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Days of Future Past: New Orleans Basketball in the MVP Race

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Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before:

Transcendent, generational superstar from small market spends better part of season putting team on his back and winning an unexpectedly high number of games. MVP chatter accompanies said star’s coming out party, but he ultimately loses the award to a contending big-market star who most media seemed to pre-ordain as the MVP before the first tip-off of the season.

Sounds familiar, right?

Post-Demarcus Cousins injury, Anthony Davis is submitting a pretty convincing argument for his MVP candidacy. As Raby recently pointed out, MVP voters love a good narrative, and AD’s narrative of carrying the team on his back to save a potentially lost season is an enticing one.

But narratives can also be hard to break. Much of the national media disregarded every Pelican not named Anthony Davis during the 10-win streak, despite a career year from Jrue Holiday. And the narrative coming into this season was that James Harden was the MVP favorite.

Be it rewarding the star thriving in Mike D’Antoni’s system or residual guilt over giving the award to Russell Westbrook over Harden last year, most cannot fathom giving the trophy to anyone but the Beard.

This will inevitably set up heartbreak among Pelicans fans come awards time. I’m already mentally composing my “We all know Harden will choke in the playoffs. Again.” tweet for when the time comes.

But long-time New Orleans basketball fans have been down this road before.

In 2007-08, the then-New Orleans Hornets were on top of the world. The team’s young core finally starting putting the pieces together to a 56 win season and second seed in the Western Conference.

At the center of it all was Chris Paul, ascending to the upper-echelon of NBA talent. The former New Orleans Arena was deafening with “MVP” chants whenever Paul would step to the free-throw line.

There was just one problem: the Los Angeles Lakers’ Kobe Bryant had yet to win an MVP award at that time. Many pundits spent September and October of 2007 calling it “Kobe’s year” when speculating on the award, and the Lakers’ spot above the Hornets in the standings denied Paul the honors.

Paul averaged fewer points than Bryant that year (21.1 to 28.3), but predictably had far more assists per game (11.6 for Paul, 5.4 for Bryant). Paul finished second, but his efforts to lead a Katrina-ravaged team to the promised land just wasn’t enough to overcome the prevailing conventional wisdom.

People said Paul was young and that his time would come.

They will likely say the same of Davis when he inevitably finishes second in voting. All Pelicans fans would like to believe that, but we know Cousins’ impending return will mean Davis’ star will shine a little less bright in future seasons.

But with a little luck and a lot more win streaks, maybe Pelicans fans won’t be subject to the same punchline this time around.

Rory Callais is a New Orleans-based writer and musician. In addition to covering the Pelicans, Rory's work has been featured in Offbeat, Antigravity, and Where Y'at? He is also the lead guitarist for Darcy Malone and the Tangle and Vox and the Hound, who provides the theme music for the Locked On Pelicans daily podcast.

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