In this week's edition of what used to be the Friday 5 with Ken Berger (we're moving it to Thursdays!), the CBSSports.com senior NBA writer talks about the Lakers, Heat, and Celtics and their debuts, about injuries, and about how the future of the league needs to end in contraction from bad markets. You can follow Ken on Twitter @KBergCBS.
1. You wrote about the Heat-Celtics opener and about both teams being fine for their ECF aspirations. But beyond that, what were the biggest things that stuck out to you?
KB: A) LeBron James is playing and carrying himself like the weight of the world has been lifted off his shoulders. As a result, this could be the dawn of an era utterly dominated by LeBron; B) Unlike some of my friends on Twitter, I like Dwyane Wade's haircut; C) Having a normal offseason with no lockout and with full training camps did wonders for conditioning. Wade and Paul Pierce, in particular, look to be in fantastic shape; C) Doc Rivers' best offensive lineup will be a small lineup, but that also will be his worst defensive lineup -- especially against Miami, which thrives on mismatches.
2. It's two games, and the Lakers have a long way to go, but how much worse is their start than you expected?
KB: I'm haunted by the following words I uttered in this video, when I predicted the Lakers would beat the Heat in the NBA Finals: "I can't help myself; I'm going to buy into the Lakers." I'd also like to point out the following words I uttered in the same video: "There's going to be some scary, rocky moments for the Lakers along the way. There's going to be some angst. They're not going to play well at times." Well, here they are at 0-2, with Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant already banged up, the offense not taking advantage of their talents and the defense not showing up at all. The defensive woes probably are the most alarming, because that's an area that should've been well ahead of the offense at this point. In the grand scheme of things, barring Nash and/or Bryant breaking down physically, they'll be fine. But you can't have possibly the best defensive player on the planet and give up 215 points in two games. And it's painfully apparent that when you have the best pick-and-roll big man in the league and the best pick-and-roll point guard, maybe ever, that you should perhaps occasionally run a pick-and-roll.
3. The James Harden trade sent ripples through the NBA and in its aftermath, a surprising number of teams have leaked they also were in conversations to acquire Harden. Could the Thunder really have wanted him back that badly if they were shopping him that aggressively? Rumors of his trade go all the way back to the trade deadline.
KB: The Thunder wanted Harden back, but they had a budget and they had a limit. In a market with local revenues that are a small fraction of their competitors, you simply can't have three max players. The math doesn't add up. You can't be Miami and pay your third-best player as much as your two best players and have him in a comparatively reduced role. In the end, it became an issue of financial reality and role, and Harden was never going to be the man on a team that had two max players in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Did the Thunder have to pull the trigger and trade him now? Some rival execs are scratching their heads, privately wondering why OKC didn't just ride it out and take another title shot with Harden at an affordable salary in his sixth-man role. But that's easy for them to say, because Harden was leaving OKC one way or another. And the evidence for why was clearly on display Wednesday. He got his max money, and he played like a max player in his debut for the Rockets -- neither of which was going to happen in OKC.
4. What's the team that you have the most injury concerns about?
KB: It would be easy to say the Knicks, because Amar'e Stoudemire's knee issue is one that could haunt them and undo the entire plan that went into effect four years ago when Donnie Walsh started clearing cap space. But as high-profile as the Knicks are, they're not on the Lakers' level in terms of expectations and fascination. Nash is 38, Bryant is 34, and they're both in their 17th season. If either one breaks down, the Lakers are toast.
5. Board of Governor's meeting, Stern-a-Palooza last week. What should Adam Silver be focusing on in the next year and a half to prepare to take over as commissioner of the NBA?
KB: No. 1 is Sacramento, although it would appear that the horse already has left the barn. Seattle is waiting with open arms for the Kings to replace its beloved SuperSonics, and it's difficult to imagine anyone being empowered to stop it from happening. Frankly, outside of Sacramento, there's no motivation to stop it. The most interesting thing that Stern said during his quasi-farewell address last week was this: "Sacramento is a great NBA city, and a great potential NBA city. And I would urge them to continue supporting the team and hope the efforts don't go unrewarded." A great potential NBA city? That would suggest that it's a foregone conclusion that the Kings are gone, and that Stern hopes to move another team there in the future. So Silver will inherit the sad state of franchise musical chairs that has resulted from overexpansion. His biggest challenge will be to make the NBA work as a 30-team business. If it doesn't work, I don't want to hear that the collective bargaining agreement and new revenue sharing plans are to blame. I want someone to be honest and admit the following: There are too many teams, and some of the teams are in markets where they have no business being.