Even if Cleveland is a virtual lock at this point to secure the best record in the NBA and home-court advantage throughout the postseason, there is definitely one Cavalier who still has a lot to play for, and his name is LeBron James.
King James was crowned the NBA's Most Valuable Player for the first time last year at the tender age of 24. Historically, he's well ahead of the curve — Michael Jordan, for all his acclaim and all his glory, didn't win an MVP Award until he was 25. Larry Bird, who won three straight, didn't get the first before he was 27. Kobe Bryant, LeBron's main rival in the modern NBA, was 29 when he finally won his.
Being a legend in the NBA is all about packing the trophy case. The league titles, the scoring titles, the All-Star selections, and yes, the MVP plaques — these are the things that define your career. And if LeBron wants to be remembered as the greatest ever to play the game, he's got to pile up the accolades with no mercy.
Getting his second MVP at age 25 would be a huge accomplishment for LeBron in his seventh NBA season. He's still got a long way to go, but he's off to an astounding head start, no doubt about it.
He's been the youngest NBA player ever to do a lot of things — the youngest to win Rookie of the Year, youngest to put up a triple-double, youngest to earn All-Star Game MVP honors. He was the fastest to 5,000 career points, the fastest to 10,000 and the fastest to 15,000. Being the youngest player with multiple MVPs just seems like the natural next step for King James.
And this year, he's a clear favorite.
He's the league's leading scorer. He's putting up triple-doubles left and right. He's carried his team all year. He's got the Cavaliers on the verge of locking up the best record in the NBA, whereas without him they'd be — what? A fringe playoff team?
Last season, LeBron was the clear favorite for MVP honors, and everyone's predictions came true. This year, the choice looks even clearer. Who's going to challenge him?
He would make more sense than anyone, since like LeBron, he's been the centerpiece of one of the league's best teams. But where's the edge over LeBron? He doesn't have the advantage in team success. He doesn't have the better numbers. At 31, he doesn't have the athletic ability that LeBron does at six years his junior. Put the two guys head to head, and Kobe gets smoked.
As far as his offensive game goes, he's one of the more complete players the NBA has ever seen. He can create a shot from anywhere on the floor more consistently than anyone else. He can carry a team offensively for as long as it takes. When you need someone to take the game over and score on every possession, he's your guy. But there's more to the game than that. With the superb defense, the rebounding, the passing and all the amazing hustle plays, LeBron gets the edge.
Not out of the question. But this is about this season and this season only, and the Oklahoma City youngster gets no extra credit for the potential he has to do great things down the road. Of all the stars chasing LeBron this season for MVP honors, Durant is the one most similar to LeBron himself — he's got the overpowering body, the amazing athleticism, the raw ability to score, and the intense desire to improve as a well-rounded player. But Durant is only 21, and he still has time to make those improvements. His year will come, but in 2010, he'll have to wait.
The NBA is as star-studded as it's ever been, but there's a clear star among stars, and his name is LeBron James. As the season winds down to the home stretch, the MVP award is LeBron's to lose — but don't expect him to lose it.