HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Between the ominous words of both NBA Commissioner David Stern and Players’ Union chief Billy Hunter regarding the gulf separating the sides in the looming labor dispute and the knowledge that we’re still at least 48 hours (and counting) away from the start of the regular season, I’m not sure I can locate my motivation.
All this lockout talk is threatening to burn the edges on what is shaping up to be the most intriguing and dramatic regular season race we’ve seen in years.
Here at the hideout, we’d like to enjoy this one as best we can (just in case we have to go without for a little while after this season). We want to savor this first season of the this new era, the one that began the night LeBron James told the world he was “taking his talents to South Beach.”
We’ve already come up with our short list of things we’re looking forward to this season (feel free to add to our list below):
1) CAN MIAMI HANDLE THE HEAT?
For months now everyone has been wondering how anyone will be able to deal with James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the Miami Heat this season. After seeing them (everyone but Wade) up close and personal Thursday in Atlanta, I’m suddenly more interested in how the Heat will deal with the heat (from the media and fans around the world) that will accompany throughout their historic journey?
There is really no blueprint for what they are doing. As much as people want to associate this crew with the Celtics’ Big 3, the dynamics are nothing alike. The Celtics were pressed together with a giant (imaginary) clock ticking on their respective career windows to win a title. Miami’s 3 are all in the primes of their careers. They have years to chase titles. Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce were all entering the final stage of their star-studded careers.
I was searching for some sense of urgency from the Heat, some of that “now-or-never” aura that all championship teams seem to posses. I found it in James, who finally appears to be operating with that chip on his shoulder that’s been missing. He’s always been motivated to win championships but it feels like all the drama surrounding his decision might have given him the extra incentive he needed to finally grasp the only that’s eluded him so far …
… that is if if injuries don’t derail the ride. Wade played just three preseason minutes and now comes word that Mike Miller could be out until January with that hand injury he suffered in practice.
2) WHO RISES UP AND WHO FALLS DOWN?
In order for someone — like the Bulls, Bucks, Thunder and Grizzlies — to rise up the standings, someone — like the Hawks, Cavaliers, Nuggets and Trail Blazers — has to slide down. It’s all guesswork right now. There’s no way of telling what will happen. All we have to go on right now is a preseason stint that some teams take much more serious than others. But what we do know is that no teams can rise without the fall of another.
Take a look at the work the Timberwolves (6-2), Hang Time Grizzlies (8-0) and Jazz (8-0) did in the preseason and tell me they aren’t angling to take someone’s spot in the Western Conference pecking order. By the same token, it’s clear that Orlando (7-0) and Boston (7-1) have no intention of conceding anything to the Heat, not even the mythical preseason Eastern Conference title. Even the jilted Cavs (6-2) did their best to make a statement during the preseason.
Come Tuesday night, though, everything changes. The games are for real and the consequences of hesitating this season could last the entire season. Because when someone goes up, someone else inevitably comes down.
3) IS THIS YET ANOTHER BUMPER ROOKIE CROP?
If you thought Tyreke Evans, Steph Curry and Brandon Jennings kept us buzzing last year, wait until John Wall, Blake Griffin and DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins get a chance to crank things up. NBA.com’s rookie guru Drew Packham will stay busy this season, as always, chronicling the ups and inevitable downs these cats will experience. We’ll be locked in on all of it, especially Wall and Griffin, who could wage one of the better “Big Man v. Little Man” battles for the Rookie of the Year award that we’ve seen in quite some time.
It’s hard to tell just how deep a group this year’s class will be. But that’s not a bad thing. Last year Griffin was considered the only sure thing in a class filled with young and unproven guards and we ended up with an absolute bumper crop of prospects that excelled in niche roles on teams good and bad throughout the league.
This year’s crew — toss Nets forward Derrick Favors into the mix — boasts plenty of All-Star potential, perhaps even more than last year’s crew at the same stage. Time will tell. But the early returns (check below) look promising.
4) DOES ‘MELO FINISH THE SEASON A MILE HIGH?
At this stage, the only thing that will surprise us about Carmelo Anthony this season is if he’s still wearing a Denver Nuggets’ jersey at the end of the season. There’s been too much smoke billowing from this story for there not to be a fire buried somewhere beneath all of the cordial dialogue that’s gone on between Anthony and the Nuggets’ brass.
It’s not exactly a secret that Anthony’s camp has made clear his desire to be traded, despite public statements from Anthony to the contrary. And the Knicks and Nets certainly haven’t hidden their desires for him (the Nets’ latest offer, per the Record, is downright staggering — Favors, the No. 3 pick in the June draft, Troy Murphy, Kris Humphries and two more first round picks).
We don’t care where Anthony plays, so long as he’s doing it for a contender. However shaky things might seem in Denver right now, the situation there is still better than what’s going on in New York (sorry Amar’e Stoudemire) or New Jersey right now. So if Anthony wants out, we hope he knows what he might be getting into.
5) DOES THE DURANTULA TAKEOVER CONTINUE?
Kevin Durant continues to impress in every aspect. Who had a better summer? The guy signed a five-year extension with the Thunder and then went out and led the way as the Team USA went out and won the gold at the 2010 FIBA World Championship. He enters the season as the leader of one of the hottest teams in basketball (they were Sports Illustrated cover boys on NBA preview issue) with a chance to make a power move in a Western Conference that is bunched up behind the Los Angeles Lakers.
If there’s a player and team prepared for the rigors of joining the NBA’s upper crust, it’s Durant and his Thunder. They’ve exhibited all the qualities you want to see in a superstar and his upstart crew. They have the perfect complement of running mates/role players for Durant to feed off of in Russell Westbrook, Jeff Green and the rest of the Thunder’s college-aged brigade of ballers.
We see even bigger things on the horizon for Durant, though. Last year he became the league’s youngest scoring champ on record. This year he could add MVP honors to his overcrowded trophy case.
Feel free to add your own items to the list below!