BOSTON — LeBron James says he did not know he was left off the list announcing the three finalists for NBA MVP before leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 130-86 win over the Boston Celtics to go up 2-0 in the Eastern Conference finals.
“No, I didn’t see it,” James said during his postgame news conference after putting up 30 points, 7 assists, 4 rebounds, 4 steals and 3 blocks in Game 2. “And what are you going to do about it at the end of the day? My only job is to try to be the MVP for this team every night, put my teammates, put our franchise in position to be successful and ultimately compete for a championship. For me, I know what I bring to the table. This league knows what I bring to the table. That’s for you guys to write about. It’s not for me to be concerned about.”
While James took the high road on camera, he walked out of the arena with a small group of Cleveland beat writers who regularly cover the team and shared his frustration with the awards that have been revealed so far. He first wondered aloud who was the one voter who left him off their All-NBA first team ballot. He then lamented his MVP standing. “Fourth?” James said. “I haven’t been fourth in a long time.”
Indeed, it was the first time since 2008 that James finished outside of the top three in MVP voting, yet it was a season in which he averaged career bests in rebounds, assists and 3-point percentage. The All-NBA teams were announced Thursday. Three finalists for all the other major awards, which will be revealed in an awards show hosted by Drake on June 26, were released about 10 minutes before tipoff Friday. The full results of the media vote — including which media member was the one who had James on the All-NBA second team — won’t be revealed until then.
Cavs coach Tyronn Lue also did not know about the finalists being released until his postgame news conference but joked that based on the way James played — helping the Cavs build a 50-point lead at one point — he wouldn’t be surprised if James did.
“Oh, he might have seen it then,” Lue said, eliciting laughter from the media.
“Those guys had MVP seasons, and you’ve got to give the award to some different people every now and then,” Lue said. “I look at LeBron like Shaq; I think every year he’s the MVP, and you can give him the award every year if you wanted to. When guys have incredible seasons like James Harden did and Westbrook and Kawhi, then you kind of credit those guys and give those guys the nod. But to me, I mean, LeBron is MVP, just like Shaq, you can give it to him every year if you wanted to.”
Though James was mostly diplomatic about the results, his teammates were indignant.
“Just another chip on his shoulder, which helps,” JR Smith said. “He got a vote for [All-NBA] second team. Somebody’s trippin’. … He’s driven by a completely different monster. He’s not playing for Russ or James. Like he said, he’s chasing a ghost. Right now, that’s the only thing to compare to him.”
The ghost Smith was referring to is Michael Jordan and his six championships, a pursuit James acknowledged to campers at his basketball camp in California last summer.
Richard Jefferson said the results make him look at the value of the awards, or rather lack thereof, in a different manner.
“We can say whatever we want about the MVP, when that guy is doing that and other guys are getting the MVP based on the regular season it changes your outlook,” Jefferson said. “There was somebody who didn’t have him in the top five.”
Channing Frye pointed to voter fatigue when it comes to James, who has already won four MVPs and been named to the All-NBA first team 11 times.
“Consistency is boring, it’s not a good story,” Frye said. “I don’t know what the weatherman gets paid in Hawaii, but it’s going to be sunny today. We don’t care. I’ll be honest, I don’t know if it’s a motivating factor for him. Other than his legacy for the future. For him, what’s more important? Getting stats and winning the regular-season MVP or getting ‘chips and being considered one of the greatest.”
James Jones, James’ longtime teammate in both Miami and Cleveland said the timing of the finalists being released was a rather transparent attempt by the league to drum-up interest in its first televised awards show.
“It’s a headline,” Jones said. “Everything is a headline. It’s marketing of the game, of the award, it’s being opportunistic. That’s its classic definition, it’s opportunistic. Does it create more waves before the game or after the game? Or on off days? Intrigue starts right before tipoff, so it’s something else to talk about.”
Jones added that James has the proper perspective about the awards.
“At the end of the day, the people that matter most to him, he understands he’s our MVP,” Jones said. “He understands that without him, this doesn’t go. He proves it every night. But once again, we’re talking about two totally different standards. You’re looking for him to do something he’s never done before, which he is and which he’s doing, but you still want to see more. At the end of the day, we say all the time: When you win, eventually it becomes moot.”