An MVP race you might actually care about

Student Contributer

The 2009-2010 National Basketball Association season begins this week. In the years directly after Michael Jordan’s retirement (the real one in 1998: this column will not acknowledge the words “baseball” or “Wizards”), such a sentence would usually be followed by an enormous yawn and orders to be woken up sometime in March, when players actually started trying. Those were the dark ages of NBA ball, littered with hulking, immobile giants and half-court sets. A casual viewer tuning in to a game could expect to see one of three things: Allen Iverson dribbling in a swerving pattern (because crossovers make for a serpentine approach) for 30 seconds while his teammates, like you, watched; Tim Duncan converting flat-footed bank shot after flat-footed bank shot; or Shaq getting fouled. This era managed to make basketball unwatchable for both the casual fan and the hard-core purist.

Then sometime around 2003 or 2004, the NBA became watchable again. Refs started calling more hand-checking penalties, taking the advantage away from the defense and placing it in the hands of the offensive player, especially athletic perimeter players.   Mike D’Antoni, coach of the New York Knicks, decided that he wanted his team to start shooting the ball in seven seconds or less, regardless of the fact he was allowed 24.   Most importantly, 2003 will be remembered in the NBA as the first year of LeBron James, a preps-to-pros basketball prodigy carved out of dynamite by a god who had decided at long last that he was going to give residents of Cleveland, Ohio a reason to live. James was and is the star the NBA needed for its new Golden Age, equal parts wholesome and “street.” He’s Kobe Bryant without the rape (allegations), Duncan without the boring, Iverson without the “Practice?” and Steve Nash without the Canadian.

Of course, one player does not a Golden Era make. Dwayne Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh were also chosen in 2003, an enormous haul of superstardom from a single draft. The years following have ushered in players like Dwight Howard, Devin Harris, Brandon Roy, Danny Granger and Kevin Durant, all of whom are already the faces of their respective teams. These players, along with what remains of the guard have made the NBA fun again. In acknowledgment of this transformation, I present my preseason top ten list for the 2009-2010 NBA’s Most Valuable Player Award.   Yet included with each player is a short explanation why they won’t win the award.

10. Carmelo Anthony, Denver Nuggets: Leadership qualities? His team mate, Chauncey “I-Can-Out-Sweat-You” Billups might actually end up with more MVP votes.

9. Paul Pierce, Boston Celtics: He plays with Garnett. And Ray Allen. The team will win, but every time KG blocks a shot or Allen sinks a three, his candidacy takes a hit.

8. Brandon Roy, Portland Trailblazers: The other Blazers are nowhere near as reliable as Roy, the perimeter game’s Tim Duncan (except I don’t hate Roy). The gap between potential and achievement is enormous.

7. Kevin Durant, former Seattle Sonic: Durantula will explode this year. He is unguardable; write it down. Sadly, the rest of the Thunder will sink his campaign before it really gets a chance.   Look out, 2011.

6. Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic: Voters will stop watching his dunks and start watching his free-throws. Ugh. Luckily for Dwight, when he doesn’t win, the sports media will immediately blame Vince Carter.

5. Dirk Nowitski, Dallas Mavericks: His point guard, Jason Kidd, has been running on fumes since before he left New Jersey.

4. Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers: Kobe will slow down just enough in his 14th year to seem human compared to the next three names on the list.

3. Dwayne Wade, Miami Heat: He won’t do more for his team than Paul will, but he plays with a slightly better supporting cast.

2. Chris Paul, New Orleans Hornets: Reasonably, he should win it. A hugely talented player on a team that wouldn’t win 15 games without him, he makes everyone around him better and so forth. Unfortunately, reason bows to the chosen one.

1. Lebron James, Cleveland Cavaliers: Shaquille O’Neal, alien invasion, injury, suspension, cancellation of season. In descending order of likelihood.