10 Pressing Questions for the NBA Season
By Eric Yearian / HoopsDaily.com
With a whirlwind of activity taking place over the past few weeks leading up to the Christmas day NBA season kickoff, it can be easy to lose track of even the major headlines around the association. Luckily for you, we’ve got you covered with ten of the biggest questions around the league and a prediction for how each storyline will conclude.
1. Where will Dwight Howard land?
Let’s get this one out of the way quick. Yes, Howard is the best center in the league and I understand him wanting to find the best situation, and let’s face it, these kinds of stories make for easy writing for me. However, I’m sick of it. First it was LeBron’s pending free agency, but I could handle that. Last year, Carmelo Anthony got in on the act, and it was long, drawn out, and borderline obnoxious to have to hear about constantly. Now we have it for a third straight year? It’s getting old. Don’t expect Howard to remain in Orlando. While the Lakers and Mavericks are heavily mentioned as two destinations he would consider signing on to for the long-term, there is simply too much noise about the Nets for me to predict him landing anywhere but in Brooklyn/New Jersey. The Lopez injury complicates things, but he'll be healthy in 4-6 weeks and Orlando doesn't appear to be in any huge rush to move him, which should allow the Nets to make a strong push for Howard.
2. Is there a New Top Dog in LA?
Not every superstar makes us listen to trade rumors all season. Chris Paul got traded to the Lakers (according to everyone not named David Stern) only to have the deal voided. So what do the Hornets do? They send him to the Clippers instead. Because Lamar Odom’s feelings were hurt by being included in the CP3 trade, he requested and received a trade to Dallas. Now, it’s Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Andrew Bynum feeling the heat from their cross-town rivals. The Clips not only have Chris Paul but also new comers Caron Butler and Chauncey Billups and they re-upped bigman DeAndre Jordan. Oh, and they also have that one guy, you know, the one that dunks absolutely everything. Paul and Blake Griffin are going to connect for an unreal amount of highlight reel plays. Yes, the Clips took a huge step forward and the Lakers took a step back. LA will still belong to the Lakers until the Clippers knock them off, which won’t be this season. The Lakers will win the Pacific division, but the Clippers will be in the playoff picture. Yes, the Clippers are good, but the Lakers are better, and still have Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol.
3. What Impact will the Lockout have on the Season?
The lockout robbed us of a chunk of the season, but the effects of such a layoff may not be done rearing their ugly head. We heard a lot about certain players playing games all over the world during the layoff, but what was going on with the players we didn’t hear about? How much were they playing and working out? Most players won’t be especially affected, but each team will probably have a couple of players that are nowhere near game shape by the time the season starts. Out of shape players will certainly impact the level of play, but the worst part is that it could result in far more injuries early in the season, which could have a large impact on the playoff picture in a protracted season. The teams stocked with hard working players that love the game will have the advantage early in the season. Veterans will know how to prepare themselves for a season, while the rookies and other young players may look a bit overwhelmed early in the year while they work themselves into NBA shape. Additionally teams with good depth wil be in excellent position to handle the truncated season with numberous back to backs and even 3 night in a rows. Speaking of which...
4. How will the Celtics fare with Zero Depth?
The Celtics still have their big four of Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, and Kevin Garnett who all fall under the category of veterans that will have adequately prepared themselves for the season. A shorter season may also benefit them in that it’s fewer games for the aging Pierce/Allen/KG triumvirate to play before the playoffs. On the flipside of that, they have to deal with more back-to-backs, including the dreaded back-to-back-to-back set of games. The real problem for them, however, is that they are left with nearly no depth. Delonte West won’t be back to back up Rondo. Jeff Green is out for the year due to a heart condition that resulted in his contract being voided. Big Baby Davis has been exchanged for Brandon Bass. There’s also the problem of having a lack of centers on the team as they have the ever fragile Jermaine O’Neal and, well, basically nobody else. The Celtics lack the depth needed to replace the HEAT as the East champions. They’ll still be a quality team, but will only go as far as the Big Four take them.
5. Will NBA Player's Popularity be affected by Lockout?
While we were (not so) patiently waiting for the end of the lockout, guys like LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Brandon Jennings traveled the country playing basketball seemingly every chance they got. By playing constantly, not only did they stay in impeccable shape, but they also gained favor in the public eye (which is especially important for James). While to some it appeared that the players were just sitting back arguing over money, the love of the game guys like Kevin Durant showed fans that the players really wanted to play. Not only will this result in these players seeing a boost in popularity but I think you’ll see the fruits of their labors in the season as they are poised to have huge seasons. There were far more than the three players mentioned playing on a regular basis, but everywhere you turned it seemed that those three were playing ball somewhere.
6. Year of the Rebounder?
Dwight Howard is better known for his incredible dunking ability, but he also is responsible for making rebounding cool again. Kevin Love seemed to perfect rebounding last season, and Tyson Chandler got tons of credit for his defense and rebounding while helping the Mavericks to the title. Now, I have no empirical data to back this up, but I’m willing to bet that shooting will be less than spectacular when the season starts. The extended offseason will result in guys coming into the season rusty and trying to find their rhythm. Rebounding is a skill that doesn’t get rusty, so expect rebounding specialists to be rebounding at a record-setting pace to begin the season. The 2011-2012 season may just go down as the year of the rebounder in the NBA as guys will take longer than normal to find their rhythm, especially those guys who will be suiting up for a new team.
7. Who will be the Worst Team in the League?
John Wall made headlines the other day by proclaiming that the Wizards should be making the playoffs this season. Let’s face it; Wall probably qualifies as clinically insane if he truly believes the Wizards are ready to take the step into the postseason. They are headed in the right direction, but they aren’t there yet, and that probably works in their favor. This upcoming year’s draft class is chock full of talent, meaning if you’re going to be a bad team, this is the year you want to do it. So, the question arises, who is going to be bad enough to earn the moniker worst team in the association and earn the most ping pong balls in the draft lottery? I’d venture to guess it will be one of four teams. It could be Cleveland, who will be relying on rookies Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson to lead the team. They have Antawn Jamison, Omri Casspi, and Anderson Varejao to help lead the team, though. It could be the Raptors, who will be relying on DeMar DeRozan and Andrea Bargnani again while waiting for last year’s pick Jonas Valanciunas to come over. They have some young players that have some value, but don’t expect them to do much winning this season. The Pistons are a team that will rack up the losses as they look to rebuild their team behind young players like Greg Monroe, Jonas Jerebko, and rookie Brandon Knight. If Minnesota is putrid again, the league owned Hornets could land two top five picks, a la Cleveland. New Orleans trade landed them more long term assets than the Laker deal, but they have much less talent to put on the floor in the short term. As bad as those teams have the potential to be, my money is on the Charlotte Bobcats, who are looking to build the team around two very flawed rookies in Bismack Biyombo (who is a defense-only player) and Kemba Walker (who is a great talent but lacks NBA size). For enduring long seasons this year, these teams should get rewarded with potentially transcendent players such as Andre Drummond, Anthony Davis, Jeremy Lamb, Perry Jones and Harrison Barnes.
8. Will we see the China "Cast Aways" this Season?
During the lockout, plenty of players went overseas and played, most notably Deron Williams. Most of those players had clauses in their contracts that allowed them to come back to the NBA once the lockout ended. The Chinese Basketball League, however, refused to include these clauses and thus have the option to keep players such as J.R. Smith, Wilson Chandler, Aaron Brooks and Kenyon Martin until March. There is no question those players could help out a contender this season, but it remains to be seen if the Chinese league teams will relent and allow their players to return to the US. Kenyon Martin is rumored to be waived, assuming the league will sign off on it without punishing the team for allowing such a good player to just walk. However, there are also rumblings that his team fears heavy-handed repercussions in the event they free him to come back to the NBA.
9. Who Will Make the Playoffs?
The league has some quality teams in both conferences, but the bottom of the conferences have some real underachievers as well. So, who will make the playoffs? In the West, you obviously have the locks in the Lakers, Mavericks, and Thunder. You also have teams in Memphis and the Clippers who should be able to make it relatively easyily. That leaves three spots open for the likes of Portland, Golden State, and Denver. Can the Rockets find their way to the postseason now that they are moving on from their old Yao Ming blueprint and building around Kevin Martin and Luis Scola? Will Steve Nash miss the playoffs in Phoenix?
In the East, Miami, New York, Orlando, and Boston are probably pretty good locks for the postseason. Atlanta has too much talent not to make it, and Milwaukee should be able to ride a fantastic Brandon Jennings season to the playoffs as well. It gets a little murky in the East after that and I’d say you can tentatively pencil in Indiana and New Jersey. The Nets and Pacers probably won’t be great teams, but they might have just enough talent to sneak into the playoffs and stay just long enough to get swept by the HEAT and Bulls. The Nets might be able to stick around a bit longer in the event they acquire Dwight Howard, but we’ll deal with that scenario if and when the time comes.
10. So Who Wins the Title, can the Mavericks Repeat?
The Mavericks lost Tyson Chandler, and basically tried to replace him with Lamar Odom, granted Odom comes about 13 million a year cheaper. I like Odom, but I’m just not sure it will be enough to allow them to win it all again this year. Granted they can will continue to be aggressive in adding talent (Howard). The Mavs are another year older and they had to ride an incredible postseason run by Dirk Nowitzki to win it last year. So no, I don’t see the Mavs winning the West again this season. I don’t think it matters who wins the West though, because the best team in the league should reside in South Beach. Last season was never about the champion Mavericks (though it should have been), or MVP Derrick Rose, or Rookie of the Year Blake Griffin: it was always about the HEAT. This season, Miami should have a better understanding of how to play together and with a healthy Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller it should be enough to get them over the top. They added Shane Battier, who will bolster an already strong defense and Norris Cole, who put up videogame numbers in college. You may hate them, but in a shortened season, the Heat SHOULD win the championship.