Top 5 Predictions Heading into Abridged NBA Season
While the NBA lockout has stymied much of the usual offseason chatter, new updates in labor discussions indicate that both sides seem ready to set a collective bargaining agreement in place.
Some of the more promising revelations that have come to light include: a sizable shift in majority ownership that is willing to agree to a 50-50 BRI, a willingness to concede to a 50-50 BRI percentage split by the players union, and re-evaluative measures on system adjustment by the NBA.
Assuming things continue to take a positive course, several interesting subplots in the NBA that have thus far been kept on the shelf are about to be brought back into the media limelight.
To recall, the super team in Miami came two games shy of winning a championship in its rookie year, with LeBron James shouldering much of the blame.
Derrick Rose capped off an MVP year that saw his stock rise to superstar, while the remainder of the Chicago Bulls organization was left plagued with questions regarding the lack of an emerging second scorer.
The Boston Celtics traded away Kendrick Perkins in a midseason deal that many foreshadowed would seal the team's fate, as it did, and now, the Celtics are left to re-assemble an aging roster with no big man in the middle that can keep up with the fresh legs of the Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat.
The famous year-after effect of winning a championship has provided both dynasties and slumps. It will be interesting to see whether Dirk Nowitzki can sustain his high level of play, and whether the Pat Riley-coined "curse of more" afflicts the Dallas Mavericks.
How will Dwight Howard's pending free agency impact the psyche of the Orlando Magic and its front office?
Is Westbrook/Durant the second coming of Marbury/Garnett?
Will Blake Griffin be able to steer the Clippers into the playoffs to cement his status among the NBA's elite, or is he the second coming of Vince Carter?
How will the Mike Brown regime fare for the Lakers coming off an embarrassing playoff sweep and Kobe walking into arguably his last season of greatness?
Why do Carmelo and Amare keep fueling rumors of the Knicks bringing Chris Paul into the fold?
Is Steve Nash getting traded to a contender?
Has the sun set on the San Antonio Spurs?
Is Kobe's star fading?
Will Dwight Howard be joining him in LA?
Who is the favorite to win the NBA championship this season?
To settle some of the most glaring debates in the NBA, here are five of the most encompassing predictions that are sure to take place, both this season and in the foreseeable future.
Time to Say Goodbye to the Celtics-Lakers Rivalry...for Now
The two most storied franchises in the NBA are both, seemingly, in the last stages of their glory.
For a while, they were both at the head of the league's elite and were each the class of their conference.
From the Lakers side of things, Phil Jackson is gone, Mike Brown may as well be Charlie, Kobe has slowed down with each pasing year, Pau Gasol is the new face of two-ply, Lamar Odom is married to one of Fartashians, and Ron Artest...well, let's just say he was dancing with the stars years before he ever stepped foot on the show.
On Boston's end, they foolishly traded an integral cog in their machine (Kendrick Perkins), Kevin Garnett's health is a constant question mark, they appeared utterly overmatched against a Miami Heat team that is only going to get better, while Chicago is only one scorer away from posing the same problem.
In a nutshell, the only thing that Lakers and Celtics fans can hang their hat on is that both teams will have benefited as much from a shortened NBA season as they would have been devestated by a non-existent one. But, ultimately, added rest will not be enough to the glaring deficiencies that both teams face in front of them.
Looking into the future, it will be interesting to see how the Boston Celtics and LA Lakers respond to consecutive failed bids to make the NBA Finals.
Russel Westbrook, Tony Parker and Steve Nash Will Be on the Move
Russel Westbrook: After a third consecutive failed bid to make the NBA Finals, the Thunder will have no choice but to revisit the obvious chink in the team's chain: Westbrook's inability to set his teammates up before himself.
For NBA history buffs, the relationship between Westbrook and Kevin Durant on the court bares a striking resemblance to the one between Stephon Marbury and Kevin Garnett back when both were in Minnesota. Inevitably, Marbury made the decision that he would not be willing to sit in the passenger's seat while his more superior teammate was entrusted with the big moments in a game.
While Westbrook seems to be much less of a knucklehead than Stephon Marbury, it is hard to deny that the same dynamics seem to be in place.
At the end of last year, Okalahoma City coach Scott Brooks made a public "plea"(for lack of a better words) for Westbrook to focus on setting up his teammates and scoring less. Ultimately, Westbrook continued to do more of the same, and although Westbrook is clearly a top-five point guard in the NBA, the Thunder could use the services of a pass-first point guard desperately, particularly because Kevin Durant has proven to be the most unstoppable offensive force in the game today.
My guess is that Westbrook gets traded at the end of next season.
Tony Parker: Once upon a time, the Spurs were known as the team that you could not write off based partially on their dynasty days, and also on the collective marvel that is Poppovich and Tim Duncan. These days, the Spurs have become a team that will shine early, but ultimately lack enough in the tank to keep themselves competitive.
As painful as it is to admit, Tim Duncan is firmly entrenched at the twilight of his career, and the Spurs early playoff exits the past few years are a natural byproduct of that reality. Because Duncan will retire a Spur and Ginnobli is the team's best player, Tony Parker seems to be the most likely candidate to be shipped off as the team goes into a rebuilding phase. Assuming the Spurs struggle early on in the season, it wouldn't be surprising to see Parker moved early so that a contender may be willing to overspend for his services.
Steve Nash: The Phoenix Suns have been in a rebuilding phase ever since they lost Amare, and it would be an injustice if Robert Sarver continued to hold onto the services of Nash. More so than anyone on this list, or in the NBA for that matter, Steve Nash deserves a shot at a ring. Meanwhile, it would be prudent for the Suns to trade Nash now while his stock still has value.
If Nash isn't traded by the NBA trade deadline, Robert Sarver will replace Donald Sterling and, more recently, Michael Jordan as one of the most hated owners in the NBA.
Blake Griffin Is in the Vince Carter/Amare Stoudemire Class
Much like its new star player, the Los Angeles Clippers have made a statement in the NBA as a team that is currently on the rise.
More so than bringing excitement back to the Clipper fanbase with highlight dunks, Blake Griffin has rejuvenated the Clipper locker room.
However, anyone that has followed the NBA long enough realizes that there is a certain class of superstars in the NBA that seem to lack either the tenacity or mental toughness to get out of their own way.
The easiest comparison that comes to mind is Vince Carter.
Upon entering the league, Carter instantly became recognized as a human highlight machine and would eventually force his way into the conversation with Kobe Bryant in the "next MJ" debate.
More impressively, he led a woeful Raptors team into the playoffs in his first year.
However, at present day, Carter is more aptly described as another example of a superstar who never reached his potential.
Other guys in this category are: Amare Stoudemire, Tracey McGrady, Charles Barkley, Derrick Coleman, Shawn Kemp, Allen Iverson, Chris Webber and perhaps the latest new addition, LeBron James.
Call it a hunch, but I would put Blake Griffin in this category as well.
Although one may credit him for being able to overcome an injury-riddled first season in the league and follow it up with a shoe-in campaign for rookie of the year, its hard to accept that the Clippers still fell well below the mark of being an eighth seed in the Western Conference.
In his sophomore year, Griffin will be judged more critically by his team's success than his own in determining his merit as a star.
My guess is that, as much as we want to believe the forlorn Clipper franchise has finally stumbled into some good fortune, it will never translate to playoff success.
Having said that, there is no reason we can't continue to enjoy watching Blake Griffin go Herman Cain on 95 percent of the league.
Dwight Howard Will Be an LA Laker
If reality is stranger than fiction, then this Hollywood reality may just be stranger than history.
Kazaam Jr. will be a free agent in 2012, and there have been ongoing reports for months now that the larger-than-life big man wants to join a bigger market and be on a legitimate contender.
While this would be truly devestating for the city of Orlando, it's hard to imagine that this deal won't come to fruition.
For one, Orlando is fourth atop the East, behind the Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls and Boston Celtics.
Meanwhile, Howard's relationship with resident NBA pain in the ass Stan Van Gundy is so sour that it's hard to imagine it won't his decision. Lastly, and more so than anything else, the Magic seem to have regressed since being embarrassed by the Lakers in the NBA Finals three years ago, while the myriad of trades that the Magic organization has made have convincingly backfired.
Speaking of backfire, isn't trading for Gilbert Arenas enough of a reason for any free agent superstar to flee a team?
A logical trade that would make sense for both the Lakers and Magic is an Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom for Howard swap. The Lakers may also be asked to throw in a first round pick for good measure.
While Magic fans might balk at this deal at first, my guess is that Howard will demand a trade to the Lakers at the risk of leaving the team with nothing in return for him.
As much as it would benefit both teams to make this trade now, the Magic will only pull the trigger on a Howard deal once it is absolutely clear they have no chance of retaining him.
Furthermore, my guess is that Howard won't put the same kind of pressure on the team that Carmelo Anthony put on Denver last season, because he may, in good faith, give the team one last chance to prove they can make it back to the Finals in return for their cooperation in facilitating a trade to the Lakers.
By the way, when this deal eventually does take place, someone may have to put a camera on Shaquille O'Neal, as we may all be witness to the first head explosion in the history of man kind.
Miami Heat Will Win 2011-2012 Championship
Once upon a time, we used to blame it on the alcohol.
Now, we just blame it on LeBron.
More so than anyone on the Miami Heat....no, the NBA...heck, sports even, no one has more to prove than LeBron James.
As we revisit The Decision from a little more than a year ago, it is hard to ignore that LeBron's reputation for disappearing in big games may have led him to South Beach.
Unfortunately, joining forces with Wade and Bosh did not exactly divert the attention away from him.
Experts last season speculated that with the unprecedented nature and coverage that surrounded the team last year, along with their mutual unfamiliarity, that the sophomore season of the team's unity would translate into a championship.
Also, when considering that the mid-level exception (which, by the way, looks to stay intact according to reports regarding labor discussions) can be used for the team to pick up an added big man, there is no reason to believe that the Heat won't be the heavy favorites to win the championship.
Not to mention that the team has had to endure the aftereffects of last year's finals long enough to provide them with sufficient motivation.
Finally, can anyone imagine how a team stacked with two of the best five players in the league goes back-to-back seasons without winning a championship? Because I can't.
One year ago, LeBron James announced he was bringing his talents to South Beach.
Now, he will need to bring something else to South Beach before we ever think of him in the same way again.
But here is the biggest question/prediction of all:
What kind of ripple effect will take place in the league if Miami does win the championship?
Well, that's when the real fun and fireworks will start.
And my biggest prediction of all is that teams like the New York Knicks are only one of what will be many that try to establish their own three-headed monster.
Could be interesting...