I am excited for the upcoming season as I'm sure most NBA fans are as well. Now, we can finally talk NBA basketball again instead of lockout updates and players playing with teams overseas. We can actually prepare for NBA basketball. With that being said here are some headlines to follow leading up to the start of the season. What can we expect from the upcoming season? How could it possibly top last year? Which players will change teams? Which coaches are on the hot seat? How will Miami fare in Year 2 of the "Big 3"? Who will be the surprise team(s)? Who will be crowned 2012 NBA Champions?
This season should shape out to be a very entertaining season for more reasons than one. For starters, it will be another season that will include the "surprise element". What I mean by that is there is no clear cut favorite to win the title this year. The Dallas Mavericks surprised most of us last year after their impressive championship run and there is a strong possiblity that we may be surprised again. Parity amongst teams has increased drastically in the NBA over the past few years, it's hard not to believe that every team has a chance. The Western Conference has been very competitive for years now, sometimes only a few games separated the first seed in playoffs from eighth seed. Now, I think the same will start to happen in the Eastern Conference as some of the teams who have been bottom feeders for years now are ready to contend. Its clear now that any team could lose any given night and that makes every game exciting.
The offseason and free agency is typically one of the most exciting times of the year. Due to the lockout dragging on as long as it did, it will be a very short free agency period. However, that just might make it even more exciting. Free agency is set to begin on Dec. 9 with the regular season set to start on Christmas. That leaves just a couple weeks of time for teams to pursue free agents as well as securing their own current free agents. Also, in addition to that, the amnesty provision could result in even more players being available than expected, perhaps even big names. Expect things to get very competitive in a hurry. Some notable free agents to track include:
Some names rumored to be made available via the amnesty clause include:
In addition to those names, we can't forget about the uncertain futures of superstars such as Chris Paul, Dwight Howard and Deron Williams who are all in the last year of their contracts and all sorts of doubt surrounding them resigning with their current teams. We will hear rumors all year similar to the chatter that went on with Carmelo Anthony last year. I believe that at least 2 out of those 3 will be moved prior to the start of the season or by the trade deadline. With all the free agents, amnesty casualties, and superstars available; player movement this year should be nothing short of spectacular.
This will be a vital season for many new coaches and current coaches to produce results. Some coaches may not have too long of a leash and others may be subject to very high expectations to meet. Here is a list of coaches to keep an eye on:
Mike Brown (Lakers) - Large shoes to fill in LA with a team that expects to win......and Kobe Bryant
Erik Spoelstra (Heat)- Pressure to win with Big 3.....will Riley get impatient?
Mike D'Antoni (Knicks) - Last year of contract, Donnie Walsh gone, pressure to win in NY after acquiring Melo/Amare
Mark Jackson (Warriors) - Last coach was only given one season, Jackson has no coaching experience. Will he impress or fall flat?
Stan Van Gundy (Magic) - Has he lost this team? Doesn't seem like any of his players would mind if he was replaced.
Vinny Del Negro (Clippers) - Clippers have talent now, that leads to expectations. Will those expectations be met?
Everyone's favorite team to hate or love last year was clearly the Miami Heat. After a rocky start the team ended up 2 games shy of winning it all. That would be considered a successful season to many teams, however, it was clearly a disappointment in regards to this team. So what lies ahead? Do we see a similar result? Will they take the next step and win it all? Will they take a step back? To answer those questions adequately, we must see what additions/subtractions the Heat will make to their roster. They do not have any cap room so they will have to be creative in acquiring real talent. One of those ways could be to use the amnesty clause on Mike Miller and create cap room to sign a big man or a point guard, Because of how much Wade and Lebron dominate the ball, the money would be much better spent on a big man who could provide a defensive presence and rebound. The big names out there are out of their budget so they may be looking at the likes of somebody like Dalembert or take a chance on somebody like Eddy Curry. They could also use some more reliable shooters. Redd would be an ideal fit for them from an ability standpoint and a financial standpoint. One question that has to be asked is will the Big 3 all play out their full contracts with the Heat, or is it possible that management will deal one of them for a player who fits the team better? With names like Paul and Howard out there, it would have to be at least a possibility that the Heat throw in the towel on their current Big 3 and choose to include one of them in a deal. The Miami Heat will definitely contend next year, I don't expect them to be crowned champions just yet, but they are still a great team and definitely have a chance. It will be interesting to see how their roster looks coming into the season and what adjustments they make to get to the next level.
As the teams stand right now (after free agency this picture will be very different), which teams/players will be surprising? Many teams will surprise us with their success and others might surprise us with their lack of success. One team to keep a close eye on will be the Boston Celtics. The window is closing on this team as father time is catching up to their Big 3. Trade rumors have already began to swirl surrounding Rondo which could create a problem. A compact schedule which will include games on three straight nights on several occasions certainly is not a formula for success for this team. They are obviously still a playoff team but I do not expect them to win their division or have home court advantage in the playoffs. The Celtics era with the current Big 3 has seen its best days. On a similar note, the Los Angeles Lakers, may be facing the same problem. They are just a year removed from back-to-back titles and three straight finals appearances, yet they seem to be headed in the wrong direction. A shortened offseason after bringing in a new coach will certainly hinder the team. The point guard position needs to be addressed as Derek Fisher is clearly past his prime and cannot hang with the likes of starting guards in the Western Conference such as Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, Steve Nash, and Barea/Kidd. The Lakers simply lack the necessary youth, toughness and athleticism to compete in the Western Conerence. The fact that they have who I still consider to be the best player in the league, Kobe Bryant, still gives them a chance but they definitely need to improve in many areas. The Portland Trailblazers will be an interesting team to watch. They have an abundance of talent on the roster and some players with health concerns that decisions will need to be made on. The team has great young talent in Wesley Matthews, LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum and the newly acquired Raymond Felton. They also have Gerald Wallace, who was acquired at the trade deadline last year, along with Marcus Camby, Brandon Roy (who they may choose to cut via amnesty clause) and also free agent Greg Oden, who they intend on bringing back. This is a loaded roster with no real weaknesses. If they can stay healthy, and thats a big if in Portland, this team is good enough to beat anybody and has a great home crowd to support them. I see them as a top 4 seed in the Western Conference. The Memphis Grizzlies, who were last year's surprise team, should also be able to build off their success last season. Lionel Hollins proved to be a very good coach and helped this team gain the confidence they needed to believe that they could compete. With Rudy Gay returning from a season ending injury the team improves on paper, but hopefully he buys into the team's concept when he was out as it proved to be more successful. If he messes up the chemistry the team had late last season, the team may be better off tradind him for a player who fits the team better. Retaining Marc Gasol is their most important task for the time being. If they lose him with nothing in return, the team will suffer dramatically. I see Gasol as the intangible on that team and maybe the most important next to Zach Randolph. Lastly, the New York Knicks will be a team to watch. This is another team that made some big moves last year and seem to be heading in the right direction. The questions surrounding the Knicks will be, who they add in free agency, if they somehow acquire Chris Paul this year, and if D'Antoni is truly the right coach for the team. The Knicks obviously need to be better on defense if they expect to contend for a title. They added Mike Woodson to the coaching staff to address that but it will also take a commitment from their players (especially Melo and Amare) to truly improve in that area. The team also needs to use their cap space wisely to surround their superstars with the right role players. The Knicks lack overall depth, size, and true shooters and if these areas are addressed they could be a legitimate contender. Without knowing what happens in free agency it is hard to pick a favorite to be crowned 2012 NBA Champions, but if I had to pick a few candidates I would say Heat, Bulls, or Knicks from the Eastern Conference and Thunder, Trailblazers, Mavs, or Lakers in the Western Conference. My predictions will be bolder as the season goes on.
These headlines as well as many others will make this season very exciting to follow. Hope you are all as excited as I am!!!
By: Derrick Karim