By Marty Burns
March 02, 2007

It wasn't exactly on par with Dwyane Wade's comments about Dirk Nowitzki's leadership. But Shaquille O'Neal created his own minor controversy last week when he took a shot at Steve Nash's back-to-back MVP awards.

"I don't know," the 7-foot-1 center deadpanned to a reporter in Dallas when asked if Nowitzki was a legit MVP contender. "I don't know how y'all give the award. That award has been tainted the last couple of years."

Was Shaq serious? Who knows. He loves to mess around with the media.

Then again, it wouldn't be at all surprising if the Diesel still harbored some lingering disappointment over losing out to Nash two years ago. The fact that he's won only one regular-season MVP in his career -- way back in 2000 -- just might stick in his craw a little too.

Whatever the case, Shaq's comments provided good fodder for columnists and Internet bloggers. Of course, it was left to Nash to put it all in perspective and basically laugh off the whole thing. "I don't know what to say," he told the Arizona Republic. "I'm sorry he feels that way."

The ironic thing is that Shaq won't be anywhere near the MVP race this season. Right now it looks like it's boiling down to a two-man race between ... Nowitzki and Nash.

Which brings us to our first question in the 'Bag:

Why doesn't Dirk Nowitzki get more credit as an MVP candidate? Steve Nash is great, but Dirk does as much for his team and the Mavs have a better overall record. -- C. Joseph, New York City

Dirk definitely matches up well with Nash in the MVP debate. Dirk is a bigger scorer and rebounder, and he makes as many clutch shots. Maybe he isn't a stopper, but he does enough to help make the Mavs one of the league's best defensive teams. Besides, it's not as if Nash is an all-world defender either. As for making their team better, Nash gets to play with two All-Stars in Shawn Marion and Amaré Stoudemire, while Dirk gets to play with only one (Josh Howard).

That being said, I do believe Nash is probably more valuable to his team than Nowitzki for the simple fact that he has the ball in his hands all the time and orchestrates everything the Suns do. When Nash is out, Phoenix just looks like a completely different team. When Dirk is out, there doesn't seem to be as much of a drop-off. Is that what the MVP should be about? That's a debate for another day. But don't fret too much over Dirk's MVP chances. My guess is that he will win it if Dallas ends up with the best overall record. In a close race, the media is likely to go with the fresh story (Dirk) as opposed to the guy who has already won it twice in a row (Nash).

This business of NBA players skipping next year's All-Star Game because they fear for their safety in New Orleans is ridiculous. We will have Mardi Gras, the Sugar Bowl and the BCS national championship game all being held in the city before the All-Star Game. These guys need to worry about the people they bring in to a city, not the citizens of that city. What are your thoughts? -- Glen, New Orleans

I haven't been to New Orleans since Super Bowl XX. But I think this whole debate will be good for the city. It puts a focus on what -- if any -- shortcomings there might be in terms of police and anti-crime efforts there right now. Maybe if Tracy McGrady and enough other NBA stars keep talking about New Orleans, it will spur public officials to clean it up and make it safer for the residents.

What's wrong with the Cavs? They just can't seem to find any consistency. Are they good enough to win the East? -- B. Feeley, Cleveland

The Cavs' woes are well-documented (spotty offense, poor foul shooting, etc.). The bottom line is LeBron James needs some of his teammates to play better. Thursday night's game was a perfect example. Cleveland played hard and had a chance to win at Dallas, but Donyell Marshall missed two wide open three-pointers after the Mavs trapped LeBron to take the ball out of his hands. (LeBron then had a chance to tie it himself but twice missed his own three-pointers.)

Meanwhile, Larry Hughes sat out with another injury. Until LeBron's supporting cast stays on the court and makes some shots, the Cavs are going to struggle. The good news is the East is still wide open. It's all going to come down to matchups in the playoffs. If Cleveland draws the right ones, it can get to the conference finals at least. But the same applies to the Pistons, Bulls, Wizards, and maybe Raptors and Heat (if Wade comes back) as well.

Regarding your trade deadline winners and losers, the biggest winner by far was the Pistons. With no other teams making major trades, the Pistons remain the only dominant team in the East. If Cleveland had acquired Mike Bibby, it would have been tougher. Plus, getting Chris Webber earlier was a great move. -- Paul Marszalek, Battle Creek, Mich.

Fair point. I had the Mavs as a winner in the West for basically the same reason (no Jason Kidd to the Lakers). But the Pistons couldn't go on the winner's list because they failed in their quest to find a taker for Flip Murray and/or Nazr Mohammed.

I don't see how you can say the Lakers are worse off for not trading Andrew Bynum to get Jason Kidd. This team isn't going to win a title this year anyway. But with Bynum, we have a guy who can give us 10-12 years of double-doubles and a shot-blocking presence in the middle -- and that's if he doesn't improve a bit from where he is right now. With Kidd, we're shorter and older and gambling on winning in the next year or two. -- Brendan, Orange, Calif.

Actually, I never said they were worse off for keeping Bynum. I listed them as losers because they weren't able to pull off the Steal of the Century (the original reported offer was for Kwame Brown or Chris Mihm, not Bynum). I did mention that the Lakers better hope Bynum turns out to be good. I still feel that way, because Kidd would have given them a chance to win now.

My All-Star thoughts: They need to bring back the Legends Game. Karl Malone, John Stockton, 'Nique, Magic, Jordan? It would be fun to watch. They also need to nix the dunk contest. They should only bring it out every four years like the Olympics. They should up the cash, too. That way, Kobe Bryant, Vince Carter and LeBron James might enter. -- Kamaal, Atlanta

I agree that raising the prize money would help the dunk contest, though there is probably no amount big enough to attract the likes of Kobe, Vince and LeBron. As for the Legends Game, I seem to recall it got pretty lame there at the end before they killed it for good in the early '90s. Besides, who needs a Legends Game when nobody retires for good anymore?

Do you think with everything Bryan Colangelo has done with the Raptors this year, should he be considered for Executive of Year? -- Alastair Suttar, Toronto

No doubt. Colangelo basically overhauled the entire roster in his first season, and so far the results have been impressive. He showed a lot of guts by trading big (Charlie Villanueva) for small (T.J. Ford), and by bringing in international players with little name recognition. He also showed patience with Sam Mitchell, which seems to be paying off.

Am I the only one who finds it completely ridiculous that the Nuggets were looking for a point guard, yet have let go or traded three quality point guards in Andre Miller, Earl Watson and Earl Boykins since last year? -- Bryan, Baton Rouge

Apparently those guys weren't the right kind of point guards. Actually, Steve Blake (acquired from the Bucks in the Boykins deal) looked pretty good to me when he was in there. The former Maryland star is averaging 7.1 assists against 1.9 turnovers as a Nugget. But he's not a great shooter or physical defender, and those are two dimensions the Nuggets really need. That's why he's back on the bench, and George Karl will probably continue to bang the drum for a new QB this offseason.

How can the Lakers fine Vladimir Radmanovic when Phil Jackson regularly ignored similar clauses in his playing contracts? -- Mark, Brisbane, Australia

Touche, Mark. In fairness to the Zen Master, they might not have had clauses pertaining to his well-documented preferences for unconventional tobacco in his day. Or were you talking about Jackson's penchant for sky-diving and hang-gliding?

If Nash or Nowitzki were removed from the MVP debate, who would you pick right now? Kobe? D-Wade? LeBron? Tim Duncan? Tracy McGrady? It seems to me there is no real strong candidate this season. -- J. Evans, Michigan City, Ind.

I'd go with Kobe, hands down. He was my midseason MVP, for making the Lakers one of the top teams in the West despite an incredible number of injuries. However, L.A. has stumbled a bit of late. Meanwhile, Nash and Nowitzki have continued to do their thing and keep their teams on top. Wade also did an unbelievable job over the first half of the season keeping the Heat afloat without Shaq. He deserves consideration as well. But like you said, it's basically a two-man race right now. Sorry, Shaq.

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