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MVP? It's debatable between Kobe, LeBron
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It should be noted that Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, Dirk Nowitzki and perhaps one or two others are superb candidates for high basketball office, but represent independent parties seemingly incapable of mustering sufficient votes to win. Anyway, with the primaries behind us, we're attempting to take an objective look (if that's possible with something as potentially subjective as the MVP derby) at the platforms offered by the Los Angeles Lakers and Cleveland Cavaliers superstars, respectively.
Our first vote-influencing tactic is the presentation of an imagined ad campaign for each candidate.
We'll begin with Kobe, whose TV ad features two actors portraying sneaker-company employees busy destroying a videotape of undetermined origin. The voiceover -- performed by Phil Jackson -- includes the following dialogue:
"Would you give your MVP vote to someone who was dunked on in a pick-up game by a college kid from a school in the Atlantic-10 ... and then attempted to have the evidence suppressed? Someone who thinks he's the next Michael Jordan getting posterized by a kid named Jordan Crawford?"
Now we see Bryant posing (while standing next to the Larry O'Brien Trophy) with an American flag fluttering in the background because it's being waved from side to side by Ron Artest.
"A vote for Kobe Bryant is a vote for honesty in pick-up games and against illegal imitation."
LeBron's rebuttal ad features a montage of missed Bryant jumpers and footage from Cleveland's victory over the Lakers on Christmas Day in L.A. The voiceover is executed -- in rap form -- by Jay-Z.
"He's pretty strange from three-point range ... and his efficiency rate doesn't look so great."
We now see a league efficiency rating that highlights LeBron at No. 1 in the NBA.
With such negative campaigning on the table, we now turn our attention to a midseason debate that (might have) happened before the Lakers and Cavs squared off in Cleveland this Thursday.
Kobe: My Lakers team has the best record in the league. And make no mistake ... people love to cast their votes for the best player on the best team. Never underestimate the logic of the electoral college.
LeBron: With all due respect to the shooting guard from Los Angeles, neither one of us went to college. I also want to remind everyone that my Cavaliers team has only one fewer victory and two fewer losses. And we did house the Lakers in Los Angeles. For the record, I love my teammates -- just check out how often I actually pass them the ball -- but Mr. Bryant has more good players around him than I do.
Kobe: I love my teammates just as much as Mr. James and would have more assists if they would shoot a bit more accurately. Lamar Odom is shooting 29 percent from 3-point range. Derek Fisher is just 36 percent overall. Ron Artest is 42 percent overall. On the flip side, Mr. James has Mo Williams, Anthony Parker and Daniel Gibson all shooting above 42 percent beyond the arc.
LeBron: That's true because I give up the ball early enough for my guys to shoot before a defender closes them out. But let's look in the painted area, where Mr. Bryant has Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Odom. Perhaps he'd like to take my guys -- Shaquille O'Neal, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Anderson Varejao -- straight up in a trade? How about it, Kobe, you with Shaq as your running mate again?
Kobe: Uh, no. Too many political differences. He can't go left, for example. But you seem to forget that Pau has been injured. However, going back outside the paint, I'm not playing with a real point guard who can create shots.
LeBron: The triangle offense doesn't require a traditional point guard to generate scoring opportunities for any of you. And Mo Williams isn't exactly the standard point-guard type.
Kobe: No, but he can create off the dribble and convert shots when you have the ball and collapse the defense.
Moderator (Charles Barkley): OK, let's keep this movin'. It's been widely believed that Mr. Bryant is a superior player because he's a better shooter from beyond the arc and at the free-throw line. Mr. James?
LeBron: I'm glad we have a chance to talk about this. I'll admit my perimeter stroke hasn't been on par with the rest of my remarkable game ... until this season, during which I'm making 37 percent of my threes. Kobe ...
Kobe: Hey, wait ...
Moderator: You'll have an opportunity to respond, Mr. Bryant.
LeBron: As I was about to point out, Mr. Bryant is making just 32 percent from 3 and his free-throw percentage is a mere five percent higher than mine.
Kobe: You won't be thinking five percent is anything to sneeze at when a game is on the line. Besides ... the index finger on my shooting hand is mangled. And I've been having back spasms. Maybe if I danced on the sidelines while my team was clobbering the Chicago Bulls, my back would feel better.
LeBron: Anything else?
Kobe: Yeah ... are you gonna shake my hand when this is over?
LeBron: I'll shake your hand after I lock you down when we play in Cleveland on Thursday.
Kobe: The only player who can guard me is me.
LeBron: The only Laker they trust to guard me ... is Ron Artest.
Kobe: I have four game-winning shots.
LeBron: Top efficiency rating ... 7 rebounds and 7 dimes per game. I'm more like Mike than you'll ever be.
Kobe: Mr. James ... I played against Michael Jordan and you're no Michael Jordan.
Moderator: That's terrrrible.
OK, with half a season to go, my personal straw poll has LeBron in the lead for MVP, with Kobe claiming a decisive edge over James in quality of Nike sneaker. But the most important MVP vote will occur at the conclusion of the NBA Finals.
With that issue now open (like a festering wound) for debate, let's take a look at my updated picks for some other NBA honors. I'll list my pick at midseason, followed by the selection (in parentheses) rendered at the quarter pole.
- ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Tyreke Evans, Sacramento Kings (Quarter-pole pick ... Evans). Tyreke took the lead from early choice Brandon Jennings and looks consistent enough to finish strong.
- SIXTH MAN OF THE YEAR: Jamal Crawford, Atlanta Hawks (Quarter-pole pick ... Carl Landry, Houston Rockets). Crawford has evolved into a big-shot hero for the Hawks (despite Monday's misfire) and leads the league in fourth-quarter minutes.
- MOST IMPROVED PLAYER: Channing Frye, Phoenix Suns (Quarter-pole pick ... Dahntay Jones, Indiana Pacers). Like most candidates, Jones' rise was abetted by an increase in minutes. But his productivity has slipped since the return of Mike Dunleavy. Frye, in his first year with the Suns, also is blessed with a huge increase in minutes, but has actually improved his game to fit a new environment. Frye, a career 28-percent shooter from 3-point range on just 70 attempts in four seasons, has made 43 percent of his 228 shots behind the arc this season. This pick would be easier if he rebounded with more gusto.
- COACH OF THE YEAR: Scott Brooks, Oklahoma City Thunder (Quarter-pole pick ... Brooks). Houston's Rick Adelman is a popular choice, but it sometimes can be easier coaching a team of low-paid overachievers with an us-against-the-world mentality. Adelman still would be a fine choice, but Brooks has actually transformed a team of young hotshots into one of the league's top defensive squads.
- DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Gerald Wallace, Charlotte Bobcats (Quarter-pole pick ... Shane Battier, Houston). Dwight Howard is a rebounding-swatting machine and Battier is terrific on the ball. Wallace, whose work on D has been coaxed forward by Coach Larry Brown, provides the best combination of both.
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