The NBA’s “nuclear winter” is upon us, and I’m holed up in my sports-themed fallout shelter that doubles as a bedroom. The indefensibly indefinite lockout has soiled fond basketball memories and left fans with more unanswered questions than the LOST finale (which I humbly enjoyed).
While David Stern and Billy Hunter are finger-pointing more than Dikembe Mutombo, I’ve decided to be Metta World Peace-ful and funnel my frustrations into previews of eight NBA story lines that will sadly remain unresolved during the 2011-2012 Season That Isn’t. I (bitterly) hope you enjoy them!
8. Can the Tyreke Evans – Jimmer Fredette “Buddy Cops Backcourt” coexist?
When Sacramento (I mean Anaheim…I mean Sacramento) acquired the Great White Hope in a draft night trade with the Bucks, I immediately felt more awkward than Michael Cera in the middle of a threesome. If pairing a devout observer of the BYU Honor Code with a reckless violator of I-80’s traffic code wasn’t dangerous enough for team chemistry, expecting either combo guard to sacrifice shot attempts surely will be. Although the Kings now have tremendous scoring potential with Evans, Fredette, and Zach Randolph 2.0 (DeMarcus Cousins), more seasoned, defensive-minded players are needed in order for this wager to pay off. Unfortunately for the Maloofs, the house doesn’t always win. This team would’ve plummeted like its owners’ bank accounts.
After drafting three point guards in the 2009 Draft, trading the best one (Ty Lawson), giving up on the most likeable one (Jonny Flynn), and investing his basketball future in the mysterious foreign one (Rubio), T-Wolves GM David Kahn has not-so-quietly built one of the NBA’s most simultaneously puzzling and intriguing rosters. Rubio will be surrounded by a logjam of big men, and although Kevin Love, Michael Beasley, Derrick Williams, Wes Johnson, Martell Webster, Darko, and Anthony Randolph (to name a few) are individually talented, they are a collective mess.
Kahn is one sub .500 year away from J.D. Salinger-like exile, and he should spend the lockout praying Rubio isn’t as immature and miscast as Ashton Kutcher on Two and a Half Men.
6. Are Oklahoma City and Memphis for real?
After battling in the second round of the playoffs, these young squads have emerged as two rising forces in an aging Western Conference. Will Russell Westbrook ever have his “You Can Be My Wingman Anytime Moment” and accept that Kevin Durant is Oklahoma City’s alpha dog? Will Rudy Gay’s return disrupt the underdog chemistry that made the Memphis so gritty?
At the very least, both teams would’ve warranted an NBA League Pass subscription this year.
These Celtics are playoff regulars loaded with future Hall of Famers hoping to rise a few spots on Bill Simmons’ “Pyramid.“ Kevin Garnett may not be able to dunk anymore, but Rajon Rondo can still pass, Ray Allen can still shoot, and Paul Pierce can still piss off Knicks fans. The Celtics would run away with the Atlantic Division if Doc Rivers could find a way to restore Jeff Green’s pulse.
The Lakers aren’t as old as they looked in May. If Kobe Bryant’s knee doctors are half as good as his lawyers, the Black Mamba will continue to torture opposing defenses (and his teammates). Pau Gasol’s emotional summer breakup was more bizarre than Lamar Odom’s choice in women, but the Lakers still have enough size and talent to keep Jack Nicholson culturally relevant.
The Spurs may be more boring than ever before. This makes them extremely dangerous. After a 61-win season and a grueling loss to a solid Memphis team, San Antonio would’ve flown under the radar this year. They always do. Does anyone even remember the single greatest shot of the 2011 Playoffs?
*Side note: All three would’ve loved playing an abbreviated season. The Spurs certainly did in 1999.
4. Will “Stat & Melo” make the Knicks a legitimate threat in the East?
I’m biased, but it’s hard to imagine anyone suffering more right now than Knicks fans. After enduring a decade of Scott Layden and Isiah Thomas-induced futility, New York landed two superstars (in their respective primes) and returned to the playoffs just in time to gear up for a lost season. Mike D’Antoni is in the final year of his contract, and he may never get a fair shot at retaining what is now a far more attractive coaching gig. Though the Knicks will likely have enough cap flexibility to sign a third stud soon, it still hurts to miss out on what would’ve been their most exciting season in recent memory.
I’ll genuinely miss seeing Spike Lee at the Garden this year (even though I begged him to go away last December).
3. Did the Nets make one of the dumbest trades in NBA history?
If the Nets are unable to extend Deron Williams, Mikhail Prokhorov must eat these words with a side of borscht. Jay-Z would have to perform at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center 100 times before the billion-dollar venue’s seats got broken in.
2. Where will Chris Paul and Dwight Howard end up?
It’s tough being a franchise player on an franchise struggling to be a player. Just ask Chris Paul and Dwight Howard. These guys have spent their entire careers carrying underwhelming teams on their shoulders (something that’s a little easier if your shoulders look like Dwight Howard’s). Although Superman did reach the 2009 Finals, his trusty sidekick that year was Hedu Turkoglu. Vince Carter and Gilbert Arenas weren’t exactly upgrades. Paul and Howard ironically need each other, and they could make things really interesting by teaming up in the near future (they’d look nice in Orange and Blue).
1. Can Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks repeat?
Last summer, Dirk pulled a 2007 Peyton/2009 A-Rod and proved all the haters wrong. No player in NBA history has ever made awkwardness look more graceful. With the monkey off his aching back, Dirk will be ready to lead the Mavericks again (whenever the games begin). I’m pulling for them. Mark Cuban is way more tolerable when he isn’t bitching.
*1a. Will LeBron James go another year without a ring?
As the labor dispute continues, this looks like a near certainty. Maybe this lockout isn’t so bad after all?