Daryl Morey, still salty about MVP vote, suggests doing away with NBA awards altogether

Rockets GM Daryl Morey poses with James Harden. (Getty)

It has been over 100 days since 100 members of the basketball media cast their end-of-season awards ballots and voted Russell Westbrook the NBA MVP, and still it appears Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey has not come to terms with their decision.

Morey, speaking to The Crossover’s Ben Golliver this past weekend, reaffirmed his stance that his own star guard, James Harden, should have been the league’s MVP. Shocker, I know.

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But it is the rest of Morey’s comments that are more intriguing. Morey was not only critical of voters for shifting their criteria “away from winning”; he suggested that, if there are no set criteria for the media’s decision, and if neither players nor executives can be entrusted with the vote, then why not just do away with the NBA awards altogether?

Here are Morey’s exact words, via The Crossover:

“I don’t know if this is a good process. The ones that are decided by players or executives or media, they all have their strengths and weaknesses. I honestly don’t think there’s a good process. You could argue for eliminating the awards altogether. I don’t really see a good way to do it that doesn’t have major issues. I like clean answers. If there’s not going to be a set criteria and there’s going to be issues with how it’s structured, for me it might be better to not have it.”

Does Morey have a point? I mean, kind of. I guess. The process is indeed flawed. It seems odd that the media wields so much voting power — and, by the way, plenty of media members with votes agree with that statement. As Morey points out, though, handing that power to players or executives creates conflicts of interest and, if this past season’s All-Star voting was any indication, leads to lighthearted stupidity.

But Morey’s take is a bad take. It’s a very bad take. He’s essentially saying that any achievement that at all requires somebody to exercise his or her own judgment is pointless, and that the winning of something must be based on objective merit. Nevermind that all kinds of subjective decisions from external influencers — referees, the league office, etc. — help determine the NBA champion each season.

As Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin cheekily and sarcastically proposed on Twitter, if we shouldn’t be handing out MVP awards, then shouldn’t we just skip the NBA Finals too?

An NBA title is obviously the preeminent prize in basketball. It will never be usurped by the MVP or any individual award. But that doesn’t mean other accomplishments can’t be recognized. There is nothing inherently better or more prestigious about a title compared to an MVP. That’s a judgement that we, as a basketball community, have made over time, and, in a team sport, it’s an obvious and rational judgement. It doesn’t, however, render other awards irrelevant.

But that’s not even the main point. Morey’s take also misses the mark because it misinterprets the main function of end-of-season awards in the modern NBA. Sure, they mean something to the players who win them. But their primary value to the league is that they generate discussion and publicity. Whether that’s an intended purpose or an unintended consequence, it’s important. The NBA clearly recognizes this, and it’s why the league foolishly pushed the announcement of the awards all the way back to late June, hoping to prolong the debate.

At the very least, the MVP gives basketball fans that wonderfully compelling and often divisive debate. Part of that debate is the gnashing of teeth over priorities in assessing candidates — it’s the very debate over criteria that Morey has participated in, and is still participating in. As the final week of the regular season approached, Morey tweeted that “basketball is losing its focus on winning,” referencing the MVP race and likely referring to the candidacy of Westbrook, whose Oklahoma City Thunder went 47-35.

Morey circled back to that debate in the interview with The Crossover:

“We thought James was the MVP but there were a bunch of very good, deserving candidates,” Morey said. “I didn’t like how a different MVP criteria was used this year, compared to the last 55 years, to fit more of a marketing slogan. People thought a different criteria for selecting the MVP this year was the way to go.

“Given that the criteria seems to be shifting away from winning, I would guess that [adding Chris Paul] probably doesn’t help anyone’s chances on our team. That said, I don’t think anybody really cares [going forward]. James definitely cared and I think we all cared [about the 2017 MVP]. But we’ve moved on since the award isn’t focused on winning any more. Let’s just win and not worry about it.”

Has he really moved on, though?

Anyway … Yes, Morey has a point. Westbrook’s season was historic; it was also in (some small) part the product of stat-chasing. Westbrook was the only one of the four MVP candidates who did not play for a true contender.

On the other hand, why should Westbrook be penalized for having less talent around him than Harden, Kawhi Leonard or LeBron James had?

But alas, why are we rehashing this debate in August? It has been beaten into the ground. Let’s reconvene when the 2017-18 MVP race heats up next winter.

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