It's almost here!!!
I know it's still a month away, but in light of the recent events at the FIBA World Championships, as well as Lebron's campaign to make himself the most hated athlete in America, I figured it was time to at least preview some of the AMAZING storylines we're going to have this season.
A lot has happened since Kobe's dominant 6 for 24 performance to steal the championship in June and, since I'll be doing a full league preview closer to the beginning of the season, I'm going to stick to just looking at the 5 biggest stories heading into the season.
5. Shaq is a Celtic
We learned last year, conclusively, that the Celtics can stumble into the postseason, and then turn on the defense. In fact, the only reason they lost game 7 of the Finals was because Kendrick Perkins got hurt and they didn't have the size to keep The Lakers off the boards. Enter one over the hill, yet still massive Shaquille O'Neal. Right after the Lakers won the championship, Kobe said something to the effect of "I got one more than Shaq, you can take that to the bank."
Now Shaq's on a team that was a 11 minutes away from the championship, and he's got the added motivation of finally getting to be an out and out rival of Bryant's.
If (somewhat miraculously, I'd admit) the Celtics end up beating the Lakers in a Finals rubber match, we may get finally get a sequel to Shaq's freestyle about Kobe tasting certain body parts. I can't wait.
4. The Magic are under the radar
The Orlando Magic are the Rodney Dangerfield of the NBA. Like the deceased comic, they get no respect! Orlando blew through the first two rounds of the playoffs last year undefeated, before running into a Celtic team that psychologically seems to have their number. On paper the Magic are a serious team, but they seem to have a lack of toughness and grit when times get tough. Personally I think it comes from their coach. As good as Stan Van Gundy is with X's and O's his pantomime routine on the sidelines makes the entire team nervous.
Ironically it's Orlando where Carmelo Anthony makes the most sense. I don't think they have the players or assets to get him outside of some crazy three-team trade that almost never works out in real life.
In real life, Vince Carter is starting to get old, and Jameer Nelson was never as good as advertised. The Magic need someone, anyone to step up in the crunch before they'll be able to force other teams to respect them as a legitimate contender for the championship.
3. Kobe's still here
Rumors of Kobe's demise are GREATLY exaggerated. And this is coming from someone who hates his guts, so believe me I'd be the first to say he's done. The reason I bring this storyline up is because despite the fact that the Lakers are still back-to-back champions, the talk this entire off-season has focused on the younger guys. First Lebron, then Chris Paul and now Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony. Knowing what we know about Kobe and his ego, I can't imagine this sits well. I also can't imagine that any of the other superstars in the league are even awake yet when Kobe finishes his first workout of the day.
Personally I believe Kobe has spent the entire summer going between the gym, his house and wherever he keeps his mistresses these days, focused on nothing more than reminding the Lebrons and Durants that he's still the man.
Plus you have an interesting subplot here, if Kobe wins another championship he'll have participated in two three-peats. One as a sidekick, and one as The Man. It's not as good as Jordan doing it twice as The Man, but it might be equal or better than Magic Johnson having 3 championships as a sidekick and two as The Man. Historically Kobe has already established himself as one of the 10 best players of all time, but could he surpass Magic and become the second greatest guard in the history of the NBA?
Something tells me he can't, but at some point numbers and championships start to mean something.
2. Lebron Vs Kevin Durant
For the last few years we've had the Lebron vs Kobe argument. Which wasn't really a fair argument, since Kobe is past his prime, whereas Lebron is just entering it.
Let's end the argument here, in 2010 Lebron James is a better basketball player than Kobe Bryant. However, historically Kobe Bryant is a better, more important player than Lebron James. Again, as of 2010.
But over the summer the general sporting world was formally introduced to Kevin Durant. A much better comparison with Lebron for the upcoming decade or so.
First of all we have the backgrounds. Durant came from a two parent home, went to one year of college where he was overshadowed largely by Greg Oden and then goes second in the draft, even though writing that only 4 years later looks ridiculous.
Lebron meanwhile was raised by a single mother, has been famous since he was 13 and pulling diva acts since High School.
In case you didn't know, instead of going to the High School he was supposed to go to, Lebron and a group of friends instead went to ST Mary/ST Vincent High School, so his friend Dru Joyce could play on the same team. This outraged people in Akron at the time. Sound familiar?
Then you have their games. Lebron is a force of nature. He's physically stronger than everyone, he might be the fastest player in the league end to end, and he jumps out of the gym. He can play any position and do a little bit of everything. He is in short the best player in the NBA.
Kevin Durant on the other hand is a scorer. The youngest scoring champion in league history last year, Durant has a small man's game in a near 7 foot frame. He can shoot the lights out, handles the ball better than most guards, and has an evolving post game. Throw in the fact he's a threat to shoot 40% from 3, 50% from the field and 90% from the line and you can understand how predictions of him one day being the league's all time scoring leader, don't seem too far fetched. Durant plays in Oklahoma and quietly signed an extension in the off-season to keep him there long term. Everyone who's asked about him from coaches to other players rave about his maturity and describe him as all basketball, all the time.
Lebron famously made himself the center of the SportsCenter world with "The Decision" as well as his famously stated goal of being a "Global Icon."
Lebron vs Durant could be the battle for the championship as well as the status of best player alive over the next few years.
1. We all hate the Heat
What more can be said about the new look mercenary Miami Heat? Well for starters, they haven't played a game yet, but we are already hearing predictions of 70+ wins and multiple championships. These reports are happening despite the fact that they're center combination appears to be Udonis Haslem and Zydrunas ilgauskas. And they only have 10 players on the team.
The real winner here is clearly Chris Bosh because not only has he tricked the Heat into giving him a max player contract, he's tricked the general public into thinking he's a top-10 player in the League. Bravo Chris, bravo.
I personally think the Heat will get EVERYONE'S best shot, end up winning between 60-67 games and flaming out to the much more experienced, bigger and more physical Celtics in either the second round or the Conference Finals.
Ok, I've just scratched the surface here, so be sure to check back in a few weeks for my 2 part NBA breakdown.