No matter how many times we go through the same debates over and over again, we can't quite get a handle on what the word "valuable" means.
It's become such a vacuous adjective that all we really know about the MVP award is that it recognizes the player with the most something. Maybe he's the best in the league. Maybe he's the most important to his team.
Maybe it's just his turn.
So forget the MVP discussion for a moment—we'll use a different word. We'll rank the most indispensable players in this NBA of ours. These are the guys whose teams couldn't live without them, the ones who would create a gaping hole in the event of a season-ending injury.
They're valuable to their teams in the truest sense of the term, even if it's the sense MVP voters sometimes ignore.
Here's a look at the top 10.
The reason LaMarcus Aldridge is so underrated is the very same reason why he's so vitally important to his team.
The rest of the Portland Trail Blazers just aren't very good—at least not yet.
For his part, the 6'11" forward/center scored almost 22 points a game last season to go along with eight rebounds, and he did it from the post and mid-range alike. He also did it at an efficient 51 percent clip.
You can certainly come up with a list of flashier big men and a somewhat shorter list of those who are actually better than Aldridge. But it's awfully hard to come up with guys who are quite so essential to their team.
With Aldridge, the Trail Blazers always have at least a remote shot at the postseason. Without him, they're easily the worst team in the league.
That's a big difference.
The Minnesota Timberwolves have gotten better, but they haven't gotten to a place where they don't have to depend on Kevin Love to singularly make them a decent team.
He's the club's best interior scorer and best perimeter scorer—and it goes without saying he's the best rebounder in the game. Unfortunately, his exceptional skills appear poised to go to waste for another season.
Minnesota might make the playoffs for the first time in a long time, but to what end? Does anyone think they have a legitimate chance to beat any other playoff team in the West?
The one thing you can stay about Love's production is that it has a lot to do with the rest of his team not being so great. He took over 19 field-goal attempts per game last season, which ranked third in the entire league behind Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant.
He only made 45 percent of those attempts, too, a reminder that he's shooting over five three-pointers per game.
In reality, Love is ever-so-overrated—typically by fans who look at total output rather than how and why the output is what it is. But overrated or not, Minnesota would be absolutely devastated if he were to go down with a serious injury.
Even with Kyrie Irving, the Cleveland Cavaliers won't be that great.
This roster has gotten to the place where you can mention them as a postseason long shot without spurring a chorus of endless laughter. The only reason it's managed to get that far is that Irving is going into a second season that should have everyone on the edge of their seats.
It could be a good one—just like that Rookie of the Year campaign that turned out to be pretty much the only news out of Cleveland last season.
As mediocre as this young team is for the moment, you don't even want to think about how bad off it would be sans Irving.
Unless trauma is your "thing" or something.
The Cavaliers' options to backup Irving are Daniel Gibson (more of a scoring guard) and Jeremy Pargo. But forget about the rotation—this team would be in incredibly desperate need of someone...anyone who could score or pass the ball. It would be in even greater need of someone who could score without having been passed the ball.
The Cavs have neither (unless Dion Waiters is ready to go from day one). They go as Irving goes.
Derrick Rose would be higher on this list but for the fact that the rest of his team is just so good.
It doesn't pack the superstar punch that you'll find on other contenders, but it does include talented, well-coached impact players who understand their roles and do them dutifully. That may not be the most thrilling kind of supporting cast, but it's one that proven to be effective in Chicago and elsewhere (the San Antonio Spurs and Dallas Mavericks both come to mind).
Even with the solid core, the Bulls still need this former MVP, and that's—after all—why he won that MVP award.
Chicago's offense lives and dies by Rose's ability to penetrate, finish, get to the line, kick to shooters, run the pick-and-roll and hit his own perimeter shots from to time. He's not just the engine that keeps Chicago running; he's the reason it runs so smoothly.
The last few months have been nothing short of a nightmare for Bulls fans. Their team may be able to hold its own without Rose's production and leadership, but it won't go far.
Sure, it's hard to believe it's even possible for the Los Angeles Lakers to have an indispensable player after acquiring Dwight Howard and Steve Nash.
If one goes down, aren't three superstars enough? How many do teams need these days anyway?
But Kobe Bryant is different from his team's other big names. Without Dwight Howard, the Lakers could at least get by with Pau Gasol manning the middle, and we already knew this team was capable of surviving with an elite point guard like Steve Nash.
Kobe, however, is the one Laker who can score from the perimeter, create his own offense and take games over for stretches at a time. Without him, this team may be better than the one Howard had to work with in Orlando—but not by a whole lot.
There's a good case to be made that Bryant sometimes tries to do too much. There's just a much stronger case to be made that they struggle to even make the playoffs without him.
The New York Knicks made huge strides improving their depth this summer, but it goes without saying that newly acquired defensive specialists like Ronnie Brewer and Marcus Camby aren't going to score many points.
Nor will Tyson Chandler or Jason Kidd.
Without Carmelo Anthony, the Knicks' best scorers would be Amar'e Stoudemire, J.R. Smith, Raymond Felton and Iman Shumpert. Outside of Stoudemire, it's hard to imagine any of those guys consistently putting up at least 20 points per game.
Whatever you think about Anthony's all-around game, his scoring ability is the difference between NYC making a run at a title and making a run at the lottery. If he were a more active defender and more willing distributor, he'd be a perennial MVP candidate.
Even without the well-roundedness, though, 'Melo is still ridiculously important to his team.
There was a time when Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett could lead their respective teams to respectability, but that time is no more. They continue to play like All-Stars only because they play alongside arguably the most well-rounded point guard in the game.
Rajon Rondo led the league with 11.7 assists per game last season, and he led the Boston Celtics in ways the numbers just don't express.
Add to that his ability to score when needed, the fact he'll fight for five rebounds a game and his elite perimeter defense, and you can see why GM Danny Ainge has never traded him despite the occasional rumor that effect.
Without Rondo, the Celtics would be a marginal playoff team. With him, they still have a very good shot at winning another title.
Blake Griffin can jump a long, long ways, but he can't lob the ball to himself.
We're reminded of that and more every time we watch his still-developing post-game in action. It goes without saying that DeAndre Jordan isn't much for creating his own offense either, and veterans like Caron Butler and Chauncey Billups are at the stages in their careers where it certainly doesn't hurt to have a first-rate floor general setting them up.
The Los Angeles Clippers improved this summer, adding some badly needed depth in Jamal Crawford, Grant Hill and Lamar Odom.
But this team would be in horrible shape without Paul. He's one of the very few players in the league who will make his teammates look better than they actually are, and these teammates wouldn't look anything like contenders without CP3 running the show.
For the last time, Kevin Durant is more than just another prolific scorer.
The guy led his team with eight rebounds a game and made plenty of unheralded contributions on the defensive end. Plus, the defensive attention he draws to the perimeter has a lot to do with why Russell Westbrook and James Harden have so much room to operate. Defenders won't sag to the paint when KD is their assignment, and that creates enough space for Oklahoma City's premier slashers to operate.
But even if Durant was just a great scorer, what would the Thunder do without him?
It's not just that he's led the league in scoring three times; it's that he's done so efficiently. He takes over five three-pointers a game and still scores efficiently.
That's something both Westbrook and Harden would struggle to do without Durant occupying the defense's attention. With Serge Ibaka, the team could still potentially make the playoffs, but they'd be out in the first round.
The Miami Heat proved they could win some big games without Chris Bosh, but that's because they were able to rely so heavily on the one guy they can't live without.
He scores. He facilitates. He rebound. He defends.
And he ranks as one of the league's best in each respect. There are quite a few big names in this league, but there's no one who's made his name quite like LeBron James has. The Miami Heat wouldn't be the worst team in the league with Bosh and Dwyane Wade making due with their supporting cast of perimeter shooters.
But nor would they be remotely close to being the best.
That's the difference LeBron makes.