This summer's basketball news stretched all the way to late-July, and after a few weeks of relative calm in August, it's now September. NBA training camps open in just a few short weeks. We are alarmingly close to starting all over again. So to pass the time in these final few weeks, and to help prepare for the year to come, let's talk about the 2019 NBA MVP.
It's way too early too think about any of this, and most of the notes below will look stupid in six months, but that's what makes this fun. Here are some highlights from this year's MVP favorites.
(All odds courtesy of Bovada.lv)
Lonzo Ball — 450/1
There's probably a better chance that Lonzo gets the Dion Waiters treatment and ends up in Charlotte by mid-December, but don't let that stop you from dreaming. Lonzo is the longest long-shot listed among the current crop of MVP contenders, but he's on the list, and that alone is an accomplishment. If nothing else, it gives us an excuse to think about the dozens of league-wide miracles and/or disasters that would precede a Big Baller MVP award.
Kristaps Porzingis — 275/1
Don't want to bet against this trainer, but also, definitely don't want to bet on this trainer. In any case, these odds are your reminder that Porzingis probably won't be back until the middle of the season, when the Knicks will be hopeless. So forget next year's MVP. Right now it's all about next summer's free agency and keeping fingers crossed for the 2020 Porzingis MVP odds.
Jayson Tatum — 150/1
You may thinks it's a little early for Tatum MVP buzz, but this is the next logical step for a fan base that spent long stretches of last season declaring that they wouldn’t trade Tatum for Anthony Davis.
Gordon Hayward — 150/1
More importantly, those Hayward odds... Really? The Celtics are going to be outrageous next year. They’ll probably win somewhere between 60 and 65 games. Assuming Hayward is 100%, he should be at the forefront of everything. He'll have built-in comeback narrative, he should be a terror in Brad Stevens' offense, and he's clearly the weapon that takes last year’s good team and makes them great a year later. Nobody is arguing that Hayward should be an MVP favorite, but worse odds than John Wall (75/1), Donovan Mitchell (45/1), DeMar DeRozan (80/1), and Chris Paul (100/1)? Seems off.
James Harden — 11/2
Harden has the fourth-best odds overall, and I don't really see it. A repeat win for Harden would require lots of attrition around the league—Giannis gets kidnapped, Anthony Davis breaks a leg, LeBron takes two months off—and that's not necessarily his fault. The West is deeper. Houston is unlikely to win another 65 games. Voters will be looking to celebrate someone else. The next step for Harden is dominating in the playoffs, and another dominant regular season will only go so far. All of these are factors that will weigh against a repeat win. On the other hand, the best argument for betting on Harden is that everyone was making these exact same points a year ago, and he went out and torched the whole league. Dismiss the Rockets at your own risk.
Nikola Jokic — 100/1
If Nikola Jokic lands in the MVP conversation by the end of the year, that means the Nuggets are scoring 130 points-per-game and have one of the best records in the league. Everybody wins in that scenario. It would be incredible.
DeMar DeRozan — 80/1
DeRozan, on the other hand... Everyone is rooting for him in San Antonio, but let's remember to not get carried away. If we wake up in April and DeRozan is suddenly the biggest player in the sport, that might feel more like a crisis than a dream.
Joel Embiid — 16/1
Embiid is already one of the most valuable players in the sport. He's spent the past two seasons scratching the surface of what he might become on offense, but he's already dominant. Defensively, he's Rudy Gobert of the East. If he comes back in better shape and improves his decision-making on offense, there's no reason he can't make first team All-NBA and look like the best big man on earth. So if the Sixers win 55 games, and Embiid can play somewhere around 70 games, Embiid can put himself in the mix.
The problem is that he won't play 70 games, and he probably shouldn't. Also, the Sixers probably aren't winning 55 games, and after overachieving last season, this year look like more of a reality check. That's why Embiid isn't higher on this list.
Kyrie Irving — 16/1
Again, the Celtics should spend most of next season pushing Golden State for the best record in the NBA. They are going to be great, and Kyrie will be the catalyst and obvious headliner. That's a reason to buy. Reasons to sell: Kyrie's value looks slightly more complicated after watching this team run through the playoffs without him, and his health is still enough of a question mark to pause before betting on him playing 75 games.
Jimmy Butler — 100/1
The best case scenario for the Wolves is a team that stays healthy all year and wins enough to make everyone stop worrying about the chemistry. That plan can actually work. Minnesota was already one of the four best teams in the West when Butler was healthy. If he can stay on the court, he'll close games for them, and the Wolves will have more talent than almost any team they're dealing with on a given night. There's no reason they can't come out and win somewhere around 55 games with Butler as the closer.
Now, is that dream scenario likely? Maybe not. There could be a better chance that KAT leads a Thibs mutiny and Buter gets himself traded to L.A. by January. Nevertheless, there's a ton of talent in Minnesota and none of this is hopeless yet. KAT is incredible, and Butler is too stubborn to fail. The Wolves have some issues to work through, but the best case scenario isn't nearly as far fetched as those 100/1 odds suggest.
Russell Westbrook — 14/1
Westbrook will probably never win another MVP, and that's fine. The delirium of 2017 will be powering arguments for another 20 years regardless.
But no, Westbrook's here because you can go three-quarters of the way through the odds, and there just aren't many real contenders. Guys like John Wall (75/1), Donovan Mitchell (45/1), Karl Towns (50/1), Damian Lillard (35/1)... It's nice that Vegas is acknowledging them, but it's probably not happening.
Likewise, if Houston takes a small step back and voters get tired of celebrating routine Harden dominance, that removes another contender as well. So isn't it possible that a few more of the MVP favorites drop out for various reasons? And what if the Thunder take last season's underachieving talent and finish with the second-best record in the West? Wouldn't people have to credit Westbrook in that scenario? If nothing else, there's a real possibility that we get three months of podcasts arguing about this until everyone is miserable.
Steph Curry — 15/1; Kevin Durant — 9/1
Like Westbrook, both Curry and KD are so divisive that they'll probably never win another MVP. Unlike Westbrook, they are divisive for reasons that are mostly beyond their control. Curry was the NBA's first unanimous MVP and then lost in the NBA Finals, leading to all kinds of backlash and skepticism that pervades basketball conversations even now. Durant left OKC and joined the best team in the NBA, unwittingly putting on a ceiling on how much NBA fans would appreciate his game. Some of that skepticism is fair and some of it's ridiculous, but it's a real thing. Also, the Warriors are so talented and the expectations are so high, it's almost impossible for this team to impress anyone. That hurts them in the MVP conversation.
Even so, Curry and KD are here because Golden State can go half-speed for six months and still win 65 games. In fact, if Steph stays healthy, that's almost definitely how the season will go. We are watching Shaq and Kobe of the pace-and-space generation. Either one of them is a good MVP bet because they are basically guaranteed to have MVP-level numbers and an MVP-level record at the end of the year. If Golden State goes beyond 65 wins and gets closer to 70, it's going to be awfully tough to pretend there's anyone more valuable than either one of these guys.
Ben Simmons — 28/1
This is the best longshot on the board.
Some of the same concerns with Embiid apply to Simmons, obviously. The Sixers overachieved last season, they lost key role players who helped engineer a 16-game winning streak to close the year and get them to 52 wins, and this year could be more complicated. Still, Simmons has better odds than Embiid, so that makes a Sixers bet more worthwhile. And think back to that winning streak: half of those games were played without Joel Embiid, with Simmons anchoring a fast break that terrorized everyone the Sixers played. This year, Simmons can do that again for one of the highest-profile teams in the league, averaging close to a triple double in the middle of 39 nationally televised games. If Embiid misses extended time at some point, that creates an even better opportunity. There's already a blueprint for Simmons keeping the Sixers afloat and looking like new-age Magic Johnson.
Speaking of prodigies, Simmons may seem like he's too young to steal MVP, but there's precedent. If you look at this year as his third season in the NBA (after being drafted in 2016), Simmons is exactly where Derrick Rose was before the 2011 season. Or, if you insist on pretending that last season was Simmons' rookie year, then he has a chance to follow in the footsteps of 1971 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to win MVP in just his second season. Either way: not impossible!
Kawhi Leonard — 11/1
Kawhi looked like one of the three best players alive and had a very good case for MVP in the last healthy season he played. He's headed to Toronto, a team full of role players that will give him a chance to win big while looking like the hero. The whole world has already decided that the Celtics are the best team in the East, and if the Raptors somehow flip that story on its head, it will be impossible to explain the story without crediting Kawhi as the catalyst. All of these are reasons his MVP odds have to be taken seriously.
There are two reasons to be careful. First, if Kawhi's health issues were as serious as he and his agent said they were, it feels dangerous to assume that he will just return to the NBA and pick up exactly where he left off 18 months ago. And second, if Kawhi's health were notas serious as we heard, that means he just skipped a full season to force his way out of San Antonio, and that means the Kawhi bandwagon is full of terrible karma. Proceed at your own risk.
Anthony Davis — 4/1
The Pelicans roster would struggle to break 25 wins without Anthony Davis at the center of everything, but with Davis on the floor, they can push almost anyone on any given night. His value is obvious. He spent the final two months of last season looking like the best player in the league, and he continued that run through the first few weeks of the playoffs (before the Warriors happened). He's everywhere on defense, and he's unstoppable on offense. If he stays healthy and leads the Pelicans to 50 wins and the middle of the West, it will be tough to choose anyone else.
The question is whether you trust both halves of that scenario in New Orleans—Davis health and Pelicans winning—because these talking points have been repeated at the beginning of every Pelicans season for the past four years. Something always goes awry, and the challenge in the West is always borderline impossible. Everyone agrees that Anthony Davis is the sort of superstar the NBA sees once every 20 years, but betting on the stars aligning with the Pelicans might be a bigger risk than those 4/1 odds imply.
LeBron James — 10/3
LeBron is the odds-on favorite and it's been that way ever since July. It makes sense. The Lakers have more incumbent talent than most people have acknowledged, and after a summer of missing on Paul George and Kawhi Leonard and going the Lance Stephenson route instead, the rush to temper expectations may have gone too far. This team can't win a title, but they are better than most people realize. In that way, the situation is almost perfectly constructed to make LeBron look superhuman when they exceed expectations.
Also, more generally, LeBron might just be bulletproof at this point. He didn't play defense for almost the entire season last year, and it was rarely mentioned. He just went to the Lakers in free agency, joining one of the most loathed bandwagons in all of sports, in a move that was widely rumored to have been planned well in advance, and nobody cared.
The whole world has decided that it's more fun to love LeBron than second-guess him. Granted, what comes next is something of a heat check—playing a full year in the Western Conference relying on Stephenson, Rajon Rondo, Lonzo Ball, Javale McGee, Kyle Kuzma, etc—but deep down everyone will be rooting for him too pull it off.
If LeBron has a great year and makes this Lakers experiment work, he'll be worshiped for it. That's why he's the favorite. As for the actual winner...
Giannis Antetokounmpo — 5/1
The MVP case for Giannis is similar to that of Anthony Davis: he is the catalyst for a team that would be lottery-bound without him, he is unfair on defense, he's basically impossible to stop on offense, and he's due for some mainstream recognition that helps punctuate his transition from great young player to full-blown superstar.
The reason Giannis odds are more attractive than Davis odds: Giannis has been more durable thus far, and more importantly, he plays in a different conference.
Past the Celtics, the East is wide open, and the Bucks have as much talent as any other challenger. 50 wins is very doable. Mike Budenholzer will be a massive upgrade over the Joe Prunty/Jason Kidd tag team and that alone should give them a bump. Brook Lopez and Ersan Ilyasova were smart veteran pickups who will fit well in a wide open scheme. Malcolm Brogdon will be healthier this year. Khris Middleton is still a perfect sidekick. There's a lot to like about the Bucks, and that's before you learn that "Antetokounmpo" means " royalty from across the seas."
Some of this may sound preemature in early Septemeber, but some of this is destiny. Giannis is going to own the league sooner or later. Why not start this year?