The 10 Juiciest Potential Storylines The 2011 NBA Season Might Offer
The 2010 off-season has already proven to be among the most memorable in the NBA's history.
We've seen disgruntled stars create heavyweight teams, we've seen the Lakers and Celtics add even more depth and talent to their roster and we've seen a host of new feuds and a few new potential rivalries dating back to last season's playoffs.
That's just the tip of the iceberg.
The NBA is headed for potentially historical, if somewhat uncertain times. Here we'll take a peek into what could be just around the corner of what could be, what should be and what won't be. Enjoy.
1) A Lakers/Thunder Playoff Rematch
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These Lakers won’t be around forever. They weren’t meant to be. Much like the Celtics after they acquired Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett in 2008, the Lakers were built only with the immediate future in mind.
Barring something unforeseen, like Carmelo Anthony or Chris Paul winding up in L.A., the Lakers will be done terrorizing the NBA in three years max, but the Thunder won’t sit by patiently and wait for the Lakers’ to pass the torch.
Though the Thunder only qualified for the 8th seed in the playoffs last year, I anticipate a much higher seeding for them this time out.
In the likely event that the Lakers capture the number one overall seed in the West for the fourth consecutive season and the Thunder manage to grab the either the second or third seed we could be in for a great Western Conference Finals showdown.
Due to the fact that Kobe Bryant will likely retire once the three year extension he signed during the regular season is over the potential Laker/Thunder rivalry may not have much of a shelf life, but then again three years is more than enough time to create a historic rivalry.
2) To Trade or Not To Trade: What Will Happen With Carmelo Anthony?
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Carmelo could definitely evolve from a star into a legend in Los Angeles.
L.A. is a great city that has no shortage of beauty, social life or marketing opportunities and the Lakers offer Carmelo a great opportunity to win championships – I’m just not sure that’s what Carmelo really wants.
Nothing about his demeanor nor anything he’s ever said signals to me that winning championships is his first priority.
I think Carmelo would like to win. I even think he wants to win, but based off what I’ve seen I don’t think he needs to win.
When Dwyane Wade threatened to leave unless his office supplied him with a roster he could advance with he showed how much he cares about winning.
I just don’t get that same sense from Carmelo Anthony.
If the rumors about Carmelo’s interest in New York are true then it only confirms my suspicions. The most Carmelo Anthony could win in New York is a division title – and even that’s not a guarantee as long as the Celtics are around.
I’d love to see Carmelo join the Lakers and potentially the list of all time greats to have suited up for the purple and gold. Unfortunately, my guess is that he’ll wind up in New York.
3) Will there be a reason to watch basketball in Cleveland?
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In a league dominated by a handful of Goliath’s, there may never have been a truer “David” in the NBA than the 2011 Cleveland Cavaliers.
Their leader is gone, their national coverage and a good portion of their fan base is sure to follow and they’re widely projected to be at the bottom of the weakest division in the Eastern Conference.
I don’t share the sympathy that most of the nation feels for the Cavaliers as I feel a lot of their misfortune is due karma. People have quickly forgotten their nauseating, haughty pre-game antics and the overall arrogance that the Cavaliers constantly displayed.
That aside, it seems highly unlikely that these Cavaliers will be remembered for anything but the loss of LeBron James for the foreseeable future.
However with Byron Scott taking over the reigns as coach, the mix of youth and athleticism the Cavaliers’ roster still has and the weakening state of the Central Division, the Cavaliers may actually be able to sneak into the playoffs.
The odds of the Cavaliers advancing once they get there are nearly non-existent but if they make the playoffs they may just be in for return to national coverage anyway…but we’ll revisit that in a bit.
4) Will LeBron Try To Bring a Little Magic To The Heat?
As of right now, the Miami Heat have only two weaknesses: lack of a proven, solid point guard and lack of a dominant frontcourt.
Barring an unprecedented trade, the Heat won’t be able to fix the latter of their problems, but LeBron James may have something to say about the former.
When you think of what it takes to successfully run the point guard position you think of 4 things:
1) Raw Passing Ability (obviously)
2) Ball Handling Ability
3) Shot selection (including overall decision making)
4) Court vision
James excels in all the above. The only question is whether Erik Spoelstra, a coach with somewhat limited experience, can manage the locker room after delegating primary ball handling responsibility to James.
Though Dwyane Wade is a true shooting guard in both skill and physique, he’s also used to having the ball in his hands a lot more than point guard Mario Chalmers. James has publicly embraced the fact that his role in Miami will be very different from the role he occupied in Cleveland, but could Dwyane Wade adjust to a different role as well?
How the Heat decide to approach the potential of James running the point could set the tone for how well the team functions this season and in the ones to come.
(Sub storyline: if Spoelstra can’t take the heat, will Pat Riley step back in?)
5) How Will Shaq Function In Boston?
The Big Commodity switched area codes for the third time in as many years. Will his stint in Boston be any more successful than his times spent in Phoenix or Cleveland were?
Even if the Celtics go on to have a successful season, Shaq will likely be lost in the rotation when Kendrick Perkins returns as the team will want Perkins as close to his former self as possible once the playoffs begin.
Though Shaq is still one of the strongest players in the NBA, he’s proven to be more susceptible to injury over the last few years and is a defensive liability. Not only does Shaq struggle to make it up the floor, but his defense consists solely of excessively hard fouls and lane clogging.
It took Shaq the duration of the summer to realize that he could no longer command a position in a team’s starting lineup nor anything over the veteran’s minimum. How long will it take him to accept that he’s become nothing more than a role player?
If the Celtics fall out of contention for any reason, Shaq may quickly become more trouble than he’s worth in the formerly tight, manageable Celtic locker room.
6) Lakers/Heat 2011 NBA Finals
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You knew this was coming.
The very possibility of this event must have had David Stern foaming at the mouth from the second LeBron James uttered the words “South Beach”.
That said, most people seem to have accepted that the Lakers and Heat are predestined to meet in June and while I can certainly understand why, I think it may be a little too soon for Miami.
If James does make the switch to point guard, the Heat will undoubtedly boast the greatest backcourt in the NBA, perhaps in its entire history, but even with Chris Bosh on the roster, the Heat would still be lacking in their frontcourt.
No team in the last 11 years has won the NBA Finals without a dominant frontcourt.
If you subtract Jordan’s Bulls from the equation, no team in the last twenty years has won without a dominant frontcourt. (Even taking Jordan’s Bulls into consideration, bear in mind that the Bulls’ second three-peat came with the aid of Dennis Rodman, one of the greatest defensive forwards of all time.)
Point in case: you don’t win without a physical, imposing interior.
Bosh is certainly a very talented scorer, but is not known for his defense or physicality. He lacks the girth and strength to be a dominant “post player”, and Zyrdunas Ilgauskas? More of Allen Iverson’s career was spent in the paint than Ilgauskus’.
Don’t get me wrong: the Miami Heat will be a fearsome team and if they were to meet the Lakers in the Finals, the ratings would go through the roof, into the atmosphere and generate a whole new level of global warming.
I just don’t think it will happen yet, but anytime you can claim players like LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, its possible.
7) Miami vs. Cleveland
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Forget Pittsburgh. Forget Baltimore. Forget Michael Jordan and “The Shot”. Forget John Elway and his “Drive”.
If the Cavaliers were to meet the Miami Heat in the playoffs and somehow, someway, win, it would all be worth it in Cleveland’s eyes. Yes, they hate LeBron James just that much.
Of course, that’s about as likely as the Lakers selecting Harrison Moore in the 2012 NBA draft, but contrary to popular belief this could actually happen.
(“This” being the playoff series taking place, not the Cavaliers pulling off what would be the greatest upset in sports history. Don’t worry, I know that I won’t be sporting Purple ‘N Gold next year.)
The Boston Celtics are as interested in the regular season as the city of Los Angeles is interested in the Clippers and the Cavaliers are done winning number one overall seeds.
The only significant Eastern Conference competition the Heat should face in the regular season should come from the Magic, but over the years they’ve proven to be highly inconsistent and have doubtlessly benefited from the lack of competition in their division.
The only other Eastern Conference team to rack up a win total in the 50’s in the last two years are the Hawks and come on, they’re the Hawks.
The Miami Heat should be a near shoe-in for the number one seed in the East this year, but what about the Cavaliers?
Well, the top five seeds in the East are probably guaranteed to Miami, Orlando, Boston, Chicago and Atlanta. Aside from those guys, the Eastern Conference is extremely fluid.
The Knicks got Amar’e Stoudemire but lost David Lee. With Stoudemire on board, they should be okay on offense, but fans should be prepared to see a lot of points scored in the Madison Square Garden – but the majority won’t come from the Knicks.
The list goes on and on, but for all the shaking up that’s taken place in the East, its still a very top heavy conference and is anything but deep.
Mo Williams and Antawn Jamison won’t be advancing in the playoffs as Cleveland’s primary options, but in the weakening bottom half of the East, they could remain competitive enough to secure a playoff seeding.
I won’t bother analyzing the potential details and matchups of this event as I’ve already posted enough on this slide and the outcome should be quite clear, but even if Miami wins every game in this series by 40, the world will be watching from jumpball until the final horn.
8) LeBron Vs.
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I started to name this slide LeBron vs. the world, but I decided to give a nod to a certain 500 pound, limelight lusting, former teammate of LeBron’s.
Now back to the subject at hand. A few days ago LeBron tweeted “Don't think for one min that I haven't been taking mental notes of everyone taking shots at me this summer. And I mean everyone!”
Well, then. That probably means you Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley and maybe even you Kevin Durant.
MJ, you’re probably safe. Though you were the first one to start lobbing stones at LeBron in somewhat subtle ways, the fact that you won six rings on your “own” team and that you’re the best player of all time keeps you in the green.
Charles Barkley, as much respect as I have for you, if LeBron wins a championship using the same methods you critiqued (and used in your own career), you won’t be able to help looking somewhat foolish for starting a war that you lost.
Kevin Durant… well… you’ve somewhat dug your own grave here.
LeBron was probably going to come after you anyway since you’re the new golden boy and your game bears somewhat of a resemblance to his, but with all your talk about how “uncompetitive” everyone who’s been migrating to the Heat and Lakers are, you’ve buried the nail in your coffin.
If LeBron James wins a championship in the next two years (particularly if it comes with a Finals MVP award) just how bad will everyone who blasted him wind up looking?
9) Is Three A Crowd?
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When the Boston Celtics put Pierce, Allen and Garnett together everyone cheered.
When the Miami Heat put James, Wade and Bosh together everyone booed.
If New York manages to put Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire will everyone yawn?
Painful as it is to say, when the Boston Celtics put their big three together, it was a thing of beauty. The NBA hadn’t seen such a force in years and in bringing in those players, the Celtics rose the bar for what it takes to become an NBA Champion.
When the Miami Heat came put their big three together fans quickly became apprehensive, some even fearful.
As good as the Celtics were, the Heat have the potential to be that much better. Think about it: even though Pierce, Allen and Garnett were still very good players when they united, they were all on the decline.
They were done carrying teams and having MVP caliber seasons on the other hand, Miami managed to join James, Wade and Bosh while they were all in their primes.
Though James and (to a lesser extent) Bosh were blasted and painted as “selfish” for forming a trio so young in their careers, who cares? The fact that they united much earlier than other trios in the league had the opportunity to means that they have a longer opportunity to win championships together.
Anyway, this isn’t about how much better Miami’s big three is than New York’s would be, or even how Chris Paul and Amar’e Stoudemire have both dealt with recent injury problems. Its about originality.
If “big threes” become the norm in the NBA, how can they become historic?
As potentially beneficial as the Miami Heat could be for the NBA, the league is in a very delicate state. There are only four or five teams with a realistic shot of winning the 2011 NBA title as is, if New York creates another big three, the NBA essentially turns into one big all-star game and every critique the NBA faces about its lack of parity multiplies tenfold.
Simply put, a third major trio created in the last three years would be a bit much and would somewhat chip away at the legitimacy of the NBA.
10) A Legacy FulPhil’d
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I’ve heard all about Red Auerbach and how critical he was in building the Celtics as opposed to Phil Jackson who “merely” took teams that already had great players to a higher level, but at the end of the day, does it really matter how either coach got their players?
Both were blessed with the opportunity to coach some of the greatest players the game will ever see and at the end of the day “coaching” in its purest definition is about making the most of what you have.
While Auerbach’s legacy of crossing the color barrier by drafting Chuck Cooper, the first African American to ever play in the NBA, and coaching the most successful run in NBA history (the 8 consecutive championships won by the ‘59-’66 Celtics), is nothing to scoff at, neither is Phil Jackson’s legacy.
Prior to Phil Jackson taking over as the Bulls’ head coach in 1989, Michael Jordan suffered either sweeps, first round eliminations or both routinely. Jackson’s first season as head coach saw Jordan’s deepest playoff run at the time: the Eastern Conference Finals.
The rest is history, but all six of Jordan’s rings came with Jackson running things from the bench.
Since becoming a starter in 1999, Kobe Bryant has only missed the playoffs once. Since becoming a starter, Kobe Bryant has only been without Phil Jackson once... and oh yeah, both happened in 2005.
The rest is history, but all five of Bryant’s rings came with Jackson running things from the bench.
Its true that Phil Jackson has only won championships with great players and great teams, but its also true that these same players and teams haven’t been successful without him.
With all due respect to Red Auerbach and what he accomplished, you can’t say the same for him.
If Phil Jackson coaches the Lakers to another championship, he will have effectively ended all legitimate debates. He will be hands down the greatest coach of all time.