For the first time in three seasons, the King will be abdicating his MVP throne. As expected, Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant will be named the 2013-14 NBA Most Valuable Player next week, ending LeBron James' two-year reign.
There is no word on how the vote shook out at this point. Sources close to the situation told ESPN.com's Marc Stein of Durant's victory, remaining anonymous because the NBA is not planning a formal announcement until next week.
The league postponed all regular-season awards ceremonies from their scheduled date while commissioner Adam Silver dealt with the fallout from the Donald Sterling situation. Though there is no exact date set for Durant's enshrinement, the Thunder begin their conference semifinals series against the Los Angeles Clippers at home Monday night.
Stein said a press conference is likely for Tuesday, with a pre-game ceremony set before Wednesday's Game 2. This would be Durant's first league MVP and the first in Thunder/SuperSonics history.
Shouldering the heaviest load of his career with Russell Westbrook missing nearly half the season, Durant averaged 32.0 points, 7.4 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game. He is the first player since Michael Jordan in 1988-89 to put up a 32-7-5 nightly stat line.
Wilt Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor are the other players in league history to do so, per Basketball-Reference, putting the 25-year-old All-Star in exclusive (and Hall of Fame) company.
With Westbrook out, Durant's scoring binges became something of a nightly phenomenon. He scored at least 40 points 14 times—eight more than any other player—and had 25 or more points in 41 consecutive games during the regular season. The latter streak is the third longest in NBA history, behind only Chamberlain (80) and Oscar Robertson (46).
Even with the increased scoring burden, Durant remained a deadly efficient scorer from all over the floor. He narrowly missed out on joining the 50-40-90 club for the second straight season, shooting 39.1 percent from beyond the arc and 87.3 percent at the line.
Although still developing as a defender, Durant was more engaged and active than at any point in his career. It would not be a shock to see Durant add his first All-Defensive team honor to go along with the MVP. And while James was typically spectacular, turning in his customary 27.1 points, 6.9 rebounds and 6.4 assists per game, the Heat star has long conceded the trophy to his greatest rival.
"I think K.D. has had one heck of a season, and if he was rewarded with the MVP, it would be great," James told reporters last month. "It would be awesome for him, for his family. It would be a great thing for him. He has played MVP-type basketball."
In many ways, James' descent to an assumed second-place finish in the regular season is understandable. No man on the planet has played more minutes of basketball than James since he joined the Heat. Three straight NBA Finals appearances, anchoring an Olympic gold-medal team and carrying a team in the regular season is tiring work.
But Durant has been right behind him every step of the way. As James finally got over the hump for two consecutive NBA championships, Durant grew tired of playing second fiddle.
His demeanor throughout the regular season was colder, more calculated and certainly more pointed than in years past. Durant tied with DeMarcus Cousins and Blake Griffin for the NBA lead with 16 technical fouls—a decided departure from his nice-guy image.
In the end, the motivation has served Durant well.
The Thunder finished with the NBA's second-best record despite the tumult and earned the second seed in the Western Conference. Although the Memphis Grizzlies gave Oklahoma City—and specifically Durant—all the trouble they could, the soon-to-be MVP came through with 33 points in a decisive Game 7 win Saturday night.
With a matchup with the battle-tested Clippers next and possibly San Antonio waiting in the conference finals, continuing the journey won't be easy.
Durant's postseason was already mired with controversy after a local newspaper headline dubbed him "Mr. Unreliable." There was some worry that Durant's MVP ceremony could take the same serene tone as Dirk Nowitzki's in 2007.
Now that the Thunder have advanced and Durant has escaped the second-place shadow of James individually, we'll get to see if he can lead the Thunder as a team. Based on the regular season, it's impossible to count him out.
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