LeBron James is the reigning NBA MVP, and while he has plenty of time left to garner a fourth trophy in that department, some of his fellow NBA players aren't going to make it easy for him.
The league is full of elite talent that could usurp King James as MVP just as easily as the Boston Red Sox did the New York Yankees as beasts of the American League in 2004. Be it a hot scorer or a valuable team player, James' status is anything but safe.
His greatest competition is most likely Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant. Here is a player who has looked better and better with each passing year and though he is only 23 years old, the former Texas Longhorn has won the NBA scoring title three years in a row. More importantly, as he gets better, so does his team.
Also, let's not count out Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul. Easily the best all-around point guard in the NBA, Paul was single-handedly responsible for turning the Clippers from perennial pretenders into playoff contenders last year. As he enters his second season with the team, you know that he's going to be hungry to see some improvement.
Yet, as it turns out, even Durant and Paul have some competition when it comes to snagging that MVP trophy.
Two years ago, Westbrook showed signs of becoming a top-scoring point guard who could also rank among the leaders in assists. Yet, last season, his assists per game dropped from 8.2 to 5.5 while his scoring increased from 21.9 to 23.6 points.
That isn't necessarily a bad thing, especially since his Oklahoma City Thunder represented the Western Conference in the NBA Finals, but the low passing numbers are puzzling considering how many scoring targets he has at his disposal in OKC.
That being said, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that we'll see the Westbrook of old this coming season. I'm talking about the dynamic point guard who plays hard night after night and focuses solely on the team and not so much on trying to be Kevin Durant's sidekick.
If he does that, I can see him as a player similar to Stephon Marbury in the prime of his career, and without the prima donna attitude. If the Thunder have another great season and Westbrook's improvement plays a large role in the results, that elusive MVP trophy could be well within his reach.
Anthony may have a reputation for being selfish, but that doesn't take away from how passionate a player he is. As one of the game's top scorers, he goes into every game with one objective: walk away with a win. Given the Knicks' revamped roster, he should walk away with quite a few wins.
On top of that, the new season hasn't even reached the training camp stage yet and Anthony is already hungry. Two months ago, after LeBron James won his first championship ring, the former Syracuse Orange star publicly stated "my time is coming." I mean, how often do you hear a player make that kind of claim when the season has just barely ended? The answer is not often and given how Anthony said it so quickly, it can only mean one thing: He's ready to buckle down and fight his way to a title.
If he can do so and not appear "selfish," then that trophy could very well be his to lose.
Like Westbrook, Williams is a point guard who scores just as well as he passes. Yet, it can be argued that his high-scoring numbers over the past few years were primarily because he was one of the only legitimate scorers on his team, especially since coming to the Nets.
This season, however, things could be different. For once, Williams has multiple consistent scoring targets to whom he can pass the ball, particularly shooting guard Joe Johnson and center Brook Lopez. Having guys like Gerald Wallace and second-year Marshon Brooks won't hurt him either.
As a result, chances are that his scoring and passing stats will level out and his numbers may very well look more like those of Steve Nash in the prime of his career rather than a point man who just scores when he isn't passing. Should the Nets live up to the hype in their new home, much of the thanks will go to Williams for being a fine leader on offense.
In each of the four years that Love has played in the NBA, he has looked like a better and better athlete. His new slender physique helps him move faster on the court, and with him being a consistent double-double machine, he helps the Minnesota Timberwolves move closer to being a contender.
Love should be very excited heading into the new season, as Minnesota GM David Kahn brought in some good new additions in Chase Budinger, Brandon Roy and even Andrei Kirilenko. More importantly, point guard Ricky Rubio is set to return from a knee injury and will be a fine distributor, getting each of these players involved.
With Love leading the way, Minnesota should have no problem clinching a playoff berth, and if they go far, he will definitely be in the running for MVP.
Durant is only 23 years old, and he still has so much more growing to do as an NBA player. The fact that he has won three straight scoring titles at his age is just plain incredible, especially playing in the same league as seasoned veteran scorers like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. Over those three years, he has averaged 28.6 points per game while shooting an astounding 48 percent from the field and 37 percent from long range.
Long story short, the Oklahoma City Thunder wouldn't even be relevant without this man. He puts the team on his back night after night, never backing down from taking the last shot in crunch time. His growing defensive game makes him all the more dangerous a player.
Should the Thunder repeat their success from last year, keep your ears open for Durant's name when the MVP discussions start.
If you're looking for a point guard who can do it all, look no further than Chris Paul. The former Wake Forest standout can score, shoot from long range, pass and play defense better than any point man I've seen in the past five years. He may seem small at 6'0", 175 pounds, but he plays with the tenacious nature of someone much taller and larger.
After being traded from the New Orleans Hornets to the Los Angeles Clippers prior to the start of last season, Paul immediately bonded with teammates Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan to create the sensation that came to be known as Lob City, with dunks being slammed home left and right in most Clippers games. Sure enough, the improved play resulted in a playoff berth with the Clippers ranking No. 5 in the ultra-competitive Western Conference.
Paul and his teammates may have been eliminated in the first round, but a new season is upon them. New additions in Jamal Crawford and Lamar Odom will only make the team better and with Paul leading the offense and doing more than his fair share on D, he is definitely going to be a top candidate for MVP.
Nash may be one of the NBA's elderly players at age 38, but he still plays like someone closer to age 28. Playing for the Phoenix Suns last year, he averaged 12.5 points, 10.7 assists while shooting an incredible 53 percent from the floor and 39 percent from three-point land.
As a result, the point guard-hungry Los Angeles Lakers signed him to a three-year, $27 million deal. Though the team is older than others, this move makes them the team to beat in the Western Conference and Nash the prime candidate for MVP should they have an unbelievable season.
The fact of the matter is that Nash finally gives the Lakers' offense a new face. For years, the team's approach to scoring points was to get the ball to Kobe Bryant and hope for the best. If not Kobe, then Pau Gasol could shoulder the load.
Now, they finally have a proper floor general who will utilize all scoring targets as well as chip in with some of his own baskets when the situation calls for it. Nash is a born leader and is just what the Lakers need. If he can succeed with the Lakers and finally win a ring, he could also very well add a third MVP Award to his trophy case.