MVP not an exact science

Posted: Thursday, May 09, 2002

Rod Thorn had this much right: ''Everybody who votes brings a different idea of what it is to the table.''

The ''it'' Thorn was referring to was the Most Valuable Player award. Though the Nets president, New Jersey coach Byron Scott, every other member of the organization and a majority of NBA fans probably were prepared to cast their ballots for Jason Kidd, none of them has a seat at the table.

Those who do -- 126 writers and broadcasters who cover the league -- gave the award to San Antonio's Tim Duncan by a margin that won't be known until the official results are released Thursday. Those results will show West Coast voters overwhelmingly lined up behind Duncan, with Orlando's Tracy McGrady siphoning off enough Eastern bloc support to leave Kidd a close second.

The funny thing is that the four-time All-Star seems less disappointed than the people around him. Kidd was happy for Duncan, who's a pal and whose stats are better across the board. But Kidd did say one thing about the vote that bothered him is that it extends what the Nets believe is a lack of respect for what they've accomplished.

Their 52 regular-season wins, compared with just 26 a year ago, marks the biggest turnaround in the league since the 1997-98 season. And while it earned them the Eastern Conference's top seeding, the usual hardware that accompanies that kind of bounce hasn't materialized.

Scott lost to Detroit's Rick Carlisle in voting for coach of the year, his players are still mad Richard Jefferson was slighted in balloting for various rookie awards, and there is growing concern Thorn might get trumped for executive of the year by Carlisle's boss, Pistons president Joe Dumars.

Locked in a playoff series with Charlotte, the Nets shouldn't need more motivation. But the latest snub is beginning to sound like a crusade, exactly the kind of distraction a team with its eye on the finals doesn't need.

Kenyon Martin complained Kidd was ''robbed,'' and Scott took over from there. ''Ridiculous'' is what he said after practice, but it turns out Scott was just warming up. Later, during a radio interview, he called the decision ''a disgrace'' -- stealing what credibility there might be to the Nets' other claims.

Naming an MVP isn't a science and it's usually more of a headache than it's worth. It's not always won by the best player, at least not in the same way the best team claims the championship. And it often misses the player who makes the greatest contribution to his team.

Thorn and Scott both had a hand in turning around New Jersey's fortunes, but most people agree Kidd deserves the most credit. Those same people should know that in 1997-98, Duncan's rookie season, he led the Spurs from 20 victories to 56 and got trounced in the MVP balloting by Michael Jordan.

Thorn, coincidentally, drafted Jordan when he was running the Chicago Bulls and he didn't win executive of the year that season, either.

''Tim Duncan is a sensational player who is a credit to the league and his team,'' Thorn said. ''If you wanted to tell me he was the most outstanding player, I would have no problem with that. And if you go by numbers, Shaquille O'Neal would win it every year.''

Real MVPs take winning the award in stride and turn losing it into a subtle motivational ploy. Jordan was beaten in MVP balloting by Charles Barkley in 1993 and Karl Malone in 1997, but avenged himself against both in the playoffs that followed. O'Neal did the same last season against Allen Iverson and might repeat the feat against Duncan this year, but there is clearly danger in trying too hard to make a point.

O'Neal, Duncan and Kidd all saw action Tuesday night and all three played like this MVP business was weighing on their minds.

Duncan had 27 points, 17 rebounds and five assists as San Antonio beat the Lakers in Los Angeles. But he also had 10 turnovers and the last one almost cost the Spurs the game. O'Neal, who left without speaking to reporters, was serenaded with a chorus of ''M-V-P!'' when he reached the foul line in the third quarter, but the singing didn't last long. He finished with 19 points, seven rebounds and five assists, but picked up a few quick fouls against Duncan early and was ineffective much of the night.

Kidd had 11 points, six assists and three rebounds, but shot 5-for-18 from the field and missed nine straight shots at one point. He, too, heard ''M-V-P!'' chanted before player introductions, but by the end, the crowd in New Jersey was singing a different tune as well.

That would have been ''Lu-cious Har-ris,'' a tribute to the backup who shot 10-for-11 from the field and scored 24 points in the 102-88 win over the Hornets.

''That shows what we've become. Everybody on every given night can be chanted,'' Kidd said.

Spoken like a truly valuable player.

Jim Litke is the national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke@ap.org



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