DOWNTOWN CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - It's been four years since LeBron James was named the league MVP.
You'll notice I said "named," because you can make the case that any player who's been to six straight NBA Finals, whose arrival in one town means instant contention -- and departure from another leads to the lottery -- is always the league MVP, but Kevin Durant emerged three years ago to take the honor, and then Steph Curry happened, and suddenly LeBron was supposedly no longer the face of the NBA.
Well, guess what? It's 2017, James is on a tear once again, and it's time the trophy is returned to its rightful owner.
Numbers matter, so of course other All-Stars have their advocates.
Russell Westbrook is averaging a triple-double, but who else is going to put up shots for the Thunder? Victor Oladipo? Does anyone really believe LeBron couldn't average a triple-double at the expense of the Cavs' success?
The better challenger is James Harden, who's throwing down almost 29 points per game for the Rockets and leads the league with 11.3 assists per game. Much of that has to do with Harden's immense talent, but some of it has to do with Mike D'Antoni's offense. The Rockets' numbers are up all the way around, and in a bizarre stat, courtesy of NBA.com, they actually outscore opponents by a larger margin with Harden on the bench. That allows Harden to rest. He's averaging his fewest minutes in four years, 36.5.
That's one fewer minute per game than LeBron is giving the Cavaliers, at the age of 32. His scoring average of 25.7 is his highest in four years. And he's dishing out 8.9 assists, the highest average of his career.
But the number that matters most is this: 23. And not just because it's on his uniform.
The Cavs have played 23 games without LeBron since he returned in 2014. They've lost 19 of them. As he goes, the Cavaliers go. He's proven it on Monday night games in February, and he's proven it on the biggest stage in June.
LeBron, who's won the award four times in his career, hesitated when asked about his MVP chances on Monday night, but did say this: "Just look at my winning percentage. Look at my winning percentage when I'm on the floor and when I'm not on the floor."
OK, we did. In 2014-15, their winning percentage was .231 without him (3-10). Last season, .167 (1-5). This season, .000 (0-4).
All of the other measures of value, in which LeBron is unmatched in this day and age: previous titles, enriching the community, price tag of franchise, attraction to players (Kyrie may have left, Kevin Love never comes) and, most importantly, the direction of the team ... none of these factor in when awarding the league MVP award.
But that's OK. His game, his numbers, and his results are enough.
Bring the trophy home. Call it, "One for the thumb."