Parker edges pack for MVP

The last time Candace Parker received the WNBA Most Valuable Player award, she was but a rookie, a dazzling young player who was the "It" girl of the moment.

Her best days, her armload of titles and awards, were so clearly still ahead.

Six years later, she is the league MVP for the second time -- but her arms are probably a little emptier than she thought they would be.

The WNBA title that she wants more than any individual award has eluded her.

The Los Angeles Sparks opened the WNBA playoffs Thursday night against the Phoenix Mercury. Parker and her teammates are looking to atone for last year's postseason disappointment, a dramatic two-game sweep in the Western Conference finals against Minnesota.

It's no stretch to say that the Sparks aren't here without Parker, the fifth player in league history -- joining Lauren Jackson, Sheryl Swoopes, Lisa Leslie and Cynthia Cooper -- to win the MVP award more than once. She averaged 17.9 points, 8.7 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game during the regular season. She scored at least 20 points in 10 games and was in single-digit scoring only four times.

But what makes this such an interesting season in the WNBA is that Parker was hardly the only worthy MVP candidate. In fact, it might have been the longest list of contenders that anyone can remember.

The result was one of the closest votes for MVP in league history and it ought to have been. As many as eight players could have been given legitimate MVP consideration, a telling and encouraging testament to the league's balance of talent across teams and across positions.

Parker and Minnesota's Maya Moore received 10 first-place votes each. Parker won with 234 total votes to Moore's 218.

So go ahead, make an argument for Moore, the Lynx forward who had a breakthrough in her third season as a pro. Moore was simply the best player on the best team in the regular season. You'd win that argument.

Make a case for Elena Delle Donne, the spectacular rookie forward who took the Chicago Sky from a team hoping to make its first playoff appearance to the Eastern Conference's top seed. You could sell it.

Make an argument for Diana Taurasi, who had the best statistical season of her WNBA career, who did more on the floor than she had ever done for the Mercury. You'd be good.

Heck, argue on behalf of Delle Donne's teammate, Sylvia Fowles; or Atlanta's Angel McCoughtry, the league's scoring leader; or Lindsay Whalen in Minnesota; or Tina Thompson in Seattle, leading the star-depleted Storm into the playoffs. There are arguments to be had for all.

But Parker wins. She wins because she does everything for Los Angeles.

All that's left really is for her to win a title. Moore has one of those, Taurasi has two. Every other player on the list of multiple MVP winners won at least one WNBA championship during her career.

The MVP trophy is great. But it's probably not the award that Parker wants most. That one she's going to have to go and get, starting Thursday.