- After James Harden finished MVP runner-up for the second time in three years, Rockets GM Daryl Morey questioned the award's criteria and the NBA's awards sytem altogether.
The 2017 NBA MVP race generated months of heated debate and provided perfect fodder for the league’s inaugural awards show, but it also left one prominent executive wondering whether the whole endeavor should be scrapped.
In a phone interview Saturday, Rockets GM Daryl Morey raised questions about the MVP voting process, which involves a panel of 100 media members casting their votes at the end of the regular season.
“I don’t know if this is a good process,” Morey told The Crossover. “The ones that are decided by players or executives or media, they all have their strengths and weaknesses. I honestly don’t think there’s a good process. You could argue for eliminating the awards altogether. I don’t really see a good way to do it that doesn’t have major issues. I like clean answers. If there’s not going to be a set criteria and there’s going to be issues with how it’s structured, for me it might be better to not have it.”
Thunder guard Russell Westbrook beat out Rockets guard James Harden in this year’s MVP race, pulling 69 first-place votes to Harden’s 22 thanks in large part to the fact that he became the first player to average a triple-double since Oscar Robertson in 1962. This marked the second time in three years that Harden was the MVP runner-up, as he previously finished second to Warriors guard Stephen Curry in 2015.
At the root of Morey’s complaints over the voting system is an alleged inconsistency in logic between the two races. In 2015, some analysts argued for Curry over Harden because Golden State had a superior record. In 2017, Harden’s Rockets won 55 games, easily surpassing the Thunder’s 47 wins. Back in April, prior to the official MVP vote, Morey wrote on Twitter that basketball “is losing its focus on winning” before appearing to take a subliminal shot at Westbrook’s rebounding numbers.
“We thought James was the MVP but there were a bunch of very good, deserving candidates,” Morey continued, before making an apparent reference to Westbrook’s triple-double achievement. “I didn’t like how a different MVP criteria was used this year, compared to the last 55 years, to fit more of a marketing slogan. People thought a different criteria for selecting the MVP this year was the way to go.”
Back in June, Morey traded for Chris Paul, an All-Star point guard who should solidify the Rockets among the NBA’s elite teams. However, Paul has been an MVP candidate himself in the past, and it’s possible that his arrival will split votes, making it less likely for either Harden or Paul to win the 2018 MVP award. Last season, Kevin Durant’s arrival in Oklahoma City played a role in dropping Curry, the back-to-back MVP winner, to sixth in voting. In fact, Curry didn’t receive a single first-place or second-place vote this year despite playing for a 67-win team that went on to post a 16-1 postseason record and win the championship.
“Given that the criteria seems to be shifting away from winning, I would guess that [adding Paul] probably doesn’t help anyone’s chances on our team,” Morey acknowledged. “That said, I don’t think anybody really cares [going forward]. James definitely cared and I think we all cared [about the 2017 MVP]. But we’ve moved on since the award isn’t focused on winning any more. Let’s just win and not worry about it.”
The NBA’s current awards voting process takes place in mid-April but the final results were not announced until the much-ballyhooed Awards Show, which was hosted by Drake on June 26. Media ballot selections were made public following the show in hopes of ensuring transparency and of increasing the integrity of individual votes.
The major NBA awards—MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, All-NBA teams, etc.—are determined by a media panel. The league’s executives vote on the Executive of the Year award, while the All-Star Game voting process includes fan, media and, for the first time in 2017, player voting blocks. SI.com noted back in January that the players did not take that process seriously.