LeBron James is the most valuable player in basketball, but that shouldn’t make him the 2014-15 NBA MVP.
Would the Cleveland Cavaliers have locked up their first playoff appearance since James took his talents to South Beach if Akron’s prodigal son hadn’t returned? Obviously not, and Kevin Love wouldn’t have joined the Cavaliers either.
But for as good as James has been in his first season back in the Buckeye state — he’s averaging 25.7 points, 7.3 assists and 5.9 rebounds per game — Cleveland wouldn’t have any excuse to have a record worse than its 48-27 mark. In general, James, Love and All-Star guard Kyrie Irving have been healthy this season and the Cavaliers’ only major injury hit was to center Anderson Varejao.
But even when Varejao went down, the Cleveland front office responded by bringing in Timofey Mozgov as a more than capable replacement.
Then there were the issues with Dion Waiters being, for lack of a better word, a pill. His attitude didn’t fit what James and the Cavaliers wanted to do, so they sent him to Oklahoma City and brought in J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert.
James is in the midst of his eighth season with Cleveland, but this is the first time the franchise has truly built a winner around him. That’s why he isn’t the season’s most valuable player, even though the value he brings to any team would surpass all others.
James should certainly still receive consideration, but in all honesty, the Cavaliers have been only as good as, if not slightly worse than, was expected. Each bump along the road has been smoothed out for the team, and Cleveland will be streaking into the playoffs with a great chance to win its first NBA Championship.
To do what is expected, or even just below expectations, isn’t an MVP-winning performance. It can still be a great performance and make you a contender, but James hasn’t carried his team in the same way NBA MVPs typically do.
Enter Russell Westbrook, who has put up other-worldly numbers in recent weeks in order to keep the Thunder — minus superstar Kevin Durant for much of the year — in the playoff hunt.
Westbrook himself has missed 15 games this season, but behind him and with Durant out for all but 27 contests, Oklahoma City doesn’t have a lot going on.
The UCLA product’s recent triple-double outbursts have been historic, but his contributions are having an effect well beyond the numbers. It would’ve been hard to blame Westbrook had he more or less thrown in the towel on the season and simply started jacking up ill-advised shots and refusing to pass.
Instead, he’s answered the call and become the clear leader for the Thunder down the stretch, forcing it into the eighth playoff spot in the Western Conference. It’s no guarantee just yet that Oklahoma City will end up in the postseason, but if it does, then Westbrook deserves the credit.
Yes, James deserves his share of credit in Cleveland, but to take a team with a questionable supporting cast — including the Cavaliers’ outcast Waiters — and keep it in the hunt in the much-tougher Western Conference is a true MVP run.
Is James still the most valuable player you can have on a basketball team? Of course. But that’s not what the NBA MVP is for.