Three questions to ponder for the upcoming NBA campaign.
Last year, the only thing NBA fans knew was what they didn't know — like, would the season ever start? One convincing Miami Heat title and blockbuster trade later, and fans just know that it will be Miami and L.A. in the Finals. C’mon guys, it’s the NBA, no one knows everything. So...
1) Who’s Next?
Turns out, teaming LeBron James and Chris Bosh with Dwyane Wade was a decent idea after all. But we all can’t have a Big Three. There aren’t enough All-Stars. Or max deals. Or money. So the Nuggets stole Andre Iguodala from Philly in the mega-deal that made Dwight Howard the centerpiece of a Big Four in L.A. (see No. 2), content to play as many bouncy wing players as the rules allow. The Rockets are making a Moneyball-style commitment to squeezing value from underappreciated tweeners and sleepers. The Timberwolves are essentially mimicking a strong Euroleague team. The Spurs will take one more shot with that mystical Spurs-ian thing. And the Clippers will go old-school again, betting on a great point guard and the two-handed dunk. As long as they all know they’re playing for runner-up, everyone should do just fine.
2) Will L.A.’s Ensemble Deliver?
The Lakers are not short of star power. “Just on paper, you’re obviously talking about defensive players of the years, MVPs, All-Stars,” Kobe told the Los Angeles Times. “You’re talking about a myriad of things where guys are on top of their position and have been at the top of their position.” But you’re also talking about one of the league’s oddest mixes. In Bryant and Howard, the Lakers lineup pairs two of the game’s premier scorers (and unapologetic ball-stoppers) with, arguably, the NBA’s best back- and frontcourt passers in Steve Nash and Pau Gasol. Now, add a coach whose authority is perpetually in doubt, a short bench, and the performance artist formerly known as Ron Artest. If it all goes just right, this could be the hardcourt version of “Ocean’s 11” — a bunch of talented stars having fun together as they abscond with the big prize. But if it goes wrong — if, say, someone gets hurt, old or grumpy — this could look much more like “The Expendables”: a bunch of big names joylessly going through the motions, waiting for someone to yell “cut.”
3) Is There a Dark Horse?
Yes, but he won’t be running for a while. Miami may have ended 2011-12 as champs, but it wrapped up the regular season like everyone else in the East: looking up at the 50–16 Chicago Bulls. And then Derrick Rose went down with a torn ACL. He’ll begin this season on the mend, and the rest of the league is breathing a sigh of relief. They may be fooling themselves. Coach Tom Thibodeau’s discipline and the team’s maniacal defense and talented frontcourt should keep them close until Rose’s expected return in the new year. Then, watch out. “I don’t know how I’m going to play,” he told the Chicago Sun-Times. “I don’t know what’s going to be new about my game. I just know it’s going to be exciting.” As horses go, a team that will spend much of the season without its best player is a dark one indeed. But if Rose is galloping at full speed down the stretch, the race for the East could go down to the wire.