Being the NBA MVP is more than just having an outstanding season, it's about solidifying your place among the greats of the game.
While many league greats have fought tooth and nail for the award, it's a rare honor that only one player can capture in a given year.
Contrary to popular belief, it's not always brought home by the most likely candidate. Just ask Derrick Rose as he erupted in the 2010-11 season.
However, this particular list will be heavily dominated by players who have won the award before, or at least been in serious contention. That doesn't mean that there aren't a few sneaky picks who could rise up and shock us all.
The question remains: Who will bring home the regular season MVP this season?
Dwyane Wade: Expect Wade to make health his main priority. Putting up a huge regular season isn't as important as heading into the playoffs at full strength.
Carmelo Anthony: The Knicks are still a trainwreck. Call me when that changes.
Derrick Rose: He will miss a major portion, if not all, of the 2012-13 season.
Josh Smith: Can Atlanta still remain a playoff contender even after a major roster shakeup? If so, Smith could be considered, but don't expect much from the Hawks.
Dirk Nowitzki: Dallas has fallen a long way since a 2010-11 championship. I have a feeling it will go on a spending spree in the next offseason, but expect a down year coming up.
Kyrie Irving: One year away from being a serious threat. Raw talent, but doesn't have the surrounding core to back him up.
Joe Johnson: He will thrive from playing with Deron Williams in Brooklyn, but likely in a reduced role.
No player will benefit more from a change of scenery than Andrew Bynum. In a healthy effort last season, the former Laker put up monster numbers of 18.7 points and 11.8 rebounds a night.
Now in Philadelphia, Bynum will become the literal center of attention for the hungry 76ers.
We all know Bynum's biggest issue coming into his contract season is his injury history. With various knee problems, the seven-footer has a lot riding on his health this year.
That being said, he should have a career year for a playoff contender.
Philadelphia should focus on getting the ball inside to the big man with incredible strength. He will collapse defenses and has shown massive progression in the post.
Defensively, Bynum is a solid shot-blocker and a phenomenal rebounder. If he can make a difference on both ends of the floor while staying healthy, the young 76ers could be a sneaky team in the Eastern Conference.
On a team with no true stars, Ty Lawson could be the guy to step up and lead this Nuggets team past the first round of the playoffs. He's shown vast improvement over his three-year career, but will look to burst into All-Star status this season.
The interesting thing about Denver is the deep combination of role players it can put on the floor. While trading for JaVale McGee late last season and Andre Iguodala in the offseason, Lawson will have plenty of solid targets to utilize.
Lawson has also broadened his scoring attack. With a better range and driving game, he will be a well-rounded point guard with much to prove next season.
If this Denver team can live up to the potential it has, Lawson will get looks as an MVP candidate.
If I was certain Dwight Howard would be healthy, he would be much higher on this list. If I was also certain he would be the main focus of the Los Angeles offense attack, he could top the list.
However, nothing is set in stone for the newly-acquired Laker.
The biggest thing we know about him is he will remain a defensive force. No player in the NBA can alter shots or control the paint like Howard, which means opposing teams will be forced to hit from deep ranges.
If healthy, look for Superman to be a scary factor in a potential Lakers' title run. He's playing with two future Hall of Famers and is entering the prime years of his career.
Kobe Bryant playing with a assist-oriented point guard? I have to see this with my own two eyes.
However, Steve Nash does have the potential to help this revamped team mesh into a unstoppable contender.
Playing with Bryant and Howard, the veteran point guard should find plenty of opportunity to make highlight-reel plays. Nash has a career assist average of 8.6 per game, but has been known to make others around him drastically better.
He will also improve Los Angeles with his scoring ability. Nash is a great shooter from deep and has a nasty jumper off the dribble.
Look for the two-time NBA MVP to further his historic career, perhaps capturing his first ever championship.
As we saw last season in the NBA Finals, Russell Westbrook is a highly aggressive point guard with a ton of ability. He loves having the ball in his hands and is a dangerous second option along side Kevin Durant.
The biggest issue for Westbrook last season was his noticeable drop in assists. With nearly three less dimes a game, it was obvious that his intent was to get to the basket or settle for pull-up jumpers.
Having a more balanced game plan would be an optimistic way to improve his personal and team production heading into next season.
Defensively, he is a ball hawk who can force turnovers and create fast-break situations. This is when he is most deadly, yet he tends to attack the rim even at the most vulnerable of times.
When you play with the game's best scorer, you sometimes have to take the backseat when it matters most. If Westbrook can do this, Oklahoma City could look silky-smooth in an effort to become NBA champions.
As long as the San Antonio Spurs remain in title contention, Tony Parker will find a place on MVP ballots. He's done wonders for an aging core looking for one more championship, but don't forget about his impact on the younger players.
The crafty point guard had raises in his overall production last season. Parker was deadly from the field with 18.3 points on 48 percent shooting; however, he also managed to dish 7.7 assists a game.
San Antonio may be close to being out of serious contention, but don't count it out just yet. With Parker in control, this team has the talent to keep silencing the doubters.
The Los Angeles Lakers still belong to the Black Mamba. He's a battle-tested leader who has helped this franchise secure five NBA championships.
With Nash and Howard in town, we could see Kobe's numbers drop. However, this could end up helping him become more efficient from the floor as well as increase his willingness to pass.
More targets equals less focus on Bryant. With that in mind, he could see the least amount of defensive pressure in his career since playing with Shaquille O'Neal.
Knowing what just one more championship could do for his legacy, Kobe is playing on a heavily talented team who look like favorites in the Western Conference.
Can he seize the opportunity and win that coveted sixth title along with his second MVP?
Another star in a contract year, Chris Paul is destined to do big things this season. Even if the Clippers keep the remarkable point guard for only one more campaign, they will reap plenty of benefits out of his play.
The leader of "Lob City" showed in his first season in Los Angeles that he knew how to work with big men. Even though his 9.1 assists a game were slightly below his career average, he formed outstanding chemistry with the exciting Blake Griffin.
With new pieces to work with, Paul is destined to once again put up All-Star numbers and lead the Clippers into the playoffs.
We always see what he can do with the ball, but give some credit to his elite defense. Paul is constantly stealing balls and remains a top-notch solo defender.
In his career, he is one of the best game managers in NBA history. The better the Clippers look this season, the better chance Paul has at winning an MVP trophy.
Can Kevin Love honestly improve his scoring and rebounding numbers next season?
While mostly a statistical guy, Love continues to work on his overall abilities. If he could become a more reliable defender and improve his post game, there is no reason he couldn't be a top-five player in the NBA.
As is, Love is a great jump shooter who can hit from all ranges. On top of that, he remains a favorite to lead the league in rebounds once again.
Maybe the game's best power forward, Love is the perfect tool to help the Minnesota Timberwolves build themselves into a playoff team.
Once this happens, expect a big leap in MVP consideration for the growing Kevin Love.
Besides LeBron James, no player wowed fans and critics more in the NBA playoffs last season than Rajon Rondo. It's that simple.
Despite constant criticism of his scoring ability, Rondo led the Boston Celtics in a memorable series with the Miami Heat by averaging 20.9 points a game, including a 40-point explosion. All of this while putting up 11.3 assists, might I add.
If this was more than just a flash-in-the-pan performance, could Rondo finally get the credit he deserves as one of the NBA's best point guards?
We know he is a fantastic defender who disrupts offenses, but his offense is becoming a more versatile attack with plenty of room for growth.
This year, more than ever, the Celtics will need the young point guard to be amazing. The throne in Boston belongs Rondo, but let's see just how far he can take this team.
Look at what Deron Williams did with a lackluster cast in New Jersey last season. Even if the team missed the playoffs, he still put up 21 points and 8.7 assists a night.
With a newly-formed contender in Brooklyn, it'd be crazy not to expect major production increase from Williams.
It's going to be interesting to see just how good he can make this team. With Joe Johnson as a wing option and a post threat in Brook Lopez, Williams will have an offense that can spread the floor and succeed from all ranges.
Better yet, he has a nice cast of other role players to work with. Kris Humphries, Gerald Wallace and MarShon Brooks will all play pivotal minutes for Brooklyn, giving Williams more options to take advantage of.
Look for Williams to return into serious MVP contention while potentially leading Brooklyn deep into the playoffs.
He's the NBA's best scorer and has the potential to eventually be the best player in the league, but he won't capture that elusive MVP just yet.
After an appearance in the NBA Finals last season, Durant will come into next season as a more mature and experienced player. A taste of possible championship glory will be just what he needs to help him reach the next level of stardom.
Durant isn't a lock to lead the league in scoring next season, yet not many guys can stand in front of him. If he can stay out of petty foul trouble, he will continue to become a valid defender and a more complete player.
While he's a consistent clutch threat, it would be nice to see Durant be more demanding. Seeing Westbrook take over in big moments, especially in the playoffs, tends to show a unfavorable pecking order in Oklahoma City.
In no way should Westbrook average more shot attempts than Durant, but until he becomes more aggressive, that will not change.
This could be the year we see that change. However, not the year we see him grab the MVP award.
Expecting someone else?
Seriously, LeBron had quite possibly the most impressive regular season in league history last season on his way to becoming an NBA champion. Now, with the doubt behind him, James will continue to build his credentials.
Besides his mental approach, James still managed to tweak his game to become the most dominating player in the game today. With an improved post game and shot selection, he looks locked in and more unstoppable than ever.
Only four players have won the illustrious MVP award four or more times; however, James is destined to do just that. He is entering the prime years of his career while leading the defending champion Miami Heat into a repeat quest.
Unless Durant steps up and steals the spotlight, no one will take this award away from James next season.
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