Jun 17, 2012; Miam, FL, USA; Miami Heat small forward LeBron James (6) and Oklahoma City Thunder small forward Kevin Durant (35) during the first quarter in game three in the 2012 NBA Finals at the American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE

NBA MVP: Who will challenge LeBron James in 2012-13 for the award

Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

LeBron James has established himself as the clear-cut, best player in the NBA. He’s won three of the last four MVP awards and led the league in PER in each of the last five seasons.

LeBron will head into the 2012-13 season as the frontrunner to win the MVP again but that’s not always a good thing. With the MVP award, voters are always looking for a fresh face or better story to win the award even if they aren’t quite as deserving.

We saw this in 2010-11 when Derrick Rose won the award despite being ninth in the league in PER. He led the Chicago Bulls to the best record in the NBA though doing just about everything for that team and it prevented LeBron from winning his third straight MVP.

So while LeBron has a very good chance to lead the league in PER again this season, he has a lesser chance to win his fourth MVP in five seasons.

Here’s a look at five players who have a chance to steal the award from him.

Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder

Durant has emerged as the consensus second-best player in the NBA. He’s coming off his best season yet in which he led the Thunder to the NBA Finals and he captured his third straight scoring title. He also saw increases in a lot of stat categories including shooting percentage, rebounding and assists. If we see some more all-around improvement from Durant in those areas and the Thunder put together a monster regular season win total, he may very well be in perfect position to win his first ever MVP.

Dwight Howard, Los Angeles Lakers

The Lakers made the biggest move of the summer trading for Howard and now they are right up there again as title contenders. Howard has a chance to drastically improve the Lakers and that kind of effect will make him very relevant in MVP talk. He already makes as great an impact as any NBA player in defense. There is a chance though that Howard will miss a large chunk of the season and won’t play until January or February. If that is the case, then his chance at winning are pretty slim.

Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers

Paul is as valuable as any player in the league is to their team. In his first season with the Clippers last year, he led them to the second round of the playoffs and was second in the NBA in PER. He proved himself as one of the most clutch players in the league and seemed to single-handedly drag the Clippers to wins at times. In his second season with the Clippers, we could see a big improvement for the team while Paul remains just as efficient. If they are fighting for the top seed in the West late in the season, expect Paul’s name to come up when discussing the MVP.

Rajon Rondo, Boston Celtics

Just when we thought the Celtics were going to roll over and die, they went out and had a pretty good offseason putting together a roster that should still compete for a high seed in the East next season. Rondo has continued to progress as a player and led the league in assists per game last season. He may be poised for a monster regular season as the Celtics now totally hand over the reins of the team to him. We’ve seen the Heat mail it in somewhat the last two regular seasons which may leave the door open for the Celtics to challenge them for the top seed in the East. If they do, then Rondo will get a lot of MVP love next season’s end.

Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves

Love has been making some of the biggest improvements of anyone in the league over the past few seasons. Last year he finished fifth in the league in PER and averaged 26.0 points and 13.3 rebounds per game. He has been in a class by himself throwing up numbers like that. The Timberwolves will need to improve their win total by quite a lot for Love to be considered an MVP candidate but if they do make the playoffs, it will be because Love is playing like an MVP.

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Tags: Chris Paul Dwight Howard Kevin Durant Kevin Love LeBron James Los Angeles Lakers Miami Heat Oklahoma City Thunder Rajon Rondo

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