Before we tackle the remaining MVP candidates, let's break out my questions that, over everything else, should determine the winner of the award.
Question No. 1: Ten years from now, who will be the first player from this season that pops into my head?
Answer: Probably Gilbert Arenas. I'll explain later in the column.
Question No. 2: In a giant pickup game with every NBA player waiting to play and two fans forced to pick sides with their lives depending on the outcome of the game (I think this is how the annual Rucker League tournament works), who would be the first player picked based on the way everyone played that season?
Answer: If you'd honestly pick Nash or Nowitzki over Kobe, I don't know what to tell you. There's no other acceptable answer for this question.
Question No. 3: If you replaced every MVP candidate with a decent player at his position for the entire season, what would be the effect on their teams' records?
Answer: Phoenix, Houston and Cleveland (in that order) would be hit the hardest -- switching Nash, Tracy McGrady or LeBron James with a decent player would have cost any of those teams 20-25 wins. Dallas ranks a distant fourth.
Now, you're beginning to understand the depth of the problem here. Usually, the most logical MVP candidate owns two of those questions (and ideally, three). Not this season. Let's keep counting down the candidates in reverse order ...
79. Eddy Curry
The good news: He didn't miss a game, averaged a 19-7, shot 58 percent from the field, commanded a consistent double team and seemed to genuinely give a crap. The bad news: The Knicks still finished with one of the worst records in basketball. Which raises the question: When Eddy Curry is your best player, is this a good thing? The evidence says no. That's why May 22 looms as one of the most randomly exciting sports nights ever. Imagine if the Knicks end up with No. 1 or No. 2 and have to swap picks with the Bulls because of the Curry trade? If you're a Knicks fan, how long would it take to recover from that? Five years? Ten? Twenty? Would you ever recover?
73. Rashard Lewis
Pencil him into your starting lineup for the 2007-08 All-Overpaid Team. Do it now. Get a jump on it.
69. Stephen Jackson
Gave us a little bit of everything: He had the best off-court incident (allegedly getting hit by a car outside of a strip joint, then firing gunshots in the air); he has a legal trial that starts May 10 and could coincide with the second round of the playoffs if Golden State upsets Dallas (not out of the question); he caused the fading Pacers to make one of the worst deals of the decade because they were so desperate to dump him; he turned his career around by embracing NellieBall, even giving point guard a whirl for a few games (now that was a sight); and if that's not enough, the fact that he's living in Oakland doubles as the most dangerous running subplot in sports right now that doesn't involve Pacman Jones. I haven't been this excited since Tupac got out of jail.
63. Al Jefferson
Did you know that the best young low-post player in basketball right now is only 11 months older than Dwight Howard? It's true. Howard is a more powerful player than Jefferson, and he's definitely a better rebounder, but as we witnessed on Sunday night -- when Jefferson soundly outplayed him, by the way -- Big Al is a much more polished offensive player and needs to be double-teamed at all times. Howard's points come on fast breaks, finishes and putback dunks and that's it. I don't know who's better, but it's definitely up for debate. Check out their post-All Star break numbers:
• Jefferson: 19.9 points, 11.4 rebounds, 1.7 blocks, 56 percent shooting.
• Howard: 17.8 points, 12.9 rebounds, 2.1 blocks, 62 percent shooting.
(I'm just sayin'.)
57. Manu Ginobili
We're dropping him 25 spots for his ongoing refusal to switch to an Andy Garcia-esque crew cut or use shoe polish for the back of his head. Doesn't he know these games are being televised in HD? How many fantasy teams need to be named "Manu's Bald Spot" before he does something about it?
Speaking of hair crimes, every time I attend a Clippers game, I sneak into the press room to grab the opposing team's media guide. Why? Because the team pictures from year-to-year are so amusing, especially the ones from the '70s when coaches wore polyester suits and looked like John Amos any time he had to get dressed up in "Good Times." Anyway, my favorite media guide belonged to the Warriors. In '69, they dressed up for their photo like they were headed to a semiformal. The '70 team posed on a trolley car. The '71 team posed at a construction site, with one player even holding an ax (too bad they couldn't have done this 26 years later and given Spree the ax). They switched back to conventional team photos in '72, with Rick Barry's hair receding a little bit more each year ... and then suddenly, out of nowhere for the '77 team photo, he has a full head of hair like one of the players on "Two A Days." It's inexplicable! And if that's not crazy enough, for the '78 team photo, he's back to the receding hairline again. The whole sequence killed me. I love NBA media guides. I have problems.
53. DeSagana Diop & Erick Dampier
The hidden reason for Dallas' monster season: A combined 43.3 minutes per game, 12.9 rebounds, 2.4 blocks, 9.4 points and 12 available fouls every night. Added together, they're more valuable than nearly every center in the league. If Diop re-signs with the Mavs this summer, let's combine them for fantasy purposes and call them DeSageric Diopier.
50. Gerald Wallace
Ladies and gentleman, our 2007 winner of the "Most Random Fantasy Explosion," "Best Contract Push On a Bad Team" and "Guy Who Plays So Recklessly That It's Amazing He Didn't Suffer a Horrific Injury" awards! Do you realize he averaged 23 points and nine rebounds for the last four months of the season? Remember we had this discussion when he's signing with Orlando for $75 million this summer and you're thinking, "Wait, Gerald Wallace ... the guy on Charlotte?"
47. Tyson Chandler
Just for the hell of it, and only because I'm so rarely right ...
• Tyson Chandler: 9.5 points, 12.4 rebounds, 1.8 blocks and 0.5 steals per game; 62.4 FG% and 52.7 FT%; $9.5 million cap figure; 24 years old.
• Ben Wallace: 6.4 points, 10.7 rebounds, 2.1 blocks and 1.5 steals per game; 45.3 FG% and 41.0 FT%; $16 million cap figure; 32 years old.
43. Sebastian Telfair
No way the Celtics land the second lottery spot without him.
38. Andre Iguodala
An e-mail from Andrew from Malibu, Calif., last night: "I'm curious where you'd put Iguodala on your list. On the one hand, he played great this year and provided us with some optimism about the Sixers' future. On the other hand, he helped kill any chances we had in the lottery."
Tankapalooza 2007 ... it's FANNNNNNNNNNN-tastic!
34. Carmelo Anthony & Mehmet Okur
You know about 'Melo, but Memo is the most underrated player in the league right now, one of those guys who jumps out every time you watch his team. How many big guys shoot 39 percent from 3-point territory and put up an 18-9 every night? A wholly unique player.
(Note: Right now, every Pistons fan is glaring at his computer screen and saying, "Go ahead Simmons, go ahead, just write it you [bleep], write that we could have [bleeping] both of them right now ... go ahead, just write it! That's why you lumped them together! Make your lame joke about Joe D! At least we won in 2004! The Celtics suck! They suck! EAT IT SIMMONS! EAT IT!!!!!!!!!!")
30. Baron Davis
Missed 20 games and played like an All-Star in the other 62. In other words, it was a typical Baron Davis season. If I'm the Warriors, I'm selling high on Baron this summer, saving some cash and turning the team over to Monta Ellis.
(In fact, allow me to make this offer for Davis on behalf of the Celtics: Delonte West, Gerald Green, Theo Ratliff's expiring contract, Sebastian Telfair's expiring contract and all future DVD residuals for "Through The Fire 2: Greece or Italy?")
26. Kevin Garnett
I know it's not his fault. I know. At the same time ...
A. He missed the playoffs for three straight years in his prime.
B. He made it past the first round once in his entire career.
C. You can't say those things about any other "superstar" from the past 30 years. Not one of them.
18. Shawn Marion
We're penalizing him 10 spots for an exchange in ESPN The Magazine's recent feature about Marion's being underappreciated. And just for the record, I agree. He's the second-most indispensable Sun besides Nash, as well as the best defensive player in the league. Anyway, here's what happened after Chris Palmer asked him if he'd rather be an MVP candidate and a 30-point scorer on a lesser team, or continue to do what he's doing on the second-best team in basketball.
- "Wow, that's interesting," he says thoughtfully, as if he's never entertained the prospect before. Marion pauses nearly 10 seconds to concentrate on the question. Only the muted sound of late-afternoon traffic outside the two-story living room breaks the silence. He fiddles with the remote as if it holds the answer. "I've never been asked that," he continues. "That would be an interesting situation to be in, to really show people what I can do. [Pause] But we'd be in the playoffs, right?"
(You bonehead! You get to play with Steve Nash! You're in the absolute perfect situation! Why don't you call Joe Johnson and ask him how Atlanta worked out, you bozo? Aaaaaaaaaaaaargh!!!!!! I read that passage and nearly flipped out like Brooke did on the "Real World" after Davis brought up her double chin. Unbelievable. Shawn Marion should be high-fiving himself every morning that Nash and Mike D'Antoni passed through his life. ... Instead, he's debating the pros and cons of carrying a mediocre team? I give up. This league seems hopeless sometimes.)
15. Amare Stoudemire
The guy who created microfracture surgery is rejoicing right now.
12. Dwyane Wade
Since Bill Walton missed 27 games during the '77-78 season and still won the MVP -- as ridiculous as that was -- I can't leave Wade out of the top 12 just because he separated his shoulder. With that said, four of my favorite sports-related people are in danger and I'm worried about them:
A. Jonathan Papelbon: Every time he comes into the game before the ninth inning, I have a mini-heart attack. I can't be alone.
B. Mike Francesa: Now that Mike and the Dog are covering Don Imus' morning shift on WFAN and keeping their afternoon shift, Mike is downing roughly 435 Diet Cokes per day. He could switch from soda to straight cocaine and his body wouldn't notice at this point. Can't they find a new morning guy? If Mike ends up keeling over, make sure we add that to Imus' injury/death total along with the New Jersey governor, his wife's book tour and every sports fan who punched himself in the face because he was forced to listen to this debate instead of actual sports for two weeks.
C. Vince Young: His "I'm not afraid of the Madden Curse" comment brought back memories of the time Pedro Martinez threatened Babe Ruth's ghost and went on the DL with a shoulder injury one week later.
D. Wade: Takes an Iversonian punishment every game, only he's not a freak of nature like Iverson was/is. If Wade doesn't start picking his spots, he'll go Earl Campbell on us and be gone from the league by 2011. This would be bad. This summer, Wade might need to take summer courses from LeBron ("The Art of Mailing In Half The Season") and Carter ("How to Spend Entire Games Pretending to Drive But Settling for 20-foot Jumpers").
11. Josh Howard
Great player. The closest thing to Scottie Pippen since Pippen, although he's not the dunker or the destructive defensive presence that Pippen was. Still, we could be making room for Howard in the Second Banana Hall of Fame some day along with greats like Pippen, Johnny Marr, Kevin McHale, Ricardo Tubbs, Kevin Johnson, Reed Rothchild, Shawn Kemp, Nate Dogg, Hank Kingsley, Young Kobe, Old Shaq, Jeff Garlin, Andrew Toney, Beavis and everyone else.
10. Gilbert Arenas
His breakout season as a superstar included a nickname ("Agent Zero"), a catch phrase ("Hibachi!"), an overall philosophy ("Gilbertology"), a consistent hook (an inordinate amount of big shots), a Hall of Fame YouTube clip (the one in which he beats DeShawn Stevenson in a shooting contest with one hand), and even a groundbreaking creation (his entertaining blog on NBA.com that included an enlightening opus about how he felt misunderstood by the media). Maybe those things didn't make him the MVP, but they definitely made him the most memorable star of the season. We need more Gilberts in sports. Whether he'd be fun to play basketball with ... that's another story.
9. Carlos Boozer
The entire city of Cleveland will now light itself on fire.
8. Kobe Bryant
Averaging 41 points in the past 31 days, a stretch that featured two 40-point games, four 50-point games and two 60-point games. Absolutely remarkable, even if the Lakers went 8-8 over that stretch and will get slaughtered by Phoenix in Round 1 because they reverted back to "Let's stand around and wait for Kobe to take over" mode. So much for the round of "Mr. Team Play" stories (can I have that two months of my life back?). And for anyone arguing that Kobe deserves MVP consideration for carrying an obviously mediocre team ... um, isn't he the same guy who pushed Shaq out of town and created this mess in the first place?
(I can't stick him higher than eighth. I just can't.)
7. Chris Bosh
This season's Elton Brand: Right place, right time, feel-good story, and he's not quite as good as this ranking.
6. Tim Duncan
After 850 regular-season and playoff games, three 100-game seasons and more than 32,000 minutes logged on his odometer, he's not the player he was five years ago. But you know what? In a weird way, he's just as effective. He's a smarter defender and a much better leader, he knows how to pick his spots, he's insanely competitive and one of the most unexpectedly entertaining players to see in person for anyone who gives a crap about basketball. Nobody communicates with his teammates as well, nobody commands more respect, and there's never a second when you forget he's out there. There's not another player in the league quite like him. By the way, I seriously considered giving him the MVP for helping to rid the world of Joey Crawford last weekend. So long, Joey. Don't forget to downgrade from first class to coach on your flight back to hell.
5. LeBron James
You know somebody's good when he can spend the first half of the season on cruise control and still manage to crack the top-five of an MVP ballot.
4. Tracy McGrady
The lost MVP candidate this season. Lemme know if any of these tidbits interest you:
A. The Rockets were 50-21 when he played this season and 2-8 without him.
B. When Yao went down for 32 games with a fractured kneecap, T-Mac carried the team to a 20-12 record and boosted his stats to a 29-6-6 for that stretch.
C. Other than Yao, his best teammates were Shane Battier, Luther Head, Rafer Alston, Chuck Hayes, Juwan Howard, Dikembe Mutombo and Yugoslavian gunner Turdo Sandowicz.
D. On a personal note, I don't trust basketball stats beyond a certain level because they can't interpret somebody's general impact on a game. Tim Duncan averages a 20-10 every night with two blocks ... does that measure everything he does for the Spurs? Of course not. Along those same lines, T-Mac and his cousin finished this season with almost identical numbers (a 25-5-6 for T-Mac, a 25-6-5 for V.C.), but unless you watched the games, you wouldn't know that Vince happens to be a streaky offensive player, a moody teammate and a defensive liability, and T-Mac happens to be a great teammate and superb all-around player who only goes for his numbers when absolutely necessary (like when he recently bumped his numbers to push Houston into the fourth seed).
If you asked 100 NBA players who they'd rather play with between Kobe, Vince, Arenas and T-Mac ... T-Mac would win the vote in a landslide. You win with Tracy McGrady. Wasn't always the case, but it's the case now. He's a true superstar. Now he needs to prove this in the playoffs. Please.
3. Dirk Nowitzki
A well-done and thoroughly efficient season. I enjoyed it. He took the Fist Pump/Sneer to new heights. I just don't think he was the MVP.
2. Steve Nash
Other than Kobe, the one star who consistently gets the "Look, There's No Way We're F------- Losing This Game!" look on his face, an absolute staple for any MVP candidate. He also navigated an arduous situation in Phoenix those first few weeks, back when the Suns were figuring out how to incorporate everyone into the mix and Amare and Marion were embroiled in a silly alpha-dog battle. As I described in my column about the Suns three months ago, they were on the verge of imploding and Nash wouldn't allow it to happen. He raised everyone else to a higher place.
Which brings me to the Nash/Dirk thing. You could have switched Dirk with Duncan, KG, Bosh, Brand or any other elite forward and the Mavs still would have won 55-65 games. But the 2007 Suns were built like a complicated Italian race car, with specific features tailored to a specific type of driver, and Nash happened to be the only person on the planet who could have driven the car without crashing into a wall. The degree of difficulty was off the charts. So yes, this was my favorite Nash season yet. At the same time, I watched too many smart teams attack him defensively (Dallas, New Jersey, Golden State and Chicago, to name four, and even the Kings figured out to exploit him recently) and can't accept my MVP being such a liability on one end of the floor. I felt this way two years ago; I felt this way last year; and I feel this way now.
Anyway, I wish we handled MVP awards, the Oscars and the Emmys the same way -- if there's no deserving candidate in a given year, let's roll the award over to the following year and make it worth two awards, kinda like how golfers roll over a tie in a Skins match and count the next hole for twice as much. I never understood the concept of dispensing awards out of obligation over anything else. An award should be earned, not handed out.
Unfortunately, those aren't the rules. And since somebody needs to win this year, my vote goes to ...
1. The Fans
Why can't we win for putting up with such a brutal season? Aren't we the real MVPs? If Time Magazine can name "Us" as the 2006 Person of the Year, then "The Fans" can win the 2007 NBA MVP, dammit. And you know what? After enduring Tankapalooza 2007, a wasted trade deadline and a regular season best described as "apathetic," we deserve it. Bring on the playoffs. Please.
(PS: Congrats on your first MVP Award.)
Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. His book "Now I Can Die In Peace" is available in paperback.