Welcome to the new era. Welcome to the new generation.
Names like "Kobe Bryant" or "Dirk Nowitzki" will so be erased from Most Valuable Player candidacy. The young guns are taking over.
Derrick Rose has already begun the transition, while Kevin Durant and Chris Paul have continued to find their way into the MVP hunt. But what about farther west?
Maybe there's not a Trail Blazer deserving of an MVP (maybe), but when it comes to awards, it would be shameful to omit the Trail Blazers. Especially for the Most Improved Player Award.
LaMarcus Aldridge and Wesley Matthews have emerged into game-changing performers. Opponents come into matchups with a game plan to first shut down Aldridge, then deny Matthews' three-point shot.
Deservedly so, as each athlete has noticeably improved their games. Each has increased scoring and efficiency. Just look at their timelines this year:
Aldridge averaged 18.9 points and eight rebounds on 46.1 percent shooting in November. Since then, his output has increased each month, closing out January with 24.9 points and 10.4 rebounds on nearly 50 percent shooting.
He's already put up two 40-point games within the first week of February against the NBA's elite - Spurs and Bulls - and became the first Trail Blazers to tally at least 40 points in back-to-back home games since Clyde Drexler did it in 1989.
Since becoming the No. 1 guy, Aldridge has not disappointed. He's poured in 25.4 points and grabbed 10.2 boards while shooting 52.4 percent since Dec. 15, setting career highs with 42 points against the Bulls, 19 rebounds against the Bucks, seven assists against the Heat and seven blocks against the Nuggets.
Matthews followed suit, improving his 13.9-point November to an 18.6-point December, although January dropped to 16.9 points. But now, in February, Matthews is hitting 50 percent of all shots, including three-point shooting, and has chipped in 17.8 points.
Last season, Aldridge recorded 17.9 points and eight boards, while Matthews posted just 9.4 points on 38.2 percent shooting from long range. Now, compare these numbers to others in the NBA who find themselves in the Most Improved conversation.
The Clippers' Eric Gordon is averaging 24.1 points per game, nearly eight points better than last season, but his success hasn't transitioned to his team's record, as LA is just 3-17 on the road and 19-31 overall.
Kevin Love (you know, the guy that got the All-Star nod?) has improved all aspects of his game, scoring 21.4 points and hauling in 15.5 rebounds while improving his three-point attack by nearly 10 percent. Similar to Gordon, however, the record doesn't reflect his efficiency.
Maybe the two top contenders are New York's Raymond Felton and Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook. Felton, who never averaged more than 14.5 points with the Bobcats, is contributing 17.2 points and the league's sixth-best 8.9 assists per game. Felton, however, is giving the ball up nearly 2 more times per night than he was last year.
Westbrook, who leads the lead in triple-doubles, has increased his scoring from 16.1 to 22.3 points per contest, but that's the most improvement in his game. Not only that, but Westbrook has committed the NBA's most turnovers (189) and is averaging almost four per game.
Aldridge and Matthews, along with the rest of the roster, have fought through adversity, injuries and negativity. They're determined to not only make the playoffs, but also make a run.
We're 52 games into the season, and not once has Matthews or Aldridge started answering a question with "I." Modesty takes over in the locker room, as these rising stars continue to credit teammates or coaches. They could care less about individual awards. It's the "W" that matters most.
Still, each deserve some piece of hardware, a slice of national recognition.
With a depleting roster and execs and writers within the league turning their backs to the organization, the Trail Blazers are beginning to turn heads once again. There's a reason. Actually, there are several.
Hate all you want, but you can't deny the vast improvement not only of these two individuals, but the entire franchise. Give it up, NBA. Show some praise. Show some respect.