Three things I think I know about the upcoming NBA season by @OkoriWadsworth

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With the NBA season upcoming, for the first time in a while, it feels like we’re coming to a new bumper crop of talent for the league, and young exciting talent at that. With that in mind, there are a lot of things no one is quite sure about yet. Here are three things I think I know:

1: This is LeBron James’ league, and we’re all just watching to see what he does next.

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Since the NBA began, the league has always been filled with stars who were more than just great players. These were athletes people understood to be the standard bearers of the game. It flows like a river from Cousy and Mikan, through Chamberlain, Russell, Elgin, Oscar, and West. Kareem and Julius are next, followed by Magic and Bird right through into Jordan. After Jordan, there was a gulf where a lot of people thought that they were the ones to keep the river flowing. A lot of people would have argued Shaq, maybe others would have spoken up vociferously for Kobe or Duncan. But for the first time since the retirement of Russell, there was not a consensus best player who also is the standard-bearer of the game, the representative force of basketball mastery at its highest level. There is now.

This is LeBron James’s league. And after one of the greatest seasons in NBA history, on par with the best work of any of the immortals I just named, you have to ask yourself this: What is he going to do for an encore?

It’s difficult to overstate how good he was, and also how different he was, without referring to video games when describing LeBron. He defended 4 positions at an all-defensive level, sometimes 5 depending on the team and the opponent, while being one of the most offensively efficient players in recent NBA history. And, and this is the part that really makes him special, he seems to have in reserve a seemingly endless reservoir of those classic games they’ll be re-running on NBA TV 20 years from now. Think of what he did against the Spurs in the finals, and against the Pacers before that. Think about how he disassembled the Celtics the year before. Simply put, when he puts his mind to it, he is unstoppable in a way that I can’t remember seeing. Nothing seems ridiculous or out of play. A quadruple-double for a whole season? Why not? If there’s anyone who could do it, it’s him. But, and this is a really great thing to say, the league is not LeBron’s alone.

2: The power of Los Angeles basketball now lies with the Clippers, and not with the Lakers.

(Photo Credit: Kent Smith\NBAE\Getty Images)

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Chris Paul is playing the point guard position at a level, and with a mastery, not seen since the prime of Isiah Thomas. And considering he’s actually going to be coached by a real NBA coach who is known for his defensive integrity instead of a guy whose entire strategic bonafides consisted of running an excellent NBA Live offense, I can’t wait to see what happens in Los Angeles this year. And paradoxically, I’m not saying that about the Lakers.

I don’t need to watch the Lakers for the first time in my living memory. Kobe’s not there to get us all arguing about usage rates and how in the world he has somehow managed to remain at the apex of the shooting guard position despite playing high-intensity minutes since he was a teenager. (Answer to this question by the way: The shooting guard position has fallen off of a cliff into a hail of bees. Past D-Wade and James Harden, name me another top-flight shooting guard that you could go places with). And while there was a time that you could have convinced me that Pau Gasol’s stunning change into Karl Malone whenever he puts on the Spanish National Team jersey was proof he needed to be away from Kobe, that time has passed.

Now, unless the Lakers can somehow build that framework around Pau, we could very easily find ourselves looking at the beginnings of the end of the Lakers dynasty. Everyone will want to blame Mike D’Antoni for this, but the answer is deeper. This is a young man’s league now, and a point guard’s league at that. And the Lakers, largely in the same way that their hated rivals the Celtics did, have put so much into Kobe thinking he could drag them to one more championship that they neglected doing what they should to get themselves ready for the future. And right now, all of that hope for one more title run, one more Larry O’Brien trophy over his head as we argue and argue about Kobe’s merits, has died.

3: Even the screw-ups are entertaining.

(Photo Credit: Chris Keane\Reuters)

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Think about this for a second. With the dawning of a draft class that includes no fewer than 6 blue-chip prospects who seem to represent one of the better hauls of talent in recent NBA memory, there are more than a few franchises who have decided that this is the year to try and make themselves bad enough that they can get someone everyone believes to be a franchise player. And it’s not the usual suspects in dumbassery like the Charlotte Bobcats or Sacramento Kings, both of whom could not be trusted at this point to plan a picnic between two people. It’s other teams too, like the Orlando Magic and the Philadelphia 76’ers. Heck, even the Jazz and the Suns have tried to get in on the fun. What about this is so entertaining?

Now, if you believe as I do that the only way to solve this is to reverse the order of things as we understand drafts, it will be perverse to watch how teams make moves to ensure they don’t win. Again, this isn’t Charlotte or Sacramento who are trying to win but are just clueless in how the actual process is supposed to work. Rather, what we have here is the direct result of an off-season’s worth of calculation that the best way for them to get where they want to go is to make deliberate efforts to avoid winning (author’s Note: Curious as to what I would do? Ok. Award the #1 pick to the team with the best record that did not make the playoffs, and go backwards from there. it creates an incentive for good play, and an equally strong deterrent for tanking. But this will never happen, even though it’s a pretty good idea).

This isn’t the first time that this has happened either. It happened for Jordan and Olajuwon, and for Derrick Rose and Michael Beasley (boy, we all screwed up on that one didn’t we? Yeeesh). It happened to the extent that these things happen for Anthony Davis, and to some extent for LeBron as well. Now, if you really wanted to fix it, you’d change the structure of the draft (not having a draft is an idea that some people constantly promote in times like this, but truthfully, it will just make the talent gulf wider and wider than it is now).

So this season, if you’re a fan of one of the screw-ups I listed, or even a fan of the ones I didn’t (Boston), watch your team. See if that desire to win games overrides their desire to be champions.

I look forward to the upcoming NBA season.

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