And counting, and counting, and counting.
The preseason may be on, but I’m holding the excitement until something happens. By that I mean something bigger than media day, where all involved tell us what they’d like most, as if sitting in Santa Claus’ lap, asking for a pony.
The tipoff is they have media day in Charlotte, and everyone is just as optimistic there.
Personally, I try to measure my (yawn) excitement level, according to the advice of long-time NBA hand and once-again Lakers assistant Kurt Rambis, who said, “The preseason has nothing to do with the regular season. And the regular season has nothing to do with the playoffs.” It’s a time of predictions, mostly clueless, not because pundits are dumb – they’re not, although I don’t know any Einsteins among us, either – but because no one but no one can know what will happen.
Whatever we think will start to change the moment they tip the season off. It won’t seem that way because we will be rationalizing day by day, so by the end of last season, we all kind of thought we had the Spurs first or second in the West.
You don’t believe it?
Remember which team 40 of 50 ESPN experts picked in the West a year ago? The Lakers.
Remember where the Spurs came in?
Third, with one vote (John Hollinger, now the Memphis GM), trailing the Thunder, who got nine.
Remember which team was picked to win the Atlantic Division by 45 of the 50 experts? Boston, which finished 12 1/2 games behind the New York Knicks (no votes) and five behind the Brooklyn Nets (three votes). So, predictions? Who cares? The interesting stuff is everything we not only don’t know yet but wouldn’t believe if someone told us.
The Rookie of the Year won’t be Anthony Davis but Damian Lillard? The Weber State guy with the awful PER whom the stat geeks hated, who was taken after Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Dion Waiters and Thomas Robinson?
Opening Night: At least things count now, even if the event itself tends to be a champagne bubble that soon pops, with so many champions picking up their rings, then losing the game.
Regular season: There’s no two ways around it; you’ve got to have one – to eliminate the Bobcats and 13 others. Oh, and to harvest the $$$, without which players and owners wouldn’t love This Great Game as much. In a personal rite of spring, as soon as the season ends, I offer a prayer: “Thank heavens that’s over.”
Playoffs: Showtime! And it’s only seven months off!
The Finals: The payoff, where reputations are won and lost, even if things are now so zany, you can be seen as having lost the world, as LeBron James was in 2011; or seen as winning it all back a year later, as he was in 2012; and be proclaimed an untouchable icon, as he was in 2013 … only to find he can lose it all over again if things don’t work out in 2014, before he, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are expected to opt out.
July 1, 2014: Now we’re talking! Until then, we’ll have been mostly concerned with last season. After that, we’ll start to find out who will be whom for years to come as the NBA heads into another Great Configuration. Like 2010 and 2011 when the Big Three Took Their Talents You Know Where; Carmelo Anthony revived the Knicks; Mikhail Prokhorov revived the Nets (or at least propped them up at great cost); Chris Paul awoke the Clippers; and Dwight Howard embarked on what turned out to be the first of two free agent seasons with dire consequences for both his teams, the Magic and Lakers.
Even then, there was never such a bounty waiting to be harvest with so many of the NBA’s brightest and youngest up for grabs from 2014-2016: Bron, Kevin Durant, Melo, Kyrie Irving, Marc Gasol, Kevin Love, Rajon Rondo, Ricky Rubio, Mike Conley, LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum, with so many of their venerable elders fading or not. It’s actually easier to list the young stars who are signed beyond 2016: James Harden, Russell Westbrook, John Wall and Paul George.
Aside from that, if he’s great, then he’ll be available.
The NBA has had summers when half its players changed uniforms. From 2014-2016, with teams saving cap room as never before under the new spendthrift-devouring CBA, it will be every owner, GM, coach, player, agent and entourage for themselves.
Of course, the three years to 2016 leaves a lot of meantime. As far as the here and now goes, here’s how I see this season (like I know).
East Finals: Miami vs. Chicago. Shocker, huh? However, I don’t see the Pacers going away. With the Bulls, who were great without Derrick Rose, and the Heat showing the wear and tear of two title runs, the balance of power may shift from West to East. Instead of the Thunder, Spurs, et al., pounding each other into hamburger in their draw, the East powers may be the ones with the long, grinding season — one more reason to question the consensus that favors the Heat to three-peat.
West Finals: Spurs vs. Clippers. Surprise! I was going to pick OKC over LAC, but calamities keep befalling the Thunder, even if they visited the worst one – the Harden trade – upon themselves. Nevertheless, they were still a great young team until they lost Westbrook to injury last spring, Kevin Martin to Minnesota in summer and just saw Westbrook hurt again, this time until Dec. 1 if you are an optimist.
Last season’s Clippers were merely good, but you’ve got to like the fact they landed Doc Rivers, who just told the guys to stuff their “Lob City” BS since they’re now expected to act like grownups and deal in titles, not highlights.
NBA champion: Bulls. That would be a real heart-wrencher, capping Rose’s comeback, wouldn’t it? At least, it would square Rose in my books after last spring’s gag-me-with-a-spoon Hamlet act, when he began practicing Feb. 18 but never made it back as his gallant teammates fought to the last man, er, next-to-last man.
Comeback of the Year: Rose. No, it’s not exactly a sentimental pick. But when an MVP takes the next year off, it would be pretty hard to miss if he can walk and chew gum.
Most interesting managerial debut: Hollinger, the former ESPN stat guru, starts his first full season in Memphis with new coach Dave Joerger, the assistant the Grizzlies hired instead of Lionel Hollins, who turned the franchise around but wound up not being invited back. The Griz were supposedly the new beast of the West before – unhappily for Memphis fans who liked the way things were – the Spurs swept them, 4-0. Worse, with new, budget-conscious ownership in place, there are reports they will move Zach Randolph as they moved Rudy Gay. In other words, the guys in the Grizzlies’ new Stat Revolution better be as hip as they think they are.
Rookie of the Year: Victor Oladipo, Orlando’s No. 2 pick, over Cody Zeller, Charlotte’s No. 4 pick. NBA-ready on bad teams with lots of minutes and shots.
Most challenged rookie: No. 3 pick Otto Porter of Washington, coming off a summer league flop after the Wizards passed up falling big men Nerlens Noel and Alex Len, then learned Emeka Okafor would be out “indefinitely” with a neck injury.
No. 1 pick in 2014 draft: Julius Randle, Kentucky. You know me, anything to be different (and find me one guy who didnt have Nerlens Noel listed here a year ago, much less Anthony Bennett)..
Most teams diving into the tank for high picks are thinking primarily of Kansas forward Andrew Wiggins. If it’s way too early to make a call, that didn’t stop teams like the 76ers, who gave away All-Star Jrue Holiday in their new drive to break their record for fewest wins from taking the plunge, did it?
The 76ers are so focused on the 2014 lottery that the local press is wondering if injured No. 6 pick Noel will play. Or if he does, if it will be before the All-Star break.
The 6-8 Wiggins has eye-popping athleticism but not the Old Soul game LeBron had at 18. Scouts are no less impressed by the 6-9, 240-pound Randle, a power forward with primo small-forward skills. So
NBA fans can spend this winter scouting one of the great college classes in recent years, too!
Yes, there’s a lot going on.
Happily, Howard won’t be a free agent, so there’s one less farce to be thankful for.
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