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The top five in the final edition of the 2018-19 Kia Race to the MVP Ladder:
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1. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
Last week: No. 1
Season stats: 27.7 points, 12.5 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.5 steals, 1.3 blocks
In a season filled with drama and turmoil elsewhere, Antetokounmpo starred in the season’s best feel-good story as he and the Bucks ascended to the top of the NBA in Budenholzer’s first season at the helm. “The Greek Freak” and his rise prompted the Bucks’ front office to go all-in on the season, making moves to push forward in an Eastern Conference playoff chase lacking LeBron James for the first time in nearly a decade. Antetokounmpo’s magical all-around work puts him in a category that barely a handful of players in the league can even come close to be included in. Folks in Milwaukee haven’t seen a player of this caliber in the hometown team’s inform since Abdul-Jabbar was collecting MVP hardware and winning a championship along side Oscar Robertson. No offense to Khris Middleton, himself an All-Star this season, but Antetokounmpo doesn’t have the luxury of playing alongside another player of his caliber the way fellow top-five MVP candidates James Harden, Paul George and Stephen Curry do each night.
2. James Harden, Houston Rockets
Last week: No. 2
Season stats: 36.1 points, 7.5 assists, 6.5 rebounds, 2.1 steals
After a rough start to to the season, Harden has led the Rockets on a tear through the West standings and his own personal assault on the NBA’s scoring records. The reigning Kia MVP finished his second straight season with a scoring average north of 30 points (his 36.1 ppg is the highest in the league since Bryant’s 35.4 ppg in ’05-06). Harden has piled up point-rebound-assist numbers this season that no player in league history ever has. The historical nature of the season he crafted has been as impressive as it was unprecedented. And the criticisms of his defensive work, long the area of his game most poked at, isn’t the weakness it’s been in the past. Harden won’t show up on any Kia DPOY ballots, but he’s vastly improved that part of his game. Were it not for Antetokounmpo’s season for the ages, Harden would sit atop this list once again.
3. Paul George, Oklahoma City Thunder
Last week: No. 3
Season stats: 28.0 points 8.2 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 2.2 steals
George turned in his finest NBA season after a career-altering free-agent decision to stick with the Thunder last summer instead of looking elsewhere (namely Los Angeles). If he needed validation for his choice, George can just run down the list of accomplishments he piled up this season. He finished second in the scoring chase to Harden, led the league in steals, earned a starting nod in the All-Star Game and will likely finish in the top three of the voting for Kia DPOY. He did all of this sharing the load with Russell Westbrook, who averaged a triple-double for the third straight season. Were it not for a nagging shoulder injury that slowed he and the Thunder down late in the season, George might have challenged Harden and Antetokounmpo for one of the top two spots here. But his season-long roll has cemented him as one of the top two-way players in the league.
4. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
Last week: No. 4
Season stats: 27.3 points, 5.3 assists, 5.2 rebounds, 1.3 steals
Curry actually saw an uptick in his scoring this season. And although though he didn’t perform at the 50-40-90 shooting level he did during his last Kia MVP season, he’s still tooling around in that neighborhood. The fact that he’s capable of doing that and leading the two-time reigning NBA champions in scoring while a scoring machine like Kevin Durant is on the roster tells you just how potent Curry’s game has become. Curry has persevered through all of the drama that accompanied this season in Oakland (from the Durant-Draymond dust-up early on to the integration of DeMarcus Cousins into the mix), serving as the calming influence during a campaign that proved to be every bit as tough as Warriors coach Steve Ker warned it would be. There’s a reason you rarely see the same group push through the league the way the Warriors have the past five seasons. It takes special, transcendent talents to lead that sort of charge. It takes a player like Curry, who no matter what happens this summer, will remain that figure for the Warriors.
5. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
Last week: No. 6
Season stats: 20.1 points, 10.8 rebounds, 7.3 assists, 1.4steals
Jokic has improved so much and so rapidly over the course of his four NBA seasons that he’s shocked its ecosystem. Anyone outside of the Nuggets who claims to have seen this type of season coming from “The Joker” is peddling fake news. Jokic has been a revelation the past two seasons, cashing in on the opportunities his undeniable talent created for him during some transition seasons in Denver. He’s as gifted and skilled a passer as there is in the league right now, regardless of position. He’s a nightly triple-double threat and is improving as a defender (which is perhaps his lone, glaring weakness). It’s rare for a big man in today’s NBA to facilitate for his team the way Jokic does. But kudos to Nuggets coach Mike Malone for constructing an attack that played to strengths of his best and most versatile player. It turned out that what worked best for Jokic is what worked best for the Nuggets, who climbed their way to No. 2 in the West after missing out on the playoffs a year ago on the final night of the regular season. Jokic is a good bet for a first-team All-NBA nod to top it all off.
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The Next Five
6. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
7. Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors
8. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
9. Kawhi Leonard, Toronto Raptors
10. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
And five more: Kyrie Irving, Boston Celtics; Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz; Blake Griffin, Detroit Pistons; LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers, Kemba Walker, Charlotte Hornets
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The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.
Report: Chris Paul wants out of Houston
The Houston Rockets have major decisions to make this offseason, especially if the latest reports from Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports are true.
According to Goodwill, the dynamic between Rockets stars James Harden and Chris Paul has become “unsalvageable” after a difficult season in Houston.
The relationship has reportedly reached the point where Paul demanded a trade and Harden issued a “him or me” ultimatum after the Rockets’ second-round loss to the Golden State Warriors.
— Vincent Goodwill (@VinceGoodwill) June 18, 2019
Here’s more from Goodwill on the reported problems in Houston:
The backcourt mates went nearly two months without speaking to each other during the season, sources said, creating a tenuous environment for teammates and everyone involved with the franchise.
Harden hasn’t returned Paul’s repeated attempts at communicating this offseason, sources said, after a year in which the pair repeatedly got under each other’s skin with petty acts in practices and games.
“There’s no respect at all, on either side,” a source told Yahoo Sports. “They need to get away from one another. Chris doesn’t respect James’ standing in the league, and James doesn’t respect the work Chris has put in to this point.”
Paul’s injury-related absences and grating personality have annoyed Harden, sources said.
Harden’s ball-dominant style and unwillingness to give others like Paul space to operate have grated on Paul, leading to the nine-time All-Star issuing his trade demand to Rockets general manager Daryl Morey after the season.
Sources said Paul would curse at head coach Mike D’Antoni about the offense bogging down after Harden would ask to come into the game to join the second unit, with Paul heading to the bench.
“It can’t be fixed,” another league source told Yahoo Sports about the Harden-Paul partnership.
If the Rockets do decide to trade Paul, they may have a difficult time finding a trade partner. The 34-year old guard reportedly is due to make $38.5 million, $41.3 million and $44.2 million over the next three seasons, which would be a lot of salary for another team to absorb in a trade.
Paul — who missed 24 regular season games due to injury — finished the 2018-19 season with averages of 15.6 points, 8.2 assists, 4.6 rebounds and 2.0 steals.
Lawyer: Deputy in clash with Ujiri has concussion
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A deputy suffered a concussion and is on medical leave after an altercation with the president of the Toronto Raptors as he tried to join his team on the court to celebrate their NBA championship, a lawyer said Tuesday.
The 20-year-veteran of the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office also has a serious jaw injury and is considering filing a lawsuit against Raptors President Masai Ujiri, attorney David Mastagni said.
“The officer is off work, disabled and wants to go back to work,” Mastagni said. The name of the deputy has not been released.
The clash between the deputy and Ujiri happened as the deputy checked court-access credentials after the game Thursday in Oakland against the Golden State Warriors.
Authorities say Ujiri tried to walk past the deputy but the deputy stopped him because he didn’t see Ujiri’s on-court credentials.
Ujiri pushed the deputy, who pushed him back before Ujiri “made a second, more significant shove and during that shove his arm struck our deputy in the side of the head,” sheriff’s Sgt. Ray Kelly said. He said Ujiri also shouted obscenities.
Several bystanders intervened and Ujiri got onto the court without displaying any credentials, Kelly said.
Investigators were questioning witnesses and the office hopes to file a report to prosecutors this week recommending a misdemeanor battery charge against Ujiri, Kelly said.
They are also reviewing footage from body cameras worn by the deputy along with footage from the arena surveillance system and cellphones.
The office does not plan to release the deputy’s body camera footage to the public during the investigation, Kelly said.
Kelly confirmed the officer is on medical leave.
The Raptors said last week the team was cooperating with the investigation and gathering information on its own. It had no further comment Tuesday.
Warriors fan Greg Wiener, who witnessed the altercation, said last week the incident began when the deputy put his hand on Ujiri’s chest and pushed him. Ujiri shoved him back before bystanders intervened, Wiener said.
He also said then that there was no conversation between the deputy and Ujiri. But on Tuesday, he said he remembered the officer shouting, “No one gets on the court without credentials.”
Wiener said he recalled the detail “after thinking about it all weekend.”
Study: NBA, WNBA earn high grades in diversity hiring
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A diversity report shows the NBA still leads men’s professional sports leagues in racial and gender hiring practices.
The annual report card from The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) at Central Florida on Tuesday indicated almost identical scores from last year. The grade for racial hiring was an A-plus with an unchanged 98.7 score. The grade for gender hiring was a B, but slid slightly to 80.9.
The overall grade was an A at 89.8. That was better than Major League Soccer’s B-plus, the NFL with a B and Major League Baseball with a B-minus. The NHL doesn’t participate in the study.
The only professional league with a higher grade from the past year was the WNBA, with an overall A-plus and 97.6 score.
Richard Lapchick, the TIDES director and lead report author, said the NBA has “always had a leadership position” regarding diversity initiatives. The study’s release comes less than a week after the Cleveland Cavaliers hired California women’s head coach Lindsay Gottlieb from the college level as an assistant coach, making her the seventh woman serving as an assistant coach or player development staffer.
“We always look forward to this report in particular because we know we’re going to see encouraging things,” Lapchick said in an interview with The Associated Press.
The study examined the racial and gender breakdowns in numerous areas, such as players, coaches, trainers, front-office staffers at the team level and positions at the NBA headquarters. It reviewed data from the 2018-19 season.
The report was particularly good for the NBA league office. It earned an A-plus for racial hiring with 37.6% of professional staff positions filled by people of color, the highest percentage recorded in the study. Women made up 39.7% of those positions for a gender grade of B-plus.
Those were both better than scores for the team level, where people of color made up 31.6% of team management positions (still an A-plus) and women filled 30.9% of those positions for a gender grade of a C.
The league also had 10 head coaches of color among the 30 franchises to start the season and earned an A-plus for its initiatives to promote diversity. Lapchick pointed to an emphasis starting under former commissioner David Stern in the 1980s.
“The NBA is the only league that didn’t have to enact a Rooney rule,” said Lapchick, referring to the NFL’s rule requiring teams to interview at least one minority candidate when searching for a head coach.
“They’ve just been hiring the best candidates and bringing in a diverse pool of candidates since David took over. And then he pushed that to the team level, where they don’t have control but they do have a lot of influence.”
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