It's difficult at this point to see the 2012-13 NBA season from a distance. But that is exactly what history will do.
So let's endeavor to guess how history will look upon this past season.
Elizabeth Taylor was the final living movie star from Hollywood's golden era (no disrespect, Olivia de Havilland or Joan Fontaine, but you were never stars). When she passed in 2011, that era ended.
Though there are reports that Bryant will return post-surgery, after such a serious injury, player efficiency tends to plummet. And that's not taking into account Kobe's age if he returns (35). Given those statistics, even if Kobe does play again, he will likely not be the player he once was.
As dominant as LeBron James has been the last few years, he's always existed in Bryant's shadow, just as the great Lou Gehrig was always overshadowed by Babe Ruth. The NBA has finally become LeBron's; win or lose this finals, he is the face of the league.
History will also note that two surefire Hall of Famers and two others with similar pedigrees, all on the same team, does not result in an instant coronation.
The Los Angeles Lakers, with first-ballot Hall entrants Bryant and Steve Nash, plus the league's preeminent center Dwight Howard and four-time All-Star Pau Gasol, seemed destined to ruin the title dreams of the Miami Heat. Instead, they struggled in almost every way possible until late in the season, barely made the playoffs, then bowed out in an ignominious four-game sweep.
If a team signs Jason Collins next year, he will be the first-ever openly gay active player in one of the four U.S. major professional sports leagues.
History will note that, while stupid players saying stupid things didn't disappear after Collins' announcement, his revelation was greeted in general by players and coaches with support and acceptance.
This was also the year of the triple.
According to the New York Times, in 1987, about one of every 18 field-goal attempts in the league was a three-pointer. That total has steadily risen—save for a three-year period where the three-point line was moved in—until this year, when almost one out of every four shots was from long range.
Two teams—the New York Knicks and the Houston Rockets—broke the previous record for most three-pointers taken in a season in 2012-13 (both averaged 28.9 per game). The Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry became a breakout star by shattering the record for most three-pointers made by a player (272).
Speaking of the Rockets, their increasing reliance on the triple was part of a bigger story: general manager (and statistical guru) Daryl Morey's bold new plan to design an offense around statistical probabilities.
Shots at the rim have a higher chance of going in; shots behind the arc have a higher payout because of that extra point. According to the Dream Shake, Houston was dead last—by a country mile—in field goals attempted between 10-19 feet. However, the Rockets were third in the league in shots attempted within five feet of the basket.
The result: The Rockets were at or near the top of the NBA in several major offensive categories, but the team fizzled out in the first round. Will Morey's idea permeate the league? I'd guess other teams will appropriate Morey's offensive brainchild.
With newly minted superstar James Harden, the Rockets are on the cusp of what appears to be a gradual changing of the guard in the Western Conference.
The Lakers have almost certainly faded from playoff relevance. The San Antonio Spurs are in the finals for what might be the last time with their star core intact. Manu Ginobili will become a free agent this offseason.
Besides the OKC Thunder, the rest of the best in the West are newcomers: Memphis Grizzlies, Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Clippers.
Though the Miami Heat have made three straight NBA Finals appearances, the power has shifted in the Eastern Conference as well.
Exiting the picture in the East are the Boston Celtics, whose original postmodern Big Three was disbanded after the departure of Ray Allen. Also questionable are the Chicago Bulls, who have no money to upgrade and no assurances as to the return of star Derrick Rose.
Even the Heat, who will go into the history books courtesy of a 27-game winning streak reminiscent of Sherman's march through Georgia—the league's second-longest mark of all time—likely have a window of just one more year.
LeBron James has been playing on a contract that pays him far less than he could earn on the open market. Next year he may choose to earn while he can, and he has many enticing options.
Here are two: He can choose to mend fences in his native Cleveland, or he could inherit the title of "greatest player on greatest franchise" and become the face of the Los Angeles Lakers.
In their place, the New York Knicks have finally—and blessedly for the league—reemerged from the ashes of former general manager Isiah Thomas' wreckage. With some clever working of their aging roster, Carmelo Anthony and his entourage could be contenders for years to come.
Meanwhile, if the Indiana Pacers hang on to their roster, they will remain in the upper echelon after a brief absence.
Finally, this was David Stern's last full season in the NBA, as he is set to retire on Feb. 1, 2014. This season added two items to the plus side of his legacy.
The Kings franchise will remain in Sacramento, which is sad news for Seattle residents but karmic justice for long-suffering Kings fans who deserve to see a team run competently again.
The league also finally legislated against flopping. The changes—which included both fines and embarrassment compliments of a public flopping update—were too little, but at least the league finally took some action toward shutting down a tactic which cheapens the sport.
2012-13 was a year where we got a glimpse into the NBA's future, even as we watched the present and past compete for the sport's ultimate prize.