It's never too early to start handing out fake hardware in the NBA, especially during the dog days of August.
And who in The Association is more deserving of accolades right now than LeBron James? In less than a calendar year, he's managed to rack up the regular season MVP, the Finals MVP, his first NBA title and his second Olympic gold medal.
Simply put, the dude's on a roll and, frankly, has been for some time. It wouldn't exactly be unreasonable, then, to award LeBron his fourth Maurice Podoloff Trophy.
Even though NBA training camps don't open for nearly seven weeks.
Still, there's plenty of reason to believe that—barring injury or some other season-dismantling catastrophe—the 2012-13 MVP is already James' to lose.
For one, if the recent past is any indication of what's to come in the future, then LeBron's upcoming season should be great for filling his mantle.
He's won three of the last four MVPs, and probably would've won all four had he not inspired so much vitriol with the way he handled his "Decision" in the summer of 2010. LeBron actually finished third in MVP balloting for the 2010-11 season, behind Derrick Rose and Dwight Howard, even though he led the league in win shares and player efficiency rating and played such a crucial role in boosting the Heat from a 47-win No. 5 seed to a 58-win No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference.
Oh, and his line for the year—26.7 points, 7.5 rebounds, 7.0 assists, 1.6 steals—wasn't too shabby, either.
In any case, James has been the best player in basketball for at least the last four years. One could argue that his reign extends back even further, to the 2007-08 season, when he led the league in scoring while averaging 30 points, 7.9 rebounds and 7.2 assists for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The point is, LeBron has been historically awesome for some time, and now that he's in the midst of his prime at the age of 27, there's no reason to think he'll let up.
Especially after the way LeBron lit up the Olympics.
To be sure, Kevin Durant—the three-time defending scoring champ and the near-consensus second-best player in the NBA—did plenty to impress in London. He led all players in total points, set a new Olympic record with 34 three-point makes and became the first American to drop 30 in the gold medal game.
But LeBron was still the undisputed leader of the squad and clearly doubled as its best player. He averaged a rather LeBron-like 13.3 points, 5.6 rebounds and 5.7 assists for the tournament and, among other things, registered the first triple-double in Olympic basketball history.
Without a single turnover, mind you.
Simply put, LeBron was the top dog on an American squad comprised of the best players in the world. And being the best player in the world—and more importantly, being recognized as such—certainly helps one's chances of taking home some serious statuettes back in the states.
Just ask Michael Jordan, who won five MVPs in his time and might've won more if not for a brief stint with baseball in the mid-1990s and the supposed boredom that some of the voters developed from handing him hardware as often as they did.
As for LeBron, he put himself in some rather rarefied air alongside His Airness in 2012 by becoming the only man other than MJ to be an MVP, a Finals MVP, an NBA champion and an Olympic gold medalist in a calendar year.
Putting himself in the same category as the greatest player in NBA history has to count for something with the MVP voters, doesn't it? At the very least, LeBron's historic accomplishments won't (or shouldn't) hurt his case.
Unless, of course, those same voters are overcome by the same ballot fatigue that plagued them during the Jordan years.
That shouldn't be too much of an issue, though, so long as LeBron's Miami Heat go about defending their title with a motivated and decisively hungry effort throughout the regular season.
Being the Heat was no cakewalk in Years One and Two of the LeBron-Wade-Bosh era. They were the villains of the NBA, facing and absorbing every opponent's best shot and inviting some of the rowdiest crowds on the road.
This season, they'll have to handle the added pressure that comes with having a crown to hang onto. The hatred may have subsided, but everyone will still be gunning for the Heat now that they've taken up residence atop the league's totem pole.
If Miami can persevere through that cabal over the course of an 82-game schedule and come out at or near the top of the standings, then LeBron should certainly expect to find himself firmly atop the MVP ladder. After all, being the best player on the best team (or one of the best teams) in basketball is about as tried-and-true a formula for lifting the Mo Podoloff as there is.
If you thought LeBron and the Heat were good last year, just wait 'til you see them on the court this time around.
Sure, the addition of Ray Allen (and, to a much lesser extent, Rashard Lewis) to the reserves will make Miami that much better overall.
The bigger upgrade, though, will be having James at top speed from the get go. He's played spectacularly during the vast majority of his time on South Beach, but didn't truly settle comfortably into his role as the center of the Heat's basketball universe until the playoffs this past spring.
Up until that point, he'd spent much of time on the court playing "Dueling Banjos" with Dwyane Wade, careful not to overshadow his friend and superstar teammate while knowing, to some extent, that he was the better player.
Now, there's no doubt who "the man" is in Miami. Of course, nobody should expect LeBron to play 43 minutes per game and set stat sheets ablaze as often during the regular season as he did during his spectacular playoff run.
But with his role so much more clearly defined as a result of that championship spurt, LeBron figures to put up some rather gaudy numbers in 2012-13, even by his lofty standards.
Perhaps even gaudy enough to make denying him the MVP an act worthy of commitment to an insane asylum.
Furthermore, LeBron's role as the king of the Eastern Conference has only grown amidst the NBA's offseason reshuffling.
With Dwight Howard off to Los Angeles and Derrick Rose likely out for much of the coming season as he recovers from a torn ACL, James now stands as far-and-away the best player in the East. In fact, his toughest competition might actually come from D-Wade, his own teammate in Miami.
Beyond that, who's going to challenge LeBron's throne in the East? Will it be Deron Williams, who's spent the last season-and-a-half piddling about amidst putridity while awaiting the arrival of a new-and-improved roster with the Brooklyn Nets? How about Carmelo Anthony, who's yet to show that he can carry the dysfunctional New York Knicks to the next level? Rajon Rondo's an elite talent, but how much credit will he garner (or deserve) if the Boston Celtics prove to be a thorn in the Heat's side?
The requisite dearth of talent in the Eastern Conference leaves even more of the spotlight to be occupied by LeBron and, in turn, a vacuum atop the standings that the Heat should be able to fill without too much competition.
All of which can only boost LeBron's chances of taking home his fourth MVP.
Meanwhile, Kevin Durant—LeBron's chief competitor for the MVP—will be busy battling for ballots out West.
Chris Paul and Blake Griffin both figure to be in the mix if the Los Angeles Clippers wind up contending for a top spot in the Western Conference, while Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard will duke it out for votes with the Lakers after finishing fourth and seventh, respectively, in the most recent poll.
Don't forget about Tony Parker, who picked up the fifth-most points while leading the San Antonio Spurs to the top seed in the West, or Kevin Love, who figures to finish higher than sixth if he carries the Minnesota Timberwolves back into the playoff picture.
The biggest drain on Durantula's candidacy, though, may well be fellow Oklahoma City Thunder star Russell Westbrook. He picked up all of four points in last season's balloting, but has done plenty to prove that he's more than just an adjunct to Durant's superstardom.
If the Thunder shine once again this season and Westy's role in that success grows—not to mention the attention James Harden and Serge Ibaka will likely garner—then Durant will have to share credit (and votes) with his own teammates.
And if the Thunder find themselves in a dogfight with the Lakers, the Clippers and the Spurs for supremacy in the West, then the MVP points figure to be spread even more thinly across the conference.
All of which can only help LeBron's case for the crown from a logistical perspective.