The NBA season is upon us and I for one could not be more excited. There are a number of storylines that need to be discussed. From LeBron chasing immortality to the stepping down of David Stern; soon to be the longest tenured commissioner in professional sports. Let’s start in the Eastern Conference.
Atlantic Division: Boston, Philadelphia, Brooklyn, New York and Toronto
Ray Allen’s departure caused quite a fuss in Boston. Allen seemed unable to accept a substitute’s role in Boston but was more than willing to be a sub in Miami. His position is understandable considering who he is coming off the bench for. It’s much harder for Allen to accept he is a substitute for Avery Bradley as opposed to D Wade.
Allen’s departure is not that big of deal considering Jason Terry and Courtney Lee have arrived to fill his shoes. Furthermore, the rookie additions of Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo should hopefully give Kevin Garnett the rest he needs. The Celtics did the smart thing this offseason by not blowing up the team and instead trying to strengthen with a mix of veteran and young acquisitions.
Rajon Rondo will have to play at an MVP level to ensure the Celtics’ success and I don’t think this is tough ask for him. The Celtics are a longshot to lift the NBA trophy but if they stay healthy and Rondo plays the way he is capable of playing, they could make it to the big dance. Clearly they will need help along the way but they still have a puncher’s chance.
New York and Brooklyn will be an interesting matchup this year. Both teams have an affinity to handing out silly contracts (Amare, Joe Johnson, Kris Humphries) and both will underachieve this year. Carmelo should be able to guide the Knicks to a top three finish in the East, but, then again, Carmelo should be able to lead a team out of the first round once in a while. We will hear a lot about these teams over the year and we will wonder why.
Philadelphia enters the year full of optimism but they have more concerns than a Greek banker. Will Andrew Bynum embrace the role of “being the guy”? I doubt it, although I hope I’m wrong. Bynum had disciplinary issues going back to the Phil Jackson era and if he couldn’t get his shit together with a savvy veteran squad like the Lakers, what will he do in Philadelphia? The fans will be quick to turn on their enigmatic center and if you like drama, Philadelphia is the place to turn.
The Raptors have the interesting Jonas Valanciunas. Considered by many to one of the better young prospects in the NBA, he will be player to keep an eye on this year.
Division Winner: Celtics.
Central Division: Chicago, Indiana, Detroit, Cleveland, Milwaukee
Chicago will probably make the playoffs this year through no fault of their own; the eastern conference is just that bad. The Derrick Rose storyline will be their main talking point. Let’s hope he sits out this entire year so as to ensure his long term success.
No one has talked about Indiana this year and rightfully so. They have not made a leap from last year. They will make the playoffs but will lose by the second round and that will be that.
Cleveland is the best storyline in this division for Kyrie Irving alone. Has he improved? Is he on his way to becoming one of the best players in the NBA? How will Dion Waiters look? Should be a fun year in Cleveland.
Division Winner: Indiana.
Southeast Division: Miami, Atlanta, Washington, Orlando, Charlotte
How great is LeBron James? That is the only question that matters in this division and really, in the entire league. LeBron has a poor supporting cast when you compare the Heat to the Thunder or the Lakers. But if he is truly on par with Jordan then the Heat should win the title. LeBron lacks the technique Jordan and Bryant employ but his dominance more than makes up for that deficiency. Last year, LeBron was unnatural. He played almost every minute at an absurdly efficient level and defended every position on the court. He will have to duplicate such heroics this coming season if they are to repeat as champions.
Division Winner: Miami
Northwest Division: Minnesota, Utah, Oklahoma City, Portland, Denver
Minnesota’s failure to land Nicolas Batum this summer was a big blow. They need a solid wing and Batum would have filled that position admirably. Love is out to start this season and Minnesota needs to stay in the race for the playoff hunt until he returns. Granted, he should return before mid December, but such injuries can linger and he may be out until January. In such a situation, the team needs to stay afloat so they can make a run later on down the line. You can’t secure a spot for the playoffs before January, but you can lose one.
Utah is never talked about but they are a playoff contender again. Let’s hope Big Al keeps it together this year and Utah will be in the postseason again. Adding Mo Williams doesn’t hurt either. May not help though. Watch out for Enes Kanter this year.
Until the Harden trade the Thunder’s offseason had been overshadowed by the Heat and Lakers. Harden wanted max money and the Thunder said this wasn’t possible. The Thunder offered one reason; we are a small market team and cannot afford to have four max guys (Three of them are Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka). The real reason they didn’t resign him is because they feel he isn’t worth max money and the Rockets offered them a great deal. Fair enough. But to lie to the media by saying you don’t have money to spend on Harden is downright ridiculous.
The NBA owners have claimed for a while that they don’t have money yet they are turning in record profits and billionaires all over want a piece of the action. If the league is in such trouble then why is a billionaire clamoring for a team in Seattle? Why did Prokorov spent countless millions to buy the Nets? Clearly, someone is lying and it doesn’t take an interrogation expert to realize it’s the owners.
The Thunder are one of the NBA’s most popular teams. They have a transcendent superstar who is flanked by an electrifying guard and a home crowd whose devotion to the game is borderline religious. They are THE team for young fans. So you’re telling me you can’t spring the extra 15-20 million for the 6th man of the year? C’mon man.
The Thunder could have signed him but they chose not to. I don’t care that you traded him but stop trying to convince the public this little team of yours is barely able to keep their heads above water.
Looking ahead, the Thunder can still win an NBA title this year. Harden provides bench scoring and an ability to take the point guard reins from Westbrook. They don’t have a solid backup point guard but their bench should be able to score. Kevin Martin is volume scorer; kind of guy who can get you 20 off the bench. But I’m more excited about Perry Jones III and Jeremy Lamb. If both players can add some more desire to their makeup, they could be exciting rookies. I am a Lamb fan. I don’t think he will ever be a superstar but he can be a great super sub. Jones III will have to battle injury issues but if he fulfills his potential, he can be Lamar Odom-ish.
Denver added Iguodala this summer and I personally like the addition, just not at that salary. They will be fun to watch this year and if you have league pass, you should check them out.
Division Winner: OKC.
Southwest Division: Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, New Orleans, Memphis
Houston should prepare their legal team. They may have to sue for fraud soon. Jeremy Lin has been absolutely abhorrent in the preseason and he is likely to be average at best this season for the Rockets. Smart move Houston.
San Antonio is on the wrong side of 30 but they always find a way and will be one of the best teams in the NBA this season.
New Orleans may make the playoffs this year but there concern is not on the immediate future. They just want to know they got a guy who can lead their team for the next decade. I think they do.
Memphis will finally have Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph healthy at the same time. Trouble is, they don’t play well together. Can they hammer out their issues and be a strong team? That remains to be seen.
Division Winner: San Antonio.
Pacific Division: Golden State, Sacramento, LA Clippers, LA Lakers, Phoenix Suns
Warrior fans are giddy. For the first time in years they have a legitimate shot at making the playoffs. And for some, the eventual move to San Francisco is something to celebrate. Go to any NBA website and the trendy pick to make the playoffs is the Warriors. Call me a Debbie Downer if you wish but I am not so optimistic.
Let’s backtrack a little. Warrior fans want the playoffs. They want the national media exposure they received years ago from Baron Davis and co. But should Warrior fans be stoked about where their team is right now? Consider two teams similarly situated- the New Orleans Hornets and Golden State Warriors.
Both teams are playoff contenders. Perhaps, the Warriors have a better shot than the Hornets. But which team is closer to winning a championship? It’s not even close- it’s the Hornets. They have a player who is capable of leading a team to multiple championships, a la a Tim Duncan. The Warriors don’t.
The absolute worst place an NBA team can be is on the fringe of making the playoffs. You are not close to winning a championship and you are not bad enough to get a high draft pick. Welcome to basketball purgatory. That is exactly where the Warriors find themselves right now. Who gives a fuck if they make the playoffs?
The only way this Warriors roster can be seen as success is if they can parlay their assets (this is how you refer to a bunch of role players who are not stars but their contracts and talent are favorable enough to package these players in a deal for a superstar) into a big time name. The Rockets did exactly that this year by packaging their assets and trading them to Oklahoma City for James Harden. But Harden is no superstar and unless you’re the Lakers, trading for a superstar is extremely difficult. Some Warrior fans will be fulfilled by the cheap thrill that is the playoffs, should they make it there. But the savvy Warrior fans will continue to run the rule on this management regime.
Sacramento has one of my favorite players in all of basketball; Demarcus “Boogie” Cousins. I think he can be the best big man in basketball but his attitude problems continue to plague him. I love Thomas Robinson, not as a basketball player, but more as a person. His life story should be made into a movie. Tyreke Evans has assumed Monta Ellis’ place has basketball biggest black hole. He’s the kind of player who will put up numbers but they never lead to victories.
The Lakers made the biggest splash in the offseason by acquiring Dwight Howard. Steve Nash will provide the bullets for these basketball Winchester’s. What remains to be seen is the effectiveness of their bench and the cohesion of their starting group. Many people have the Lakers winning it all but I am not certain. I think the Lakers will pull a Miami Heat. When the Heat acquired James and Bosh, they built a superteam that walked right into the NBA finals. However, their lack of cohesion surfaced in the finals and they lost. The Lakers are headed down a similar road.
They have all the talent to get to the finals but they may not have the togetherness to win it. That being said, their matchup in the finals (should they make it there) is much easier than the Heat’s opponents in 2010-11. The Heat have no size and their bench is not something to write home about. The Lakers regular season is not important. They merely have to stay healthy and secure a top three seed.
Division Winner: LA Lakers.