My friend Joel loves the NBA as much, or maybe even more, than anyone I know. He does this despite living in Canada, where all you get to watch during basketball season are the Raptors (and let's be honest, we all hate the Raptors. And Toronto), hockey, and curling. It's really, really hard to be a real fan of the NBA and yet Joel does it. Well my friend Joel recently broke both of his big toes. As Ron Burgandy would say "Great knights of Columbus that hurt!" That is a pain I cannot imagine, and so I'm writing an NBA preview in his honor, in hopes that perhaps my meandering musings on his beloved NBA will brighten his day a little.
And for the record, I made my NBA Finals pick BEFORE reading the Sports Guy today- I just didn't get it posted before he did. Honestly, all original content here. So since I was going to save that for last and it's been spoiled, let's start at the top and work our way down...or somewhere
And the Winner Is Not...
If you're like me and you've read a few sports websites or blogs lately, you've noticed that there's a LOT of people who like the chances of seeing an Finals rematch of Lakers vs. Celtics part deux. Me? Not so much. Let's start with the defending champs. The Celtics are a year older, and for a team whose three best players are now 31 (Paul Pierce), 32 (KG), and 33 (Ray Allen), which means in NBA terms means those three are aging in dog years. KG is one of my favorite players of all-time, but he's already logged over 1000 games, and for a guy who works as maniacally hard as he does, those aren't exactly all highway miles. Allen is in a steady decline, and his free fall could happen at any minute. People said it last year (and for good reason) and I'll say it again: shooting guards not named Michael Jordan start losing their game pretty rapidly after the age of 32. Not only that, they lost their "glue guy" in James Posey and did nothing to replace him. I'm not saying the Celtics will be horrible. Far from it, actually. They're still one of the best five teams in the league They'll win their division (although I suppose that's not saying much), push for the league's best record, and possibly go as far as the conference finals. But that's it. A LOT went right for this group last year, and I think the age of their stars, and probably injuries, starts catching up with them.
The Lakers are the NBA's version of the Dallas Cowboys (or are the Cowboys the NFL's Lakers? Discuss, discuss...), meaning they're a walking talking dunking real life soap opera. Other teams might not be able to handle all the extra crap, but I don't see why any of this stuff would bother them now. But if you're assuming the Lakers are going back to the Finals, it means you're also assuming the following...
- Kobe Bryant has played roughly 187,482 minutes of basketball since the preseason last year. A full year, a full playoffs, and then the Olympics, and now Kobe and his bad pinky are going to carry the Lakers through another 100+ games?
- Lamar Odom will be just peachy all season about coming off the bench. Because when I think model teammate, I think Lamar Odom...oh wait, no not exactly.
- That if/When Odom forces a trade, the Lakers will be able to get not just full value back for him, but also a guy who, when he's starting and happy, fits in as well as Odom does. Probably a good time to mention that Odom has Second Banana value, yet the Lakers already have not just two, but IF Andrew Bynum's healthy, three good to great players. So you're asking whoever Odom is dealt for to play D, rebound, distribute, and take the scraps for scoring.
- Speaking of Bynum and his health, let's just all pretend Amare Stoudamire is the rule instead of the norm when it comes to recovering from microfracture surgery. Let's just assume that Bynum takes little to no time to get in game shape, get back to 100%, and take his rightful place among the great Laker centers of all time. Easy peasy Japanesy.
If you assume all of those things are going to happen, then hey, start printing those Lakers championship T-shirts right now. But what you know what they say when you assume...Like the Celtics, I'm not saying they're going to be awful. They'll be one of the best 5 teams in the league- just not one of the final 2 standing.
Three Teams Who Made Some Changes and THINK They're Championship Contenders. Think Again
Houston, Toronto, Philly
The Rockets traded for a crazy person in Ron Artest and are teaming him up with two all-stars who cannot and will not stay healthy. Running the show will be Rafer Alston. Championship? Good luck with that. Toronto fans are just giddy because they traded for Jermaine O'Neal, who hasn't played in 70 games in a season in 5 years, and who hasn't put up all-star numbers in three. Oh, and he's also coming off a major injury. But on the bright side, he's 30, which means he's on the decline and will probably never again average the 20 and 7 of prime. Oh those Raptors fans can so worked up over nothing! Speaking of major injuries, the Sixers signed Elton Brand to a ginourmous deal through the year 2037 after playing just 8 games last season because of a ruptured achilles tendon. He's also been to the playoffs a grand total of one time in his entire career, yet this is who Philly fans are saying is going to take them to the promised land? If Phillies fans don't burn the city to the ground in the riot- er World Series celebration (assuming they ever finish the game!!!), maybe folks will come to their senses.
The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same
The Clippers and Warriors signed each other's free agent. Still, neither one of them are going to the playoffs. Awesome.
The More Things Stay the Same...the More Things Stay the Same
The Washington Wizards have won 42 games each of the last three seasons with the core of Gilbert Arenas, Antwan Jamison, and Caron Butler. Agent Zero and Jamison were both free agents this past summer. Did the Wiz try to trade these guys since everybody but the Grizz, Clippers and Bobcats were capped out, meaning there wasn't really anybody who could sign them to big deals? Nope, they went ahead and resigned both to huge dollars. I'm going to go out on a limb and predict the Wiz won't win more than 42 this year either. Just a hunch. In Detwah, Joe Dumars promised to blow up his Pistons squad to retool for another run at a championship. Moves Joe D made in the offseason- signing uber-bust Kwame Brown. Wow Joe, don't go overboard with all of that wheeling and dealing!
And the Finalists Will Be...
New Orleans vs Cleveland. Two cities that could really, really use a championship. Two of the best players in the NBA (maybe THE two best? Discuss, dicuss...) in Bronbron and CP3. Two teams that were close to getting to the Finals last year, and are only getting better. New Orleans grabbed Boston's "glue guy" in James Posey, who will do all the extras he did for Boston and Miami. Cleveland finally landed a point guard that can compliment The Global Icon, can play some D, and can hit the outside shot. Not only that, but they have the sizeable expiring contract of Wally Szcerbiak to deal before the deadline for another good player or two.
The Hornets will finish with the West's best record, the Cavs probably second in the East, but these will be your finalists, with Cleveland winning a title that might just be enough to convince Lebron to stay. Maybe.
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