For the most part, I've been trying to stay out of the MVP debate. What's the point? I mean, it sure seems like the field has been effectively narrowed down to Chris Paul and Kobe Bryant, with the edge going to the player whose team finishes on top of the Western Conference dogpile. I could make a reasonably educated bargument
for or against either player, but regardless of the outcome, I won't dispute the final results. After all, CP3 and Mamba are (more or less) equally deserving.
Of course, neither of them is really the league MVP.
NBA experts and fans who think otherwise are either delusional or kidding themselves. The Most Valuable Player -- with an emphasis on the word "Valuable" -- of the 2007-08 NBA regular season was, is, and will always be
Kevin Garnett. And frankly, it shouldn't even be in question.
The Boston Celtics have won 65 games so far this season. They won 24 last year. For those who enjoy simple math, that's a 41-game turnaround. Think about that for a minute: 41 games
. Go take a look at the current standings
: 15 teams -- a full half of the league -- haven't won 41 games this season. If that doesn't boggle your mind, then you, my friend, are truly unboggleable.
But this is more than just a one-season renaissance. It has been the complete and total rebirth of the proudest franchise in league history. It's not like the Celtics have merely suffered a couple sub-par seasons -- like, say, the Lakers -- they've been bad for a while
. In fact, the Celtics have suffered more than any other team in the past 20 years
. No, seriously
KG changed the culture of the franchise. He made them winners again. That's not to demean the contributions of Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, or the rest of the team (especially Rajon Rondo, who spent the preseason being compared to Matt Maloney). But seriously, look at the facts. Allen has been good (17.6 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 3.1 APG), but not great (44 percent shooting from the field, 39 percent from three). Likewise for Pierce. But forget the numbers. Look at the way they've been playing defense. Critics of the Ray Allen trade -- and I was one of them -- cited Ray-Ray's biggest defensive liability: Namely, that he didn't play any. Not so this season. And Pierce has been going balls-out on D, too. All the Celtics have. And this is an absolute certainty: That intensity begins and ends with Garnett.
Say what you will about his inability to score in the clutch or his history of playoff frustration in Minnesota. I don't care, because that's all in the past. His spirit, his drive, his electrifying presence have revitalized a franchise that's been dead for the better part of two decades
. Why aren't people freaking out about this? Why is "the greatest single-season turnaround in NBA history" not enough?
Honestly? Probably because the Celtics were the exciting early-season story, and the Western Conference Playoff Race* has been the dominant late-season story. Hey, our society has an incurable case of Attention Deficit Disorder. But you know, this isn't the first time this has happened. It's not even the first time it's happened to a Celtic.
*Don't give me the "West is Best" argument, either. The Celtics were 25-5 against Western Conference teams this season, including season sweeps of the Lakers, Mavericks, Rockets and Spurs. And three of those losses -- to the Nuggets, Warriors, and Suns -- came right after KG returned from injury and the team was trying to readjust to his presence.
Let's go back to those golden days of 1980. Larry Bird had revived a Boston team that had won 29 games the previous season, and only 32 games the season before that. At the time, that was the worst two-year stretch the Celtics had suffered since the pre-Auerbach days. Worse, Celtic Pride has sunk to an all-time low, thanks to the malignant presence of locker room cancers like Bob McAdoo, Curtis Rowe, and Marvin Barnes.
Bird changed all that, and he did it largely by himself (with some help from new coach Bill Fitch). After all, this was basically the same team from the previous season (Robert Parish was still a Golden State Warrior, and Kevin McHale was a Minnesota Golden Gopher). Bird breathed new life into vets like Dave Cowens and Tiny Archibald, both of whom a lot of experts thought were finished. The Celtics won 61 games that season, the most in the league. That 32-game improvement was, at the time, the greatest turnaround in league history. Yet he finished fourth in MVP voting
behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Julius Erving and George Gervin.
It was and still is preposterous. The Lakers had won 60 games, but that was only a 13-game improvement from the previous season, and they had added Magic Johnson. And Kareem's numbers were only marginally better than Bird's: 24.8 PPG to 21.3, 10.8 RPG to 10.4, and they both averaged 4.5 APG. But the number that should have counted most went Larry's way: Franchises saved (1).
Dr. J's Sixers improved from 47 to 59 games, but they were an established team that had been to the NBA Finals in 1977. And anyway, they lost the Atlantic Division race to Bird's back-from-the-dead Celtics. Meanwhile, the Iceman led the league in scoring (33.1 PPG), but his Spurs won only 41 games...a seven-game dropoff from the previous season.
Bird was the most valuable
player in 1980, just like Garnett is the most valuable
player in 2008. Kobe might win the hardware, or maybe it'll be Chris Paul. And they've earned it. But not more than KG.Sidenote:
I probably should have mentioned this above, but as Wild Yams correctly points out, KG would probably be a shoe-in if he hadn't won the MVP in 2004. But there's a sense among the media and fans that he already "got his," where as the other candidates -- Kobe, Paul, and maybe even LeBron -- are still without hardware. Yams is right when he says, for good or ill, that plays a factor in the MVP voting.
Labels: Boston Celtics, Chris Paul, Dr. J, George Gervin, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, Larry Bird, Los Angeles Lakers, MVP, New Orleans Hornets