by Josh Kipnis
The Chris Paul madness is over. Finally. The NBA’s opening tipoff starts in 10 days, so what do you say we stop talking about free agency and start focusing on the actual game.
In the aftermath of the lockout, it seems nothing has changed. The players remain the puppet masters, despite a coup attempt from the owners this summer. By far, the most hyped difference is the shortened 66-game schedule set to tipoff on Christmas day. But have you given this idea a real thought yet? Sure, you were pissed the season was delayed a month, but have you considered what affect this new schedule will have on every team?
Players are not going to be getting the rest they previously cherished. In years past, each team played 82 games in 170 days. That’s a game in every 2.07 days. This year, teams will have to play 66 games in 123 days--averaging a game every 1.86 days. It seems like a small change, but think about Lakers’ center, Andrew Bynum. He missed 28 games last season, and that’s when the Lakers played just about every other day. Shortening his rest in between games is the last thing they need.
Playing this often, the keys to success this year are going to be youth and depth. By the season’s end, the youngest and freshest teams are going to be whirling dervishes in comparison to the stagnant play of the elderly (can you say hip replacement?) Who will make a run in the playoffs? Who will uncharacteristically struggle? The answers may surprise you.
Los Angeles Clippers
The whole Chris Paul mess pushed me back and forth on this one. I wish they could’ve found a way to keep Eric Gordon, but nevertheless, they got one of the two best point guards in the game. With Kaman, Aminu, and Gordon gone, their depth diminished, but not too much. Re-signing DeAndre Jordan, as well as bringing on Caron Butler and Chauncey Billups this off-season was huge. The Clippers starting five is as good as anyone (I feel like I should be slapped in the face. The Clippers?). Billups may be aging, but that’s where Eric Bledsoe comes into play. Holding onto him was key, and he could be up for the 6th Man Award this season.
What is happening in the NBA! Since when can the Clippers and Pacers both be good in the same year? Seriously, stop laughing; this team has some weapons. Danny Granger averaged over 20 PPG in 2010, and I see no signs of those numbers declining. The biggest flaw in Granger’s game though, was his efficiency rating--last season, he ranked 50th (You would too if you had the offensive supporting cast of Roy Hibbert, Tyler Hansborough, and Darren Collison). But that problem is solved. Indiana signed Hornets’ star and leading scorer David West, taking pressure off Granger and adding a much-needed veteran voice to this young squad. I see them in the playoffs in a five or six spot.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Do I dare say it? I really (really) want to. NBA Champs…
How cool would it be to see this team win it all? The only thing holding me back is experience. Durant averaged 27.7 PPG last year, making him the youngest player in NBA history to win the scoring title. But will he ever emerge as a clutch player? It is the only thing missing in his repertoire (aside from any sense of defensive intensity). We’ve seen him fade into the shadows during crunch time too much. It’s time for the Durantula to cast his web.
I know I said youth and depth were needed, but I’m making an exception here. Why? Three words: Derrick Freakin Rose. He single-handedly carried his team to the Eastern Conference Finals last spring, and this year he will continue his success. The new schedule plays to his strengths perfectly. He is the epitome of a whirling dervish.
Los Angeles Lakers
For the first time (ever?) the Lakers will be the second best team playing in the Staples Center. The Clippers and Lakers are polar opposites this year. While the Clippers begin to build their youthful organization, the Lakers are evaluating retirement plans and checking into nursing homes. There is absolutely no chance the Lakers can survive this season. 66 games in 123 days will prove to be way too much for LA to handle. Consider the ages of their starting lineup: Bryant (33), Fisher (37), Gasol (31), Meta World Peace (32. “The Artest formally known as Ron”), and Bynum (24. His knees have more fluid than the Bears’ Sam Hurd has cocaine.) And the players coming off the bench? Aside from newly acquired player, Josh McRoberts, they have three guys (Matt Barnes, Steve Blake, and Luke Walton) who are all 31. They simply don’t have what it takes this year. The Odom trade is going to kill them. I know Kobe is a winner, but too many things are falling out of place. They will still make the playoffs, but it won’t be any higher than a five seed.
Kevin Garnett is already lashing out at Commissioner Stern for not giving teams enough of a pre-season. A few days ago, Garnett told reporters that, “Timing is everything.” Sorry KG, if that’s the case then looks like your Celtics have a whole lot of nothing. The Big Three isn’t what it used to be. Period. Each year they pride themselves on having the best defense in league. But can they continuously hold opponents under 100 points with this much mileage? Pierce (34), Garnett (35), and Allen (36) will outperform each and every team mentally, but the physical aspect is what’s lacking. And how about Rondo? The speedster is most effective in transition, pushing the ball up the court whenever the chance presents itself. Will Coach Doc Rivers even let him though? A transition offense isn’t an effective game-plan when you have a bunch of old men limping up the court. Also, how will the off-season trade rumors play with Rondo’s emotions? Lamar Odom sure didn’t like it.
Christmas is just 10 days away, and that means we are inching ever so close to NBA basketball again. This year’s schedule is something we haven’t seen before. With so many games being played in so little time, age, stability, and depth have never been so significant. Who will be the superior team in LA? Can the Celtics continue to be a beast in the East? Does Durant have what it takes to go the distance? Only time will tell. Basketball is back, baby!