Kobe, LeBron, the MVP Award and the NBA Championship

[Ed. Note: Folks, please welcome Wild Yams, our first community volunteer author here at SS&R. Like many of you, I'm sure, I've seen Wild Yams' comments on various blogs across these internets, and have always been impressed with the insight and analysis he provides. SS&R is lucky to have him on board. He kicks off his tenure here at SS&R with an excellent discussion of the 2009 regular season MVP race.]

I'm new around here, but then again I guess we all are, and Josh gracefully asked me to help out with some of the writing duties on SS&R, so I thought I should hurry up and make my first post.  With the regular season over there's a lot to talk about, from the upcoming series with the Jazz, to the speculation that Kevin Garnett is done for the year, to other playoff matchups around the league, including who the Lakers might meet in the second round after beating if they beat the Utah Jazz.  But as always seems to be the case at this time of year, the thing that is foremost on everyone's minds is who will win the MVP, and this year is no different.

For me I think the debate about who should win the MVP this year is somewhat silly, because I expect LeBron to win it in a landslide.  The press has tried to paint it like it's a 2 or 3 man race with Kobe and Dwyane Wade thrown into the discussion, but I think realistically it's been LeBron's award to lose for quite some time this season.  He probably would have won it last year if his team had won more games, and now that his Cavs have finished with the league's best record, there's really no chance he won't win it.  This news may anger some Laker fans, but I think we have to ask ourselves why shouldn't LeBron win it?

The reasons why LeBron will win are simple and obvious, and there are two of them: he was the best player on the team with the league's best record, and his individual stats were astounding.  Now I know the arguments from Laker fans against these two reasons would be that the only reason the Cavs finished with a better record than the Lakers is because they play in the Eastern Conference, which is much worse overall than the West is; and that the only reason LeBron's stats are so much better than Kobe's is because he simply has to do more for his team, and that Kobe shouldn't be penalized simply for having a better team around him.  While on the face those are valid objections, allow me to show you why they're going to be ignored by virtually anyone who has a vote.

For one thing, the East may be a weaker conference, but it's not as weak as you think.  Three of the league's top four teams this year were in the East, while six of the league's seven worst teams were in the West; so while the middle of the pack was better out West, the tops and bottoms in the East had the edge.  Additionally, last year the Celtics (who we Laker fans should be willing to acknowledge was a really great team) had the same record that Cleveland has this year, and you could argue the East was worse last year than they were this year.  66 wins is a great record for any team to have, and I think it's especially impressive that the Cavaliers were able to achieve that many wins.

This brings us to the second part of the argument for MVP: LeBron's individual stats vs the fact that Kobe wasn't asked to do as much for the Lakers this year.  LeBron's personal stats aside, I think it's downright incredible that he was able to take that collection of players to anywhere north of 50 wins, let alone to the league's best record with 66. 

Let me ask you a question: as Laker fans, how many players on Cleveland's roster would you be willing to have LA give up a roster spot for?  I mean, if you took out whatever every player's salary is and didn't factor in whether they'd be better in the future or whatever, and instead were just going to collect the best 12 players on one team for this season, how many of them would be from Cleveland's roster and how many would be from the Lakers'?  Obviously you'd want LeBron, and you'd probably want Mo Williams (though you might wonder if there'd be enough basketballs to go around with him at the point instead of Fish/UPS/Farmar), but how many guys after that? 

Assuming you'd drop Mbenga (or Morrison, depending on who the real 12th man is) to make room for LeBron, would you then want to drop Josh Powell to make room for Zydrunas Ilgauskas?  I guess so, but how many more minutes would Z get over what Powell is getting, now that the 3 man rotation of Drew, Pau and Lamar is back?  Presumably Trevor would go to the bench in favor of LeBron, so maybe Luke would then become expendable, so you could drop him for Mo Williams.  But then who else?  Drop Farmar for Delonte West probably, but honestly that's probably about all you'd want to do.  I mean you could also drop Brown and add either Ben Wallace, Anderson Varejao, Boobie Gibson or Wally Sczerbiak, but really you're talking about the 12th man at that point.  So even assuming you did that, the new Laker rotation would still be Drew & Pau up front, with Lamar off the bench in probably the same substitution patterns they're in now, then you'd have LeBron at SF with Trevor backing him up, Kobe at SG with Sasha, Mo Williams or West behind him, and you'd start Mo Williams at PG with either Fisher or West coming off the bench.  In other words, only LeBron and Mo Williams would be players who would ever see significant minutes if they were added to this Laker team, and that to me says a lot about how much less LeBron has had to work with this year, and how much more impressive it is that his team won the league's most number of games this year.

But I'll tell you what else it tells me: if the Lakers and Cleveland do meet in The Finals, the Cavs are going to have one hell of a time trying to contend with all the weapons and all the depth that the Lakers have.  The MVP award is an individual award, but the championship goes to the best team.  It also should be noted that just because LeBron is going to be this season's Most Valuable Player that it doesn't mean he's a better player than Kobe is.  If Kobe played on a team with me and three other random guys who don't play professional basketball, it wouldn't make Kobe any worse of a player, but it would certainly make his value to that team jump astronomically.  If at the end of the year Kobe is holding the Larry O'Brien trophy in one hand and the Bill Russell award in the other, I know you, me and every other Laker fan will be perfectly content, even if LeBron's got the Maurice Podoloff Trophy sitting on his shelf at home.

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