May 5, 2013; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat small forward LeBron James smiles before receiving his fourth MVP award at the American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

LeBron James Tops 2014 NBA MVP Watch List

LeBron James has won two of the last MVP’s and four of the last five. The one he didn’t win? That went to Derrick Rose, who returns from an ACL injury that kept him out all of last season. One more MVP would tie him with Michael Jordan, Bill Russell and put him one behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

But the NBA is deep with talent and is now even more top-heavy — meaning it will be tougher this year for LeBron to three-peat not only as a champion, but as the most valuable player.

Can LeBron catch Michael in the MVP category in 2014? Here is our predictions and favorites for next season’s MVP award.

1. LeBron James

Got to give the early lead to LeBron. For reasons already stated and then some. LeBron is the best player in the NBA and it isn’t even close anymore. That gives him the advantage by definition.

But his main advantage might be the fact that people act as if it is his to lose. The MVP award doesn’t work like a title belt. You don’t give it away. I know “his to lose” is just a phrase but I don’t doubt that it creates that kind of thinking.

The reason this is an advantage? LeBron may not necessarily have to win his third-straight MVP, he just doesn’t have to do anything to lose it. The fact that he was recently ranked the NBA’s favorite player doesn’t hurt him in this respect.

April 11, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder small forward Kevin Durant (35) looks on during the second quarter against the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena. The City Thunder defeated the Warriors 116-97. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

2. Kevin Durant

No James Harden. Some view Russell Westbrook as a crutch. Serge Ibaka is hardly a No. 2 in command and Kendrick Perkins remains a starter. For a team that looked so loaded in 2012, the Oklahoma City Thunder are surprisingly dependent on the development of Durant.

Durant will have to elevate his game in order for the Thunder to be legitimate contenders. He must become dominant while getting his teammates involved and in position to thrive — just like LeBron does. If he takes his game to that level, don’t be surpised if the Thunder finish with the best record in the West and Durant takes home his first MVP.

Apr 30, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul (3) during the Clippers loss to the Memphis Grizzlies in game five of the first round of the 2013 NBA Playoffs at the Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

3. Chris Paul

Chris Paul returns to a revamped Clippers roster that is now led by Doc Rivers. Not only does that put the Clippers at the top of the West, it also positions Paul as an MVP favorite. Paul can win the MVP by putting together a Steve Nash and Derrick Rose performance — by putting his teammates in position and putting the game on his shoulders when he to.

Paul has played like an MVP for years, now his team might be good enough to merit winning the award.

May 4, 2013; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose (1) smiles as he walks off the court in game seven of the first round of the 2013 NBA Playoffs against the Brooklyn Nets at the Barclays Center. Bulls win 99-93. Mandatory Credit: Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports

4. Derrick Rose

The last guy to win it not named LeBron James, Rose returns to the Chicago Bulls this season and many believe they are good enough to upset the Heat in the East. Can he get an MVP campaign started opening night when the Bulls play the Heat?

However, one has to ask how much better the Bulls have to be with Rose to show he deserves another MVP award. After all, they did make the playoffs last season. But there is little doubt that this team is much better with Rose. Rose winning this award might just come down to the four games that the Bulls and Heat play.

April 11, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry (30) looks on during the first quarter against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Oracle Arena. The City Thunder defeated the Warriors 116-97. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

5. Stephen Curry

Steph Curry went off in the Western Conference playoffs last season, making many believe (including myself) that he could lead the Golden State Warriors to the NBA Finals. If Curry continues where he left off, he will be an MVP candidate. That is a fact.

The offseason proved that the Warriors have a winning mentality and are all in on Curry. Curry is flashy in the way that he drains every three pointer he attempts, but he is also a superb passer who gets his teammates involved and in position.

The loss of Jarrett Jack could help Curry, in that he will have to play more point guard and less off ball, which will give him more opportunities to control the pace and lead this team to the top of the West and garner him an MVP award.

February 12, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Houston Rockets shooting guard James Harden (13) looks on during the fourth quarter against the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena. The Rockets defeated the Warriors 116-107. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

6. James Harden

Now paired with Dwight Howard, Harden was already being mentioned the best shooting guards in the league. Harden will maintain his leadership role with the team and his personality is better suited to incorporate Howard than was Kobe’s.

If Harden can get close to the scoring title and lead the Houston Rockets to one of the top records in the West, he stands a chance to win his first MVP.

May 18, 2013; Indianapolis, IN, USA; New York Knicks small forward Carmelo Anthony (7) warms up before game six of the second round of the 2013 NBA Playoffs against the Indiana Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

7. Carmelo Anthony

Once compared to LeBron, Carmelo Anthony no longer is even in the same conversation. So how could he possibly win the MVP? That’s tough to figure out, but since he was the only one besides LeBron to get a vote last season, he has to be on this list.

The Knicks added some new players but hardly added pieces, and with the Pacers and Bulls set to have even better seasons, that means Melo has more responsibility to his team. Hopefully for Anthony, that doesn’t translate to more shots. Despite Tyson Chandler’s defense, Anthony has to inspire that team to player better on that end. He also needs to stop playing like J.R. Smith and get in the post. Anthony plays the same he did when he first came into the NBA, if he ever wants to win a championship or an MVP, he needs to get better.

May 26, 2013; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indiana Pacers small forward Paul George (24) stands on the free throw line against the Miami Heat in game three of the Eastern Conference finals of the 2013 NBA Playoffs at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The Heat won 114-96. Mandatory Credit: Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

8. Paul George

George and Curry are perhaps the hottest of all the stars on this list. George had a breakout season and was put on display in the Eastern Conference Finals. George plays very good defense on a very good defensive team, and he is also the team’s top scorer. With the Pacers starting the season in the spotlight, it will be centered on George, who has a chance to propel himself onto the elite level.

March 25, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant (24) reacts against the Golden State Warriors during the fourth quarter at Oracle Arena. The Warriors defeated the Lakers 109-103. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

9. Kobe Bryant

The Los Angeles Lakers are a mess. And so is Kobe’s Achilles’ tendon. But Bryant will return in time to play next season and if he can lead the Lakers to the playoffs, then he will be in the conversation for MVP.

Apr 5, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard (12) warms-up before a game against the Memphis Grizzlies at the Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

10. Dwight Howard

He is 10th but this is a long shot. Just like LeBron didn’t win this award his first season with the Heat, Howard has a lot of making up to do in regards to his public (and league-wide) reputation.

The experts agree, however, that the Houston Rockets presented the best opportunity for Howard. If the Rockets take it to the next level, then Howard will have a case, even over teammate Harden, for the MVP.

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Tags: Carmelo Anthony Chris Paul Derrick Rose Dwight Howard James Harden Kevin Durant Kobe Bryant Lebron James Miami Heat Paul George Stephen Curry

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