Westbrook or Harden? The better question: why are we still waiting?


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Remember the regular season? It has somehow been 55 days since arguably the greatest regular season in the history of the league.

Russell Westbrook and James Harden became the greatest statistical anomalies in sports as they led the charge of an unprecedented boom in triple-doubles. Devin Booker dropped 70 points against the league’s most storied franchise in the league’s most storied arena. Joel Embiid taught the basketball world to “Trust the Process.”

With the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors having run through every opponent who dared to stand in their way en route to their third straight meeting in the Finals, this season has been the first time in a long while in which the regular season was more exciting than the playoffs.

Golden State banished any resemblance of parity to the shadow realm this season as it put on previously unfathomable stretches of dominance. The league was lucky enough to see a plethora of stars shine each and every night to break the mundanity of the Warriors reducing their opponents to the Washington Generals.

A year after Stephen Curry was the league’s unanimous best player and turned his own shooting records to dust, Harden and Westbrook both had two of the greatest individual seasons in league history to spark an incredibly polarizing discussion of who deserves to be the next MVP.

Should the voters give the award to Westbrook for becoming the first player since Oscar Robertson to average a trip-dub? Or should they bestow the award to Harden for transforming a team projected to miss the playoffs into a three-seed in the West? Not to mention Harden turned unskilled, über-athletic forwards into Amar’e Stoudemire-lite.

Typically, the NBA announces the MVP before or in the middle of the second round of the playoffs, the logic being that the player who wins the award will most likely make it to the semifinals and raise the award in front of his home crowd.

This strategy horrendously backfired in 2007.

Dirk Nowitzki, who averaged 24.6/8.9/3.4, became the fourth player to join the 50/40/90 club and willed the Dallas Mavericks to a franchise-high 67 wins and the one-seed in the Western Conference, was the overwhelming favorite to win MVP.

Nowitzki and company were expected to roll right through to the second round, but the Mavericks ran right into the We Believe Warriors. Led by Baron Davis and Stephen Jackson, Golden State took down Dallas in six games in one of biggest upsets in league history.

The pride of the Mavericks was robbed of raising the MVP in front of his home crowd because the league assumed he would crack the second round. Some may view this as no big deal because he was still the league’s MVP whether he made it to the second round or not, but it’s difficult if not impossible for us mortals to fathom the experience that is receiving an MVP in front of a home crowd before a playoff game.

Context matters as well. Nowitzki didn’t just win MVP; he won MVP the season after Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat defeated him and the Mavericks in the Finals the season prior. Nowitzki was a man on a mission and made both individual and team history, both of which deserved to be celebrated in front of the Dallas faithful.

Sure, every MVP of record since Nowitzki has made it to the second round, plus Nowitzki got to hoist a championship trophy and Finals MVP in Miami four years later in Wade’s arena, but the league should have learned that the MVP advancing to the second round is never a guarantee and changed the way in which the award is distributed.

Instead, 10 years after the Nowitzki fiasco, the NBA found a way to make the situation even worse.

The NBA will host its first ever awards show June 26. The concept itself isn’t horrendous or earth-shattering, as the NFL rolled out the idea in 2011 and the show has done numbers, but introducing a show which has the potential to attract millions of viewers, as well as the almighty dollar, isn’t the problem.

The problem is timing.

In the event that the third chapter of the Golden State/Cleveland rivalry goes to seven games, the awards show will occur eight days following the conclusion of the Finals.

This decision to schedule the show a week after the Finals is idiotic on many levels, the first and most obvious reason being that it will take place a full two months following the conclusion of the regular season. The debate as to who should receive the MVP peaked at the conclusion of the first round when Harden’s Houston Rockets defeated Westbrook’s Oklahoma City Thunder in five games.

After Harden and Westbrook were eliminated from the playoffs, the former eliminating the latter in the first round before meeting his own demise in the second round, the guards’ regular season accomplishments quickly became old news.

All of the hype that the two brought to the table suddenly vanished because what they accomplished in the regular season was no longer relevant. Instead, the media’s attention shifted to the postseason. Eligible voters had cast their ballot, but there was no sense in trying to invigorate the discussion when the focus had shifted to the postseason.

Announcing who won before the start of the first round would have made for a far more interesting series between Westbrook and Harden. Everybody knew the award would come down to them two (apologies to Kawhi Leonard, but let’s be realistic), but neither guard could claim those bragging rights heading into the series.

By the time the award show rolls around, media coverage of the Finals will already have gone through the whole nine yards, further pushing away the discussion of who deserves to win MVP out of memory. Whoever wins Finals MVP, among many of the other potential topics of discussion, will be far more relevant than whether Westbrook or Harden will win the regular season MVP.

The vast majority of basketball fans, plain and simple, will have forgotten.

Not only does the awards show take place well after the Finals have come to a conclusion, but after the star-studded 2017 NBA Draft as well, which is a media marathon in and of itself. With a plethora of talking points that the draft offers, the awards show will further fall into obscurity.

Furthermore, the draft serves as the first landmark of a new season, meaning that at the time of the awards show, the NBA will have to rewind from discussing the future of the league to an award whose relevance peaked in April. By the time Westbrook or Harden receives the 2016-17 MVP, the amount of basketball fans who are willing to re-enter that rabbit hole will be at an all-time low.

The awards show may be a success or it may flop; if the latter occurs, much of the failure can be attributed to just how late the show occurs. If the NBA wants to employ this idea in the future, it will be better off hosting the event immediately after the regular season and before the playoffs.

The media’s ballots are due at the conclusion of the regular season anyhow, so rushing the voters wouldn’t be a problem at all. Give the players enough time to travel to and from the event so that they aren’t jet lagged before the playoffs and next year’s awards show, should it happen, can maximize its viewership potential.

But scheduling the awards show after the season has completely ended? That’s a game plan set up to fail.

Justice delos Santos is the sports editor. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @jdelossantos1