You expect guys to stump for their teammates for MVP. (Except if it’s Kevin Love being asked.) But J.R. Smith went above and beyond with his praise for LeBron James, declaring his Cavs teammates “the real MVP,” and positing that James should probably win the award every season.
It’s an excellent race for MVP this year, with no bad answers—though it’s likely down to a two-, two-and-a-half-horse race, with Steph Curry and James Harden neck-and-neck and Russell Westbrook still hanging around. (A poll of NBA players over the last few days gives Harden the slightest of edges.)
LeBron’s not really in the discussion, despite his typically excellent season—he’s a consensus No. 4—and J.R. Smith, after yesterday’s win over Detroit, said that even if James has done it quietly, he’s still gotten it done.
“Who? The real MVP?” Smith said, his message echoing to the sellout crowd of 20,562 who were making their way to the exits. “There’s a lot of speculation about who should get the award, but we all know who the real MVP is.”
“In actuality, if you really wanted to, you could give it to him every year,” Smith said. “I mean, the numbers, what he does for teams. You see one year removed from a team like Miami — and they probably won’t even make the playoffs — to a team that hasn’t made the playoffs since he left and then, all of the sudden, we’re a 52-win team. So, I don’t think you can do that with anybody else that’s in our league right now.
“Not to knock anything from [Curry and Harden]. They’re having great years, career years for both of them, but if you want to be realistic about it, you could give it to him every time.”
Helping Smith’s argument is that James had just finished off a triple-double (having gotten to 20, 10 and nine with 3:47 left in the third), in a game where Kyrie Irving left at the half with hip tightness. These Cavaliers remain deeply flawed, and wouldn’t be sniffing the playoffs, let alone be the East co-favorites, without James’s now-monotonous excellence.
Of course, the Warriors and Rockets and especially the Thunder wouldn’t be where they are without their respective superstars, either. But those potential MVP candidates benefit from their novelty: NBA awards voters hate picking the same guy year after year. It’s the only reason Michael Jordan doesn’t have six or seven awards. (The voters also hate to reward dominance from guys who are expected to be dominant—Shaq’s single MVP award is testament to that.)
James won’t realistically be in the conversation for MVP this year, and probably shouldn’t be, given his willingness to turn off the jets to stay fresh, and the eye-popping numbers of his competitors. But at age 30, James is at the back end of his prime, and can’t possibly have many more MVP-caliber years that feel so effortless. This one’s worth appreciating if just for how unsexy it’s been.