The NBA Season is more than two months old. Instead of its normal 82 games, the NBA is playing a lockout-shortened 66 game schedule. Thus, I bring you 16.8 reasons to enjoy the 2012 NBA season.
(16.8? Yep. Last season I gave you 21 reasons. Since we’re only getting 80% of an NBA season, you only get 80% of 21. The world’s not fair. Sorry.)
Part 1 focuses on the Eastern Conference.
16.8 Michael Jordan possibly returning to the Charlotte Bobcats. Don’t laugh. If you’ve seen the Bobcats play this season, there are only two possible conclusions: 1. They’re blowing it up to start over or sell the team without any big contract obligations. 2. Michael Jordan decided that tanking would give him an excuse to make one final comeback before he reaches 50. If you don’t think Jordan could average 18, 5 and 5 on 40% shooting for this squad, you haven’t watched the Charlotte Bobcats. Could this really happen? Doubtful. But it’s only .8 of a reason to keep watching the NBA season, so it doesn’t need to be totally legitimate, right? Right.
16. Is this the end of the Kevin Garnett/Ray Allen/Paul Pierce/Rajon Rondo Boston Celtics? With the trade deadline just over two weeks away, we’ll know soon enough. This is sad for me. I’m hardly a Boston fan but I’ve loved watching this Celtics squad. They always played right. They always played together. And they never pretended to be anyone’s friend. I like teams that don’t care about pissing anyone off. Were they arrogant? Yup. Were they cocky? Yup. Did they talk a little too much? Yup. But they won. Unfortunately, the end is in sight. Trade rumors now surround the team and Rondo is at the center of those rumors. Without Rondo, the Celtics are a lottery team. All is not lost, at least not yet. The aging veterans have two weeks to prove to management (and themselves) they can still compete with the Bulls and Heat in the Eastern Conference. If they fail, their era in Celtic green will be over sooner rather than later.
15. I haven’t given this statement extensive thought, so I could be persuaded otherwise, but the Eastern Conference is brimming with young stars. Obviously, Jeremy Lin is grabbing national headlines right now and deservedly so. But look around and you’ll notice Kyrie Irving is scary good in Cleveland, Greg Monroe is making a case to be the 3rd best center in the league, Paul George is a budding star, and oh yeah, Derrick Rose is still only 23. Throw in Brandon Knight, Kemba Walker, Marshon Brooks, Brandon Jennings, my boy Nikola Vucevic, and the erratic John Wall, and the East has a stable of young players that point to a promising and competitive future in what has recently been a lopsided conference. My favorite? Kyrie Irving. I wasn’t a fan during his brief Duke career. Now, I’m a believer.
14. Where’s Dwight Howard headed? To be fair, this should be higher (or lower) on the list. However, I’m not convinced a trade is coming. If I’m the Magic, I let him sulk the rest of the season and force him to swallow $30 million over the summer in order to leave Orlando. The alternative is trading him away for good pieces in return. Unfortunately, good pieces in the NBA make you irrelevant until you sign a big time free agent or win the draft lottery. If I’m losing Howard, I’d rather bottom out with tons of cap space and start over. Fans won’t swarm to your arena to see Andrew Bynum or Pau Gasol or Brook Lopez. This isn’t the NFL. You need superstars to fill arenas. The Magic isn’t getting a superstar back. I hope they don’t deal Howard. Not trading him is Orlando’s best shot at keeping D12.
13. Is there a team with a realistic shot at crashing the Eastern Conference Finals? Assuming the key contributors of Miami and Chicago remain relatively healthy and available, then no. The Celtics have the experience but lack the talent and athleticism. The Sixers and Pacers have the athleticism and energy but lack the experience and go-to player in the 4th quarter of a tight game. The Knicks have the clutch players and both Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire have extensive playoff experience, but the Knicks couldn’t stop an AAU team defensively. The Heat and Bulls have the conference’s best players, the best closers, the experience, and suffocating defenses. The first two rounds of the Eastern Conference playoffs are simply appetizers preluding the inevitable main course.
12. Jeremy Lin has the Knicks back in contention for the Atlantic Division crown, but can he keep them there? First of all, if you haven’t taken a moment to enjoy Jeremy Lin’s game, then do so. It’s not perfect and it will surely make you cringe 3-5 times a night, but it rewards you with at least 8 “wow that was amazing” moments. (Unless of course he’s matched up against Mario Chalmers and the Heat. If that’s the case, find something else to watch.) Lin’s emergence reinvigorated a Knick offense that too often would stand around until Carmelo Anthony took a horrendous shot. Now the Knicks move without the ball and trust Lin to find them cutting to the rim or planted for an open jumper. At least that’s how it went until Melo returned. Melo’s a black hole. The ball doesn’t come out once it’s in his hands. He was the least deserving All Star this year and the most overrated player in the league since he first demanded out of Denver. He’s a scorer and that’s it. Until he can fit into the New York offense that won seven in a row without him, the Knicks can’t compete. They’re not built to win games defensively. The only way they’re going to win is to outscore the opponent. To do that, Melo can’t spend 10-15 seconds of the shot clock trying to get his shot. Lin must be New York’s facilitator and Melo must accept the Knicks’ best hope at competing with Chicago and Miami is to run an offense that can score from every position. For that to happen, Lin needs the ball. Not Melo.
11. Derrick Rose. With apologies to Kobe Bryant, Rose may be the single most important player to his team. If Rose’s back problems continue, or another injury forces him to miss significant time, the Bulls could be in trouble. Chicago can’t compete with Miami without Rose. Rose is what separates the Bulls from the Pacers, Sixers, Magic, and Knicks. For entertainment purposes, let’s not forget the unspoken feud between Rose and the Miami Heat. To be fair, I haven’t read anything confirming this, but it’s there. It’s painfully obvious, too. Rose despises all the hoopla Dwyane Wade and especially, LeBron James, embrace. Rose refused to dance during introductions at the All Star game and instead stood stone faced. His expression didn’t change during the game, either. Rose is an open book – If the game doesn’t matter, then screw it. I don’t want to be a part of it. LeBron is an entertainer hoping to be a champion. Rose doesn’t care about entertainment or being popular. He wants victories and championships. The looming showdown between the all-business, no flash Rose and the showman James should be epic.
10. My beloved Philadelpia 76ers are relevant again. For the first time since my sophomore year of high school, the 76ers have the potential for an extended playoff run. Needless to say, I’m thrilled. I love this team. Andre Iquodala even managed to make me a fan this season despite my constant pleas for the organization to trade him for the past half decade. More importantly, the assembled young talent brings hope. Thaddeus Young, Evan Turner, Jrue Holiday, Nikola Vucevic, Lavoy Allen, and Lou Williams present an intriguing future. Best of all, they try. Every night, regardless of the score, this group hustles. I know they’re not title contenders and it’ll be a miracle if they stretch a series against Miami or Chicago to six, but I can live with an exciting cast of young talent that will go hard for 48 minutes. Well, at least for now. At some point, in order to really compete for titles, the 76ers will need to cash in some of that young talent for a superstar in order to reach the next level, because I don’t think there’s a superstar on that roster. For now, though, watching draft picks succeed and lead my favorite team back to relevancy after years of blown drafts gives me hope for a promising future.
9. If you love double standards and outrageous hypocrites, pay attention to the LeBron James haters. I’ve never been a fan of LeBron’s, nor did I support his exodus to South Beach, but the poor guy is unjustly harassed for EVERYTHING. From a pure basketball standpoint, LeBron is a joy to watch. He gives you all the things you want in a basketball star. He’s electric, athletic, selfless, entertaining. His game has virtually no flaws. He’s a triple double threat night in and night out. Unfortunately, his superior game isn’t enough for the bloodthirsty legions of LeBron haters. The easiest way to describe LeBron’s current state is to compare it to McNabb’s final years in Philadelphia. According to many in Philly, McNabb was a screw up. Even when he won or had an excellent game, fans and the media would point out how he missed this throw or took that sack. When LeBron tried to find a teammate instead of hoisting a contested three over perhaps the NBA’s greatest man-to-man defender, LeBron got ripped to shreds. AND THIS HAPPENED IN THE ALL STAR GAME. When LeBron passes, he should have shot. When he shoots, he should have passed. When he has a great game, it’s irrelevant because it wasn’t a playoff game or Game 7 of the NBA Finals. LeBron is experiencing the McNabb treatment multiplied by a thousand because it’s on a national scale. I don’t even like the guy and I feel bad for him. Regardless of his failures in the playoffs and his struggles late in games, LeBron James is the most talented player in the NBA right now. For once, just shut up and enjoy the show. You can throw your darts come playoff time.