For James, East Final Is an Ex-MVP’s Shot At Redemption

For the first time in three years, LeBron James did not give an acceptance speech at the Most Valuable Player’s press conference. Now, as he faces his successor at the podium, Derrick Rose, in the Eastern Conference Finals, James is hoping his Heat can do exactly what the Magic and Celtics did to him — prevent the reigning MVP from advancing to the NBA Finals.

In the NBA, the Most Valuable Player carrying his team to the brink of a title is the rule, not the exception. Since the league began handing out the hardware in 1956, the MVP’s team has appeared in the championship round 28 times, good for a 51 percent rate. And during the NBA’s halcyon era of Magic, Larry, and Michael, the clip was even higher: from 1983-2003, the MVP made a Finals appearance in 16 of 21 seasons, more than 75% of the time. In a world where current players are largely measured against those three names alone, it makes headlines when a reigning MVP fails to reach the league’s grandest stage.

Perhaps this is why the drought of recent winners has been met with so much scorn. Since 2004, only one MVP (Kobe Bryant in 2008) has led his club to the Finals. The others — Kevin Garnett, Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki, and James — flamed out in the Conference Finals (or in the cases of the latter two, earlier), provoking backlash from the Skip Bayless set and anyone else preoccupied with legacies or comparisons to long-retired legends. That it has been viewed as a blemish on James’ otherwise staggering resume is undeniable.

Yet now he has a chance to inflict the same criticism on Rose, the youngest MVP in league history. It’s strangely fitting, because their paths have run parallel ever since the Rose-for-MVP talk rose from a whisper at the lunatic fringe of Bulls fandom to a din heard across the entire country. In the wake of ‘The Decision’, the media tried to talk itself into casting Kevin Durant as James’ foil, but Rose out-Duranted everyone, ranging from his own sharp improvement to the Bulls’ unexpected #1 seed and the endearingly humble manner in which he carried himself (culminating in a truly beautiful moment at his MVP presser). In the minds of many, he embodied the yin to James’ preening yang.

For these reasons, the media will doubtless go easier on Rose than they did James, should the Bulls’ season end early. And by the same token, the fact that James felt he needed two other big names, one of whom is nearly his equal in the universe of NBA megastars, to reach the Finals again will continue to dog him if the Heat prevail. But even if his legacy cannot be fully repaired through victory, it’s clear that in a twist of fate, the only way James can gain some measure of redemption for his “incomplete” MVPs of 2009 and 2010 is to stamp Rose’s 2011 award with the same stigma.

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About Neil Paine

I work for Sports-Reference.com. I've been a freelance writer for ESPN, Sports Illustrated, The New York Times, and Basketball Prospectus.

Posted on May 15, 2011, in Analysis, Awards, History, No Math Required, Playoffs, Rants & Ramblings and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 123 Comments.

  1. AYC sez: It’s not surprising that the 62 Warriors were last in points allowed. They played at the fastest pace in the league, averaging over 125 ppg; how do you think Wilt was able to average 50ppg by himself? Generally speaking, a team that relies too heavily on one player isn’t going to win a championship; scoring champs rarely win titles; Jordan is the exception that proves the rule; that’s why he’s the greatest ever.>>>>>>>>

    A few things… Firstly, thank you for being a good sport. I hope we’re cool. Secondly, thank you for the info on the ‘pace’ of the 1962 Warriors.

    Frankly, if I had Wilt Chamberlain and I wanted to maximize my chances of winning, I would have made his defensive abilities factor in more and slowed the pace. The plan(s), IMO, with those early 60s Wilt/ Warrior teams were losers…

    Lastly, Jordan winning titles AND being a scoring champion may very well support his GOAT claim——it may also, perhaps even moreso, illustrate the TREMENDOUS job the Bulls’ organization did building a team——coach included——that could absorb the usual toxins that come with having a player who dominates the ball like Jordan did in a team sport.

  2. huevonkiller

    Sean, you are aware a huge ballhog led the east to 56 wins in 2001 and an MVP? The Same as 2001 Shaq.

    Team defense does matter, stop acting like it isn’t the case.

  3. Michael E Sullivan

    “Well, it’s obvious having Wilt score 44.8 ppg WASN’T working. ”

    If by working, you mean likely to contend for a title, then obviously not.

    OTOH, maybe 31-49 was the best that team was going to do, and Wilt taking fewer shots or doing whatever intangible thing you or he or somebody else thinks he should have would have made no difference, or made them worse.

    You’re just guessing at the counterfactual. For players who have obvious game deficiencies outside the stat sheet, or who are inefficient scorers, you have some real evidence that they may have been taking opportunities from their teammates. But just lookig at that year, it’s not all that obvious. Wilt was the only relatively efficient scorer on that team that year who played more than 20 mpg. Now the next year, roughly the same cast made the playoffs. Wilt did shoot less, and passed a lot more (averaged 5 apg that season), and 2-3 of his teammates that had very bad lines in 61-62, were above average. There is some indication that could have been Wilt easing up and not hogging things. But it also could be that Wilt was playing perfectly sensibly in both years, and those other guys just got enough better that it made sense to give them more shots in 1963-64 and not in 1961-62. Hard to tease out. But the fact is, in 1963-64 Wilt still took a ton of shots, and still had 36.5 ppg, but he also had a very high assist total for a center. He was not the selfish player people make him out to be. He was simply dominant and he and his teammates both knew it.

  4. huevonkiller Says:
    May 20th, 2011 at 7:37 am
    Sean, you are aware a huge ballhog led the east to 56 wins in 2001 and an MVP? The Same as 2001 Shaq.

    Team defense does matter, stop acting like it isn’t the case.>>>>>>>>>

    Stop ACTING like team defense doesn’t matter? When did I say that? WTH are you talking about? Stick to the typed word. Ask for clarification. Tuck the imagination away for someone else. Nobody needs you creating other people’s opinions for them.

    A ball hog DID get to the NBA Finals in 2001. He can thank the CYO Eastern Conference that year. I think outside of Philly, the East teams’ average record was 36-46. There was NOBODY in that conference.

    I think you mean the same as 2000 Shaq? Because in 2001 Shaq didn’t even lead his team in FGA. Kobe did. No? And although Shaq led in 2000, it was still within 3 FGA per game of another player (Kobe)——-unlike Iverson’s true ball hogging.

  5. @ # 103…

    With Wilt in the early 1960s on MY team… I’m thinking I HAVE TO make the playoffs. I HAVE TO win more than I lose. If I’m NOT with WILT in the early 1960’s——–I’m doing something wrong. JMO.

  6. huevonkiller

    Yeah and Iverson also played in a tougher league defensively, so shut it down dude. Neil already clearly explained himself (http://www.basketball-reference.com/blog/?p=9101).

    And in case you haven’t noticed the 2004 Pistons also beat a Superstar team, because of defense. Defense is important, it doesn’t have anything to do with intangibles. Defense is half of the game.

  7. huevonkiller

    And no I meant 2001 Shaq.

    Hey guess what, 21st out of 29 in defense that year, that’s why the 2009 Lakers won more games with an inferior Superstar duo.

  8. Hey, Huevonkiller… who said team defense didn’t matter? Cut & Paste it. Stop creating what other people are actually saying and get your act together.

  9. huevonkiller

    You barely covered it and went into this nonsense rant about intangibles.

    Defense is tangible, it is the difference between titles and no titles. It is the single largest factor in losing teams and it can be blamed solely on individual performance.

  10. @ 109… No. YOU have been on a nonsense rant about something I never said. WEIRD.

  11. Is there something wrong with you lol?

    Look dude, you have WHINED a bunch about ball hogging. You went into this in-depth nonsense rant about offense that isn’t supported by anything, and you barely mentioned defense.

    Defense is far more important and tangible, than the unproven stuff you insist on bringing up.

  12. @ 111…

    Ah… when I make a point, it’s WHINING. What would YOU be doing—-throwing a tantrum?

    You like the TANGIBLE/ don’t like the UNPROVEN… and so this is why you created a view for me about defense? Because I was ‘acting’ like defense doesn’t matter? Because I didn’t ‘mention it enough’ to your liking?

    Is your deduction that I MUST think defense doesn’t matter—because I didn’t mention it enough—NOT the most whimsical, subjective poop here?

    You like tangible when it suits you. You will also make crap up out of thin air.

    How ’bout sticking to what people say? And having a constructive conversation with them if you’re not sure what they think about something?

    Are you capable?

    Defense matters. Many aspects of it can be objectively documented. Some not as much—but they exist, even if we don’t know how to account for them as accurately as we’d like. I have a healthy respect for what we cannot account for so well… some people don’t.

    But I don’t make up views for other people and insist they’re true based on what someone DIDN’T say ‘enough of’.

    That would be moronic. Wouldn’t it?

  13. huevonkiller

    “How ’bout sticking to what people say? And having a constructive conversation with them if you’re not sure what they think about something?”

    I am sticking to what you said, you decided to devote your time preaching intangibles and a subjective offensive theory. While skimming over the more important subject.

  14. @ #113…

    You’re NOT sticking to what I said. You created a viewpoint for me based on the ridiculous activity of taking what someone (me) did NOT say——and making the opposite of such my actual point of view.

    Your failure to admit this and ‘own’ it—–is pathetic.

  15. huevonkiller

    No one forced you to spam this thread with subjective offensive diatribes, but you did. You can say you think defense matters, but you really have no clue why these teams failed.

    The fact that you’re wasting even a second of time on this subject shows you don’t understand the tangible aspect of basketball.

  16. huevonkiller

    I’m allowed to think your views are naive, you should calm down.

  17. @ 115 & 116… and I’m allowed to call you out when you’re WAAAY off base about what my view is. Who ELSE is going to?

    You should rethink your methods. The box you think in is teeny-tiny and your approach to discussion is worse than disasterous.

    I’ll talk about that area of basketball that frightens you because you can’t box it in and quantify it like your disorder demands as long as such discussions exist here. You’re certainly not going to extinguish them, though. You’re not the least bit important regarding those discussions. You behave like an over-tired toddler who wants his Binky. Angry, lashing out, irrationally trying to control. Take a nap, kid. You’ll feel better when you wake up.

    With that, seeing as the value-level of discussion with you is essentially, zero——I will end this pathetic back-and-forth for the good of the other people here.

  18. I had 1050 ESPN Radio on yesterday and Rick Bucher (sp?) was insisting that Derrick Rose’s performance in Game #4 actually enhanced his claim to best player (not just MVP, but BEST player). Colin Cowherd, who I’m not normally a big fan of——–called him out, justifiably.

    Did Rick Bucher have a vote for MVP? I’m wondering if he is ‘digging in’ to defend his pick (if he did have a vote—and if that vote was for Rose).

    Rose isn’t the best player. A better argument could be made for MVP of the regular season for him… but regardless——–how can Bucher not just call Rose’s Game #4 performance what it was?

  19. Ric Bucher DID have a vote——-and he voted for Rose. Which is fine. I would have voted for Dwight Howard, personally. But Rose is fine. What is NOT fine is making the comments Bucher made about Rose’s performance after Game #4 VS Miami.

    He’s just in denial about Rose’s performance, IMO. And I have to think that he’s either consciously or subconsciously trying to justify his MVP vote———-which I think is unnecessary. Not to mention that Game #4 VS Miami is totally unrelated to regular season MVP.

  20. #117

    Dude you’ve been freaking out for a while now. Chill out.

    Like Anon said to other people, you need to realize your arguments aren’t objective thus we don’t care.

  21. Actually Huevon, while I don’t always agree with Sean he’s not a bad poster. But I’m not going to get in the middle of this debate here.

    Ric Bucher is an idiot. He’s a perfect example of why I don’t entertain any “stats lie; just watch the games” argument. I DO watch the games, Ric. All of them. And you are wrong.

  22. I wonder what Bucher’s assessment of Rose is in Game #5. He probably saw a guy who now more than ever looks like the league’s best player… I saw a guy missing 20 of 29 shots, often killing momentum & not really setting teamates up. I know he had 7-8 assists, but I saw nothing from him that facilitated others’ play in the last Quarter and a half, at least.

    Actually, sans a floater in the lane late in the 4th——I saw Rose killing possessions repeatedly single-handedly. Turnovers in passing lanes, and misses on drives to the hoop. Marv Albert was a broken record: ‘Rose GETS A STEP…’ then he finishes his freakishly quick move to the basket with a haphazard flip of the ball off the glass that NEVER had a chance (this kid has to learn ANGLES with these bank-shot flip attempts! He’s just like a fat guy playing Pop-A-Shot in a bar, flipping the balls up——none of them REALLY aimed or shot, clanging off the backboard, missing the rim completely or hitting the ledge behind the cylinder and rolling off)… He’s TERRIBLE finishing drives to the cup. He was 7/21 on 2pt FGA——-and a lot of them are missed drives.

    He doesn’t draw fouls in the lane—–and it’s not like he is always needing to make a circus shot on a drive, either——–he just flat out misses them after getting by his guy and simply having to lift the ball over the help defender who’s getting there too late to TRULY alter the shot (most of the time).

    And this is the Bulls offense. Rose, who is NOT a good shot maker, dominates that ball and 4 guys scavenge for rebounds.

    No offense to the Bulls (actually no offense ON the Bulls, either)——–but I’m looking for some darned shot making in these Finals——–and I can’t look at that Bulls’ offense another second.

    Bring on Miami VS Dallas.

  23. Game Notes:

    (1) It used to be that if you caught a pass with 2 hands on the ball and 1 foot on the floor——that your anchored foot became your pivot. Now players—all of them—HOP after catching the ball. Every league I’ve ever played in that was a traveling violation. The NBA logo should be updated from West dribbling to LeBron hopping.

    You get a travel called on Korver for catching the ball, then sliding his left foot and picking up his right before he dribbles (which IS the right call), then Wade holds the ball out in both outstretched arms/ hands while taking 3 giant steps toward the basket——-and the announcers say nothing. Why is there such a problem with calling traveling when it occurs?

    LeBron travels CONSTANTLY——not because he gets special treatment———but because he possibly does things that are traveling violations more than anyone else does… and NOBODY gets called for them——–unless you’re Korver, then the ref acts like he remembers the rule(s).

    (2) Kareem is awesome in that Priceline.com commercial with Shatner. Imagine Johnny Unitas or Joe Dimaggio ever doing that.

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