With the NBA season over with, the debate will begin raging over who deserves to become the league's Most Valuable Player and the Rookie of the Year.

Unfortunately, the Rookie of the Year is usually sealed before season's end, and I would not be the least bit surprised if the Seattle Supersonics' Kevin Durant wins. For Pete's sake, the guy leads his team in points, blocks and steals.

If he wasn't playing for Seattle, they could be worse than the Miami Heat. And nobody wants to be worse than that train wreck. I'm sure Shaquille O' Neal is laughing his way to the playoffs after being traded from there to the Phoenix Suns.

Now that the argument for the Rookie of the Year award is settled - and done very quickly I might add - who is going to be the league's best player?

There were several players that stood out this year that have the chance to win this prestigious award. However, the awarding of this trophy could not have been timed worse than last year. Remember when Dallas Maverick power forward Dirk Nowitzki won it last year? That was a little painful to win that award despite getting humiliated by the Western Conference No. 8 seed Golden State Warriors.

Hopefully, this year the winner will be in higher spirits.

In my opinion, five candidates stand out with the shot of winning the MVP award.

First up is Kobe Bryant from the Los Angeles Lakers.

It's amazing what a difference a season makes. Before the season began, all Kobe was good at besides basketball was whining.

It looked as if he were in jeopardy of getting cut from the team because of his indecisiveness on whether or not he wanted to still play with the Lakers.

After realizing he was, the Lakers not only improved, they have become one of the favorites to win the NBA title. Bryant averages nearly 29 points, six rebounds and five assists per game.

Not only is he becoming a better player, his team around him has become better.

Who would have thought Kobe would be a better team player? When you factor the solid performances of Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom and Derek Fisher, plus the possibility of Andrew Bynum's return, Bryant's game has greatly improved.

The next candidate is Kevin Garnett of the Boston Celtics.

Do you want to make a team better? Just add Garnett-although he practically collapsed in his final year with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Sure he may not be a scoring beast (19 points per game) and he could have more rebounds (nine per game), but he has been the missing piece that has helped the Celtics make history with the biggest turnaround win-loss record ever. They finished with the best record in the league and are one of the favorites to win the title.

Don't get me wrong, without Garnett they are good, but with him Boston has been superb.

Speaking of superb, how good was Orlando Magic's Dwight Howard?

In his best year yet, Howard averaged 21 points, and a league-leading 14 rebounds a game-not to mention that he blocked at least two shots a game as well.

The 6-foot-11, 22-year-old former No. 1 pick has proven to the league that he was the top pick in 2004 for a reason. Howard has stepped up to become a great leader for the Magic.

Thanks to his contribution, Orlando clinched the No. 3 slot in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Though many people see him as a long shot because of his age, his performance deserves some consideration. Orlando is a huge threat and should continue to excel as Howard continues to gain experience in the league.

Of course, no MVP discussion is incomplete without talking about LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The 23-year-old has been a credible threat from the word "go." Cleveland had a shot to win the title last year against the San Antonio Spurs, but we all know how that went for James and company.

If anybody pulls his weight for the team, it's him.

Scoring an insane 30 points, eight rebounds and seven assists a game, it should be a done deal that he should win the award, right?…Right?

Unfortunately, his team's performance has been less than stellar, despite clinching a playoff spot.

A candidate is supposed to make a team better, and apparently James could not do that this season with Cleveland. The support is not there to boost him up and it could be one of those rare occasions that the most productive player does not win the MVP.

The final candidate is Chris Paul of the New Orleans Hornets. He has been golden since being drafted in 2005. This season has been one that Paul wants to put in his resume.

Averaging 21 points and a league-leading 12 assists a game, the point guard from Wake Forest has evolved into a bona fide superstar since being named Rookie of the Year in 2006.

Not only that, the Hornets have been outstanding this season. At times they fought for the No. 1 spot in the West, and it is possible that they could surprise skeptics in the NBA.

Out of all of the candidates, my pick to win is Bryant.

Not only did he escape scrutiny from his fans and teammates, he also managed to escape women in Denver.

Bryant has become a great leader to Los Angeles and has let bygones be bygones while performing to the best of his abilities.

Now if he can only avoid the same type of humiliation that Nowitzki felt and actually make something of himself in the playoffs.

Juan Carlos Reyes is a sports reporter for the Record Star. Readers may contact him at 361-387-4511 or via email at news@recordstar.com.