Now this is what I've been waiting for.
The best season of my NBA lifetime concluded in 2011. A new Super Team was formed down in South Beach. Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers were trying to win a third straight title. The Boston Celtics were still dangerous, the Oklahoma City Thunder were an emerging threat and the New York Knicks were relevant again.
The season ended with the crowning of a new and deserving champion, vaulting Dirk Nowitzki up to (almost) Larry Bird status. Most NBA fans (not to mention players, coaches and front office personnel) were thrilled to see LeBron James melt on the biggest stage and watch the Miami Heat fall to the underdog Dallas Mavericks. And then 2012 happened.
After waiting around for the NBA lockout to end, I was welcomed back to the NBA with 83-62 final scores, teams playing in a state somewhere between half-assed and exhausted, all as a result of skipping training camp and condensing the schedule.
Derrick Rose, Dwight Howard, and Chauncey Billups did not make it through the season. Not saying any of those guys would have stopped LeBron and the Heat, but the playoffs certainly would have had a different feel to it, as well as different results on the way to the championship. Let's face it, the Miami-Boston series was the only bit of drama in the six-week postseason.
As an NBA purist, this was the worst kind of torture; waiting optimistically for the return of your favorite game, only to see it manifest itself in the deluded and uninspired play that dominated the post-Jordan era, a "style" of ball that I thought had been put to death for good. Wake me when the party ends in Miami. But hey, at least this time LeBron, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh had something to celebrate.
I know it is only July. I know I should temper my expectations. But screw it—THE NBA IS BACK BABY!!!
The Los Angeles Lakers made the best moves they could make that do not include the name Dwight Howard. They brought in Steve Nash who, even though he is 38 years old, will improve this team dramatically. For one, Kobe Bryant will be playing with a true point guard, finally abolishing any remnants of the triangle offense.
The fact that Kobe will abandon just about all of the ball-handling duties means two things: Less wear and tear on his body and more touches (and in better places) for Andrew Bynum. This means a healthier Kobe and a more efficient, more focused Bynum.
The team also brought in Antawn Jamison. Jamison may have the closest skill set of any player in the NBA to former Laker LaMar Odom. Plug Jamison next to Gasol and Bynum in the frontcourt, with Kobe and Nash in the backcourt, and you cannot even think about double-teaming anyone on that team.
Speaking of Odom, he is back in LA with the Clippers. This is another perfect move, as Odom brings length to a team that lacked big-man depth, plus a skill set that any contender can put to use. The Clippers will also welcome back Chauncey Billups and brought in Jamal Crawford for more playmaking off the bench, another weakness they have strengthened.
And don't sleep on the Dallas Mavericks, who made three underrated moves by bringing in Darren Collison, OJ Mayo and Chris Kaman. Those three additions help bolster blemishes on the roster that led to a weak title defense.
The Brooklyn Nets will be dangerous. I don't know how all the parts will fit together. I do know that a roster featuring Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Gerald Wallace, MarShon Brooks, Kris Humphries and Brook Lopez is a pretty good place to start.
And then there is the Miami Heat. The only way you had a chance of beating this team is if the threes weren't falling and two out of the big three had off games. They just brought in Ray Allen, the NBA's leader in career threes made. He may not be the Jesus Shuttlesworth of yesteryear, but he will be a hell of an asset to play 20 minutes a game and pull the trigger on transition threes.
Of course there are two things marring my NBA forecast: The maddening, never-ending saga of Dwight Howard, and the impending return of Derrick Rose. The Howard thing has crossed over ridiculous and has indeed reached ludicrous. As for Rose, as long as he does not suffer any setbacks, he and the Bulls should be fine.
(Side note: If he is never the same, I may be forced to hunt down David Stern and hold him responsible for his actions. Yes, I am convinced his condensed schedule robbed us of Rose and other stars. No, there is nothing you can say that will change my mind).
But here is what makes it all worth it, and why you are still soldiering on through nearly a thousand words of NBA nerd-speak. We may be closer than ever to our dream finals matchup: Kobe vs. LeBron.
In a seven-game series, who ya got? Wade-Allen-James-Haslem-Bosh or Nash-Kobe-Jamison-Gasol-Bynum? And if you replace Bynum with Howard? And if we don't get that, we are left with a Miami-OKC rematch, an epic upset in the East as the Bulls or Nets overtake the mighty Heat, or the Clippers being Los Angeles' new top dog. We can't go wrong, and I've got goosebumps just thinking about it.
And it may be enough to erase the memory of the last year's worth of NBA action.
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