Pop quiz, hot shots: When was the last time the NBA’s Most Valuable Player was on a team that didn’t finish with at least the fourth-best regular season record in the league? It was Michael Jordan in 1987-88, in what was arguably his greatest individual season — he averaged 35.0 points, 5.9 assists, 5.5 rebounds, 3.2 steals, 1.6 blocks, had a .535 field goal percentage and his PER of 31.71 was the highest of the modern era. The Bulls finished with a 50-32 record, tied for the seventh-best in the league that season.

Apparently, it takes a historical season to have a shot at winning the NBA MVP award if you’re not on one of the top four regular season teams in the league. If we narrow it down to the last 10 winners, you should really be on one of the top two teams if you’re going to expect to be taken seriously by the voters.

2009-10 LeBron James Cavaliers First
2008-09 LeBron James Cavaliers First
2007-08 Kobe Bryant Lakers Third
2006-07 Dirk Nowitzki Mavericks First
2005-06 Steve Nash Suns Fourth
2004-05 Steve Nash Suns First
2003-04 Kevin Garnett Timberwolves Second
2002-03 Tim Duncan Spurs First
2001-02 Tim Duncan Spurs Second
2000-01 Allen Iverson 76ers Second

Whether or not this qualification is right or fair is sort of beside the point when it comes to who will actually win the MVP award each season. The sportswriters and broadcasters who vote for the winner quite clearly fixate on players who stand out among the teams that finish with one of the top two regular season records. In 2007-08, the Celtics and Pistons had better records than the Lakers but those were clearly “team efforts” while Kobe’s excellence stood out because Pau Gasol was only on the team for 27 games — of which the Lakers won 22. We can safely assume Kobe would have been considered much less valuable by the voters if that heist of a trade had never taken place.

Steve Nash’s MVP awards look less credible every time I consider them. The Suns’ 33-win improvement from the 2003-04 season to the 2004-05 season certainly made his selection seem like a no-brainer to many at the time, but how would the voters have explained the fact that the Mavericks actually improved their win total by six in the season after he left? As for his 2005-06 award, Tim Duncan was the better player on a team with a better record so that was just flat-out laziness by the voters.

This brings us to the increasingly raging debate about who should win this season’s MVP award. Theoretically, the leading candidates are Derrick Rose, LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant. Realistically, the award is Rose’s to lose. Where things get interesting is that the Bulls are far from a lock to finish with a top-two or even a top-four regular season record. The Spurs will most likely finish with the best record, but nobody is winning MVP on that team for reasons I assume I don’t need to get in to. After the Spurs, we have the Bulls and Lakers tied at 53-20, the Mavericks at 52-21, and the Celtics and Heat tied at 51-22. Any one of these teams could end the season anywhere between second and sixth place.

Here is the meaty question buried under this daunting lead-in: Does Derrick Rose deserve to win the MVP award if the Bulls end up with the fifth- or sixth-best record? Actually, I take it back — that’s not a meaty question, it’s a stupid question. But it appears to be an important qualifier for who gets to win the award. That is, of course, unless enough of the voters have already bought into the “Rose as MVP” narrative and what happens for the remainder of the season has no effect on their decisions.

Believe it or not, the purpose of this post is not to call Rose’s MVP bona fides into question. I’ve been on the “Dwight for MVP” bandwagon for a little while now but I recognize the futility of that platform at this stage of the season as the Magic currently have the eighth-best record. What I’m calling into question are the critical thinking skills and impartiality of the MVP voters. Are most of them going to automatically write off Dwight Howard because of his crappy supporting cast? If the Heat finish with the second-best record in the league, will the majority of the voters refuse to acknowledge LeBron’s contributions for the sole reason that he’s a douchebag?

Most of you know the answers to these questions, wherever your MVP allegiances stand. So now we get to the REAL question: Why do we get so worked up about this award when the people who vote on it might not understand who is truly the most valuable player as much as the players who have to face them?

Marcin Gortat wasn’t trying to disrespect Derrick Rose with the tweet he sent last night, he was speaking from the experience of actually facing off against those players. Without question, there are a number of other players who would counter that Rose deserves to be MVP. But Howard would at least get some first-place votes from his colleagues. I fear that he won’t get any outside of Orlando from the real voters.

As for LeBron, he’d probably get screwed either way, but I doubt he’ll lose any sleep over it. Every MVP award a healthy and active Michael Jordan didn’t win in his prime was a farce. All too often, the hot storyline — in this case, the rejuvenation of the Bulls franchise — overwhelms any semblance of common sense. This should really be the most hotly-contested MVP award decision in years but the voters are much more likely to steer this story to the conclusion they find personally satisfactory rather than, you know, voting for the guy who actually deserves to win.