Talking about the NBA lockout has become excruciating. Two more weeks of the regular season are about to be euthanized, the players and owners are fracturing among themselves and basketball fans would largely prefer to watch C-Span2 than the near-nightly parade of excuses and jabs being passed between the two parties. Basketball is played at Madison Square Garden and the Staples Center—not a hotel conference room.
Even as I type this, ESPN.com has added to the gloom by publishing a piece titled “The five worst things in the NBA in 2011.”
Well for once in this despicable work stoppage, let’s stop focusing on the negative and look forward with a sense of optimism. Here are 11 reasons to eagerly anticipate the next NBA season—whenever it rolls around.
- The Bulls’ next step—Chicago’s ascension to the NBA elite last year was undeniably impressive, but there was still a glaring hole in the team’s roster. The offseason efforts to sign Dwyane Wade and Joe Johnson failed and that’s why the Bulls were pressed into propping up Keith Bogans, Ronnie Brewer and Kyle Korver at the position. Yes, each of them offers specific tools, but their limited skill sets left coach Tom Thibodeau deciding between shooting and defense far too often. The Bulls had a -0.3 Player Efficiency Rating discrepancy against opposing shooting guards last season (according to 82games.com), which is an indication they were slightly outplayed at the position. For Chicago to take the next step, they’ll have to add production at shooting guard and there are several opportunities to do just that. Denver’s Arron Afflalo, Sacramento’s Marcus Thornton and Toronto’s Sonny Weems are restricted free agents and if Houston is willing to make a trade, Courtney Lee, Kevin Martin, Terrence Williams or Chase Budinger could become available as well. Not all of these candidates are well-rounded shooting guards and the team might need an amnesty clause or a mid-level exception in the next CBA to afford a restricted free agent. However the point remains, there are shooting guards out there and if the Bulls find the right one, they’d be much more likely to beat the HEAT in a seven-game series (Bogans averaged just 5 PPG as a starter in four losses to Miami during the Eastern Conference Finals).
- Shorter season—If the NBA season were shortened to 50 games, as it was following the lockout of 1998-1999, basketball fans would be treated to some actual consequences before the playoffs. Too often the regular season feels like an endless march toward a predictable finish simply because it lasts 82 games and good teams can have a bad month or two and still finish in the top half of the league. A shorter season turns a mid-February meeting between the Celtics and Knicks into a battle for playoff positioning. The HEAT and Lakers can’t sleep on mediocre teams while the Nets and Wizards have a chance to squeeze into the final 16. A shorter season means fans can feel adulation and despair before April.
- The new-look HEAT—After adding LeBron James and Chris Bosh last offseason, Miami was forced to fill out its roster with players making the NBA minimum and frankly, that’s the way it looked. While that might not be any different next season, the team does have a chance to talk some new, capable players into playing for less than market value. Mike Bibby, Zydrunas Ilgauskas (now retired), Erick Dampier, Juwan Howard, James Jones and Jamaal Magloire could all be replaced and players such as Samuel Dalembert, Jamal Crawford and Josh Howard could step in for the right price. It’s not perfect, but it has to be better than last season, right? Rookie Norris Cole and project center Dexter Pittman could also find their way into the rotation next year.
- Iman Shumpert vs. Marshon Brooks—the Nets desperately want to be thought of as a rival to the cross-Hudson Knicks as they move to Brooklyn in 2012; and one way to do that is for first-round pick Marshon Brooks to outplay fellow rookie and Knicks combo guard Iman Shumpert. They’re around the same height (Brooks is 6-5 and Shumpert is listed at 6-6) and while both have struggled with outside shooting, they’re each memorable athletes who can attack the hoop. Brooks and Shumpert are also high-ceiling players, which doesn’t guarantee their success, but certainly makes them enticing to follow. Brooks, who was chosen 25th overall by the Celtics before being traded to the Nets, and Shumpert, who went 17th to the Knicks, aren’t identical players (Shumpert is more of a distributor), but their age, talent and geographical proximity could make for an interesting rivalry.
- Jrue Holiday—The 76ers 21-year-old point guard is already a veteran of two NBA seasons and by the time the next one rolls around, he could be among the league’s elite. Holiday debuted as a 6-4 defensive stopper, but his development as a playmaker and as a shooter has been a revelation. He finished last year averaging 14.0 PPG with 6.5 APG while hitting 82.3% of his free throws and 36.5% of his 3-point shots. Holiday also drastically reduced his turnover rate (percentage of possessions that end in a turnover) from 15.7% as a rookie to 11.8% a season ago. Every area of Holiday’s game is trending in the right direction and now it’s only a matter of time before the public finds out what Philadelphia fans are humming about.
- The Utah Youths—The Jazz missed the postseason for the first time since 2005-2006, but last year was still an overall positive because Derrick Favors and Gordon Hayward each showed signs of development. Hayward, a 6-9 point forward, averaged 16.4 PPG while hitting 57.1% of his 3-point shots in April while Favors, the athletic 6-10 power forward acquired for Deron Williams, registered double figures in points in three of his final five games. They’ll be joined by highly touted rookies Enes Kanter and Alec Burks next season while players like Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and Devin Harris become trade targets of contenders. Long story short: Tyrone Corbin will be coaching perhaps the best crop of young talent in the NBA.
- New Wizards Uniforms—They haven’t gone back to the “Bullets” yet, but the Washington Wizards have re-adopted the color scheme from the glory years of the 1970s. It’s a significant victory for anyone who retched at the site of those turquoise threads they’ve been wearing for the last decade or so. Most importantly, John Wall can now realize his potential in style.
- Free agency—Anyone who watched NFL teams scrambling to sign free agents following their lockout this summer had to have been entertained. Well-known, veteran players jumped ship at a record pace and fans spent weeks refreshing Twitter to find out where the next big catch would land. Throw in the possibility of an amnesty clause, and NBA fans might hyperventilate with anticipation. There’s nothing more frustrating than rooting for an NBA team with bad contracts on its books. If teams can wipe the slate clean, locked out fans might actually embrace a new collective bargaining agreement—not that they have any choice.
- A new Rodney Stuckey—Pistons point guard Rodney Stuckey needs a change of scenery, but that doesn’t mean the restricted free agent should sign elsewhere. Truthfully, all Stuckey needs to recapture the momentum of his first few NBA seasons is a new position and the Pistons can finally offer him one. The addition of rookie point guard Brandon Knight means Stuckey can slide to shooting guard, where his slashing, attack-the-hoop style would no longer be frowned upon. Stuckey had a resurgent year last season, but one can’t help but think he’s being saddled with playmaking responsibilities when he should be thinking of how to score points on his own. Stuckey is a career 83.4% free throw shooter and the more chances he gets at the free throw line, the more he can help the NBA’s 15th most-efficient offense.
- The Clippers are for real—Los Angeles’ other team became relevant again last season even while dealing with injuries to Eric Gordon, Chris Kaman and Randy Foye. If they’re healthy this season—and if restricted free agent DeAndre Jordan returns—there’s no reason Blake Griffin and the Clippers can’t become a solid playoff team. Last season’s rookies Al-Farouq Aminu and Eric Bledsoe showed promise and Kaman becomes expendable if Jordan returns, so this roster isn’t done improving yet.
- The new-look West—The Phil Jackson-less Los Angeles Lakers might have to shed payroll under a new CBA while the Dallas Mavericks could be saying “goodbye” to center Tyson Chandler. Considering San Antonio’s early exit from last year’s playoffs, it looks like the Western Conference is as wide open as its been in years. The Thunder are candidates to make it to the Finals, while the Grizzlies, Clippers, Warriors and maybe even the Kings (gasp!) threaten to shatter the conference hierarchy. The Eastern Conference has its favorites, but the West is filled with possibilities.
There’s no way that these 11 things are the only reasons to get excited about the next NBA season. Please let us know why you’ll be watching professional basketball whenever this tedious lockout comes to an end. Feel free to write at length in our comment section.
The NBA Returns to Iverson
Allen Iverson has been trying to return to the NBA for some time now, but since there’s currently a work stoppage, he’s making the NBA come to him.
Iverson will be hosting a two-day tournament in Las Vegas, according to an Associated Press report, and will announce captains and players for the four-team league on Wednesday. Presumably the league will include several NBA players.
NBA Says it was Union, not Cuban, who Proposed Eliminating Cap
There were reports that Mavericks owner Mark Cuban had proposed a cap-less solution to the NBA lockout, but the NBA told the Associated Press that it was the union’s idea and that Cuban was only proposing a new cap exception during last week’s negotiations.
Union executive director Billy Hunter had told ESPN.com that Cuban surmised a “game changer” in the form of a stiff luxury tax which would replace the salary cap. The NBA says that was not Cuban’s idea, and it was “even worse for the NBA than the union’s prior proposals.”
Ibaka Signs with Real Madrid
Thunder power forward and Spanish National Serge Ibaka has signed with Real Madrid for about $140,000 per month, according to multiple reports. Ibaka took to his own Web site to address the decision with his fans:
“I’m very proud to start being part of an historic club like Real Madrid. I’m thankful for this great opportunity as a person and as a player. I arrive with humility to try to learn from the coach and the teammates and, at the same time, with ambition to try to help the team win as many games as possible while I’m with the team. I’m excited to get to know the team’s fans.”
Ibaka does have an “out” in the contract, which allows him to return to the NBA when the lockout ends.
NBA Chats: Lange Greene will be hosting his weekly hoops chat tonight at 8pm EST. Submit your questions here. You can always find the next NBA Chat here and if you are looking for Previous Chats try here