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Battle of Trainers: The Story of Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez

Kirk Jackson December 8, 2012

LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 07:  Boxers Manny Pacquiao (L) and Juan Manuel Marquez face off as Top Rank promoter Bob Arum holds the championship belt during the official weigh-in for their welterweight bout at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on December 7, 2012 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Pacquiao and Marquez will fight each other for the fourth time on Dec. 8 in Las Vegas.  (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Getty Images)

Jeff Bottari/Getty Images

It’s only fitting the future first ballot Hall of Fame fighters, Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez, are trained by two Hall of Fame trainers.

The trainer of Pacquiao, Freddie Roach, was voted “Trainer of the Year” five times by the Boxing Writer’s Association of America.

The trainer of Marquez, Ignacio Beristain, is a member of the boxing Hall of Fame and considered by many as one of the greatest trainers of all time.

Roach’s claim to world-wide fame is his most prized pupil, Pacquiao.

Roach has worked with other prominent fighters spanning across various sports, including the likes of James Toney, Mike Tyson, Georges St. Pierre, Amir Khan, Oscar De La Hoya, Bernard Hopkins, Andrei Arlovski, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and many others.

Berstain’s claim to international recognition may have stemmed from his work with Hall of Fame fighter Ricardo Lopez. Beristain led Mexico’s Olympic Boxing Team to medals in 1968, 1976 and 1980.

Beristain has also worked with the likes of Humberto Gonzalez, Daniel Zaragoza, Abner Mares, Jorge Arce, Oscar De La Hoya, Jorge Paez and Rafael Marquez, the brother of Juan.

Aside from being a trainer to their fighters, Roach and Beristain also serve as family-like figures and match-makers to Pacquiao and Marquez, respectively.

Beristain has certainly had a hand in fighting arrangements in the past for Marquez, including in 2006, when he helped secure a fight against WBA Featherweight Champion Chris John in his home country of Indonesia.

The fight didn’t pan out too well for Marquez, as he suffered a controversial unanimous decision defeat and missed out on a more financially rewarding rematch with Pacquiao.

Roach and Pacquiao have had better success in that regard.

Roach helped Pacquiao pick out opponents such as De La Hoya, Miguel Cotto, Shane Mosley, all while they were on the downslides of their physical peaks.

Roach is also a catch-weight enthusiast and did whatever it took to give his fighter any advantage heading into a fight. It may seem wrong in the eyes of some, but he is looking out for the best interest of his fighter.

The mark of a great trainer or coach, is finding ways to motivate your player/fighter and making adjustments round by round and in this case, fight by fight as well.

Over the period of time Roach has been training Pacquiao, there have been some signs of improvement.

Pacquiao’s right hand has developed into a more potent weapon in general, although not always consistent against his rival Marquez, and Pacquiao as he has gotten older, seems more methodical in his attack.

Some may argue Pacquiao’s tamed aggression goes against his strengths as a fighter, while some say he is at his best when he is unpredictable, in which his unpredictable-ness overwhelmed Marquez initially in the first encounter .

As the series has progressed, it seems Marquez has made the more significant adjustments.

For example, his head movement and upper body movement has improved. Marquez ducks his head more to evade punches, lessened his wild-flurry exchanges with Pacquiao as the series has progressed, and he has boxed more effectively down the stretch in their fights.

Marquez went from getting knocked down three times in the first fight, to one knock down in the second fight and not being knocked down or even staggered in the third fight.

That is a credit to his trainer Beristain—a man he has known since his teenage years, and their personal bond and mentor/student chemistry in evident.

Prior to the third fight in 2011 between Marquez and Pacquiao, Roach mentioned Pacquiao’s improvement with his right hand to “The Ring”.

“That right hand of Manny’s has improved since their first two fights,” said Roach. “I told Manny I won’t be satisfied until his right hand is as good as his left hand. Now it is at this point.”

I haven’t seen this “improved right hand” Roach talked about. Aside from his right jab that he uses to measure his opponent, not much comes from the right hand of Pacquiao.

There were also talks of Pacquiao’s improved foot work and balance from Roach.

“He does throw a wild shot here and there, but he’s improved immensely with the footwork,” said Roach. “His balance has gotten a lot better.”

As great as he is, Pacquiao still attacks off balance and gets countered just as badly as he did in all of his previous fights against Marquez.

If anything, Marquez is the one who has made the adjustments, which is even more impressive if you consider his advanced age and athletic disadvantage against Pacquiao.

Roach as held the edge over Beristain in recent years in the win/loss column between their respective fighters, with Roach scoring victories over Marquez and Oscar De La Hoya under Beristain’s tutelage.

This has been a bad year so far for Roach, with his big-name fighters taking losses. Chavez suffered a defeat to the reigning middleweight champion, Sergio Martinez, Khan suffered a knock-out loss to rising star Danny Garcia, and Pacquiao lost a controversial split decision victory to Timothy Bradley.

I’m sure Roach and Pacquiao want to get a win to finish the year out. I’m also certain they want to score a knock out against Marquez to solidify their dominance in this historic rivalry.

The problem for them is, Beristain and Marquez want to do the same. Marquez feels he won all three fights and wants to put a stamp on his legacy by winning their fourth fight in dominant fashion.

Many questions entering this fourth fight still remain.

After studying the three previous fights, can Roach and Pacquiao come out with a strategy that will ensure a dominant victory over Marquez? Can they find away to make Pacquiao’s right hand the difference maker in the fight?

Will the distraction outside the ring—politics, endorsement deals, new-found religion—get the best of Pacquiao? Does he still have the focus and motivation to want to prove he’s the best fighter in the world without a doubt?

Original Source:

Manny Pacquiao: Why He Shouldn’t Be Rated No. 2 in Ring Magazine

Kirk Jackson September 11, 2012

Pound for Pound Kingpin Manny Pacquiao

Pound for Pound Kingpin Manny PacquiaoJeff Bottari/Getty Images

In the past few months, Ring Magazine underwent some changes and tweaked a few things in regards to rating the fighters and the criteria used to do so.

Some readers have voiced their displeasure with the new rating system as there seems to be some problems with the rankings of certain fighters spread across the many weight divisions in boxing.

Most notably, the pound-for-pound ratings and the Top 10 Welterweight ratings raise a few questions.

But first, let’s go over the criteria The Ring uses to rank
fighters:

“1. Results: This is the most objective criterion and takes precedence
above all others.

2. Performance: How a fighter performs in a victory or defeat can be a
factor to determine his place in the ratings.

3. Track record: A fighter’s accomplishment’s in the recent past can
be a factor to determine his place in the ratings. That includes
quality of opposition.”

Lets start with the P4P rankings. As of September 2012, the No. 1
spot is vacant, while Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather occupy
positions 2a. and 2b. Mayweather and Pacquiao have alternated between
one and two over the past six years or so, with Mayweather being rated
No. 2 or even off the list altogether because of his extended
periods of retirement here and there.

The two have shared ring partners over the past couple of years and
the ratings of their performances is up for interpretation. Many will
argue Pacquiao displayed the more impressive or at the very least more
exciting showings against these common opponents, while Mayweather
fought better versions of these same opponents. It all really depends
on who you ask.

We’ve established Mayweather and Pacquiao as the best fighters
regardless of division in the sport. But I am perplexed on how
Pacquiao and Mayweather are still rated the same, despite the fact
that Pacquiao lost his most recent fight, while Mayweather won his
most recent fight. I am positive most people are well aware of the
controversial decision between Timothy Bradley and Manny Pacquiao.
Although the judges scored the fight in favor of Bradley, many fans
and members of the media think Pacquiao won the fight.

Whether a decision is controversial or not, at the end of the day a
win is a win and a loss is a loss. Many people believe Roy Jones was
robbed of a gold medal in the 1988 Olympics when he lost to Park
Si-Hun despite dominating the Korean fighter every round.

Many believe Pernell Whitaker defeated Julio Cesar Chavez in their 1993 bout, in
what turned out to be a controversial draw.

Most recently, many believe Erislandy Lara beat Paul Williams and it certainly looked as
if Gabriel Campillo defeated Tavoris Cloud in their fight that took place earlier this year.

The same logic should be applied in regards to the Timothy Bradley and Manny Pacquiao fight.

In the eyes of many, Pacquiao appeared to be the victor, but the
judges saw it the other way.

The problem is that the voters on The Ring panel did not act accordingly to the actual results of the fight. Why is Manny Pacquiao rank tied for No. 2 in the P4P ratings and
rated as the No. 1 Welterweight despite losing?

This is absurd and goes beyond all reasons of logic. Pacquiao lost his last fight.
Whether there be controversy or not, at the end of the day, the fight will go down in the history books as a defeat for Pacquiao.

The panel at this magazine feels like Manny won, but you still have to
acknowledge the defeat. Many people feel like Juan Manuel Marquez
defeated Manny Pacquiao in their last fight, many people think he won
at least two, if not all of their fights, but Marquez wasn’t awarded
any kind of consolidation prize for his inside-the-ring brilliance.

Obviously, the panel at Ring Magazine did not use “Results” as part
of their criteria for their recent fighter ratings. Apparently, they
did not use “Performance” as part as their criteria to rate the
fighters either.

If we are going by a fighter’s performance in the ring, in this
instance with Pacquiao, he shouldn’t be ranked as the first or second
fighter in the P4P ratings. In Pacquiao’s last official win against
Marquez, which took place late last year, he looked bad and many people
thought he lost against Marquez. As a matter of fact, Pacquiao has not
had a good performance in years. Even before he fought Marquez for a
third time last year, he fought a washed up 40-year-old Shane Mosley,
in a bout where both fighters looked terrible. And even before that
horrendous exhibition that I wouldn’t even force my worst enemy to
witness, he fought Antonio Margarito. Heading into the fight against
Pacquiao, Margarito was coming off a year-long suspension from his
illegal hand wrap scandal, a tune up against a bum, and before all of
that, Margarito suffered a knock-out defeat against Mosley, prior to
his one-year suspension from the sport.

Compare that to Floyd Mayweather’s last two or three bouts. A dominant
victory over Mosley, who was coming off the knock-out of Margarito and
a knock-out victory over the newly crowned WBC Welterweight Champion
Victor Ortiz, who is a young and powerful fighter. The mental
toughness and ring awareness of Ortiz can certainly be questioned, but
he is a strong fighter nonetheless. Mayweather emerged victorious over
Juan Manuel Marquez and boasts a victory over Miguel Cotto as well.
Cotto was riding a four-fight win streak and Mayweather moved up to
Cotto’s weight class of junior middleweight, instead of insisting on
some ridiculous catch weight.

Mayweather dominated Marquez coming off an 18-month layoff. Granted
Marquez moved up two divisions, which is a tough task in itself, but
Marquez also did the same in his most recent bout against Pacquiao and,
in the eyes of many, won their last fight. Take it for what it’s worth.
Marquez was the No. 1 lightweight in the world, Mosley was the
No. 1 welterweight in the world and Cotto was the No. 1 junior
middleweight in the world when they all met defeat at the hands of
Mayweather. You can make a strong argument for Mayweather’s body of
work being more impressive than Pacquiao’s body of work in recent
years.

You can also make cases for Andre Ward, Carl Froch and recent Pacquiao-conqueror Timothy Bradley, among others. Speaking of which, Bradley is
ranked No. 8 in the P4P rankings and No. 6 in the Welterweight
rankings. So, after he moved up in weight and defeated one of the best
fighters in the sport, he can’t even crack the Top Five, not only on
the P4P list, but in his division as well? Why is he ranked so low? We
can use the third criterion “Track Record.”

Bradley has defeated the likes of Manny Pacquiao, Lamont Peterson,
Devon Alexander, Kendall Holt, Joel Casamayor and Nate Campbell.
Albeit Casamayor and Campbell were past their primes, Bradley has
amassed a solid resume over the past couple of years.

He was the No. 1 Junior Welterweight in the world, moved up in
weight class and defeated one of the top-two Welterweight and P4P
fighters in the world and he’s not in the Top Five ratings for his
division and P4P? Meanwhile, Pacquiao is ranked No. 1 at
Welterweight, rated 2a. P4P wise despite losing his last fight to a
guy who moved up in weight, and add to that he has not had an
impressive performance in over two years?

I don’t question the parameters of the criteria used to rate fighters
amongst divisions. It’s a fairly simple criteria to use, but it may
depend on each person’s opinion. I do, however, question the legitimacy of
each person on the panel who rates these fighters. The Ring is
losing credibility, period. Bible of boxing seems more like blasphemy.

Original Source:

Amir Khan vs. Danny Garcia: Is this a Mere Con?

Kirk Jackson July 19, 2012

Danny Garcia punishing Amir Khan against the ropes

Danny Garcia punishing Amir Khan against the ropesJeff Gross/Getty Images

Well, well, well. Amir Khan suffered another devastating loss at the hands of Danny Garcia this past weekend via Round 4 knockout.

Before I get into the specifics of this fight and the full-on exposure of Amir Khan, I would like to recognize Khan and Garcia and give them props for putting forth an excellent fight, as both fighters displayed tenacity and courage. Garcia should be given full credit for his performance and there should be no excuses for Khan. And to his credit, Khan fought with a lot of heart.

This last fight illustrates and reinforces what I have always thought about Khan. He, along with his trainer Freddie Roach, is overrated.

Garcia is an up-and-coming champion, blossoming into his own in front of our very eyes, but he is still green in a couple of areas in his game. Garcia did have major problems against a faded Mexican legend in Erik Morales prior to his meeting with Khan and was fortunate that youth was on his side, ultimately propelling him toward victory. Garcia throws many wide, looping, wild punches and needs to sharpen up on his defensive skills moving forward. But even with that said, Garcia displayed the ability to adjust and throw effective counterpunches, which ultimately led to his upset victory over Khan.

Khan is just a flashy, fast-handed fighter—that’s it. He fights like an amateur. His defense is terrible, he can’t fight going backward, can’t counterpunch, constantly leaves his chin exposed and lacks any kind of head movement. He actually fights a lot like Manny Pacquiao, minus the strong chin. In his fight against Garcia, most notably, Khan did not even move in and out of range consistently when he was on the offensive. He threw his combinations and then stayed in range for the incoming attack with his chin exposed as an easily accessible open target.

Many members of the British media say Khan is a brilliant technician, but I don’t see it. He has no command of his offense. He just throws random combinations and relies on his blistering hand speed to overwhelm his opponent.

His offense is predictable and at the elite level the top notch fighters usually expose one-dimensional fighters. His idea of defense is running around the ring and when he does engage up close he clinches illegally, often pushing down the head of his opponent or placing his opponent in some sort of wrestling headlock. Sometimes he’ll push off his opponent to avoid fighting on the inside altogether. These tactics are thoroughly displayed in most of his fights, especially in his recent fights against Garcia, Marcos Maidana and Lamont Peterson.

In regards to the Round 4 stoppage, many Khan supporters claim that the fight ended prematurely, but that statement is far from reality. The referee Kenny Bayless, who is generally regarded as one of the best in the business, actually helped Khan by providing him with more than enough time on multiple occasions to recover. I thought the fight should have been stopped after the first knockdown in Round 3 because after the initial knock down, Khan’s legs looked like noodles.

Now to Khan’s credit, I haven’t heard any excuses thus far for his performance.

“It wasn’t my night. After watching the replays a little bit, I thought I was coming in with my hands down and Danny took advantage,” said Khan in a post-fight interview (via The Telegraph). “I respect Danny, he was countering very well against me. We got a little complacent and he took advantage and caught me.”

There was nothing but honesty in that statement, but within that quote lies the problem. Khan claims to be amongst the elite and ready for the likes of Floyd Mayweather, Timothy Bradley and the Manny Pacquiao’s of the world, but he is getting countered and knocked out by Danny Garcia? He is supposed to be a brilliant technician, his supporters laud him as amazing ring general yet he is complacent inside the ring? Why would you even walk in with your hands down? Certainly a great trainer like Freddie Roach would have addressed these issues in training camp, right? Certainly adjustments would have been made in between rounds, correct? Apparently not.

Despite the terrible, biased HBO commentary, Khan was not as dominant as the commentators wanted the viewers to believe. Yes, Khan won Rounds 1 and 2 primarily based on his high punch output, but Garcia was coming very close to catching Khan with counter hooks and did actually
land some significant punches on Khan.

As the fight progressed, Garcia’s nerves settled, his timing and counterpunches improved and we saw what happened. But instead of giving the viewer insight on how the fight is transpiring so that they can see what is happening and actually digest both strategies implored by the fighters, the HBO commentary team focused on riding the coattails of their favorite fighters. They tried to persuade viewers to think a certain way, rather than delivering valuable, honest analysis.

As for the fight, Khan got off to a fast start by using his superior hand speed and throwing punches in bunches. But as the fight went on, Garcia was timing Khan coming in and throwing counterhooks. Garcia also attacked Khan’s body, which helped set up the counter left hook that sent Khan crashing to the canvas.

Khan has defensive deficiencies. Johnny Nelson, former boxing champion and current member of the Sky Sports boxing panel, alluded to Khan repeatedly catching left hooks in sparring leading up to the fight. And that goes back to Khan’s trainer Freddie Roach. Wouldn’t you think that Roach would address that problem?

Some people may bring up the absence of health and conditioning specialist Alex Ariza who in recent fights has been in Khan’s corner. He was absent for this fight and being as valuable as he is to the success of Amir Khan, it may be wise to resolve whatever issues they have going on and pay the man. The funny thing is that with Lamont Peterson and all of the other steroid busts recently in the sport of boxing—and the history of Alex Ariza and Freddie Roach being connected to fighters caught using steroids in the past—Ariza did not work in Khan’s corner for his recent defeat and look what happened? Whatever means or regiments Ariza implements with his fighters surely pays off, and Khan could use him in his corner right now.

Moving forward, it appears we have two fighters moving in two different directions. For Garcia, the sky is the limit and being one of boxing’s new brightest stars, he potentially has the option of going up against the likes of Zab Judah, Juan Manuel Marquez, Lucas Matthysse, Marcos Maidana, and whoever else is of relevance in the junior welterweight division. Even though Khan is coming off a string of disappointing performances from Peterson to Garcia, the star of Khan still illuminates. He is an exciting fighter win or lose, has a high profile and is still young enough in his career where he can overcome this recent set back.

On the road to recovery, Amir Khan should probably stop talking trash about Floyd Mayweather because every time he does, he ends up losing and he just sounds like an idiot.

“Styles make fights. I know Mayweather’s fought other styles and has looked so good against them, but he’s never fought anyone with my style, someone young, hungry, fit and strong who can punch,” said Khan.

Really, Amir? I could of sworn that Victor Ortiz was a young, hungry, power-punching fighter, and he got annihilated against Mayweather.

“I know I will cause Mayweather problems. He’s getting older and slower now. It’s the best time to catch him. I really do believe I have the style to beat him,” said Khan (via Boxing Scene).

Well Amir it appears you have been studying the philosophy of your trainer Freddie Roach. Chasing
after guys that are on the downside of their physical prowess is something that he has done for some of the other fighters he trains.

Even though Floyd is slowing down as each day passes, if you entered the ring with him, Amir, you would leave the ring in a body bag. Not like that fight is going to happen anyways, any chance of that blew up in smoke with the recent KO defeat.

Perhaps it is time for Khan to realize that he is not in Mayweather’s league. He is not in Pacquiao’s league or Carl Froch’s league. Hell, Khan is not even in Garcia’s league apparently. A rematch with Garcia is not likely and a campaign north in the welterweight division should be avoided.

There are some impressive victories on Khan’s resume, but they may be overshadowed by his devastating defeats.  Although there is plenty of time for Khan to make a comeback and prove critics wrong. I think he will ultimately be considered a good fighter, but not the great fighter that lived up to the hype.

Original Source:

NBA: The MVP Will Come out of Los Angeles

Kirk Jackson March 5, 2012

Two MVP candidates Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul

Two MVP candidates Kobe Bryant and Chris PaulHarry How/Getty Images

A little over halfway through the season, Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul are two MVP candidates playing at a high level this season.

Paul is averaging 19.7 points, 3.5 rebounds, 8.4 assists and 2.2 steals while playing just over 36 minutes per game.

Bryant is averaging a league-leading 28.9 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.8 assists, and 1.3 steals while playing 38 minutes per game.

But their MVP play is more than just statistical greatness. They bring the qualities of leadership and determination both guys display on a consistent basis. They possess the intangible elements that enable their teams to elevate and succeed on a higher level.

Paul and Bryant bring a defensive tenacity, a competitive drive, and an iron will to get the job done under any circumstance. Excuses are not valid—everyone is held accountable.

The main focus for MVP attention has been on LeBron James and Kevin Durant, who are outstanding talents and among the best players in the league. But as great as they are, they may not be the most valuable pieces to their respective squads.

James is an all-around threat blessed with outstanding court vision and passing ability. James is an elite re-bounder for the forward position and is an improved defender. The self-proclaimed “King” is basically a stat stuffer—a fantasy owner’s dream who puts up video game numbers. James has an extremely high basketball IQ and generally makes great decisions during the game, (minus a few late game situations).

But if you take James off the roster, you still have a formidable team, especially in the weaker Eastern Conference. With James off the roster, the Miami Heat would not be the favorite to win it all, but they would still finish with one of the better records in the conference and could possibly contend for the title.

The Big Three LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade

The Big Three LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwayne WadeMarc Serota/Getty Images

Chris Bosh is a top-15 caliber player; Dwayne Wade is a proven closer, champion, and arguably the best player on the Miami Heat. The Heat have a solid bench and good role players, like Udonis Haslem, Shane Battier, Mike Miller, Mario Chalmers; the list goes on and on.

Kevin Durant is an effortless scorer who is developing a ‘killer instinct’ like Mr. Bryant and is really coming into his own this season. One of the great things about Durant is his work ethic, as he is always trying to get better each season. His size and length can someday prove to make him a nightmare on the defensive end, just as he is on the offensive end. Durant is the unquestioned leader of this young Oklahoma City Thunder team, which is oozing with youth and talent.

But Russell Westbrook arguably may be more important to the Thunder than Durant. Westbrook is the most explosive and athletically gifted point guard in the league, aside from last year’s MVP, Derrick Rose. Westbrook has the pressure and responsibility of handling the team’s offense. He may not be as efficient as Durant, but he is a well-rounded player, more than capable of getting a triple double on any night. And from a defensive stand point, he is a little bit better than Durant.

What hurts Paul’s chances, surprisingly enough, is Blake Griffin and the surrounding cast of high flying athletes. I believe when people watch SportsCenter highlights, they see all of these athletes and just assume Paul and company should be doing that and it’s not a big deal.

The Clippers have had talent in the past. Remember when they had a young Quentin Richardson, Darius Miles, Corey Maggette, Lamar Odom, Keyon Dooling, etc.?  I know Michael Olowokandi was probably one of the worst draft picks in recent memory, but the Clippers had talent—they just couldn’t manufacture wins.

Dynamic duo Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook

Dynamic duo Kevin Durant and Russell WestbrookRonald Martinez/Getty Images

Paul brings leadership to manage and help develop the talent that is on this year’s version of the Clippers. As a point guard this season and in seasons past, Paul has maximized the talent and is playing at a high level.

It’s actually quite puzzling Bryant isn’t receiving more buzz or attention for MVP contention. To be leading the NBA in scoring at age 33, playing in your 16th season, is quite a remarkable accomplishment in itself. People may believe he shoots too much, the ball should be spread around more, etc.

Those points are valid to some degree, Bryant does a good job of facilitating the ball, and guys like Pau Gasol and Andruw Bynum would get more touches if they were more demanding and aggressive in the interior paint. They do not actively call for the ball and establish themselves on a consistent basis on the offensive end in the paint.

Bryant is performing at a high level despite his age and coming off a knee surgery. As a matter of fact, injuries will not even deter this guy—it’s like he isn’t human. Even this year, torn finger ligaments on his shooting hand, broken nose, concussion—nothing will stop him. Bryant has some talent to help him, but there are plenty of holes on the team as well.

Derek Fisher is a stand-up guy, a consummate professional and an outstanding leader on and off the court. But Fisher is old, can’t consistently put up offensive numbers, and is a liability on defense. The Lakers’ bench is also an issue, as they are one of the most inconsistent groups in the league from a statistical perspective. The Lakers’ bench averages 21.2 points per game (league worst), and their efficiency rating is also a league worst 25.0.

Take Bryant off the Lakers and they will more than likely miss the playoffs; he is the heart and soul of that team. Take Paul off the Clippers, they will resemble the same team as last year, when they did not make the playoffs.

Take James and Durant off, they still are playoff capable teams. They may not be competing for a title without Durant and James, but they are still formidable.

Original Source:

Forget Kevin Durant, LeBron James or Derrick Rose, It’s Kobe Bryant for MVP

Kirk Jackson January 13, 2012

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 10:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers shoots over Grant Hill #33 of the Phoenix Suns at Staples Center on January 10, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

We’re about 12 games into this condensed NBA season and there has been plenty of great games and moments so far.

The climatic back-and-forth game opening day between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Chicago Bulls, the overtime thriller between the Los Clippers and the Miami Heat from a few nights ago and some other signature moments from some of the league’s premier superstars.

Although we are still in the infant stages of the season, some teams are beginning to separate themselves from the rest of the league and are being led by great players.

And with that, of course, many common names have come to the forefront as far as the MVP discussion goes.

Kevin Durant, a popular choice, is a player who can seemingly score at will. Durant has a great work ethic and attitude that will most certainly guide him to steady improvements, eventual championships and other accolades within the upcoming years.

Durant is leading his team in scoring with 25.7 ppg, and after a 12-game mark, the Oklahoma City Thunder hold the top spot in the Western Conference, standing at 10-2.

The only thing you can argue is Russell Westbrook is just as valuable as Durant. Westbrook may not be as potent of a scorer, but defensively, he is better at his position than Durant is, and he holds a bigger responsibility, serving as the team’s facilitator.

Westbrook’s value will even increase with the recent injury to reserve point guard Eric Maynor, who will be out for the rest of the season.

DALLAS, TX - MAY 25:  Kevin Durant #35 and Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder stand next to each other on the court in the fourth quarter while taking on the Dallas Mavericks in Game Five of the Western Conference Finals during the 2011 NBA

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Another popular choice is reigning MVP Derrick Rose. The Chicago Bulls are standing atop of the Eastern Conference at 10-2 and are off to their best start since ’96-97.

Even though Rose isn’t putting up the same numbers as last year, with 25.0 ppg and 7.7 assists   compared to 20.7 ppg and 8.6 assists, he is still playing at an extremely high level and has shown to be a difference-maker on his team.

The Bulls are pretty stacked this year, and anytime backup point guard John Lucas can lead the team in scoring in the absence of Rose and the team still pulls out a victory, you’re in good shape.

Many people at ESPN, such as Michael Smith from the show Numbers Never Lie, likes to throw out the name LeBron James for MVP of the league.

From a statistical standpoint, he can make a case because James always puts up spectacular numbers. This year, James is averaging 29.0 ppg, 7.5 assists and 8.5 rebounds.

Are they meaningful numbers? Some players play for stats, I’m not suggesting that’s the case with James, but don’t you feel sometimes at the end of the game that despite his great statistical output, he did not have an impact on the game?

Maybe I’m nitpicking, maybe I’m on to something.

But stats aren’t the entire story when it comes to defining the MVP. MVP stands for most valuable player, the most important player to a respective team. If you subtract James from the Heat, they’ll still have a really good team, a championship-caliber team.

Another thing that goes against James is I don’t think he is the best player on his own team. That distinction belongs to Dwayne Wade.

DENVER, CO - JANUARY 13:  LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat looks on during a break in the action against the Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center on January 13, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. The Nuggets defeated the Heat 117-104. NOTE TO USER: User expressly a

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Wade is a better on-ball defender, a better ball handler, he’s quicker, has a championship-winning pedigree, is a NBA Finals MVP and has the mentality to take over the game, especially in the fourth quarter.

That is not a knock on James, contrary to his struggles in the fourth quarter throughout his career and as of late.

I think he is held to an unfair standard. He has all-time talent, but he does not possess the will of a Michael Jordan, or a Kobe Bryant, or a Larry Bird. But that’s OK.

James doesn’t have to be clutch like those aforementioned greats; he is a great player in his own right. Therefore, he shouldn’t be held to their standards; he is in a lower-tier type of player. He also shouldn’t address himself as the “King,” either.

Speaking of Kobe, if you remove him from the Lakers, they’re DOOMED.

After a 12-game start, the Lakers are an impressive 8-4 and can easily be 10-2.

Most people probably slept on Bryant coming into this season, citing his age, the overall wear and tear on his body, his new coach, personal problems off the court and even the roster surrounding him (minus Chris Paul).

But apparently, the experimental knee procedure, the extended rest from the lockout and the embarrassment of being swept in last year’s playoffs have served as beneficiaries to Bryant. Being rated as the seventh best player in the league, according to espn.com, probably helped as well.

Bryant looks like a rejuvenated man on a mission, unleashing his tyrannical wrath on whoever that stands in his path.

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 29:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers gestures after making a basket and being fouled in the second half against the New York Knicks at Staples Center on December 29, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User

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He does not possess the same athleticism from his No. 8 afro days, and he has been injury prone as of late, but his toughness and competitive nature is second to none.

Bryant is playing with torn wrist ligaments he injured during the preseason, but that has not stopped him from performing at a high level.

With an arsenal of crafty moves ranging from the outside perimeter to the inside post area, over the last three games, Bryant is averaging 36.7 ppg. His last two games were back-to-back 48-point and 40-point efforts, respectively.

Kobe’s stats up to this point are a league-leading 30.3 ppg, 5.7 assists and 5.9 rebounds.

He has scored or assisted on over 42 percent of the team’s offense.

Even though there is an emergence at center with Andruw Bynum, he still does not play great consistently, and the Lakers will have to rely on the greatness of Bryant over the course of the season if they want to be successful.

Bryant does so much more than what the stats will indicate. Bryant brings toughness and a strong mentality to the forefront of this Lakers team. As the leader of this team, Bryant serves as a great coach on the court as well.

And unlike another MVP candidate, Bryant knows how to perform in the clutch. He doesn’t always succeed, but he embraces the challenge and accepts the consequences of failure. He is willing to put it all on the line every night he suits up.

The guy has to get a shot injection before every game (ouch) and his wrist swells up to the size of a circus balloon after every game.

If Kobe continues this pace at the age of 33, and if the Lakers finish a top four team in the Western Conference, he should be the MVP this season.