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After one of the coolest seasons in NBA history, made that way by a 66-game sprint that felt like every game mattered, we look at this year with new eyes. Everything we thought we knew last year has either gone one step closer to crystallizing into fact, or changed entirely. No facts remain the same as they did at the start of last season, but a few things remain, and the best of them is HATE.
I do not mean the ugly kind of hate. I am not advocating, nor should anyone, send death threats to the house, boo the wife and kids of the player kind of hate. That’s not what I’m talking about. That’s not what I was raised on. The hate I mean is the hate the 76’ers had for the Celtics and vice versa. The hate the Lakers still have to this day for the Celtics. The hate the Knicks had for the Bulls. It’s that kind of frothing, white-hot, “we play these mf’ers tonight” hate that the game was missing for a while. It’s back now. Looking at everything through that prism, this season of the NBA is a lot harder to understand.
The Thunder and the Lakers hate each other. The Heat and the Celtics don’t get along either, and the same goes for the Knicks and the Celtics. With that hate in mind, that bubbling passion back in the game we all love, here are some things I am imagining as this season gets going.
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The next Bernard King?
1: If Carmelo Anthony isn’t careful and Amar’e Stoudamire can’t get back to some semblance of the guy he was during his first year in New York, Melo is going to end up living out a destiny we all never thought: Bernard King 2K12.
I never thought this would happen. I figured that if we were all lucky Melo would blossom into that kind of unstoppable scorer that Bernard was. And that’s never a bad thing, for those of you lucky enough to be around during his apex, Bernard King was as unguardable [sic] a scorer as there has ever been.
What I didn’t count on, and what I didn’t think I’d see, was Melo finding himself in a position where he would live out Bernard’s actual career. People forget this, but those Knick teams were awful to the point that Bernard King was the top star. Ken “The Animal” Bannister? Rory Sparrow? Not exactly the ’86 Celtics, or ’83 Sixers we’re talking about here. And yet, because he was so brilliant he drug that team to places that they could have never dreamed of going without him.
That’s the problem Carmelo finds himself in right now. Raymond Felton is out of shape. Jason Kidd has reached the point where (and I hate to say this because of the respect that I have for the man) he is on the verge of being the corpse of Jason Kidd. Their front court is older than Methuselah (Kurt Thomas? Really? Was Kevin Willis or AC Green not available?). Their best defensive guard Iman Shumpert is out until after the new year with a knee injury. Their best off-the-bench scorer is JR Smith, who is gifted but crazy. For the Knicks to win, Melo is going to have to play MVP-caliber basketball, and do it all year. If Amar’e Stoudemire can’t remind people of at least half of the guy he was during his first season in New York, when people were, albeit foolishly, chanting “MVP”, then Carmelo is going to find himself starring in the wrong kind of Broadway show. The kind of Broadway show that drives producers to drink. A sequel where we already know the ending.
(Side Note: What in the world did Jeremy Lin ever do to Stephen A. Smith? I mean good Lord. He has aired this kid out with the kind of venom that seriously makes me wonder if he’s carrying Melo’s water. I understand that you wanted him gone but to act like he is some selfish, money-hungry, punk kid who is barely deserving of the right to be in the league is disgusting.)
2: If James Harden is the NBA’s best young 2-guard, the League is in a world of trouble.
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The Future of the NBA 2-guard?
The Present And The Past. But where is the future?
It’s odd. For a league that has become increasingly defined by athleticism, the shooting guard position has become maybe as weak as it has been in my memory. Where is the 2k12 Jerry West? Even a Sidney Moncrief or Andrew Toney?
Perhaps some of this has to do with the shift towards position-less basketball, something that we will delve into shortly. But I think there is a larger reason at work: The point guard boom.
Russell Westbrook would have been in a different time an undersized shooting guard. Same thing with Derrick Rose for that matter. Add this to the fact that the college game hasn’t produced a glut of them and we find ourselves in a position where the 2-guard position — a position that gave us Jerry West, Michael Jordan, Hal Greer, Reggie Miller, and Ray Allen — will now be defined in the coming years by Eric Gordon, James Harden and Evan Turner. Good players all but none have the ability to be as important to the league as the last few generations of elite shooting guards were to their eras of the league.
3: Erik Spoelstra is doing what he should with LeBron James. That doesn’t mean you should do it.
(Photo Credit: Miami Heat-NBA)
Erik Spoelstra is smart, but don’t follow what he’s doing.
In the same way that Roy Jones Jr. seduced a generation of boxers into thinking that they too could hold their hands down by their sides because Roy did it, only to discover that wasn’t the right way to do things. Erik Spoelstra and LeBron James are on the verge of seducing an entire flotilla of coaches to think the same way about their starting line-ups. You can’t do what they’re doing, because no coach ever has had a muse like Spoelstra has with LeBron.
Even when his bonafides for winning were being vociferously questioned, no one doubted that he had the kind of talent that was transcendent. But this? What he did during last year’s NBA Playoffs? I can safely say that no one saw that coming.
To be fair, he’s great in a different way other than any of the greats that I can remember. LeBron is great in the way that you would create a video game player to be great. He’s got enough handle to be a team’s primary ball-handler in rough moments. If he wants to go to the basket, there isn’t anything anyone in this league is going to do to stop him. He can shoot from the outside at a level that makes you have to play off of him, and he is maybe the most destructive defender in the league since Scottie Pippen (and even a compliment such as that might be selling him short). In the open court he’s lethal. There is nothing he can’t do.
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The game’s perfect weapon.
So if you’re Spoelstra, you take all you used to know about coaching basketball and throw it out a window. When you have a weapon like this, you deploy it as many ways as you can.
This happens in most team sports where everyone feels they can copycat each other with no understanding of the finer points of a strategy, people will try to do with their stars what Spoelstra is doing with his. And no one can.
LeBron James can play 4 positions on the floor. He can defend 5. No other player in the league can do what he does. So having a strategy built around doing what no one else can do feels somehow foolish.
With the season starting tonight, I hope that everything I’ve said here is right. Will it be? At the end of the season, we’ll revisit.