Happy NBA Season Eve everyone!
Tomorrow the NBA season kicks off with a TNT double header featuring prime matchups between the Celtics and Heat, and the Mavericks and Lakers. But there is one other game tomorrow night, and it’s the most anticipated and sure to be the most watched game of the three.
That’s right, tomorrow night one of the great “rivalries” in the NBA resumes when the Washington Wizards visit our beloved Cleveland Cavaliers. Ok, yes, I’m being facetious. Nobody outside Washington and Cleveland cares about this game, and the Wizards and Cavaliers are not “rivals”, and they never were. But that doesn’t mean we Cavalier fans shouldn’t be filled with excitement over another season about to tip off.
We’ll cover more on the Cavaliers specifically tomorrow, but for today, I wanted to kick off general NBA coverage with some overall generic thoughts on the NBA as a whole. There’s been some huge moves in the offseason, and another monumental shift occurred this weekend when the Oklahoma City Thunder traded James Harden to the Houston Rockets. So lets get into some of the main storylines of this NBA season (along with some musical interludes to enjoy as we go along).
How The West Was Won and Where It Got Us
The Western Conference is an absolute beast. And it continues to just get better and better. Dwight Howard burnt Orlando to the ground in forcing his way to Los Angeles to join the Lakers. Jeremy Lin felt spurned by the Knicks and went to the Rockets. That, combined with Harden’s move give the Rockets a fascinating backcourt and give the Rockets the appearance of an up and coming team. The Thunder will still be a factor in the West, even if they did take an immediate step backwards in the trade. The Spurs still have some life in them and should contend in the West again this year. The Timberwolves (yes, the Timberwolves) have an extremely deep roster and are a lot of analysts’ favorites to make a big jump this season. The Clippers additions of Lamar Odom and Grant Hill aren’t exactly exciting, but Chris Paul and Blake Griffin playing together remains one of the most exciting duos in the NBA. The Grizzlies are still solid, the Jazz have a frontcourt that will give teams fits, and the Mavericks still have Dirk Nowitzki.
Not all of those teams are contenders, but most of them are better than almost everyone in the Eastern Conference not named Miami Heat. The West seems to keep getting better and better all the time, while the East shrinks under the enormous shadow of the Heat. The battle to win the Western Conference is going to be ferocious, and it’s going to be exciting to watch every step of the way.
Tomorrow Never Knows (aka, what’s the deal with Eastern Philosophy?)
Can we just go ahead and crown the Heat as Eastern Conference Champions now? Is there any purpose to playing out this charade?
Not so fast say the Boston Celtics. The aging Celtics may be on their last legs, and sure, the Heat1 figured out how to get past the Celtics in dramatic fashion, but the Celtics remain as really the East’s best chance at knocking off the Heat.
The Chicago Bulls have to deal with the injury to Derrick Rose. But beyond that, they also had a curious offseason. One of the best defensive teams in the league last season, the Bulls let go of Omer Asik, CJ Watson, Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer, and John Lucas and in their place acquired Nazr Mohammed, Marquis Teague, Vladimir Radmanovic, Marco Belinelli, and Nate Robinson. I don’t understand the Bulls offseason, and any notion that this team will compete with the Heat this year is laughable.
Who else is there in the East? Philly got Andrew Bynum, but is that team ready to hang with the Heat? Atlanta made some nice moves clearing a path to rebuilding, but they’re not on the Heat’s level. I’m not sure anyone had a busier offseason than the Hawks and new GM Danny Ferry. I love what the Hawks are doing. But it’s going to take time there.
The Pacers had the Heat on the ropes last year and are returning basically the same team, more or less, swapping out Darren Collison for DJ Augustin. The question is whether the Pacers are the real deal, or if last season was a mirage. I like this Pacers team, but I don’t love it. I’m not convinced this team can stay healthy again nor that they are really any kind of serious threat to the Heat.
For me, the East still boils down to Boston vs Miami. The Heat will finish with the better record, but in the playoffs, can Boston reclaim their hold over LeBron James? The Celtics lost Ray Allen to the Heat, and that rivalry is going to be one of most exciting to watch this season. But while the Celtics feel betrayed by Allen, the truth is it didn’t matter much because the Celtics had already acquired Jason Terry. Terry brings championship experience, toughness, and attitude that should blend right in to the Celtics locker room. The Celtics had a solid draft, too, adding Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo, two young frontcourt players who can help ease the minutes burden on Kevin Garnett during the long, grueling season. If Jeff Green gives the Celtics anything, Boston could have some actual depth and flexibility in their rosters.
An Open Letter To NYC
New York is now a true two team town with the arrival of the Brooklyn Nets. And as much as I loathe all the talk about New York as the mythical basketball mecca, I do find the blossoming Knicks-Nets rivalry fascinating. Especially because I don’t think either team is particularly good. We can debate how good Jeremy Lin really is or isn’t, but the Knicks did a typical Knicks dysfunctional move in the way they handled the Lin situation. Their core is made up of Carmelo Anthony, JR Smith, Amare Stoudemire, and Tyson Chandler. Is that a playoff roster you want to go to battle with?
The Nets had to think they were getting Dwight Howard. I was surprised that Deron Williams stayed in Brooklyn without Howard being there. Does the addition of Joe Johnson really matter? The Nets gave up financial flexibility and future draft picks for a player most deemed untradeable due to his contract. Again, credit Danny Ferry for trading the untradeable. So now what? The Nets have Williams, Johnson, and Gerald Wallace all locked into high dollar multi-year deals. They also re-signed Brook Lopez and Kris Humphries to multi-year deals. So, more or less, this is your team, Brooklyn.
With so many questions and so much turmoil, New York is going to be an interesting town to pay attention to. Both teams will try to make some big moves to shake things up and gain the upper hand over the other. Who will become the predominant New York basketball franchise over the next decade? That question is still unanswered.
Cull Memory For Assimilation, Secure For Future Generations
The new Collective Bargaining Agreement that ended last season’s lockout happened so quickly, and with such a short subsequent preseason, that we didn’t really see the effects of it.
Sure, some players were amnestied. In Cleveland, it led to the end of Baron Davis’s stay. But we didn’t know how things would really change. The Dwight Howard saga made it feel like the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Now comes the James Harden trade, and one wonders if this is the first true casualty of the new CBA. Dwight Howard was always going to leave Orlando. It had nothing to do with the new CBA. But James Harden wanted to stay in Oklahoma City, and the Thunder wanted to keep Harden.
Two factors worked against the Thunder here. First, the escalating luxury tax which would have hammered the Thunder for keeping Harden and adding him to the contracts of Durant, Westbrook, and Ibaka. Had the Thunder given Harden the max deal he wanted, their salary this year would have been somewhere around $97 million. The salary cap is $58 and the luxury tax threshold is around $70 million. That means the $1.50-per luxury tax penalty would have meant an extra $40 million the Thunder would have had to pay this season on top of the $97 million in salaries. The small market Thunder simply couldn’t justify paying $137.5 million in salary this year.
The 2nd factor working against them was that teams can no longer offer an extra year when signing their own players to contract extensions. This move seems to encourage players to get to free agency and allow their Bird Rights to kick in rather than signing extensions with their teams. That was theory, and now we are seeing it in practice. Harden had little incentive to sign a deal now that wasn’t a max deal. He was content to become a restricted free agent. Rather than let that happen, the Thunder instead dealt him in exchange for draft picks and a young player they really like in Jeremy Lamb.
Get used to this. Here’s your future. The Cavaliers aren’t remotely close to having three max players to have to worry about this, but it’s still a situation worth paying attention. There are lessons to be learned from many moves in the NBA, and this is our first real glimpse of the new CBA in action.
Disciple sift through lies, few gains of truth behold. Explorer specter rise, the dream that brought you low….Beggar Pick Up Your Crown
The season of LeBron. Here we go. The King is ready to rule his kingdom. LeBron has his title. He has re-established himself all over again as the most dominant player in the league. Now he has his title, and he is ready for more.
The question is what happens to LeBron James now that the pressure is gone and the floor is his? Are we about to experience a Jordan-esque run of titles? Or will LeBron be content with his title and begin to coast?
LeBron’s worst season in Cleveland, in my opinion, was the year after the Cavaliers made it to the finals. Part of it was frustration with the Varejao and Pavlovic hold outs, part of it was the lack of player acquisitions in the offseason, but part of it was a lack of motivation. I’m curious to see how LeBron’s appetite looks now.
Most of us in Cleveland don’t want to see him win any more rings, and I know a lot of fans don’t like talking about LeBron. But get used to it. The Miami Heat still look like the best team in the NBA to my eyes, and LeBron is in his prime with no more pressure to hold him down.
I went back and reviewed what I wrote in June when the Heat won the title. My feelings about LeBron and The Heat remain unchanged. Specifically:
I’m tired of being angry, bitter, and sad. This is sports. It’s a game. It’s supposed to be fun. I allowed not just LeBron James, but the entire specter of Cleveland Sports to cut that part out of my heart. I decided a couple months ago to let go of the hurt and anger of LeBron leaving. Look, I’m not going to tell anyone else how they have to feel. If you’re still bitter and angry, that’s your right and I’ll defend you against anyone telling us to “just get over it”. It’s a personal decision. And for me, I let it go, and I’ve felt much better for it.
I’ll be putting this belief into practice this season. I don’t want LeBron to win again, but if he does, so be it. It’s not going to change how I feel about the Cavaliers and the pure joy I get from watching not just the Cavs, but NBA basketball as a whole. The NBA is my favorite sport in the world, and tomorrow it’s back in my life again. I’m excited no matter what the outcome of this season, no matter who wins the title. It’s been a very long time since I could say that and mean it.
Image found on SportsGlory.com
- and by “The Heat”, I really mean LeBron James [↩]