We are only hours away from the start of Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals in Chicago, but over the last few months something has become increasingly relevant.
The tide is turning in the NBA.
The teams that have dominated in the last decade are getting older, while younger, faster and more athletic teams are taking over as an era in the NBA’s illustrious history is seemingly coming to an end.
This year's NBA Playoffs has, so far, served as the platform for younger teams taking rise and older teams tumbling to their demise. Perennial championship contenders like the Spurs, Lakers, Celtics, Pistons, Magic and Suns have seen their players grow older and slower, while younger squads like the Bulls, Heat, Thunder and even the Knicks and Grizzlies have seemingly taken over the NBA limelight.
For the first time since 1998, the NBA Finals will be without Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant or Shaquille O’Neal, a proven sign that these once dominant players and teams have seen their prime come and go.
With the likes of Detroit and Phoenix falling off more considerably than others (as both failed to make the playoffs in 2011), teams like San Antonio, Los Angeles, Boston and Orlando still have hope, but it seems quite prevalent that their futures are not as bright.
With Tim Duncan’s quality of play decreasing with each year and Manu Ginobili’s scrappy play constantly leading to injuries, it seems as if the Spurs dynasty is over, as the young, upstart Memphis Grizzlies became only the fourth eighth seeded team in NBA history to knock off a No. 1.
For the Lakers, it seems as if their problems are one of team chemistry. Los Angeles completely imploded as they were drubbed by the Dallas Mavericks in four games in the Western Conference Semi’s. Reports have alleged that Lakers guard Shannon Brown slept with the girlfriend of Lakers All-Star forward Pau Gasol, leading to his poor play in the postseason and a rift between players. Regardless of what the problem is, it looks as if the Lakers will need to dismantle this squad as legendary coach Phil Jackson will retire after 11 years with the team.
The Celtics and Magic looked completely overmatched in the playoffs. After the Celtics dealt Kendrick Perkins they never seemed to be the same. Their tough, defensive identity seemed to be snatched from them as the Miami Heat ran right through them in five games. Even though they defeated the New York Knicks in a sweep, the Celtics were outplayed in the first two games of that series and were dangerously close to going to New York down in that series, 2-0.
The Magic’s doubts seem to arise from the status of their All-Star center Dwight Howard and his contract uncertainty, with the possibility of him departing next summer to join the Knicks, Nets or Lakers.
With these older squads eliminated, this year’s Conference Finals serve as a stage for the young talent this league has to offer. Young, budding superstars in Derrick Rose, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook finally have the platform to prove themselves in front of a national audience as they fight to reach the NBA Finals.
The Miami Heat’s “Big Three” are looking to become the next great NBA dynasty as they are just eight wins away from the first of their multiple “promised” championships. Even the New York Knicks, who were dispatched in four games by their veteran rivals the Celtics, have an elite team in the making as they have acquired all-stars Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony in the last calendar year.
NBA history has been littered with dynasties. From the Celtics in the 60’s, the Knicks in the early 70’s, the Celtics and Lakers of the 80’s, the “Bad Boys” in Detroit, Michael Jordan’s Bulls in the 90’s, Kobe and Shaq’s Lakers in the early 2000’s to Tim Duncan’s Spurs teams, each decade has been dominated by a group of small teams who go on to win multiple championships.
With the Bulls, Heat, Thunder and Knicks all budding with young talent and promise, the next question is, which team or teams will rise up to become the next great NBA dynasty?