James won his third MVP in a championship 2011-12 season, but other stars will be hungry to take it from him this year.
LeBron James is far and away the best player in the NBA right now, but there a handful of players who could steal the MVP trophy from him if they produce at a high level and make their teams better as the year goes along.
LeBron James played outstanding basketball in a lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, as he won his third NBA MVP in four years, captured his elusive first NBA Championship and was named NBA Finals MVP.
The scary part is that LeBron is still only 27 years old and will only continue improving as a basketball player this year. He is hungry for back-to-back championships and certainly wouldn't mind adding a fourth MVP to his list of achievements.
It will be tough to unseat James, based on the fact that he is playing at such a high level, but these five players have the best shot at doing so in the 2012-13 NBA season.
Durant is more than capable of winning his first MVP award this season.
Durant won his third straight scoring title last season, averaging 28.0 PPG while also grabbing a career-best 8.0 RPG.
However, he finished runner-up to James in the MVP voting and also lost to him and the Miami Heat in five games in the NBA Finals.
Durant is a well-rounded player who has improved upon his defense each year, but he still doesn't distribute at a level close to James (3.5 APG in 2011-12 compared to 6.2 APG for LeBron) or play with the physicality on both ends of the floor that makes James so great.
Despite falling short of LeBron in these aspects, he still has the best chance to unseat King James and win his first MVP award in his sixth NBA season.
According to a tweet by Brian Windhorst of ESPN, the two worked out together again in the offseason:
LeBron & Durant are back working out with each other in preparation for training camp. Last year they called it "hell week."
— Brian Windhorst (@WindhorstESPN) September 10, 2012
Both are great competitors, and Durant's willingness to learn from James shows that he truly wants to be at an MVP level.
Paul finished third in last year's MVP voting in his first season with the Clippers.
Paul revitalized a Clippers franchise that hadn't reached the playoffs since the 2005-06 season. He finished third in last year's MVP voting and helped the Clippers earn a No. 5 seed in the West, where they advanced to the second round of the playoffs.
Paul's Clippers finished with a 40-26 record last season, and it is realistic to think that they will win 50 or more games with a full 82-game schedule.
If Paul leads them to a top-four seed in the Western Conference and averages 20 PPG, 10 APG and 3 SPG, he will be right back in the thick of the conversation.
James and Durant will get all the talk in the MVP race, but both of them have better supporting casts than Paul.
Howard's defense could earn him his first MVP award.
The Lakers are perennial contenders in the West, but Howard gives them the defensive force in the middle that they have been lacking.
Last season, the Lakers ranked 15th in team defense, allowing 95.9 points per game. They were also torched by the up-tempo style of the Oklahoma City Thunder in the playoffs.
Howard is now one of many great players on a great team, yet the three-time Defensive Player of the Year might be the missing link that lifts the Lakers to a new level.
If the Lakers become a top-five defense and Howard blocks about three shots a game while averaging 20 points and 12 rebounds in the process, he could win his first MVP.
Bryant may be getting older, but he is still playing at an elite level.
Bryant averaged 27.9 PPG and 5.4 RPG in 58 games last season and is primed for another big year despite being 34 years old. His production has not started declining yet, and the five-time NBA champ also has one NBA MVP award to his name.
Bryant is fighting an early-season foot injury, but it shouldn't impact his performance. He has been known to play through injuries and is as tough as anyone in the league.
Bryant thrives on proving people wrong, and winning MVP hardware this season would do just that. He finished fourth in the voting last year, and if James, Durant and Paul miss time with injuries or don't play up their standards, Kobe will add to his hardware collection.
Williams will be much better in the 2012-13 season.
Williams put up decent numbers in the 2011-12 season (21.0 PPG, 8.7 APG) while playing with D-League talent on the Nets roster, but it wasn't enough to make an impact on his team's record (22-44).
The Nets are now the Brooklyn Nets, and the offseason acquisition of Joe Johnson coupled with a healthy Brook Lopez gives the team a legit shot to make some noise in the Eastern Conference.
Williams be leading the charge at point guard and finally seems at peace with the roster around him. With a strong season where Williams leads the Nets to a top-five seed in the East and puts up 20 PPG and 10 APG, he will certainly be in the discussion for the MVP.