In Which I Ramble About the NBA Award-Voting Process

Over the weekend, Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James won his second straight Most Valuable Player award in a vote that wasn't even close. He received 116 first-place votes of a possible 123 and appeared on every ballot. The fact that he didn't win unanimously, though, caused a bit of an uproar. And some of the calls for reform in the MVP voting process have pointed to the fact that many people in the electorate draw paychecks from NBA teams, and are thus biased. More specifically, these calls tend to cite the fact that all three of Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard's first-place votes came from Orlando-based media: John Denton of OrlandoMagic.com, who is indeed a Magic employee; Tim Povtak of NBA FanHouse; and David Steele of the Magic's TV crew. Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel is the only Orlando representative--each team receives four votes to distribute to local media --who listed James first.

UPDATE (this paragraph only): for clarification, Matt Watson emails to point out that Denton, Schmitz, and Steele are the Magic's three representatives in the balloting. Each team receives three votes to allot to local media. Povtak is based in Orlando, but received his vote directly from the NBA, which supplements the local voting by distributing ballots to several national writers. Thanks for that note, Matt.

In this space, Eddy outlined the reasons why Howard is a worthy MVP candidate, which Denton does above in response to criticism of how he cast his ballot, and for which I applaud him. But even Eddy concedes that James is the rightful MVP, and I agree with him. The arguments for Howard are sound, but scoring 30 points a game while setting an assist record for forwards on the league's best regular-season team is simply too much to overlook. That's the nutshell argument.

But I'm not writing this post to make a case for James or against Howard. That's not at issue, really. My focus is the problem with NBA award voting in general, which is anonymous and, due to the need for a widespread electorate, involves far too many voters with direct ties to teams, which might compromise the integrity of the voting; Ira Winderman has more on that aspect here. Now, I'm not saying that Denton, Steele, and Povtak are biased. For instance, I believe that Denton would have voted for Howard even if he were still a beat writer for Florida Today, and thus not on the Magic's payroll. I have far too much respect for those men to accuse them of anything like that. One way to look at it is this: every team's representatives have a chance to cast homer votes, and in this way they might cancel each other out. Is there any doubt, for instance, that the fifth-place vote Stephen Jackson received came from a Charlotte Bobcats voter? The same might be said for Manu Ginobili's fourth-place vote and the San Antonio Spurs organization.

Overall, the internal politics of NBA balloting put the voters in rough spots, which is why I agree with SBNation's Mike Prada when he calls for more national, independent voters and a transparent ballot. Howard Beck, whose employer, the New York Times, does not allow its writers to cast award ballots, also made the case for accountability and transparency here. Yahoo! Sports' Kelly Dwyer, a credentialed media member who's covered the NBA for various internet publications over the last 10-plus years, only received awards votes this season. Why aren't more people like him given votes? Wouldn't taking some votes away from team employees make the results a bit more palatable?

Kevin Pelton offers another suggestion: keeping the current electorate, but preventing its members from voting for players on the teams they represent.

Maybe arguing over the selection process is pointless. So far, the media have awarded the MVP to James and Defensive Player of the Year to Howard in landslides, while also selecting Tyreke Evans as the Rookie of the Year. Those are all the right choices, in my book. I wouldn't have voted Jamal Crawford to win the Sixth Man award--that'd be Anderson Varejao, because of how highly I value defense--but he's still a worthy winner. And as John Hollinger points out, the tone of the conversation might shift in a few days when the league reveals the All-Defense teams, which coaches supposedly vote on, but quite often pass along to team public relations staffers. So this could be much ado about nothing, really. But given what a hot topic it is, I felt compelled to weigh in.

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