Finally the nonsense has ceased and we can all get back to partaking in the greatest game on earth. Now that the season is set to commence on Christmas Day there are some pressing questions that we basketball fans have been dying to find the answers to. So what better gift to have than to watch Derrick Rose, Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki and Dwyane Wade face off.
However, it is the tales of the season that intrigue us all the most. What team will surprise us and what team will disappoint us? What player used this extended offseason to refine their game and what player decided to just maintain? These questions are just a few that will finally be answered come December 25th.
When the 1998-99 lockout ended it gave way to the birth of a dynasty. The San Antonio Spurs came out strong and pounced from day one of the shortened season. So who will be this season’s Spurs, what team will win its first of four championships and be the new dynasty of the hardwood?
Here are six major questions going into this 66-game season that we all are collectively dying to know the answers to.
Regardless of what team you are a fan of we have all been patiently waiting for oh so long for the season to begin and finally it is upon us, thank you basketball gods.
After five titles and six NBA Finals appearances Phil Jackson will no longer be the head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers. The man who gingerly paced the star-studded sidelines of the soap opera known as the Lakers for 11 of the last 12 seasons has now exited stage left. With a new coach and a new system to learn, the Lakers, more than any other team, need a full training camp.
Jackson’s triangle offense will be replaced by Brown’s inside out offense. Fans of the San Antonio Spurs and the Houston Rockets “Twin Towers” should recognize these sets immediately. Coach Brown is faced with the onerous task of taking the ball out of Kobe Bryant hands and putting it in Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum’s.
Bryant, more than any superstar in NBA history, has sacrificed his game for the betterment of the team, so getting him to give up the rock will be easy. The task will be getting him to remain patient when things get discombobulated early, which they will.
How will Gasol react to being screamed at by Bryant and Bynum, for that matter? Brown has to not only gain the team's trust he must convince them that untested and unproven Shannon Brown is a better floor leader at this point than the playoff tested Derek Fisher. While keeping Lamar Odom motivated and Ron Artest with "us".
There are certainly some entertaining days ahead in the city known for entertainment. We have spent what has felt like an eternity debating and insinuating what type of offense Coach Brown will run and now in about two weeks we will find out.
Why LeBron James’ offensive game has been so heavily scrutinized is a mystery. Nevertheless, James worked on adding to his repertoire this offseason with the great Hakeem Olajuwon. To be blunt this has disaster written all over it.
First, LeBron is not a fluid scorer, never has been. His scoring is more bull in a china shop than the poetic majestic moves of Olajuwon or Michael Jordan. James is uncomfortable with his back to the defense and is virtually unstoppable facing it. So to take that element away is baffling.
However, what is really unsettling is the amount of attention James is spending listening to the media and fans. They have screamed “get a low post game” and now he perhaps is adding one. The hope here is by adding another feature to his game he will be better, yet James is already a Rolls Royce, so how much does adding another cupholder really help?
LeBron's game is power not finesse. Olajuwon was known for having exceptional feet and touch around the basket. James is known for crab dribbles and power dunks. One can only hope that in addition to working with Olajuwon, James studied the games of Dr. J, Dan Issel, Elgin Baylor and Oscar Robertson. Those are players his skill set is more closely aligned to.
It should be applauded and expected that the guard/forward add a new facet to his game but let us all hope he does not come back with a new game, just a better one.
Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra was blatantly out-coached in the NBA Finals by Rick Carlisle. While Spoelstra was concerned about crying in the locker room and continuing to push through, Rick Carlisle was in the lab finding ways to get his players involved.
Carlisle took a page out of former Heat head coach Pat Riley’s book from the previous NBA Finals matchup between the Heat and Mavs when Riles switched to a zone in mid-series. Riles’ change, and a sick Dwyane Wade, brought the title to South Beach.
Carlisle’s change was on offense and it worked masterfully. The coach extended the Mavs pick and roll action to beyond the three-point line to speed up the pace and to get more space for his shooters. He made the defense make a decision either stop the rolling Chandler or give up the jumpshot. Chandler, who played more in the NBA Finals than he did in previous series, had three double-digit scoring games in the Finals alone. Conversely, Chandler had just three double-digit games in the three previous series combined.
Spoelstra never adjusted to that subtle change or the increase in isolation plays the Mavs were running. He often looked baffled on the sidelines and appeared in over his head. Now he returns with a group, and a player in James, that has been clowned repeatedly this offseason. If people were not talking about the lockout they were talking about James’ shortcomings late in games or D-Wade’s uncharacteristic turnover in Game 6.
New York Knicks head coach Mike D’Antoni tried to become the first team since the 1992-93 Phoenix Suns to make the NBA Finals with little to no defense. Now the Knicks will try to finish what the Suns could not. Armed with two of the game’s premier players in Carmelo Anthony and Amar‘e Stoudemire, in addition to having one of the game’s premier leaders in Chauncey Billups, it should be a lock for the Knicks to at the very least make the Eastern Conference Finals.
Not when your head coach is Mike D’Antoni. No other coach, outside of Doug Moe, loathes defense more than D’Antoni, so it is a safe assumption that the Knicks will not be one of the top defensive teams in the league this season.
Yet, in order for them to make it to at least the Eastern Conference Finals they are going to have to improve on the effort side of the court. In the postseason the Knicks were ranked 13th in points allowed with 99.3 and first in opponent field goal percentage allowing 47 percent. They have to get more out of their defense, which is a daunting task with D’Antoni on the sidelines.
It is tough to fathom with Phil Jackson waiting in the wings Erik Spoelstra or Mike D’Antoni lasting past this season. Especially if either team starts slow, expect both to be gone by season’s end.
The New Jersey Nets and New Orleans Hornets are in a bit of a quandary with point guards Deron Williams and Chris Paul. It appears the guards wants out. Making matters worse for the Nets, Williams is in the last year of his contract. They have tried desperately to no avail in keeping the guard, now they have to think about life after Williams. New Orleans Hornets point guard Chris Paul is also in the last year of his contract and also appears likely to bounce.
So both teams have to ponder would it be better to trade these players and get something or let them walk and get nothing. Meanwhile if you are a team that can use either of those players, like say ummmmm this just a guess here the Knicks or Lakers, does it make sense to trade for a player you can just sign in a year.
Both clubs should hang on to the stars and let them walk, should the guards decide to do so. Taking back bad contracts in an effort to save face never works. Essentially you get players who do not want to be with your club and you are faced with trying to move bad players with bad contracts.
That being said, it would be unlikely that the Hornets hang on to Paul if it becomes apparent he is headed to LA. So look for Paul to be moved if anything else just to keep him out of the Western Conference for the foreseeable future.
The surprise team could be the Philadelphia 76ers in the East and the Golden State Warriors in the West. Both teams are young and fast, and in the Sixers case they are also well coached. It will not be a surprise to see the Sixers as one of the top four teams in the Eastern Conference, with Boston now approaching senior citizen status and the mutiny quickly taking shape in Orlando. The Sixers defend and run the floor better than most teams and you combine that with an offseason that should bring us back a few rotund players.
The Golden State Warriors have a Back to the Future theme going on with Mark Jackson playing the role of Marty and Jerry West playing the role of Doc. The Warriors have a young stud in Stephen Curry and an effort player in David Lee.
Curry should flourish under Jackson, who knows a thing or two about guard play. Jackson will also move Curry from point to off guard and no longer play the Monte Ellis shoot at all cost offense. It will be interesting to see what Coach Jackson can get out of young players like Acie Law and Dorrell Wright.
The Warriors also have the benefit of playing in a subpar division. The Suns appear headed for a 40 win season, the Clippers are coached by Vinny Del Negro, Sacramento is trying to “find” themselves and the Lakers are lost in transition. The Warriors should be able to maximize this opportunity and sneak into the playoffs.
The disappointment in the Eastern Conference will be the Orlando Magic and in the Western Conference the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Magic have all but tuned head coach Stan Van Gundy out. They also have to spend the season answering “where will Dwight Howard go” questions.
In addition the Magic could be losing point guard Jameer Nelson who is in the final year of his contract as well. Things could get ugly in a hurry in Disney World.
Oklahoma City faces a different challenge. Many people applauded the occasion of Kendrick Perkins, yours truly NOT included. The thought was Perkins would morph into Willis Reed and give the young Thunder toughness and playoff experience.
Well he did not and by the end everyone knew it. Perkins slowed the Thunder down offensively, and without Rondo and KG. he was exposed defensively. Perkins slowly became a spectator as Nick Collison came to the OKC’s rescue. The Thunder are now stuck with the walking jalopy that is Perkins, in a conference that has no dominating center and boasts eight of the top ten scoring teams in the league. This will be a daunting task considering Perkins slows the Thunder down significantly.