Words by Phlip
First, let me go ahead and get this on the table…
It pains me to say that I will be genuinely (but quite welcome) surprised if my Lakers actually WIN the NBA championship this season. I am sure you ask why, and I am more than willing to share. My answer is “2004.”
Yes, I am bringing that back up… In 2003-04, the Lakers enlisted the services of two more hall-of-fame bound players in Gary Payton and Karl Malone to assist the two hall-of-fame bound players they had in Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’neal. The prevailing thinking was that they would have a cakewalk through the season and to the NBA finals where there would be a squash against any one of the weak Eastern Conference teams. A 56-26 record in the regular season placed them #1, they won all three Western Conference series losing a total of 5 games to 12 wins. It seemed the experiment was about to play out beautifully, no? Well we know what happened, I will not relive that beyond right now.
I am worried for this season as the situation is similar, bringing in top-level talent to a close-to-contending team. I worry because the team is still installing a new offense for one and for two, Mike Brown is the coach. If the 2003-04 Lakers can be embarrassed with Phil Jackson coaching, I worry that this Lakers team can even net even one home court advantage playoffs series. And no, that has nothing to do with the pre-season showings, and apparently the experts agree with me on that since they STILL pick the Lakers to come out of the west in spite of it.
Miami has no good reason not to repeat as champions this year. Last year, they won it all with a still-flawed lineup that consisted of a lot of isolations and depended on Chris Bosh to play the Center position. Well this year, they’re similarly flawed in their major portions and will still play a lot of isolation basketball – thus is the nature of having LeBron James and Dwyane Wade on your team. The difference is that they are not AS flawed, as we can fully expect that they will continue to play great team defense as if Erik Spoelstra’s job depends on it. Furthermore, their most major additions are two proven shooters in Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis. Allen has to prove that he is not dead yet and punishing double-teamers is precisely the way he can do it. Rashard Lewis has to prove that the contract that still has him as the Hornets’ highest-paid player despite not playing a game for them was not completely worthless. Neither will ever HAVE to work for their own shots, so it should be comparatively easy.
Boston – were already old and didn’t get any younger or better
Philly – weren’t THAT great to begin with and have inherited the Andrew Bynum problem
Brooklyn – untested effectiveness of a good-on-paper lineup needs to be tested
NY – lol, Knickerbockers
Chicago – Anterior Cruciate Ligament; Derrick Martell Rose
I hate to say it, but no one in the east got better enough, if at all, to compete with the Heat. Now could be the time we will see the road to the NBA Finals as easy as they pretended it would be two years ago. I believe that, and lord knows I hope I am wrong.
Funny as well is how the attention in the West is BACK on LA – and how it is on both the Varsity team in the Lakers and the JV Clippers as well.
The Lakers are of interest for reasons we have already discussed, so no need to dwell. The Clippers, on the other hand, have snuck Lamar Odom in the back door [||] in hopes that he was sandbagging last season in Dallas and can return to his 6th Man of the Year days from the season before that. Also added to a team that actually WON a playoffs series was Grant Hill, who can add a veteran’s leadership to the locker room. In their last chance to retain Chris Paul, they seem to be making very non-Clippers moves in having done the right things for a couple of seasons in a row now.
We cannot forget that the Thunder made it to the NBA Finals and should have shown better than they did, BUT now they largely have the same team with the added benefit of that experience. For that reason, and in spite of the fact that they made no major moves to get much better, they cannot be counted out. As they did NOT make any major moves, there is not a lot more to go into with them. In that same bag falls the San Antonio Spurs. Not many major moves, but you can NEVER count out a Gregg Popovich team, and I can leave that at that.
Phoenix – no Nash, hello lottery
Denver – will make the playoffs and lose in the first round again
Memphis – see Denver
New Orleans – … put a pin in that one, I am coming back to them
Houston – hello Linsanity, but not the playoffs
Awards predictions are easy. [Phlip note – all awards assume health of the recipient]
Rookie of the Year
This will be one of the few good things to take place for the Hornets this year. Having worked with the Olympians will be a fitting warm-up to his freshman campaign and the people’s unibrow Anthony Davis takes it running away.
Defensive Player of the Year
Dwight Howard will play the role that Tyson Chandler played in NY last year, and will do a better and more purposeful job of it. The only thing that could stop him from taking this while playing Goalie for the Lakers would be if Kevin Love beats him out in rebounding.
6th Man of the Year
James Harden repeats, no explanation necessary.
Coach of the Year
Tom Thibodeau (or however you spell it) will make it to the playoffs in the East without Derrick Rose and will be given this as his reward, just as they are eliminated in the first round. No one else will have pulled off enough of a coup to beat him if he does this.
Only 3 people have a chance. If LeBron James has a season like he had last year, there is pretty much only one person with a chance. If Kevin Durant places his team as a #1 seed in the West, AND LeBron doesn’t quite have the season he just had, then he wins.
And now the dark horse candidate (sort of)…
If Ricky Rubio returns to form, AND Minnesota makes the playoffs AND Kevin Love is in the top-3 in scoring AND leads the league in rebounding, he is the MVP, no matter what kind of season LeBron has. The media loves to give it to a white guy whenever they can and this is one that can easily pull off what I just said, the only variable is making the playoffs. Let the record show, I have written in LeBron to repeat.
And that really is all…until next time.
[Editor’s note: Phlip has been writing about basketball over there when he wasn’t writing about it over here.]