NBA Landscape: Episode 1

Shaun AhmadSenior Analyst INovember 16, 2009

A recap of the biggest stories and happenings across the NBA landscape throughout the season.  Episode 1 looks at contenders off to quick starts, surprising Suns, rookie phenom Brandon Jennings, and LeBron James rumors.

Contenders Off to Quick Starts

Contenders from the prior season usually get off to good starts unless they make widespread changes.  This year is no different as the Lakers, Nuggets, Celtics, Cavs, and Magic are all 7-3 or better through 10 games. 

The balance of power among the elite teams seems to slowly be shifting east.  It was just a couple of seasons ago when it could legitimately be argued that the seventh or eighth seed in the West was as good as the No. 2 or 3 seed in the East. 

Now, the Western Conference seems wide open outside of the Nuggets and Lakers.  Though the Blazers, Suns, and Mavericks are all off to impressive starts, none of them look good enough (yet) to unseat the top two teams from a season ago. 

The Eastern Conference, on the other hand, seems to have more powerful teams.  The Boston Celtics have added depth and are playing playoff tempo defense.  The Orlando Magic have started hot and Rashard Lewis, coming off a suspension, has yet to join the party. 

The Cavs are always in the conversation with LeBron James, and even Atlanta looks better than last year.  The Hawks are 8-2, including a victory in Boston a few days back.  Miami isn't on the level of the others yet, but they have shown a strong, young nucleus while winning seven of their first nine. 

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The contenders are all taking care of business early, and the balance of power may have shifted to the Eastern Conference. 

Surprising Suns

Welcome back, Phoenix Suns!  Did anyone really see this coming?  I didn't.  Despite their 46-36 record in 2008-09, they had all sorts of problems, starting with a missing identity. 

After trading Boris Diaw and Raja Bell to Charlotte as well as sending Shaquille O'Neal east to Cleveland, it looked like the Suns were heading into a heavy rebuilding phase.

Head coach Alvin Gentry finished off the 2008-09 campaign, following Terry Porter's firing, with a 17-13 record.  Still, no one thought that the Suns would begin the season with the best record in the league after 10 games. 

While they are scoring just two points more per game than last year, the offensive flow has been much more fluid.  Think about how relieved Steve Nash must feel, not having a 350 pound, slow, over-the-hill, egomaniac of a center in the middle. 

It's as if general manager, Steve Kerr, took a plunger to the toilet and cleared the mess that he himself created.  Better now than never.

Jason Richardson playing like it's 2007, and the emergence of Jared Dudley also helps.  It's still early, but keep your eye on the Suns making some noise in the West.  

Unexpected troubles in New Orleans and Washington

Early troubles in the Big Easy, though many probably haven't even noticed yet since the Saints' perfect start to the NFL season is the talk of the town. 

Regardless, there will be plenty of concerned fans once they realize that the Hornets are only half a game from being tied with Memphis as the worst team in the Southwest Division, have fired their head coach Byron Scott, and are missing injured point guard Chris Paul. 

The Hornets aren't getting any consistent production from anyone outside of Paul and Emeka Okafor.  With Paul out for a couple of weeks and a new coaching staff, things could get ugly down south.

The Washington Wizards are also off to a rocky start.  The injury bug hit the team early with several players being sidelined, including Antawn Jamison.  Jamison should be returning any day, but the lack of consistency in the lineup has made it difficult for the team to gel under new head coach Flip Saunders. 

Gilbert Arenas has returned from his several surgeries, but clearly has some rust.  After winning two of their first three, the Wizards have dropped six straight contests. 

While the season is still young, the team might be digging themselves into a hole that they can't climb out of. 

Brandon Jennings

The Rookie of the Year award is a lock to go to Brandon Jennings.  I don't care if it's only been 10 or 11 games.  Jennings is a star. 

For those who have still not heard, the rookie dropped double nickels (55 points) on the Golden State Warriors and had a 29-point third quarter! 

He's averaging 25.6 ppg and shooting nearly 50 percent from the field, and 56.7 percent from long distance.  I repeat.  50 percent from the field and 56.7 percent from long distance! 

Tack on his five assists and four rebounds per game.  Forget the rookie of the year award; Jennings is heading for a starting position in the All-Star game at this rate. 

Side note: What if the Knicks had drafted him? The LeBron James to New York deal would have looked a lot sexier than it does right now, wouldn't it?  Somewhere, Spike Lee just threw up.  Speaking of which...

LBJ-Wade-Bosh Rumor is Silly

Like most of you, I'm very over the story that has been going on for three years now about where LeBron James and Dwyane Wade will end up next season.  The theories seem to have gotten more and more ridiculous. 

Earlier this month, Sam Smith wrote about Kobe and LeBron joining forces in Los Angeles.  Give me a break.  Those two egos can't fit in the same time zone, let alone the same city.

The trendy rumor for this week is that James and Bosh will leave their respective cities and join Wade in Miami to create their version of the Olympic Team. 


First off, let's remove Bosh from the equation because Marc Stein of ESPN has reported that it appears he will remain in Toronto as he likes the city, and (surprise) likes being the alpha male on the team.

That leaves the James-Wade possibility.  Not going to happen for the following reasons:

1) Money .  James will get more money staying in Cleveland than he would signing a max deal with Miami.  Don't let anyone convince you that the "money doesn't matter" to James.  It does. 

2) Be like Mike.   Though Michael Jordan wasn't from Chicago, he was revered for turning the franchise into a six time world champion.  James is from Cleveland, and his ties with the city have been extensively chronicled. 

For him to give up on the home team and leave to another city to win a title would diminish his stature. 

Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant, and of course, Michael Jordan, all won with the teams that they started with.  Winning a title in Cleveland is a challenge that James needs to overcome.

3) Legendary Status.   Suppose James leaves Cleveland and joins Wade.  Now suppose they win two or three titles together while both are in their prime.  Keep in mind that Wade already had a title, in a season where he carried his squad. 

James will be knocked for not being able to carry a team on his back as the lead guy, and having to take the assistance of another top three player in the game to reach the pinnacle. 

He won't ever be considered among the best like Jordan or Bryant unless he wins a title as THE main guy. 

Why do you think Kobe Bryant was obsessed (understatement of the year) with winning a title without another hall of fame player on his team?  To show that you are the best, it is in a competitor's mindset that you have to lead a team to a championship win. 

James will not be given credit for doing that and will forever be ridiculed if he joins Wade.

4) Egos .  They may hug and speak each other's praises in the media, but make no mistake about it.  Two athletes that each think they are the best in the sport, and whose careers are running parallel to each other cannot, under any circumstance , coexist on one team...especially in basketball. 

Working together in the Summer Olympics is one thing.  Working together for an 82 game season plus playoffs is another. 

James and Wade both think they are better than each other, and as two alphas, they will never be able to achieve success while playing collectively because their mere shared existence takes away from each individual's opportunities for accolades.

So be prepared to see Bosh in Toronto, Wade in Miami, and James in Cleveland. 

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