The Las Vegas odds for 2013 NBA MVP are out and there's no surprise at the top: LeBron James enters the year as the clear MVP favorite once again.
It's not difficult to see why.
James finished with one of the best statistical seasons in NBA history in 2011-12, earned himself the regular-season MVP award in the process, then won an NBA championship, the NBA Finals MVP and an Olympic gold medal as an encore.
He's already one of only nine players in league history to win three or more MVP awards, and he's the only active player to have done so. (Tim Duncan and Steve Nash have two each.)
With that in mind, can anyone stop James from winning his fourth MVP in 2013? Let's find out.
Andrew Bynum, Philadelphia 76ers (40/1)
If not for injury concerns, Bynum would rank in the top 10. He's a nightly 20-10 threat who, for the first time in his career, has a team ready to build around him offensively.
However, his troublesome knees have already begun flaring up in preseason, leaving Philadelphia fans less than optimistic about his prospects of him playing a full 82-game season.
Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers (25/1)
Like Bynum, Griffin is one of the rare nightly 20-10 threats in the league, which almost automatically qualifies him for the MVP race in some capacity. If Griffin boosts his shot-blocking numbers in 2012-13, he'll only rise that much higher.
Las Vegas odds have Griffin ranked ninth overall in the MVP race, but personally, I can't see him overcoming a certain diminutive superstar teammate of his for MVP honors.
Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves (30/1)
If not for the broken hand Love suffered during the preseason, he'd enter the year as a top-five MVP favorite. He's that good.
After averaging 26 points and 13 rebounds per game and shooting over 37 percent from three-point range in 2011-12, Love was poised to take his next step toward superstardom in 2012-13. If he can manage to only miss a month of the season, he'll be a late riser up the MVP favorites list.
Tony Parker, San Antonio Spurs (25/1)
Parker finished fifth in the MVP race in 2011-12, but he's facing two major obstacles in 2012-13: Father Time and head coach Gregg Popovich.
Like in 2011-12, Pop will likely limit the minutes of his older veterans during the regular season to keep them fresh for the playoffs, and Parker joined Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili on the wrong side of 30 last season. Expect Pop to play Parker only 30-32 minutes per game this season, which should be a death blow to his MVP chances.
Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat (22/1)
Wade may not have an official minutes restriction like Parker in 2012-13, but the Heat's addition of Ray Allen gives the team a legitimate backup shooting guard behind Wade.
If the 37-year-old can keep his balky ankle relatively healthy, Wade could start only playing 30-34 minutes per game, just like Parker. And, unlike Parker, Wade just so happens to be on the same team as the reigning MVP and Vegas favorite for 2013 MVP, too.
Fun fact: Las Vegas really likes the Los Angeles Lakers in 2012-13.
Steve Nash is the first of three Lakers ranked in the top six of the Bovada.lv odds, currently coming in at 16/1. Amazingly, Nash has more MVP awards to his name (two) than those other two higher-ranked teammates combined (one).
Seeing as Nash has led the NBA in assists per game for five of the past eight seasons, his MVP case in 2012-13 isn't entirely ludicrous. He's now paired with the most talented teammates of his entire career in Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard, and should generate easy offensive looks for all.
Unless Nash gets enough of his own offense, though, it's difficult to see him truly contending in the MVP race. He did manage to win his first MVP award (in 2004-05) averaging only 15.5 points per game, but back then, LeBron James wasn't LeBron James.
Nash will need to average close to a career-high in points while shooting 50-40-90 and dishing at least 10 assists per game to have any real chance at the 2013 MVP.
If said plans do come to fruition, 'Melo won't be in the MVP race for very long.
Something tells me that we haven't seen the last of Iso-Melo, though, especially with Amar'e Stoudemire now likely to miss the start of the regular season with a ruptured cyst in his knee, according to ESPN.com.
Anthony has never averaged fewer than 20.8 points per game over an entire season, although his PPG dropped significantly in his first full season with the Knicks in 2011-12 (22.6 PPG).
He'll need to average at least 25 PPG to have any chance in the MVP race, as he's getting 25/1 odds heading into the season. Melo has never finished higher than sixth in MVP award shares (in 2009-10) before, for what that's worth.
Putting up between 25-30 PPG and leading the Knicks to a 50-plus win season and a top-four seed in the Eastern Conference would garner Melo legitimate MVP consideration, though.
Russell Westbrook enters the 2012-13 season tied with Steve Nash as the fifth-most likely MVP winner, according to Bovada.lv, with 16/1 odds.
Like Nash, Westbrook will first have to overcome legitimate MVP candidates on his own team before worrying about the rest of the league.
Westbrook has only improved in each of his four NBA seasons, going from averages of 15.3 points, 5.3 assists, 4.9 rebounds and 1.3 steals per game in his rookie season to 23.6 points, 5.5 assists, 4.6 rebounds and 1.7 steals in 2011-12. He also averaged eight or more assists per game during his second and third NBA seasons.
In the process, Westbrook has earned his fair share of critics. With Kevin Durant, the three-time-reigning league scoring champion as his teammate, the so-called Westbrook haters argue that he shouldn't be averaging nearly 20 shots per game, as he did in 2011-12.
The thing is, Westbrook has significantly improved his field-goal percentage every season, going from 39.8 percent as a rookie to 45.7 percent in 2011-12. If he can continue trending upward in terms of converted shots, his critics will have a much more difficult time arguing that he shouldn't be shooting as frequently.
Westbrook's biggest MVP obstacle will be overcoming Durant, who finished second in the 2011-12 MVP race, but averages of 25 points, eight assists, five rebounds and two steals per game would be a great start.
Rajon Rondo enters the 2012-13 as the Boston Celtics' unquestioned backcourt leader after Ray Allen migrated south to the Miami Heat during the summer.
As such, he'll have his best-ever chance to emerge as a true MVP contender. (He enters the season at 25/1.)
Besides LeBron James, perhaps, no other NBA player can make a triple-double look as effortless as Rondo can. He led the league with 11.7 assists per game in 2011-12, and has always been an extraordinary rebounder (career average: 4.4 boards per game) for his position.
The 11.9 points per game Rondo averaged in 2011-12 aren't exactly MVP material, but he's never attempted more than 11.2 shots per game over the course of an entire season before.
Even with the additions of Courtney Lee and Jason Terry to replace Allen, the Celtics should be asking more offensively of Rondo this coming season. He's 26 years old and entering his seventh NBA season, which means he's quickly approaching his athletic prime.
If Rondo has finally tweaked that inconsistent jumper of his, or can boost his free-throw percentage to the 70 percent range, he'll have a legitimate chance at finishing in the thick of the MVP race.
The new-look Brooklyn Nets could well spark a Deron Williams renaissance this season.
Williams enters the season with 25/1 odds to win the 2013 MVP, as Williams will serve as the unquestioned leader of the Nets during this first season in Brooklyn.
With a re-signed Brook Lopez, Kris Humphries and Gerald Wallace by his side, Williams' teammates now have the job security to allow them to play without fear.
The addition of six-time All-Star Joe Johnson should be the true boon to Williams in 2012-13, though. Johnson can play both on and off the ball, which should free up a plethora of offensive opportunities for Johnson.
A season of 20 points, 10 assists and two steals per game isn't out of the question for Williams, which is why he's a legitimate MVP candidate heading into 2012-13.
The Nets will need to finish as a top-four team in the East for Williams to have any real chance at MVP, though.
Sorry, Blake Griffin, but your 6'0" teammate is the MVP favorite on the Los Angeles Clippers in 2012-13.
Chris Paul got traded to the Clippers only a few weeks before the 2011-12 season began, forcing him to develop chemistry with his teammates by the seat of his pants.
Now, the Clippers enter the 2012-13 season with a full offseason and training camp under their belts, including a gold medal for Paul in the 2012 Olympics Games.
With Griffin, Caron Butler, Chauncey Billups and DeAndre Jordan all returning, the Clippers have the rare opportunity to actually build upon continuity this season, as ESPN's J.A. Adande recently wrote.
In his seven-year career, Paul has already led the league in steals per game four times and assists per game twice. With career averages of 18.8 points, 9.8 assists and 2.4 steals per game, a 20-10-2 season from Paul seems like a sure thing, so long as he can stay healthy.
Paul enters the 2012-13 season with 18/1 odds to finish as MVP, which ranks seventh overall behind Steve Nash and Russell Westbrook. If I was betting on the 2013 MVP race, I'd pick Paul over both Nash and Westbrook.
Somehow, Kobe Bryant only has one MVP award to his name after 16 seasons in the league.
Barring a somewhat-major upset, he's going to end his career with only one, too. (He enters the season with 12/1 odds.)
Bryant went neck and neck with Kevin Durant in 2011-12 for the NBA scoring title, but finished 0.1 points behind Durant with 27.9 points per game and ended up in second place. He took 23 shots per game to get those nearly 28 points.
With the additions of Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, not to mention a slimmed-down Metta World Peace, here's guessing Bryant won't be taking 23 shots per game in 2012-13. Not if the Lakers know what's best for them, anyway.
Nash should generate more open, easy looks for all the Lakers, including Bryant. If the Lakers can truly commit to their new Princeton offense and learn to master it, the sky could be the limit for Bryant and his teammates this season.
It's difficult to see Bryant averaging enough shots per game to earn only his second career MVP, but if there's one thing we've learned from his career, it's this: Never underestimate Kobe Bean Bryant.
Las Vegas currently favors Kobe Bryant over Dwight Howard in terms of MVP favorites on the Los Angeles Lakers, but those odds could well be flipping soon enough.
Currently, Howard ranks fourth in the league on the Vegas board with 14/1 odds, but a few more performances like his preseason debut (19 points, 12 rebounds, four blocks in 33 minutes) will have him shooting up the MVP boards.
Howard appears fully healthy after only being five months removed from back surgery, which is only good news for the Lakers. He'll be expected to anchor the Lakers' defense immediately, with the team having to give up former center Andrew Bynum to land Howard over the summer.
Asking a three-time Defensive Player of the Year to anchor your defense is a luxury every team wishes it could afford, but only the Lakers will have the ability to actually do so.
Best of yet, the Lakers have Bryant to hold Howard's nose to the grindstone, forcing him to continually improve his offensive game.
Howard has averaged at least 20 points, 13 rebounds and two blocks per game in four of his past five seasons with the Orlando Magic. If he can boost his scoring to the mid-20s while maintaining his blocks and rebounds averages, he'll be one of the MVP favorites in 2013.
Yes, despite being the reigning MVP and the only active three-time MVP in the league, and despite Las Vegas odds favoring him to win his fourth MVP award (19/10 odds), I'm putting LeBron James second on my MVP list for 2013.
It's easy to make the case why I'm an idiot for doing so. James managed one of the most historically dominant seasons in NBA history in 2011-12, averaging 27.1 points on 53.1 percent shooting, 7.9 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 1.9 steals and 0.8 blocks per game.
He shot career highs both from the field and three-point range (36.2 percent), finished with a career high in steals per game and tied his career high in rebounds per game.
Then, en route to the 2012 NBA championship, the Miami Heat learned that their greatest strengths come from playing James in the post.
Now, he's embracing the position-less model that the Heat have adopted, as ESPN.com's Tom Haberstroh recently wrote, which allows him to play every position, 1 through 5, at times.
No other player in the league can dream of playing every position both offensively and defensively, which makes James a one-of-a-kind MVP candidate.
Besides voter fatigue affecting his MVP chances, however, I could see Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra attempt to dial down James' minutes as much as possible in the regular season to save him for a hopefully lengthy playoff run in April.
Granted, that may mean 34-36 minutes per game instead of 38-40, but when going against this next player, that could mean all the difference in the race for the 2013 MVP.
Kevin Durant's accolades speak for themselves.
Youngest-ever NBA scoring champion. Three-time league leader in scoring before turning 24. Gold medalist in both the 2010 FIBA World Championship and the 2012 Olympics Games.
Durant also helped guide his youthful Oklahoma City Thunder to the NBA Finals in 2011-12, before falling to LeBron James and the Miami Heat in five games.
Durant was joined on the Olympic team in 2012 by his two teammates, Russell Westbrook and James Harden, while Serge Ibaka flew across the Atlantic to play as a starter for Spain.
With the Olympic experience the four Thunder building blocks accrued over the summer, no one should be counting Oklahoma City out of the race to the top seed in the Western Conference, despite the Los Angeles Lakers' activity over the summer.
At 24 years old and with five NBA seasons under his belt, there's no reason to expect anything other than Durant taking another step forward in his progression toward permanent superstardom. He's a famously hard worker that should only be motivated by the bitter taste the 2012 NBA Finals left in the mouths of he and his teammates.
Durant will likely need to average 30 points per game (or close to it) and pray that James doesn't do something ridiculous like average a triple-double all season to walk home with his first MVP award in 2013. (He's currently listed at 15/4 odds, second in the league behind only James.)
Here's guessing that the Lakers will need more time to adjust than some expect, leaving the door wide open for Durant and the Thunder to secure the No. 1 seed in the West.
If Durant can average 28-30 points per game while coming close to 50-40-90 shooting percentages, he'll be as solid of an NBA candidate as any player in 2012-13.