HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — We’ve been watching that countdown to tipoff clock on the front of NBA.com for days, weeks even, just staring at the numbers ticking away.
With the ground beneath our feet seemingly changing by the second in the final days leading up to Tuesday night’s start of the regular season, the one constant we thought we could be sure of is the teams that make up the league’s 1 percent.
But we’re not completely sure how to rank the elite now that James Harden and Jeremy Lin will share a backcourt in Houston after Oklahoma City Thunder traded the reigning KIA Sixth Man of the Year to the Rockets Saturday night. It was the most shocking and final blow in a week that left us punch drunk from stunning (some more than others) news.
The balance of power hasn’t been shifted or anything. We all know that the Miami Heat, Thunder, Los Angeles Lakers, San Antonio Spurs and Boston Celtics make up the theoretical 1 percent. They’ll all kick this season off in the same positions in which they finished the last one.
Sure, it was a drama-filled last week before the start of the regular season. From the news that NBA Commissioner David Stern would be stepping down on Feb. 1, 2014 after 30 years on the job, and will be succeeded by Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver, to the weekend stunner from Oklahoma City, the hits just kept coming.
On the eve of one of the most anticipated seasons we can remember, so much seems to be in flux.
For months the Lakers worried that Dwight Howard might not be ready to play in the opener as his lower back healed from April surgery and yet it’s Kobe Bryant (foot) who could watch from the sideline in street clothes, more from Dave McMenamin from the ESPNLosAngeles.com:
“I don’t know, I have my doubts,” said Pau Gasol, Bryant’s longest-tenured teammate on the roster. “I hope we (have him in the lineup). … He hasn’t been able to practice for six days. He’s been off that foot for six days, and it’s no joke. I don’t remember the last time that he took that many days off exercising. He might do stuff in the weight room and might do stuff without putting weight on the foot, but it’s a little bit concerning.”
Bryant did not speak to reporters Sunday, but Howard said the lingering injury had Bryant in a bad mood.
“He hasn’t really talked about it,” Howard said. “I know he’s a little down right now. He seems down because he can’t get out there and practice with us. He’s trying to nurse his foot.”
As planned, Bryant was re-evaluated by team trainer Gary Vitti and the rest of the medical staff over the weekend, including undergoing an MRI, according to Lakers coach Mike Brown. The MRI merely confirmed a strain and contusion of Bryant’s foot, Lakers spokesman John Black said.
“We’ll see how he is (Monday) and what he cannot do or can do out on the floor and then kind of go from there,” Brown said.
That unsettling feeling extends to the rest of the league, particularly the other teams challenging to join that elite fray. The Knicks were supposed to be making a move up the Eastern Conference food chain this season, but that was before Amar’e Stoudemire‘s knee injury became an issue.
Stoudemire’s injury is a dark cloud for a Knicks team fighting for supremacy in its own town, now that the Brooklyn Nets are competing for headlines and eyeballs in and around New York City.
The news that Stoudemire is headed for a second opinion on his knee doesn’t bode well for the Knicks, as Ian Begley of ESPNNewYork.com explains:
The Knicks’ original timetable stated that Stoudemire would miss anywhere from the first four to 11 days of the season.
Tweeted Stoudemire’s agent, Happy Walters, on Saturday: “To all of the Knicks fans sending me messages… Stat will be fine. He’s working w/ team trainers – will b back ASAP.
“No 1 wants to b out there after working all summer on his game more than Stat, himself.”
The Knicks open the regular season on the road Thursday against the Brooklyn Nets.
Stoudemire first injured his knee in a practice collision with teammate Chris Copeland. The Knicks originally called it a bone bruise but following an MRI, it was later determined that Stoudemire had ruptured a popliteal cyst behind his left knee.
Stoudemire’s left knee has been an issue in the past. He underwent microfracture surgery in October 2005, but bounced back well from the procedure.
One NBA team doctor told ESPNNewYork.com that Stoudemire was the best example of a player regaining his form after microfracture surgery.
Still, the procedure can be a red flag for teams. Stoudemire’s contract with the Knicks — a five-year, $100 million pact — is uninsured because of his history of knee issues.
We won’t even get into all of the uncertainty in Chicago and when Derrick Rose will return to the court for a Bulls team that we can no longer keep among the league’s elite.
None of this diminishes our excitement for the start of the regular season. As always, we’re more than ready for the real games to get started.
But we’d be lying if we said we weren’t just a little bit anxious about what’s to come …