Woods was saying what a lot of NBA observers are thinking these days (your average Magic fan, meanwhile, would make a more impassioned case for
Wade, in some ways, might be doing even more. He leads the league in scoring (29.9 ppg), amassing 93 more points than James (28.5) and 122 more than Bryant (28.0) through 66 games. He tops that trio in assists with 7.6 to James' 7.2 and Bryant's 4.9. Wade's average of 2.26 steals is second only to
The Heat's shooting guard has won games at the horn this season. He has scored 50 points twice and at least 40 on nine more occasions. He has won two of the past three Eastern Conference Player of the Month awards, and somewhat remarkably, Wade has stayed healthy without tangibly changing the attack intensity of his game.
And yet Miami, in most folks' assessment, isn't nearly the championship contender that Cleveland or Los Angeles is (or, for that matter, Boston, San Antonio or even Orlando is). The No. 5 team in the East at the moment, the Heat wouldn't even open the playoffs at home. Which means that, as far as an MVP trophy on his mantel to go with the 2006 Finals version, Wade's got almost no shot.
Now, if he were playing shortstop or left field, his prospects would improve dramatically. Baseball never has been as hung up on an elite performer's ability (or inability) to lift his team via his personal excellence.
But the NBA doesn't roll that way, or at least hasn't for a long, long time. It isn't likely to start this spring when the assorted writers' and broadcasters' votes are tallied (ballots are due at the end of the regular season). Consider:
• The last 26 NBA MVPs have been awarded to players whose teams won at least 50 games (or were on pace to do so -- Utah's 37-13 mark when
• Only seven times has an MVP's team not won (or played at a pace to win) 50. Three of those came from 1956-60, four more from 1975-82 and none since. Miami would have to close 14-2 to finish 50-32 -- and still would end up well behind the Cavs and Lakers, by won-lost record.
• Twice, the MVP actually came from a losing team. But both of those were relative ancient history.
As supreme as Kareem was, his case was helped by the lack of any obvious competitors for the award. Golden State, at 59-23, posted the NBA's best record but had no individual in the top 10 in scoring or rebounding (
It's worth noting, too, that through the 1979-80 season, the MVP award was determined by a vote of NBA players; the media took over in 1980-81. That might explain a shift away from any informal "Player of the Year'' aspect, giving more weight to the individual than his team's results, toward the various stabs at assessing each candidate's "value'' in wins and losses.
That didn't take hold immediately -- when
Bird won two years later -- and controlled the MVP award for three years running (1984-86). Since then, it has been won by players from elite teams, by eventual Hall of Famers or by both. Of the 14 players who have won the past 25 MVPs, six won it multiple times.
So while Wade might qualify as a Springfield inductee someday, the Heat ain't elite.
"He's on a playoff team that's playing very well,'' said Timberwolves coach
Wade's team, by comparison, is like the fat guy you see all the time at the gym. To some, the question is, "Why does he bother? He's still fat." To others, it's, "Can you imagine what he'd look like if he didn't work out?" In this case, you wonder where Miami would be without its top player. Most likely, lottery bound, another bailout candidate in AIG territory. You can't even go by the Heat's record without Wade because, for a change, he's been around for every game.
Meanwhile, there are a handful of viable, world-class MVP alternatives, no asterisks or qualifiers necessary. That's why, as much as this has been Wade's best year, it's not the year's best year.