The Last 20 NBA MVPs and Who Could've, Should've and Would've Won

Logic Johnson@@TheRealLogicJayContributor IIINovember 14, 2011

The Last 20 NBA MVPs and Who Could've, Should've and Would've Won

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    We all have at least one.

    We all have one player in our minds who was so egregiously overlooked for an award that the only word for it is a synonym for fornication (pick one). Some of us have several.

    Well, as far as individual performance-based awards go, the Maurice Podoloff trophy is right up there in importance, and thus the one most readily on people's minds. It is likewise usually the most controversial, subject to the widest gap in opinions, if there is one.

    With this in mind, you are cordially invited to a round of everybody's favorite pastime, "Coulda/Woulda/Shoulda" with an eye on the last 20 winners of the MVP trophy.

    Some are less controversial than others, of course, and bear in mind that this is my opinion, not an attempt to reflect public consensus.

    As such, I should point out that I believe in spreading the love, which means in my ideal world, there would have been more winners and less repeat-winners. This will be a factor.

    For each year, we'll have a look at who won and who could/should have won (in my opinion,) Each would-be winner will be assigned a number from one to 10 for how deserving they were (1= undisputed runner-up; 10= completely bamboozled.)

1992: Michael Jordan

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    Could've/should've/would've won: Clyde Drexler

    The 1992 NBA Finals were one of those showdowns between the newly-crowned MVP and the guy who got beat out for the award, with Jordan's Bulls meeting Drexler's Blazers.

    As much of a superstar as Drexler was, people don't necessarily think of him as an MVP candidate, which overlooks his performance in the 1991-92 season.

    That year, Drexler put up a shade under 25 points, seven rebounds, seven assists and two steals, and the Blazers finished atop the Western Conference.

    As the season wore on, Drexler was viewed by many as the favorite to dethrone Jordan, but down the road, the latter finished with both the scoring title and the league's best record, so he ended up repeating, to the surprise of few.

    It wasn't a particularly controversial outcome, but Drexler's MVP-worthy season that year still deserves to be pointed out.

    6.5: outcome acceptable; heavy speculation.

1993: Charles Barkley

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    Could've/should've/would've won: Patrick Ewing

    Sure, you could have given it to Jordan, who was in his prime, and as usual, atop the standings and the scoring list. But that year had been somewhat rocky, and at the time, MJ's image was under fire, so this opened the door to others.

    Barkley ended up with it after putting up his usual stellar scoring and rebounding and leading the Suns to the best record in the NBA. Who else was in the running that year?

    The first name that comes to mind would be Patrick Ewing, who had the Knicks atop the East, only two wins behind the Suns for tops in the league. Statistically, he was comparable to Barlkey, except for an obvious edge in blocked shots.

    He had helped turn the Knicks into probably the most fearsome draw in the NBA, and he was the unquestioned leader, the guy who gave the team its personality. As well, unlike Barkley, he was a long-standing team icon.

    This was a definite could've.

    7.0: outcome questionable.

1994: Hakeem Olajuwon

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    Could've/should've/would've won: Scottie Pippen

    People don't really hold Pippen's lack of an MVP against him (or the voters) because he played alongside a guy who pretty much monopolized the voters' attention every year.

    Furthermore, I can't stress enough how deserving Olajuwon was of the award that year, so this is not a shoulda.

    Still, Pippen winning the MVP would have been a perfect narrative the year after MJ's first retirement.

    That year, Pippen was the second player ever (Dave Cowens) to lead his team in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks.

    A player of his caliber is perfectly at home in the discussion, and history doesn't shine enough of a spotlight on the fact that the Pippen-led Bulls of 1993-94 won only two fewer games than the previous year.

    There would have been something downright poetic about a Pippen MVP, with the once left-for-dead Bulls barely missing a beat despite losing arguably the best player ever. Even in the playoffs, they pushed the eventual East champs to the limit, and could just as easily been facing Houston that year.

    It would've been a nice touch to an amazing career.

    5.0: outcome acceptable; mild speculation.

1995: David Robinson

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    Could've/should've/would've won: Shaquille O'Neal

    Also not a very controversial outcome, since the Admiral was an established MVP candidate boasting the league's best record. But if not him, then it could easily have been Shaq.

    Only his third year, you say? Too young to win MVP? I suppose he was also too young to lead the league in scoring and too unseasoned to lead his team to the best record in the East, right?

    Silence, I assume.

    Aided by a flourishing Penny Hardaway and the historically underrated in/out tandem of Dennis Scott and Horace Grant, Shaq continued down Unstoppable Lane and Orlando took an eventual left on Powerhouse Blvd.

    It bears reminding that part of Shaq's mystique was how he came bursting on the scene from almost day one, so far sooner than later he began putting up numbers that made his 23-point rookie average look almost weak.

    Only two years later, he would go on to be too young to be named one of the 50 greatest NBA players ever. Wait...

    4.5: outcome acceptable; mild speculation.

1996: Michael Jordan

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    Could've/should've/would've won: N/A

    Let me make this clear: The only thing that could possibly have kept Jordan from winning the MVP that year would be a nuclear holocaust. Of all the uncontentious entries on this list, this is the grandma.

    But what if? What if Michael had re-retired in midseason to try out for the Blackhawks or something?

    Well, Shaq was a no-brainer, but he did spend some time on the injured list that year, during which time Penny absolutely carried the team. For the season, he was first team All-NBA, and Orlando was a 60-win club that required arguably the best team ever to knock it out of the playoffs.

    So in this alternate bizarro universe where MJ didn't take home the trophy, give it to Penny. I might not have been for very long, but people forget that he was pretty darn shiny back in the mid-90's.

    0.1... a team of monkeys would have gotten it right.

1997: Karl Malone

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    Could've/should've/would've won:  Michael Jordan

    First of all, for reasons I will elaborate on later, I can't accept Karl Malone as a legitimate MVP. Sure, his numbers and his team's success would have him in the conversation that year, because hey, it's not a race without a runner-up.

    But when he actually took home the award, man, did it taste wrong. Season resume notwithstanding, he simply did not provide a compelling reason to deny Michael Jordan the repeat

    For all intents and purposes, Jordan put up the same season he had a year earlier, another scoring title and the Bulls flirting with 70 wins all year long (they finished with 69.) In my opnion, he simply had too much of a stranglehold on league-wide alpha status not to win it.

    I know they couldn't just give it to MJ every year, but if ever a repeat MVP was appropriate, it would have been in '96 and '97.

    8.5: timelessly unacceptable.

1998: Michael Jordan

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    Could've/should've/would've won: Karl Malone and John Stockton

    As I said earlier, even though it wouldn't be the incorrect thing to do, you can't just give Michael the MVP every year.

    And yet, you can't go too long without fessing up and admitting he's still the best in the league. Plus, there was widespread talk all season of that being his last act, so his importance to the league was magnified all year long as his Bulls career approached its end.

    This is how I can best explain Jordan's MVP in 1997-98.

    He was still (largely) himself, and the Bulls were still the cream of the NBA, but by season's end, they found themselves sharing the league's best win total with Utah, without homecourt advantage.

    As far as team performance goes, Utah's record would have obviously justified some MVP love. Karl Malone was more visible on the stat sheet, and always the one with the first place votes, yet I've said already that he can't be called "the finest player in the league."

    Stockton, meanwhile, was the oil that made the Jazz motor hum, and despite conservative (and dwindling) averages and being overtaking atop the passing list, he was more instrumental than Malone in making Utah the power it was.

    The solution? Co-MVP's. The one-two punch of Stockton to Malone was such a notorious and reliable weapon, and the duo's fortunes were so stuck together that sharing the recognition would seem like the way to go.

    They already had a precedent in being the 1993 All-Star co-MVP's, and this scenario would have had a whiff of "lifetime achievement" to it, so it might have gone over rather well. In the end, this would have been the only way I could accept Karl Malone hoisting the Podoloff.

    3.5: outcome acceptable; intriguing longshot.

1999: Karl Malone

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    Could've/should've/would've won: Tim Duncan

    Why not? It only took him one season to make All-NBA first team, and by his second year, he was the most offensively sound post player in decades, and he led the Spurs to the best record in the NBA in 1999.

    This one seemed too clear cut at the time for Karl Malone's selection to sit well with me. Never mind my earlier contention that The Mailman is not an MVP on his own, Duncan was simply the most feared player in the league that season.

    Not only would it have been the right choice, it would have been a nice milestone in Duncan's legendary career: quickest player this side of Wilt Chamberlain and Wes Unseld to ever to win MVP.

    9.0: bona fide injustice.

2000: Shaquille O'Neal

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    Could've/should've/would've won: N/A

    Considering that:

    a) Shaq was eight years into a career as the consensus most overpowering player in the league, with zero MVP's;

    b) He had cartoonishly gaudy numbers across the board, including leading the NBA in scoring and field-goal percentage, grabbing 14 boards and swatting three shots per night;

    c) The Lakers won 67 games, including an 18-game streak, easily pacing the NBA and flirting with '96 Bulls territory for much of the season...

    I would say the discussion is closed as to who should have won the MVP in 1999-00. Shaq was miles ahead of the runner-up, which would have to be either Alonzo Mourning or Tim Duncan.

    I'm not normally so by-the-numbers about it, but if a year like Shaq had doesn't win you the MVP, what does?

    1.0: outcome inevitable.

2001: Allen Iverson

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    Could've/should've/would've won: Chris Webber

    I personally have no qualms with this one. The Sixers were East champs, and their entire system gravitated around getting Allen Iverson his shots.

    Top it off by leading the NBA in scoring and steals per game and being known as one of the toughest little ess-oh-bees ever seen, and you got your MVP (shot selection notwithstanding).

    If not Iverson, then Shaq perhaps, or more interestingly, Chris Webber. The Kings were just one win behind the Sixers and Lakers that year, and Webber had a mini-explosion offensively to go with his usual four dimes and double-digit rebounds.

    It's a darkhorse pick to be certain, and we now have the benefit of hindsight to tell us the Kings underachieved in the playoffs and so on, but let's just stop and note that this was the best year of Webber's career, worthy of an honorable-mention MVP, if such a thing existed.

    4.0: outcome acceptable; mild speculation.

2002: Tim Duncan

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    Could've/should've/would've won: Jason Kidd

    To this day, one of the greater injustices in my book is that Jason Kidd will retire without an MVP to his name.

    Nothing against Duncan; we all know what a master he is at his position, and he fully belonged in the discussion year in, year out. Some years, though, someone comes along and is even more valuable to his team, and is simply more deserving of the honor.

    In 2002, that player was Jason Kidd. From the moment he stepped in the door for Stephon Marbury, he didn't just help the Nets improve; he turned them into the smoothest running machine in the NBA.

    He helped the them double their previous win total and made marquee names out of Richard Jefferson and Kenyon Martin. In a single year's time, he took the team from the lottery to the top of the East.

    Oh sure, the Nets record would have placed fifth in the West, and you had a handful of usual suspects atop the list of candidates (including Duncan), but nothing was more impressive that year than way Kidd came along and morphed this team into a winner.

    All season long, I watched, thinking to myself "how can he not be the MVP?" When Duncan won it,  it felt like the voters were making their decision exclusively on paper.

    I knew then that Kidd would never be MVP, because though he might match his performance in subsequent years (he did), he'd never top his inaugural season in Jersey.

    9.5: picket-line worthy travesty.

2003: Tim Duncan

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    Could've/should've/would've won: Jason Kidd (to make up for the last one)

    It's a hard sell to name anyone else here because of all the top teams in the NBA that year, none of them had a guy who performed on the level of Duncan. Thus, it all came back to "best team, best player," only the assumption would have been correct that year.

    Other than Duncan, the only guys that made any sense were Dirk Nowitzki, Shaq (again) or a young Kobe sporting his first 30-point scoring average. Of all these names, any of them could have won the MVP that year, and for Duncan to come out with it was not an issue.

    The only issue I had with it was my lingering soreness over Jason Kidd being overlooked the year before, and deep down, I had hoped the voting system would self-correct somehow and award the trophy to Kidd in '03.

    In fact, if I had that year's Podoloff trophy to give out, I'd re-issue it to Kidd even though he didn't exactly top his first season in Jersey.

    6.0: outcome acceptable; heavy speculation.

2004: Kevin Garnett

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    Could've/should've/would've won: some other power forward.

    Most would agree Garnett was the MVP on personal performace alone, but coupled with a first place finish in the West, there was little to no controversy over this one. That's not about to change.

    Garnett did absolutely everything that year, including point guard-type stuff like pass and steal the ball, and it was just his time to win it.

    However, if somehow Garnett had done something to get banned from basketball just before the voting started, the standings tell a tale where either Dirk Nowitzki, Jermaine O'Neal or Tim Duncan takes it, if not Kobe, who was sporting one of his lower season scoring averages for the über-Lakers.

    It really turns into a struggle for names, because Garnett out-performed and out-ranked all of these guys no matter who you think of.

    2.0: outcome correct and predictable.

2005: Steve Nash

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    Could've/should've/would've won: Shaquille O'Neal

    Nash fully deserved this MVP award for the exact same reasons I feel Jason Kidd should have won in '02. From the moment he took the reins, his team was transformed into a completely different creature, a marvel of cohesive basketball.

    He took a 29-win cellar dweller and helped them to 33 more wins and the best record in the NBA. That's pretty darn valuable.

    The only knock on Nash has always been lack of defense, so if that's enough to cross him off your MVP podium, then perhaps you'd prefer Shaq for the award that year.

    His numbers were tapering off as he left his prime, but O'Neal's arrival in South Beach had its own rather dramatic effect on his team's fortunes. He did have the benefit of a dramatically improving Dwyane Wade, but Shaq was his biggest facilitator the way he forced defenses to adjust to his presence.

    Still, Nash was the right choice in the end, as he was an absolute maestro in Phoenix.

    2.0: outcome correct and predictable.

2006: Steve Nash

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    Could've/should've/would've won: Dirk Nowitzki

    A lot more people had a problem with Nash's second MVP award than his first, despite the fact that he scored more, rebounded and shot better, and produced a second division title without his star big man.

    As far as I can tell, the novelty wore off those fans who were swayed by his first season with the Suns, and suddenly, Nash's level of play wasn't "dominant" enough to beat out the likes of Kobe Bryant for the MVP.

    I personally am not among those who thought Kobe deserved it that year. Sure, he scored more than anyone in almost 20 years, and he did have that famous 81-point game, but he was still a notoriously incomplete player.

    Plus, his team didn't even have the best record in its own building that year. Kobe made the perfect runner-up for the Podoloff trophy, placing high to mark his impressive play, but coming up short to mark the glaring wants that remained.

    If you had to pick someone other than Nash, Nowitzki would have made more sense than Kobe. He led a 60-win team, scored  27 per game, shot better across the board and proviided better rebounding.

    Then again, just stick with Nash.

    4.0: outcome acceptable; mild speculation.

2007: Dirk Nowitzki

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    Could've/should've/would've won: Steve Nash?

    Even though it's hard to picture Nowitzki as the single best player in the league, he's probably top-five today. In 2007, when award time came around, it only made sense to give it to him. He was the best player on a nearly unbeatable team during the regular season.

    Unfortunately, Nowitzki had the dubious distinction of accepting his trophy after being knocked out of the playoffs, and that kind of sticks in my memory whenever I think about his MVP award that year. Which leaves me thinking there must have been a better choice.

    Then again, I'm having a hard time figuring out who I'd have in his place aside from Steve Nash (who was once again winning in the 60's), LeBron James (whose second-place finish belies the fact he won 11 fewer games than Nash) or Kobe (whose league-leading scoring numbers didn't change the fact that his team was lucky to be above .500).

    As consistent as Nash was, and as much as he was duplicating prior MVP efforts, surely he is not that legendary that he merits three consecutive trophies. Tough call; stick with Dirk.

    4.0: outcome acceptable; mild speculation.

2008: Kobe Bryant

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    Could've/should've/would've won: Chris Paul

    This was another one of those "player whose absence from the team most doomed them to fail" picks for me. Chris Paul made a swiss watch out of the Hornets, and out of nowhere, he had them atop the West for much of the season.

    Kobe was already playing like an MVP (for the first time in his career) before the Gasol trade, as he had finally learned how to make a team of regular talents better. Through three and a half months, Kobe had them in third place. When Gasol came along, the Lakers kicked into overdrive and took over first place.

    While the Lakers' manufactured success boosted Kobe's profile, in my opinion, it weakened his claim to the title of single most valuable player.

    Suddenly, Chris Paul becomes the guy with the biggest hand in his team's success, and his courageous play begs even more visibly to be rewarded. Unfortunately for him, Kobe also had the benefit of lifetime achievement weighing in his favor.

    7.5: outcome under contention.

2009: LeBron James

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    Could've/should've/would've won: Dwyane Wade

    The well-known rule of thumb in MVP selection is team record counts for a lot. Never has this been more glaringly evident than in 2009, when Dwyane Wade was the most dominant player in the league by all other measures, while his team barely broke .500.

    Of course, rules, like thumbs, can be broken. If ever there were a time to do so in this case, it would have been 2009.

    LeBron and Kobe were embroiled in a three-way discussion all year with Wade, having the benefit of a robust win column to offset Wade's impossibly valiant effort on the floor.

    By season's end, LeBron had the best record in the league, along with the naturally-occurring numbers to at least rival Wade's, and voila, MVP.

    Not that there was anything wrong with LeBron's win in itself, just that it came at the expense of Wade being recognized as the most valuable individual player in the NBA that year, which he was.

    7.0... outcome questionable.

2010: LeBron James

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    Could've/should've/would've won: N/A

    The only thing you could say about LeBron's MVP trophy in 2010 is he didn't really look like he gave a flying duck about it in this photo. Then again, he got it during that little second-round funk he was in, which probably explains why he looks downright sick of being in front of these people.

    Luckily, mid-playoff breakdowns in givadamn don't matter in terms of MVP voting, which was over before he went into his little depression against Boston.

    As far as the regular season goes, it was more of Kobe, Wade and himself atop the league pyramid, joined by Kevin Durant, who wasn't yet ready to make the leap.

    Still, by season's end, with Cleveland again atop the league standings and the closest thing to a triple-double average since Grant Hill in his prime, LeBron deserved his second MVP even more than his first one.

    If you had to be contrarian, you could pick one of the other names above at random, knowing that they all produced less than LeBron and had worse records. If you must...

    1.0: outcome inevitable.

2011: Derrick Rose

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    Could've/should've/would've won: Dwight Howard

    ...Not that he should have, or anyone else receiving votes, and especially not LeBron James.

    Rose was the right pick all the way, not because the media are out to get LeBron, not because of the feel-good factor, but because he was more consistent, effective and essential to his team than any other player, including LeBron.

    The Bulls without Rose were a barely functional team. Meanwhile, Miami has two other guys ready to pick up the slack should LeBron go down, and the Magic are at least capable of scoring points without D-12. How can Rose not be viewed as more valuable in this equation?

    Rose made all the right plays for what seemed like the entire season, he made the entire team better, and he also accepted a challenge that LeBron had famously dodged: to be his own man at the reins of his own team.

    Expect to hear this every year, and understand that this is the cost of taking the road LeBron took.

    The Bulls also secured the league's best record in case Rose's season wasn't sufficiently scribbled over with the word "MVP." Howard and James may have been stalwarts and their teams successful, but their bodies of work just didn't stack up.

    If they had to give it to someone other than Rose, they might give it to Howard, but it's been awhile since I saw an MVP on a fourth seed.

    2.5... outcome correct.