Congratulations to James Harden, Kawhi Leonard, and Russell Westbrook. You each had a fantastic season. You're each deserving of the award, to varying degrees.
But if LeBron can't make the final three for the MVP award — for the first time since 2008 — while he's playing the best basketball we've ever seen, what are we even doing here?
Getty ImagesGetty Images
I understand the argument against LeBron as the most valuable player this season. I really do.
The MVP is a regular-season award, and while we haven't really decided on a consistent definition for the accolade, we have reached a certain polemic. Either the award should go to the player who had the "best" season, or it should go to the best player in the NBA.
By that first measure, LeBron might come up short. He sat out eight games, and he barely broke a sweat in the games he did play.
Both Westbrook and Harden had better, more productive seasons than LeBron because of his decision to rest. If you want to pick one or the other by that logic, then have at it.
Brian SpurlockBrian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
The argument in favor of Leonard, though, is shaky at best. The Spurs star is extraordinary, but he wasn't better than LeBron this season — not by any stretch of the imagination.
Leonard plays defense? Great! He still didn't have the same impact LeBron did when you consider both ends of the court cumulatively. You can explain away the fact San Antonio was almost as dominant without Leonard on the court as when he played. There are nuanced reasons for that, sure.
As much as the NBA MVP is a tangible award, cast in bronze and handed from the commissioner to a superstar each year, it's also a symbol.
We argue about the MVP more than any other award because it's a proxy of how we view basketball. Do you love the smooth efficiency of James Harden? Are you enamored with the ruthless aggression of Russell Westbrook? Does Kawhi Leonard's quiet confidence appeal to your heart? Or are you a fan of true greatness?
The LeBron/Harden/Westbrook debate perfectly summarized the nature of how we appreciate the NBA: the also-rans playing at the peak of their abilities, trying to conquer The King.
That's why people are worked up about this arbitrary endpoint. Had the NBA decided to have five finalists instead of three, LeBron still would have ended up on the outside, looking in. The outcome would have been the same.
But if he's not a finalist, you're telling us the greatest player of his generation doesn't belong in a conversation about who's most valuable — and any conversation about value that excludes LeBron James just isn't worth having.