against the hapless Knicks on Sunday. The win clinched the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference for a Heat team that only won 15 games last season and saw its idea of competitiveness be reduced to getting the most ping-pong balls for the 2008 Draft’s lottery, which it didn’t win either.

As far as stats go, James led his team in all five major categories this season: points, assists, rebounds, blocks and steals. Yet Wade led the league in scoring at 30.2 points per game and became the first player under 6-5 to have more than 100 blocks in a single season.

For many years in the new millennium, especially after the Lakers traded O’Neal to Wade’s Heat ‘- with whom he won a championship in 2006 ‘- Bryant put up some remarkable numbers, but was never consider for the MVP because his team was not in contention for a championship. This should not be the case for Wade, who has led his team to at least 27 more wins than last season.

Another point voters and ‘experts’ should keep in mind is that Wade’s supporting cast does not compare to James’. People even have trouble naming more than three players on the Heat’s roster. When deciding on the MVP, the first question that comes up is ‘Where would his team be without him?’ In the Heat’s case, it would be in a dark room with a plastic bag over its face, trying to hide from a second consecutive under-20-win season.

Bryant, on the other hand, keeps getting the argument that his supporting cast is better than James’. However, if you look at the Cavs’ roster, there are four players in there that at one point in their careers were All-Stars (James, obviously, is one of them). Mo Williams was selected to the All-Star game this season while forward Ben Wallace got nods from 2003-06 and center Zydrunas Ilgauskas was in Atlanta in 2003 and Denver in 2005. The Lakers only have two All-Stars on their roster in Bryant and forward Pau Gasol. Also, for the second year in a row, Bryant had to do without center Andrew Bynum, who was lost for most of the regular season due to a knee injury.

Another detail that should work in Bryant’s favor is the fact that the Lakers fared well against the NBA’s elite teams while James’ team didn’t. Against the Cavs, Celtics and Magic, the purple-and-gold went 4-2, including a 2-0 sweep against Cleveland. If the Cavaliers defeat Philadelphia at home tonight, they will have gone 40-1 at Quicken Loans Arena ‘- tying an all-time mark for home proficiency. Only Bryant and the Lakers will have come out winners from the land of ‘the King.’

The Cavaliers meanwhile didn’t win a road game and struggled to a 3-6 record vs. Los Angeles, Boston and Orlando. How could someone be an MVP hands down when he can’t even lead his team to at least one away win against an elite team? The rebuttal will probably be ‘Who cares? Cleveland has the best record,’ but it matters when comparing how much stronger the Western Conference is. As of Tuesday night, the West’s eighth seed, the Utah Jazz, was 14 games above .500 while the sixth, seventh and eighth seeds in the East were all hovering around winning only half of their regular-season games. Within its own conference, Los Angeles had a 43-8 record. Cleveland had 11 losses against its much weaker league.

There you have it. There is more than enough reason to believe this year’s MVP race will not end in a James’ waltz to the finish with every other contestant at least 50 feet behind him (as those ‘experts’ predict). James, Wade and Bryant were all part of last year’s U.S. team which won gold in the Olympics. All three have fed off each other this season. There is no wrong pick, but it’s not a one-man event.

My pick: Dwyane Wade (Miami Heat).