NBA Season Preview: 20 Things We're Hoping To See in 2010-2011
It's only September, but the hype machine is already gaining steam.
After one of the most eventful offseasons in recent memory, the upcoming NBA season should prove to be a treat.
Be it the influx of young talent slowly but surely penetrating the league's pantheon of superstardom, the holy triumvirate down in Miami, or the never ending carousel of off-the-court antics, opening night and the months ahead should be sure to create some moments to remember.
From the unexpected to the awe-inspiring, every year has its shining storylines. Last season, we witnessed everything from Kevin Durant's Thunderous assertion on the league to the renaissance of an aging cast of veterans up in Boston.
As we flicker through the proverbial screenplays of seasons past, we are also exposed to a sneak preview of whats to come.
In anticipation we ask, "what does this season's script hold?"
We shouldn't be disappointed in the slightest, largely because a significant portion of NBA games will be aired on TNT. In case you were unaware, "they know drama."
Joking aside, this season should be a great one. Mixing together the non-stop action, the compelling drama, and the brow raising comedic moments that will compile this eight-month epic, here are 20 plot lines that the NBA critics would love to see unfold.
Upon fulfillment, Ebert and Roeper would undoubtedly declare "two thumbs up."
20. The Rise of Greg Oden
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Words that come to mind when looking at this picture:
Powerful, dominant, commanding, "please don't make me guard this guy."
Words that come to mind when summing up Greg Oden's NBA career:
Bleak, injury plagued, disappointing, "Greg Oden? Yeah, I can guard him."
Although still young, the first pick in the 2007 NBA Draft has not lived up to his gargantuan expectations thus far.
In selecting this jolly giant, the Blazers had hoped to establish a domineering, Shaq-like presence in Portland for the next decade.
Instead, the Blazers have established a pretty solid relationship between Oden and the team doctors.
In his three-year career, Oden has missed exactly two seasons' worth of games. His lack of experience and inability to remain healthy are reflected in his career stats, a less than stellar 9.4 ppg and 7.3 rpg.
Development aside, these are hardly the meat and potatoes expected from a guy picked over Kevin Durant.
Is Oden a bust? At this point, I'd have to say no. He's still relatively young, and has showed flashes of monstrosity at times.
For Oden, however, its not a question of potential; it's about staying healthy and performing consistently night in and night out.
The Blazers haven't complained about babysitting Oden these past few years. They recognize it may be crucial to his maturation process as a player.
Thing is, Oden is now entering his fourth year in the league. He's not an NBA baby anymore, and it's hard to argue that this isn't a make-or-break year for Greg Oden.
The clock is ticking on Oden. If he continues to hit the snooze button, he may find himself out of Portland much faster than he expected.
Will this sleeping giant arise from his slumber? You'll just have to stay tuned.
19. Craig Sager's Suits
Ah, another NBA season. The smell of fresh basketball sneakers, glimmering new jerseys, and...Craig Sager's suits?
That's right. With another NBA season comes a brand spanking new wardrobe from this vibrant TNT sideline reporter.
Known for his colorful wardrobe, an aesthetic wonder to say the least, Sager has drawn considerable attention from some of the NBA's brightest stars.
Shaq once found Sager's choice of clothing so appalling that he created a new word to express his displeasure, dubbing Sager's salmon-colored suit "hor-awful."
In the video above, Kevin Garnett gives this aspiring fashion model some pretty poignant advice regarding his sense of style.
Whatever your opinion is of Sager, his presence on the sideline will consistently provide surefire entertainment in even the most lopsided of games.
As he is a clear lock for 2010-2011's best dressed NBA personality, I'm hoping Sager will go bigger and bolder than ever this season.
I'm hoping he blesses his loyal following with a polka dotted-tuxedo.
Don't get TNT? Can't watch every game? Not to worry. You can keep up with the latest Craig Sager news through this blog, which is "devoted to the glory of Craig Sager's majestic wardrobe of bold suits."
18. John Wall Vs. Derrick Rose
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Nov. 13, you are now marked down on my calendar.
This date marks the first time that John Wall and Derrick Rose, the crown jewels of John Calipari's extensive collection of pearls, will square off against each other.
Why should you care? Well for one, this matchup features two former No. 1 draft picks, both products of the same collegiate system.
Widely regarded as the centerpieces of their respective franchises, these two will most likely head a new emerging crop of talented young point guards who will dominate the league in the coming years, similar to the way Deron Williams and Chris Paul did a few years back.
Wall has drawn many comparisons to Rose, and it will extremely interesting to see how his game develops in comparison.
Since entering the league two seasons ago, Rose has made considerable leaps towards superstardom, something only further supported by his experience with Team USA this summer.
Wall is predicted to follow Rose's footsteps, and his uncultivated potential will face a major test against Rose and company early in the season.
These two squads will also meet on Dec. 22, Feb. 28, and March 15.
17. Will Mikhail Prokhorov Outdo Mark Cuban?
Since purchasing the Dallas Mavericks just over a decade ago, Mark Cuban has earned the notorious title of being the NBA's most controversial owner...and it hasn't even been close.
His outspoken demeanor has helped him accumulate enough money in fines to buy a small mansion, and he is consistently in the news for his various NBA exploits, positive or otherwise.
With a new decade, however, there may be someone else waiting in the wings ready to dethrone Cuban of his current undisputed status.
This season will mark Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov's debut as the owner of the New Jersey Nets, a team with a seemingly bright future.
With a talented young core, the prospect of moving to Brooklyn, and now, with Prokhorov's Siberian-sized wallet, money to blow.
The massive billboard outside of MSG is most likely just the tip of the iceberg, and demonstrates that partnering up with Jay-Z could do wonders in terms of marketing.
With Prokhorov as the mastermind behind this up and coming, expect big things from the Nets the next few years.
And, who knows? Prokhorov may pose a bigger threat to NBA referees than Cuban himself. Make wrong call...and he must break you.
16. LeBron James' Homecoming Ending in a Cavs Victory
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This analogy is definitely a bit of a stretch, but I feel like to Cleveland fans, LeBron James is kind of like Darth Vader.
Once a promising young Padawan, LeBron and his unheralded skill were supposed to bring Cleveland a title.
After some failed conquests however, LeBron lost faith in the good-natured folk of the industrious northern Ohio community, writing them off in favor for a city whose values are essentially the complete antithesis of Clevelanders.
One "decision" later, and the transformation is complete. The warm Miami weather may not have LeBron breathing heavier, but it's safe to say that LeBron has "taken his talents" to the dark side.
Whether you mark LeBron as a villain or a hero, his return to Cleveland will be quite the spectacle. ESPN will likely cover the event with the tenacity of a Brett Favre story, so it's safe to say that LeBron's homecoming will get its necessary exposure...and then some.
Although LeBron (in the third-person narrative) seems to think that a return to Cleveland later in his career would be "a great story," there's no doubt that the jersey-burning clan of loyal Cavs fans will do everything in their power to make James' homecoming as miserable as humanly possible.
With the exception of Heat supporters, I have an inkling that the majority of NBA fans will be rooting for a Cavaliers victory.
Not only would this provide a shocking upset, but Dan Gilbert's euphoria alone would be enough to make this worth happening.
Besides, who doesn't want to read articles filled with cliches such as "be careful what you wish for" the following morning?
15. The Next Self-Declared All-Star
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It's not really a question as to if it's coming. More like when and who.
A few years back, Stephon Marbury once declared himself the best point guard in the league. I think we all know how that one ended up.
For the better half of the 2000s, Ruben Patterson went by the pseudonym of "The Kobe Stopper." Five titles later, and Kobe has yet to be stopped by anyone.
The list goes on and on, but the NBA has a healthy history of players biting off a bit more than they can chew when it comes to getting the job done on the floor.
Question is, whose eyes are going to be bigger than their stomachs this year?
My bet's on Kings rookie DeMarcus Cousins. Known for having a bit of an attitude, there is a strong possibility that the former Wildcat will be subject to a rude awakening in the bigs.
Still young, he might cope with any potential struggles through an immature declaration of his perceived greatness.
14. The Next Emerging Rivalry
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As the landscape of the NBA changes, so does the dynamic of competition. Over time, old rivalries fizzle, evolve, or completely change gears.
The first season of the new decade will mark a sort of "changing in the guard," in terms of the NBA's stars.
The age of Garnett, Duncan, Iverson, Kidd, and Shaq is on its way out, and the era of Durant, Rose, Roy, Howard, and Paul are ready to dominate the league for years to come.
With this youth movement also comes a shakeup in the rivalry department.
Instead of being constantly treated to playoff series featuring the Spurs and Mavericks, the next five years may be filled with dramatic games between the Thunder and Blazers.
One of the most interesting developing rivalries to keep an eye on for this coming season is the one down in the Sunshine state between the Heat and Magic. The plotlines here are endless.
Battle for Floridian supremacy, steady Eastern Conference power vs. newly formed megapower, Superman vs. the Superfriends, Stan Van Gundy vs. his former employer, LeBron vs. JJ Redick...
Being that these teams are both in the NBA Southeast, there will be plenty of chances for these guys to start hating each other.
Something tells me that the Magic aren't too thrilled about having the Florida throne swept right out from under them, and that they'll be sure play with a bit of added fire when facing LeBron and Co.
13. The Next NBA Hip-Hop Star
There's no downplaying the ubiquitous presence of hip-hop in the NBA.
Rappers and other artists in similar industries often pay homage to some of the league's brightest stars, even dedicating entire songs to a single player (see Lil Wayne's Kobe Bryant and Debonair's LeBron James)
With that, there have been several NBA players who have attempted to make the leap into hip-hop.
Thus, we pose the question: Who will be the next big-time NBA hip-hop sensation?
My pick? There have been rumors over the past year that former Duke standout JJ Redick and teammate Ryan Anderson are forming a rap group.
Redick has stated that the group will be called James Clay. The Eminems of the NBA rap scene, these two could cement themselves as pop culture legends with even the slightest bit of success.
I have high hopes for this bunch. Remember, Redick has a background in poetry.
12. A Heated Battle for the Scoring Title
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Durant took the league by storm last season, becoming the youngest player in league history to be crowned NBA scoring champion.
Although statistics in basketball may not be as coveted with the same prestige as a more individualist-based sport such as baseball, the NBA scoring title is undoubtedly one of the most distinguished honors in all of sport.
With that said, it's always exciting to see the race of scoring superiority manifest itself through some good old fashioned competition.
LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, who would have been considerable favorites had they not joined forces this offseason, definitely hurt their stock in this race of thoroughbreds.
Durant and Kobe top the list of scoring title candidates (as they should), but don't forget these names either: Carmelo Anthony, Danny Granger, Dirk Nowitzki, Monta Ellis, and Joe Johnson.
They are the go-to guys on their respective teams, and all have the ability fill up the basket more frequently than an 8-year-old on Easter.
11. Another Sundiata Gaines Story
Throughout the grind of an 82-game season, most nights get lost in the shuffle.
Some nights however, prove to withstand the test of time for not only an entire season, but for years to come. These are the special moments. The moments where "amazing" truly happens.
Fresh off a call-up from the NBA D-League, Sundiata Gaines found himself on the floor in the closing seconds of a tight game against the Cavaliers.
In the middle of a 10-day contract, the game was truly a tryout for Gaines, who had only practiced once with the Jazz prior to that night.
Luckily for Gaines, he passed Jerry Sloan's test with flying colors, nailing the game-winning shot and providing the league with one of the most inspiring stories of the year.
The Sundiata Gaines story isn't something that happens every year; that's what makes his case so special. Hopefully, however, we fans will be treated to a similar occurrence this season.
Who will be the next Sundiata Gaines? Well, the nature of this storyline is that of the unknown player, rising out of the depths of obscurity to achieve his well-deserved moment in the sun.
With that said, however, it would be quite a story if former Villanova Wildcat Scottie Reynolds followed in similar footsteps.
One of the best players in Villanova basketball history, Reynolds went undrafted this June, despite being named a first-team All-American.
Reynolds has signed a one-year deal with Italy's Prima Veroli. But with his tenacity and work ethic, there's no telling where Reynolds could end up.
10. More Great Shaq Quotes
“Phil took us to the Finals three out of the five years and you want to fire him and want to bring in Mike Krzyzewski? Come on, man. That’s like being married to J-Lo, then dropping J-Lo for a girl that’s 5-10, 480.”
“Our offense is like the Pythagorean Theorem. There is no answer.”
“If you go 72-11 and don’t win (the championship), it doesn’t mean anything. Actually it does. It means you’ve cheated and played an extra regular-season game.”
“Me having a beautiful wife and great family and friends around me, all the money I’ve got, all the things that I’ve got, a Ferrari that I just ripped the top off of and turned into a convertible, the rings I got, the two mansions on the water, a master’s in criminal justice, I’m a cop, plus I look good. So me shooting 40 percent at the foul line is just God’s way of saying that nobody’s perfect. If I shot 90 percent from the line, it just wouldn’t be right.”
These are just some of the gems that Shaq has produced throughout his illustrious career. Although his playing career may be winding down, his unprecedented words of wisdom should only improve in his old age. After all, he is the Big Aristotle.
***Quotes courtesy of Shaqquotes.com.
9. LeBron in the Dunk Contest
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There's no denying that LeBron's antics this summer have bulldozed his reputation in the eyes of many. I think we've all heard enough on this subject, so I'll stop the "LeBron destroyed his image" talk right now.
Both his play and a possible championship will obviously speak volumes in terms of potentially restoring his once universally admired iconic status, but is there another way LeBron can win back fans? Perhaps.
Last year, LeBron preliminarily entered his name in the dunk contest, only to withdraw before its commencement.
Why not enter for real this year? His presence would do wonders for a competition which seems to be rapidly losing popularity. Why not kill two birds with one stone?
Furthermore, history has taught us time and time again that the masses tend to follow the leader.
If LeBron's involvement in the dunk contest could create a domino effect amongst the NBA's elite, as other star players would likely follow suit.
Nate Robinson may be a freakishly athletic human being, but he would be a mere peasant in the talent pool led by the King.
8. The Next Surprise Team
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Last season, the Oklahoma City Thunder made a bold statement on the rest of the league with a 27-win improvement from their 2008-2009 campaign, earning a well-deserved spot in the Western Conference Playoffs.
With their young core, the sky is the limit for this up and coming team.
As previously stated, the NBA's dynamic shifts yearly. With every aging team struggling to stand on their last legs, there is also youthful squad ready to spring up from the depths of the NBA cellar.
Free agency, front office shakeups, and solid drafting may fare quite well for teams such as the Sacramento Kings, Indiana Pacers, and New Jersey Nets, all of whom have struggled to maintain relevance these past few seasons.
All are worthy candidates for the next surprise team. But in my eyes there is one squad with the talent, a newfound swagger, and the coaching experience to boot.
Looking at the Golden State Warriors on paper, it's hard to imagine that this team won't have a breakout year. If they hold onto Monta Ellis (maybe a big if), this team could really make moves in the Western conference.
Stephen Curry really came into his own in the latter half of the season. We all know what he is capable of, and a year of experience could only help his cause.
Pairing him up with Ellis, one of the league's most prolific scorers, could create quite a scary backcourt.
The LeBron circus overshadowed pretty much everything this offseason, but the Warriors made arguably one of the best moves of any team by trading for David Lee.
Lee, a double-double machine, is one of the league's most underrated players. This guy has the potential to put up several 20/20 games a season, managing to keep his ego in check while doing so.
In this day and age, it's tough to be an All-Star and humble at the same time. Lee however, manages to pull it off quite admirably.
Lee's attitude is one that speaks for itself through gameplay, and could help end the losing culture that has seemed to envelop the franchise.
And last but not least, its not necessarily a bad thing when your head coach is the winningest guy in the history of the business.
7. A Blockbuster Trade
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There's no point in trying to sugarcoat it. The NBA season is brutally long.
Just like any novel, there are natural lulls in the NBA storyline. At these times, it is may be difficult for the reader (or in this case, fan), to maintain interest. These are the points where a shakeup is needed.
As the NBA reaches the midpoint of the season, it faces dangerous competition from the looming prospect March Madness, the excitement of the NFL playoffs, and MLB spring training hype. All of which, more or less, end up overshadowing the NBA at one point or another.
A blockbuster trade around the deadline could provide for a little extra boost of excitement, more or less the second wind needed to get through the rest of the season.
This added energy could prove to be sufficient for the stretch run, allowing the league's momentum to gain even further steam heading into the playoffs.
If Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul could hold off on packing their bags until mid-February, these superstars could provide that unexpected plot twist that takes the script to a whole new level.
For any team on the rise, the addition of either of these stars could help any squad achieve that oh-so highly coveted status of "contender."
Do I smell a mega-deal involving both these players, with Paul and Anthony ending up in the same uniform? A Knicks uniform? Maybe some slight wafts.
Keep in mind though, the Big Apple is rather well known for its cuisine...
6. Charles Barkley, Bigger and Better Than Ever
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Since his retirement, the Round Mound of Rebound's fame has elevated in levels previously unimaginable.
From his antics in the studio to his hilarious commercials to his harsh criticism of some of the NBA's elite, there is never a dull moment when Charles Barkley is involved.
This summer, Barkley made news by calling out LeBron James, clearly fed up with all of the King's offseason shenanigans.
LeBron naively (or purposely) responded to Sir Charles' choice words in lighthearted fashion, suggesting that Barkley was only joking.
Something tells me that LeBron's opinion on the matter is more self-biased than a SEC fan's take on any other conference that isn't the SEC, but only time will tell.
It will be interesting to see how this whole LeBron/Barkley situation will pan out, as both will likely get considerable air-time on all the major sports media networks.
More importantly, it will be interesting to see what gems Sir Charles comes up with this year.
Personally, I can't wait to see who will be the first person to be dubbed a "knucklehead."
5. Adam Morrison...in Uniform
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Adam Morrison has two more rings than Patrick Ewing, Reggie Miller, Allen Iverson, Jason Kidd, Elgin Baylor, John Stockton, and LeBron James combined.
In case you were wondering, it ends just about there.
His collegiate days seem further away than the days when NBA players wore short shorts. To put it nicely, Morrrison's NBA career has been less than stellar.
A perpetual benchwarmer, Morrison has played a grand total of 13 minutes in two seasons of NBA playoff action, and has yet to clock time in an NBA Finals game.
Most of the time, Morrison isn't very hard to find: more often than not, he'll be on the pine, but not in uniform.
Instead, he'll be too busy showing off his vast array of suits (none of which of course, are even close to Craig Sager's level).
I don't know about you, but I'd love to see Morrison in uniform. Besides, the royal 'stache has gotta be just itching for some action.
4. Blake Griffin Leading the Clippers Out of Their Permanent State of Obscurity
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It was supposed to happen like this:
After terrorizing the entire NCAA, the monster known as Blake Griffin emerged, ready to exert his fierce wrath on any NBA player who dare cross his path.
The Clippers selected this wild beast with the first pick in the draft, obviously knowing that he'd change the Clippers' losing ways.
Griffin remained on the warpath throughout the season, chowing more double-doubles than Takeru Kobayashi.
The Rookie of the Year led the surprising Clippers all the way to a playoff berth. Suddenly, Los Angeles had two NBA franchises.
What actually happened.
The Clippers select Blake Griffin. Blake Griffin gets hurt. Blake Griffin is out for the season. The Clippers are still the Clippers.
I'll keep this one short: When you've yet to play an NBA game, there's always room for a fresh start. Griffin and the Clippers' marriage got off to a less than stellar beginning, but we all know that perseverance is crucial for any fulfilling relationship.
3. The New Look NBA
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I alluded to this idea earlier. Apparently the fans are really hoping to see this happen. Or maybe it's just me.
The year is 2010. With all the technological revolutions occurring right before our eyes, why stop there? Can you say, NBA 2.0?
This isn't your grandfather's, dad's, or even older brother's NBA anymore.
Why am I making this bold, overgeneralized statement? Well, it's hard to argue against father time. For proof, let's consider last year's Western Conference playoff teams:
1. Los Angeles Lakers: OK, not much change here. Still really good. Will be around for the next five years or so.
2. Dallas Mavericks: They're kind of like the one room in the house that nobody ever goes in. Always there, but they never actually make a difference in any way whatsoever. Kidd and Nowitzki aren't getting any younger, something that can't bode well for Cuban's squad.
3. Phoenix: Amar'e is gone. Are they?
4. Denver: Without Carmelo, this is an entirely different team.
5. Utah: Deron Williams may be the best point guard in the league, but losing Boozer and Korver didn't help anyone except the Bulls.
6. Portland: A very talented young core supplemented by a few highly skilled veterans in Camby and Miller. If Oden is half the player he was expected to be, watch out.
7. Spurs: Experience is good to a point. Still could make a lot of noise, but the jury is definitely out out on this aging cast of veterans.
8. Thunder: They are analogous to an artist who just produced his first hit album. Talented, high potential, and a ton of years left in the tank.
These evaluations suggest that there may be a dramatic shift in power amongst the Western Conference over the next few years. Two years down the road, it may be quite tough for Phoenix and San Antonio to keep up with OKC and Portland.
In the Eastern Conference, the new look Heat, Bulls, and Magic seem to be the favorites to claim the top spots. Goodbye Celtics. Goodbye Cavaliers.
Welcome to the new NBA. The future is now.
2. The Feel-Good Story of the Year
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The NBA does not have a comeback player of the year award. I think it needs one.
Personal interest is often taken when a player overcomes personal struggles, injuries, or any other possible type of adversity. Perseverance breeds inspiration, and should thus be duly recognized.
After missing the last season and a half due to injury, Yao Ming's career has been called into question. Does he have anything left? Can be even be half the player he once was? At a time, Yao was supposed to bring the Rockets back to their glory days of the mid-1990s.
The Ming Dynasty hasn't been a complete flop by any means, but it hasn't brought upon exceedingly high levels of success either.
Yao is going to come back with a chip on his shoulder. He's going to have something to prove.
Well, what if he proves it? What if he consistently puts up 25 and 10? What if he leads the Rockets deep into the playoffs, putting them in a position to compete for an NBA title?
Well, that's why we play the game.
Another candidate? How about Gilbert Arenas?
Sure, nobody is rooting for the notorious gun-brandisher right now. But thats right now. What if Agent 0 comes back on a mission? What if he completely reshapes his persona, making the complete transformation into a player with a Tim Duncan-like off the court image? What if him and Wall create a better team than Derrick Zoolander and Hansel? Starsky and Hutch? What if they shock the league with their dazzling play, making a meteoric rise atop the Eastern Conference in the process?
If Arenas makes amazing happen, he'll be forgiven.
Any player could pull this one off. For their sake and ours, I really hope someone does.
1. Phil Jackson Vs. Pat Riley NBA Finals
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The subplots to this season are endless. If I had to pick a primary storyline however, it would probably feature these two men in some capacity.
We aren't really sure how much wiggle room Pat Riley is going to give Eric Spoelstra. If the Heat don't sprint out of the gate in a fashion worthy of Usain Bolt, it is highly likely that Spoelstra will start to feel the heat. Literally.
Riley has made the switch from the front office to the sidelines once before. With a team as talented as the Miami Superfriends, who says he won't do it again?
Even if Spoelstra manages to hold on to his job the entire season, it's hard to imagine Riley not having a heavy influence on this squad. Riley, the "Godfather" of the Heat, will ultimately be the man in Miami.
Peter Jackson may produced the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but we all know that Phil Jackson is the real Lord of the Rings. He's already completed three trilogies himself, and well on his way of completing the fourth installment.
This is all hypothetical here, but with the Heat and Lakers as favorites to emerge out of their respective conferences, a Riley vs. Jackson battle royale is a distinct possibility.
LeBron (and Wade) (and Bosh) vs. Kobe. South Beach vs. Hollywood. Jackson vs. Riley.
This would set up to be more than a typical NBA Championship series. In this matchup, legacies would be on the line.
A dream matchup in terms of media coverage, the NBA would have a field day with this one. And so would the puppets.