DAN BICKLEY

James Harden’s performance at end of playoff run invalidates his MVP

Jun 27, 2018, 8:13 PM | Updated: Jun 28, 2018, 8:09 am
Houston Rockets guard James Harden sits on the bench during the first half of Game 4 of the NBA bas...

Houston Rockets guard James Harden sits on the bench during the first half of Game 4 of the NBA basketball Western Conference Finals between the Golden State Warriors and the Rockets in Oakland, Calif., Tuesday, May 22, 2018. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

James Harden, MVP. Sounds right. Feels wrong. Further proof the NBA has marginalized a majestic award, mocking the real superstars who turned professional basketball into a goldmine.

No disrespect intended. Only a fool would fail to appreciate Harden’s wealth of talent, especially since he’s technically a local. Just like Phil Mickelson. Just like most of us.

Harden didn’t declare his greatness in college, not like Mickelson did. But he left behind powerful bragging rights. Thanks to him, ASU fans rightfully claim the best NBA player who ever played college basketball in the state of Arizona. Take that, Tucson.

But Harden is not a MVP by NBA standards. His performance over the last six quarters of the Western Conference Finals invalidates the trophy he now owns. He continues to struggle at high altitude, when the biggest games seem to spawn his most erratic performances.

There is no argument that Harden was the king of unimportant basketball. He was the MVP of an 82-game exercise considered to be the silliest season in sports. He’s why the NBA needs to clarify what they are rewarding, not who.

They need to anoint a Regular Season MVP, announced before the playoffs, observed and saluted before the postseason begins. Anything else is an affront to basketball and what separates the best from the greatest.

No sport glorifies the individual more than the NBA, where a transcendent player can change a franchise overnight. No professional league is more reliant on singular, superstar talent. Michael Jordan has reigned as the greatest player in history for nearly two decades. LeBron James has finally proven worthy of debate.

Together, they have played 30 seasons of professional basketball. They have combined for only nine MVP awards.

Throw in Kobe Bryant and his one MVP trophy in a 20-year career, and the NBA has bestowed 10 MVPs in a half-century for three of the top six players in history. The numbers don’t tell the real truth of basketball, or how the NBA has misfired in definition and appreciation for the truly elite.

Meanwhile, a trio of future Hall of Famers — Harden, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook — played together in Oklahoma City and never won a championship. All are recent NBA MVPs.

Harden has obviously come a long way since then. His production is no longer an eyesore, built on the foundation of drawing fouls and shooting free throws. He is a lethal offensive weapon who posted incredible statistics in 2017-18. Fifty-six points and 13 assists against Utah. Forty-eight points in a Valley homecoming last November. His demolition of the Magic –- 60 points, 11 assists, 10 rebounds and four steals –- earns honorable mention among the greatest performances in history.

Back in the day, Harden was a groundbreaking recruit for ASU. His arrival felt strange because he was mostly a kid fulfilling a promise, once vowing he would follow his high school coach anywhere. Herb Sendek was smart enough to hire that guy as an assistant, burrowing his way into a game-changing signature.

Harden was an excellent college player, dominant at times, a little soft in the middle. His commitment to ASU will forever command respect. But his one NCAA Tournament appearance, and the struggles that ensued, only foreshadowed his playoff failures in the NBA.

Harden isn’t like Mickelson, who became the sixth person in history to win a PGA Tour event as an amateur, becoming an instant frat-boy legend at ASU. He is now a made man at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, where he plays 18 holes while cheered every step of the way. Few people in history have tipped their cap more often.

But basketball is a different animal. The greatest players must lift their teams while making big shots in big moments. They dominate with star power and will power, on demand and under pressure. They rarely leave you wanting more, unlike Harden’s time at ASU.

Same with his reign in the NBA.

Penguin Air

Dan Bickley

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray (1) flips the ball in the air as Cardinals quarterback T...
Dan Bickley

Kyler Murray can begin carrying Cardinals, but they must ante up

We need Murray to carry the Cardinals, through their flaws and their weaknesses on defense, past DeAndre Hopkins’ six-game suspension.
18 days ago
Deandre Ayton #22 of the Phoenix Suns shoots the ball against the Dallas Mavericks in the first qua...
Dan Bickley

Can the Suns win a championship without Deandre Ayton next season?

The potential departure of restricted free agent Deandre Ayton begs the question of if the Phoenix Suns can still be elite without him.
25 days ago
Arizona Cardinals' Kyler Murray (1) participates during the team's NFL football practice, Wednesday...
Dan Bickley

Kyler Murray’s arrival at Cardinals OTAs gives Valley much-needed jolt

Some might say he showed up late to OTAs. But somehow, he arrived at exactly the right time, giving the Valley a much-needed jolt of energy.
1 month ago
Head coach Monty Williams of the Phoenix Suns talks with Chris Paul #3 during the second half of th...
Dan Bickley

Focus should be on Chris Paul after Suns’ unexplained collapse

Monty Williams, according to multiple sources, had something of a fallout with Suns point guard Chris Paul.
1 month ago
Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns reacts during the first half in Game Seven of the 2022 NBA Play...
Dan Bickley

Suns’ humiliating Game 7 loss is 1 of the greatest collapses in NBA history

The Valley is not devastated. We are disgusted. We are humiliated. We just witnessed one of the greatest collapses in the history of the NBA.
2 months ago
DALLAS, TEXAS - MAY 12: Chris Paul #3 of the Phoenix Suns reacts after hitting his hand while takin...
Dan Bickley

Suns facing new crossroads ahead of Game 7 against Mavs

The Suns are at a new crossroads. They are at the dangerous intersection of survival and scorn. Lose Game 7 to the Mavs, what do they become?
2 months ago
James Harden’s performance at end of playoff run invalidates his MVP