I always laugh a little when people talk about the NBA lockout and say things like, "It's going to suck not having basketball this year," or, "What are we gonna do without basketball?"
Maybe they're unaware that college basketball is not going to get swept away in the NBA's labor dispute. Or maybe they just don't appreciate college ball as much as I do.
Either way, if you're a real basketball fan, the lockout shouldn't bother you that much when you can still get your hoops fix through college, high school...or getting off the couch and watching your city's playground legends put in work at the park.
That said, I understand there's no equal replacement for the best players in the world.
The NBA is bigger than just basketball; it's an entertainment giant that produces full-blown celebrities.
So not only is the current lockout threatening to deny fans their favorite players on the court, but it's also taking some of sports' biggest personalities off the map.
Here are some NBA stars you're going to miss if the lockout goes into the winter.
Either you don't know it yet, or you do know it but don't want to admit it. It's OK either way. But eventually it'll hit you that you miss the Spurs and their "boring" Big Three of Duncan, Manu and Parker.
Never mind all that, "They play basketball the right way" talk. The Spurs are fundamentally sound, and they are a study in proper execution, but their ignorant critics should have realized long ago that Parker and Ginobili do play an exciting brand of ball.
How many guys are more creative in the open court, at the rim and setting up teammates as Ginobili? How many point guards are as fast and fearless going into the heart of a defense as Parker?
And seeing as Dirk Nowitzki is the NBA's current golden boy with his arsenal of jump shots, slow-footed moves and overdue-for-appreciation clutch shot-making, maybe Duncan will earn a new level of respect.
Just when you thought the wait was over, there could be a few more months (or longer) to go. Rubio has finally signed on to play for the Timberwolves next season, but who knows when we'll actually see him on an NBA court?
Word of advice in the meantime. If you're one of those who heard the early hype and are expecting the next Pete Maravich, get that thought out of your head.
If anything, Rubio is more like Jason Kidd, a pass-first, pass-second PG who can go weeks without scoring in double-digits but instead can change a game with his defense and court vision.
Whether you think he's a clown or a real contributor, Nate resonates with fans in the arena and is a threat to do something amazing every now and then.
Nate has to find a way to crack OKC's rotation to bring his full entertainment value, but even when he's not playing he's a regular source of entertainment on the interview/Twitter side of things.
Maybe you won't miss him so much during the lockout, but you may end up missing him because of the lockout.
Kidd is one of those guys who would play until his feet fall off, but if the work stoppage takes chunks out of the 2011-12 season and he feels increasingly satisfied with all he's done after winning a championship, the best passing point guard of his generation may just call an end to his Hall of Fame career.
If you had to put money down on which NBA star will put on 20-30 pounds during the lockout—and I mean the kind of weight you gain at the 24-hour drive thru, not 24-Hour Fitness—wouldn't Pierce be a front-runner?
Hopefully, Pierce doesn't miss a beat once the business of basketball resumes, because perhaps nobody in the League has a better sense of "the moment" than him.
He's made hitting game-winners look routine, and next season, he'll continue tracking down Larry Bird and John Havlicek at the top of Boston's all-time scoring list.
My pick for 2012 Rookie of the Year—or 2013, if the work stoppage can't be resolved—is waiting to begin his NBA career in Charlotte as soon as the owners let him.
The door is wide open for Kemba to become the next Derrick Rose. The Bobcats don't have a clear go-to guy, and only D.J. Augustin is standing in his way as the team's starting point guard.
Kemba will get every chance to carry the 'Cats just like he carried the Huskies in college.
Wall joins a list that includes Carmelo Anthony (21.0 ppg, 6.1 rpg) and Alonzo Mourning (21.0 ppg, 10.3 rpg, 3.5 bpg) as players who probably would have won Rookie of the Year in any other season, except they happened to enter the league at the same time as a once-a-decade phenom.
While 'Melo and 'Zo lost out to LeBron and Shaq for ROY, Wall (16.4 ppg, 8.3 apg, 1.8 spg) fell victim to Blake Griffin-mania.
It won't be long, though, before it's near impossible to overshadow Wall. He is the leader of a young, exciting and improving Wizards team that can make some noise in the East—or at least on the nightly highlight reel—if their core sticks together.
Don't forget that before Carmelo Anthony joined him in New York and before Derrick Rose took Chicago to the top of the Eastern Conference, Amar'e was in good shape to win the 2011 MVP.
And don't forget that before Blake Griffin hit the scene, Amar'e was the main guy no self-proclaimed shot-blocker wanted to see under the rim.
His first year with the Knicks proved Amar'e (25.3 ppg, 8.2 rpg) is a superstar no matter who plays point guard on his team, and in Year 2, he'll have more time to find his niche on the court alongside 'Melo.
During the lockout, there will be a lot of criticism of so-called spoiled millionaire players who don't work hard. The funny part is that a lot of it will come from people who would need an ambulance after one-third of an NBA player's regular workout.
For a long time, KG was the highest-paid of the millionaires, and yet no one can ever question his dedication and work ethic. Even as his career reaches its twilight, Garnett is the main man who makes basketball look like a blue-collar affair.
It's become easy to dislike Garnett lately since he's now seen as the bully with a tough crew behind him instead of the lone wolf fighting for every inch, but love him or hate him, he's worth watching.
If you're a fan of pure offense, the NBA has basically designed itself over the years to cater to your whims ...and Carmelo Anthony was basically designed for your viewing pleasure. He's like Dr. David Stern's own 'hood Frankenstein.
'Melo averaged 26.3 points a night during his 27-game stint with the Knicks following the biggest trade of the NBA season, highlighted by a 42-point, 17-rebound explosion in Game 2 of New York's first-round series against Boston.
Now that he and Amar'e Stoudemire are in place as the Knicks' foundation, they'll try to prove that offense wins championships.
Nash is coming off a subpar season by his recent standards. His shooting percentages from the field (49.2), three-point range (39.5) and the line (91.2) were his lowest in years, as well as his scoring (14.8 ppg), and his team missed the playoffs.
All that, and Nash still led the NBA in assists (11.4 apg) while quarterbacking the league's fastest offense.
A lot of people have given Nash too much credit for the careers of guys like Amar'e Stoudemire and Shawn Marion, and while that's a mistake, anybody with NBA League Pass knows the Suns stay on the nightly radar primarily due to Nash.
Ron-Ron is going to be about as low-key during the NBA lockout as Chad Ochocinco has been during the NFL lockout—there's too much empty air space and too many podcasts out there to let him stay quiet—but he's still going to be absent from the basketball court.
He's getting a little slower and less dominant, but Artest is still a premier defender, and he's good for hitting a clutch shot on occasion, as well as taking a terrible one during a big moment.
His unpredictability on and off the court makes him entertaining.
The prototype NBA point guard is wearing an uglier uniform and playing in a bigger market, but his game hasn't changed.
D-Will's stint with the Nets last season lasted only 12 games, during which he averaged 12.8 assists per game, but his scoring dipped to 15.0 points a night. Given more time with Avery Johnson's playbook and more reps with Brook Lopez, his handle of the team will get better and his shooting will improve.
If you have Turkish Basketball League Pass you won't miss a minute of D-Will, but the rest of us are on hold until the NBA works out a new deal.
The other prototype NBA point guard has an interesting season ahead of him.
Remember how it was for Carmelo Anthony last year, with every day bringing a new trade rumor and every game a platform for analyzing each potential mood swing until he was finally sent to New York? That's how it will be for CP3.
Meanwhile, he'll continue his regular assault on the league's assist and steals title and remind '80s NBA fans of Isiah Thomas.
Everybody knew Shaq was going to land a TV gig as soon as he retired, and TNT made the expected hire.
Does this mean that, once again, Shaq has shoved Chris Webber off the stage?
I'm sure during the lockout we won't be able to get away from Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith's mouths, but for now, we have to wait to see what kind of unique analysis the Big Cosell will bring to their table.
"Is he really that good?"
That's the question I've heard most regarding Irving, who went No. 1 overall in the NBA draft after an 11-game freshman cameo at Duke. There hasn't been this much unknown surrounding a top pick since Andrea Bargnani came over from Italy in '06.
We've all heard Irving being compared to Chris Paul, but considering his time to shine was so brief and other college PG's like Brandon Knight and Kemba Walker showed their skills in the Final Four, it begs the question why the Cleveland Cavaliers—and pretty much every basketball expert hyping Irving as the next big thing—thought Irving was that much better than his peers.
Is it LeBron's team? Is it D-Wade's team? Who really cares?
The elder member of the NBA's new version of Jerry West and Elgin Baylor is the "Mr. Clutch" of the Miami tandem, but it doesn't exactly mean he's the clear-cut leader or best player.
The longer the lockout lasts, however, wasting time arguing over Wade's place in the family picture will seem silly when you're missing the opportunity to simply watch him do what he does best.
Is he the next Steve Nash or the next Steve Alford? The next Ray Allen or the next Allan Ray?
After a year's worth of debate between those absolutely convinced Jimmer Fredette will be a solid NBA player, those absolutely convinced he'll be cashing Polish League paychecks within three years and those quietly in the gray area, next season will be the proving ground for Sacramento's prized rookie to change somebody's mind.
Jaw-dropping dunks, improving skills on the court and a camera-friendly personality make Dwight Howard one of the NBA's foremost entertainers. And given the chance to start a franchise from scratch, a lot of GM's would take Dwight as their building block with no regrets.
The 25-year-old has already muscled his way into the discussion as one of the five best players in the League, but the running story line with Dwight next season will be his impending free-agent status in 2012 and the likelihood that Orlando trades the three-time Defensive Player of the Year.
It's too bad that it took the general public so long to recognize Dirk's greatness, so it's OK that the new wave of support is being poured on a little thick.
Now we'll get to see how Dirk responds to having the target on his back instead of being the guy always chasing down the champs. He'll enter next season as the MVP front-runner.
D-Rose is the modern-day Allen Iverson, minus most of the negative aspects that made A.I. suburban America's worst nightmare.
But the most important thing the 2011 MVP has in common with the 2001 MVP is that he's an extremely talented player who approaches the game with the same chip on his shoulder of a junior-varsity backup.
That chip will be even bigger next season, whenever it begins. Because the longer the lockout lasts, the longer Rose has to think about how LeBron and D-Wade held him to 35 percent shooting from the field in a decisive five-game Eastern Conference finals loss.
Since 2007, each new NBA season begins with the possibility of being the season when Kevin Durant is going to average 35 points a night, something only Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain, Rick Barry and Kobe Bryant have accomplished.
For Durant, 35 ppg seems more like a matter of when than if.
Simply leading the League in scoring isn't even Durant's challenge anymore. At 22 years old, he's already done it twice. And he's only becoming stronger and smarter while adding more elements to his game and experiencing every kind of defense opponents can throw at him.
An improving OKC squad means Durant should get used to lengthy playoff runs that could sap his energy during the season. But the man who is built like an Olympic distance runner apparently has the same endurance level of one.
Last season his playoff numbers (28.6 ppg, 8.1 rpg) were an improvement on his regular-season stats (27.7 ppg, 6.8 rpg).
Kobe Bryant has been many things in his career, but vulnerable hasn't been one of them. Until now.
Before 2010, the last time Kobe played on a team that was swept out of the playoffs, he was a 20-year-old rising star with his whole NBA future in front of him. Now he's a 32-year-old with over 1,300 NBA games on his odometer, a litany of nagging injuries piling up and leader of a team that seems to have a motivation problem.
L.A.'s playoff sweep at the hands of the eventual champion Mavericks might be the first losing round of Kobe's impossible fight against Father Time, or it will be the thing that pushes him to attack next season like a wounded wolverine.
The biggest appeal of watching Blake Griffin is imaging what he might do next. When he pulls off a 360-degree dunk in traffic, you wonder if he could do it again with two hands.
When he nearly hurdles a 7-footer on his way to the rim, you wonder if he could actually clear the guy next time.
As a rookie, Griffin (22.5 ppg, 12.1 rpg) achieved what was previously thought impossible: He turned the L.A. Clippers into a team worth setting appointments to watch.
He also displayed a natural star quality and sense of humor that only increases his celebrity with every commercial, viral video and public appearance.
Friday the 13th and Saw don't have 47 movies between them because we want to see the good guys live.
The Jeffersons and Married...With Children aren't two of the longest-running TV sitcoms of all time because we enjoy the cheery dispositions of George Jefferson and Al Bundy.
And the New York Yankees and Dallas Cowboys aren't two of the most famous franchises in sports because the majority of fans want to see them win.
In sports and entertainment, the villains make things interesting. And while it wasn't his intention nor his preference, LeBron James has become the No. 1 villain in the NBA.
I'll spend another column getting into the obvious and more disturbing racial undertones of the whole situation, but for now, all you need to know is that as deeply as some people hate LeBron, they also love to watch him work.
Whether you're tuning in to revel in his failures, nit-pick his every move or celebrate his greatness, LeBron is the league's main attraction.