Welcome to Part 1 of a However Many Part It Takes series of With Leather’s Guide to Understanding the Shortened NBA Season. Some of these will attempt to answer your questions while others will confuse you more. Enjoy.
The moment that news scrolled across the bottom of my TV screen during whatever college game I was watching that the NBA owners and players had tentatively reached a deal, my first thought was: “Oh sh*t, here it comes.” Sure enough, my Facebook feed was instantly filled with “Let’s go Heat” and “Title time for Miami” status updates. Sure, most of them were poorly spelled and possibly even written by early 19th century immigrants, but I knew it was coming and for the first time since the “Big 3” teamed up, my response was: “Yup.”
When free agency begins and training camps open, NBA teams will scatter and attack like rabid animals to try and prepare for the 66-game season that not many people thought would even happen. And we’re going to see reports right away that players are out of shape and some will even experience injuries. After all, that’s how we got to this point – guys working hard only when it matters and not preparing for the worst.
As always, I’m not an expert on anything, but I am a big NBA fan – an unapologetic and constantly depressed Orlando Magic homer – and I am both agitated and fascinated by this shortened season. I’m not predicting the future by any means, but if I had to guess, we’re in for so much more than we bargained for this season.
This is probably the safest assumption that most experts will make right now, but I think there’s so much more to this than even the analysts are getting at. For starters, go back and take a look at the key figures involved in nearly every charity game and exhibition. Among the most primed players ready to begin this season will be Dwyane Wade and LeBron James. Not only have they been conditioning, playing, and working on their chemistry, but they’ve also been working with guys like Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony, who will be standing in their way. What better way to defeat your enemies than to understand them?
But even beyond the idea that they’re just ready to play, the Heat will address their needs however they can in this shallow free agency pool (goodbye Mike Miller, hello anyone who can play center) and they will hit the ground running. Us critics had the advantage of villainizing the Heat last year, and Wade, James and especially Bosh weren’t used to that. It jarred them. Now they don’t give a crap. Whoever joins them will have to settle in for a crash course, because there also won’t be that margin of error that the Heat had last year that we all mistook for the stars clashing.
Barring any injuries, a sudden lockout relapse, or Chris Paul and Dwight Howard being traded to the same team, the Heat will win the NBA Finals this year. I know, bold prediction.
The Heat are going to win a lot of games. Thankfully, they can’t win 73 games, so for at least one more year Drake will continue to be my No. 1 f*cking moron celebrity sports fan. The Heat won’t be perfect, though, which means that other teams could step in and steal a few W’s here and there, but the problem is that at least half the league is going to be terrible right out of the gates. And I’m not just talking about terrible teams like Sacramento and Minnesota. I’m talking about decent to good teams like Atlanta, Orlando, Phoenix, Portland, Memphis, etc.
Very few teams will be good from the start, and those who will – like Miami, Dallas and possibly San Antonio – will have had guys who were either playing overseas and sharpening their skills or keeping loose in the exhibition games. But too many players were just hitting the gyms and conditioning on their own – if at all – and not with their teammates. I know it’s like riding a bike to most of these guys, but there’s going to be some serious wobbling for at least the first dozen games or so.
All right, let’s screw analysis since I’m not an analyst and just speculate. And who is better at speculating than Los Angeles Lakers fans and lazy ass sports writers who just strap a saddle to the obvious and ride from paycheck to paycheck? Here, let me do a favor to every so-called NBA insider out there – simply send out the following Mad Lib to every beat writer you know and wait for the link backs and accolades to come rolling in:
“The Lakers have offered the (insert sh*tty small market team with lone superstar) a deal including Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol, Ron Artest and Shannon Brown and draft picks for (that sh*tty small market team’s superstar). A GM for another team told me that he thinks that (superstar) would be open to playing in L.A. but the (sh*tty small market team) is asking that the Lakers also accept (terrible player with horrible contract that the sh*tty team gave him).”
That’s a pretty solid representation of the dozen or so repetitive rumors that are going to continue now that the lockout is over. Every Lakers fan believes that his team will acquire Dwight Howard or Chris Paul because they’re the Lakers. Forget that their trade pieces are a bunch of old role players. Logic has no place is major market trade conversations, especially with the trade deadline approaching faster than ever.
And that’s not to say that these types of deals won’t happen, because we know from simply watching the league that there are enough good GMs to count on one hand.
The most popular team in the NBA right now is the Orlando Magic, because at least a dozen teams want Dwight Howard, everyone watching wants to know and predict where he’ll end up and just 1% of this world’s population believes he is staying in Orlando (including Skip Bayless, which is a kiss of death). Howard has basically said that his bags are packed, and it would take a roster move miracle by Smith to put the Magic in a position to challenge the Heat, Chicago Bulls, Boston Celtics and New York Knicks to return to the Finals, and we all know there’s not a labor union’s chance at Disney that Smith can make that happen. After all, he’s the guy that traded for Gilbert Arenas and Hedo Turkoglu, both moves being certified roster killers.
As of today, the first rumor is that the Nets have already made an offer of Brook Lopez and two first round picks for Howard, and that makes sense because Mikhail Prokhorov wants a superstar to pair with Deron Williams, who would presumably re-sign if the Nets bag Howard. The problem for every team is that Smith won't even entertain a deal right now, but Smith's problem is that every team will still try.
Best case scenario for Smith and the Magic: They get a sweetheart deal like the Knicks gave the Nuggets for Carmelo Anthony with enough solid pieces at bargain prices to maintain 40-50 wins.
Worst case – and until I see otherwise, the most likely – scenario: Otis deals away his last few attractive pieces in J.J. Redick, Ryan Anderson and Brandon Bass for the playmaker that the Magic have so desperately needed, with the hopes that the team can make a run. Spoiler alert: It can’t, and then Dwight just walks away with the Magic receiving nothing, a la Shaq.
But I don’t even want to speculate, because there’s so much more that can happen now that the Magic can at least dump Arenas or Turkoglu with the amnesty clause.
I’m a lot more intrigued by Chris Paul’s destiny, because his current team is owned and run by the league, and that allows me to treat this like a conspiracy, which is just plain fun. The Celtics have already supposedly made a power move to acquire CP3, but he apparently won’t sign an extension in Boston. Most people guess that Paul will end up in New York or with the Lakers, which is what makes this all so interesting. There are other teams – like the Thunder or Clippers, for instance – that could put together the best deals for Paul and give him the chance to compete for a title right away. But would it shock anyone if Paul ends up shipped to the Lakers at the deadline for Lamar Odom, Shannon Brown and a handwritten note that promises the Kardashians will never step foot in New Orleans?
Reality be damned, this has some bad juju all over it. The problem with Paul, Howard and Williams being free agents after this season is that regardless of what we think the lockout accomplished to help the smaller market teams, the big market boys are still trying to match Miami with pure star power. So of course the Knicks are going to do whatever it takes to get Paul and solidify their young, powerful lineup. And of course the Lakers and Celtics are going to do whatever they can to try to get both Paul and Howard to help rebuild and avoid some down seasons. If any of that happens? F*ck the small market teams over a barrel.
There just aren’t enough stars to go around.