The argument happens most every year. Who is the NBA MVP?
LeBron James has been the best player for most of his 15 years in the league, and he's won the award only four times. Russell Westbrook won it last year, buoyed by averaging a triple-double, yet seems to not even be in the conversation this season with very similar numbers. James Harden was a popular pick last season, saw his assist and rebound numbers dip this season, yet is generally considered the runaway favorite.
Part of the issue is this: There's no clarity on how the MVP is defined.
No one knows the criteria. The award ballot sent to MVP voters simply says "The winner of this award receives the Maurice Podoloff Trophy, named after the first Commissioner of the NBA."
Is it the player most valuable to his team?
Is it the player most valuable to the game?
Is it the best player?
Those are only some of the many gray areas.
Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers has said many times over the years that James would win annually, if not for voters getting tired of selecting him (though Rivers is also on record this year saying Harden will be MVP). Michael Jordan might have dealt with the same voter-fatigue issue. And it's still baffling that Oscar Robertson, who had some of the most statistically ridiculous seasons in NBA history, won it only once.
Debate will probably always surround the MVP race, a notable exception being two years ago when Stephen Curry was the first unanimous winner.
This year's answer will come June 25, when the NBA announces the winner. It'll likely be Harden. There will be reasonable points made in support of that. There will be reasonable points made for James as well.
Here now, the picks for certain awards by AP Basketball Writers Brian Mahoney and Tim Reynolds, as well as a look at what we think will happen in the playoffs:
Mahoney: James Harden, Houston. Mastered a new position last season. Masterfully shared it this one. His stats, team's record, make a worthy winner.
Reynolds: LeBron James, Cleveland. Made this same pick last year, making it again this year, because the Cavs would be horrid without him.
MOST IMPROVED PLAYER
Mahoney: Clint Capela, Rockets. Blocks shots, rebounds, and the NBA's leading shooter doesn't miss much when he gets the ball.
Reynolds: Victor Oladipo, Indiana. He was absolutely fantastic in his first Indiana season, leading the Pacers to the No. 5 seed in the East.
COACH OF THE YEAR
Mahoney: Brad Stevens, Celtics. Won it in November with response to losing Gordon Hayward. Re-won it in March with response to losing Kyrie Irving.
Reynolds: Many great candidates — like Dwane Casey, Gregg Popovich, Brad Stevens, Brett Brown and Terry Stotts. But Utah's Quin Snyder is the pick.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
Mahoney: Donovan Mitchell, Utah. Hard to believe he was barely a lottery pick last year after watching him carry Utah like an All-Star.
Reynolds: Utah's Donovan Mitchell gets the call, not in an anti-Ben Simmons vote, but because he led the Jazz like a savvy, seasoned pro.
EASTERN CONFERENCE CHAMPION
Mahoney: Cleveland still has the best player and too much firepower around him to lose four times to an East team.
Reynolds: LeBron James is as good as ever, and is always an incredibly tough out. Toronto can defeat Cleveland, but the Cavs rate a tiny edge.
WESTERN CONFERENCE CHAMPION
Mahoney: Golden State, but less sure of that than at any time during the Warriors' run. Houston is that good.
Reynolds: Until proven otherwise, and this assumes that Stephen Curry comes back healthy from his knee issue, the pick is Golden State — again.
Mahoney: Warriors in 5.
Reynolds: Warriors in 5.
BOLD OFFSEASON PREDICTIONS
Mahoney: Kyrie Irving, Chris Paul, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony and Jimmy Butler were all traded last summer. Is there anything that would surprise you?
Reynolds: LeBron James leaves Cleveland, Spurs trade Kawhi Leonard, Wizards break up Bradley Beal and John Wall, and Rihanna DMs Joel Embiid.