There is an excellent track record in NBA history for elite players winning MVP awards after ugly break-ups with a team and/or fellow superstar player.
Just last season, Russell Westbrook gave a double middle finger salute to Kevin Durant for 82 games and wound up winning his first league MVP. Charles Barkley demanded a trade out of Philly in 1992, and in his first season in Phoenix he won MVP. It took LeBron James an extra year, but after his breakup with the Cavs in 2010, he won the NBA MVP and his first NBA title in 2012.
Jilted NBA players are the best performing NBA players, and it’s the main reason why Kyrie Irving – who has more to prove than any player in the league this season – will win the 2017-18 NBA MVP award.
Now, Irving brought 90 percent of this on himself – he asked for a trade out of Cleveland - but in this case that’s a good thing. He obviously craves the pressure it takes to be a top-notch team’s go-to guy, and now he finally gets to be that guy by being out of LeBron’s shadow.
Speaking of LeBron, he is the Vegas favorite to win NBA MVP right now and it does make some sense. The 32-year-old still owns the most pure talent in the league and he should feel jilted himself that Irving demanded a trade this past summer.
But at this point in LeBron’s career, rest will always take priority over individual regular season accolades. In fact, it already has. LeBron only played in 74 games last season, he played 76 games the season before, and played in only 69 games the season he returned to Cleveland.
Couple that with the idea that he already has one foot out the door to Los Angeles, and it’s a safe bet that LeBron won’t be going full tilt for 82 games from now until mid-April.
Irving, meanwhile, will be on a Westbrook-like quest from start to finish of this season to prove he can be THE MAN on a championship caliber team.
Expect a slight uptick in points per game this season from Irving – from 25.2 last season to say, 28.0 this season. Also expect a slight uptick in team wins from the Celtics. They finished with an East-best 53 wins last season, but they absolutely own the talent to reach the 60-win mark this year.
Sprinkle those numbers in with some highlight reel plays and buzzer-beaters, both of which Irving has shown time and time again to be capable of – and it’s a recipe for an MVP award.
His competition beyond LeBron for the award isn’t that great, either.
Kawhi Leonard in San Antonio? Ya think Gregg Popovich will play him – coming off an injury – more than 60 games this season?
Durant? Too many chefs in the MVP kitchen out in Oakland.
Westbrook? He’ll be sacrificing his own numbers in order to get Carmelo and Paul George involved.
James Harden? It will take a while for him and Chris Paul to figure this backcourt timeshare thing out.
It also helps a great deal that Irving and the Celtics reside in the East. There will be some 2008 Celtics-style beat-downs of opponents this coming season because the Celtics will be playing a boatload of weak rosters with their eyes on the lottery.
MVP voters will take notice of lopsided scores and think of it firstly as The Kyrie Effect.
Winning a title this season would be the ultimate way for Irving to step out of LeBron’s shadow and declare himself as a bona fide basketball god. But winning league MVP is the next best way – and with Golden State still residing out West, it’ll be the easiest way for Kyrie.
NBA MVP odds (Bovada.LV)
LeBron James +400
Kawhi Leonard +450
Kevin Durant +500
Russell Westbrook +600
James Harden +800
Giannis Antetokounmpo +800
Stephen Curry +1200
Kyrie Irving +1600
Anthony Davis +1600
Isaiah Thomas +2500
Paul George +3300
Chris Paul +3300
John Wall +3300
Karl-Anthony Towns +3300
Joel Embiid +3300
Nikola Jokic +3300
Blake Griffin +5000