NBA PM: NBA Lockout A Mixed Blessing?
Dallas Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle calls the 82-game NBA season a “war of attrition,” and for most teams it turns out to be just that. First and foremost, teams have to deal with the inevitable injuries that come with the long season, and it takes more than a little bit of luck to arrive at postseason time with you main pieces in place. Just ask last year’s San Antonio Spurs, who owned the West’s best record all season only to have last-minute injuries contribute heavily to their first round bounce.
No one is happy that the NBA is losing weeks of games from the 2011-12 season as the lockout rages on, but there are a couple of groups of players who could really benefit from what is likely to be a significantly shorter season.
The most obvious group is the older veterans, and a recent HOOPSWORLD poll showed that the majority of NBA fans believe that older teams like the Los Angeles Lakers, Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs could benefit the most from a shortened season. Certainly players like Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Jason Kidd would be fresher come playoff time if they hadn’t had to endure the 82-game grind. Drop 15 or 20 games off that total and it’s very possible that Bryant or Duncan could find themselves one more ring before retirement.
The other, less obvious group who could stand to benefit from a shorter season is the incoming freshman class. Losing summer league and a proper training camp certainly hurts, but knocking off a few weeks could help them avoid the dreaded “rookie wall,” which generally hits right around the time the college season would be over. A later start gives the rookies a fighting chance to sustain a level of consistency right up to the end of the season.
The final group that stands to gain from an extended offseason are the players who had surgery over the summer. Rudy Gay has had plenty of time to rehab his shoulder, for example. Caron Butler can now say he’s 100% as he enters a very brief free agency period. Brandon Roy and Greg Oden have had more time to address their injuries, and the list goes on. PLayers who were even the least bit banged up at the end of last season definitely benefit from extra time to work out those injuries. (See also: Matt Barnes, below)
To be clear, I am not in any way saying the NBA lockout is a good thing. It’s horribly bad for the game and it is massively damaging to the communities that support the teams. Jobs have been lost, city revenues have been lost, and there’s a long line of dominoes that have fallen that will take months if not years for the NBA to rebuild.
However, since the lockout is a reality, we can also analyze the potential benefits as a way of making lemonade out of a big batch of lemons. There aren’t many, but the three groups of NBA players discussed above can potentially enjoy a little lemonade as a salve to the mess that has already cost us a month of NBA games.
Shaq Pegs LeBron
As HOOPSWORLD’s Alex Kennedy wrote this morning, Shaquille O’Neal has a book coming out later this month in which he shares his take on one of the most colorful NBA careers of all time . . .his own. Much of it is about his time playing with Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers, but he does talk some about the latter part of his career and his thoughts on LeBron James.
Obviously, Shaq was no longer LeBron’s teammate as he and the Miami HEAT lost to the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Finals last June, but he was front and center as a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers when they lost to the Boston Celtics the year before. In each case, he saw what we all saw – a LeBron James who seemed to be able to dominate at will . . .and then simply didn’t.
There’s no question in Game 5 LeBron was kind of out of it. … I always believed he could turn it on at any moment, but for some reason he didn’t. Not against the Celtics in 2010 and not against the Mavericks in 2011. It was weird. It’s one thing to be a passer, but you are supposed to be the One. I’m watching him play against Dallas, and they’re swinging the ball and they get him a perfect open look – and he’s kicking it to Mario Chalmers. Makes no sense. I told people, “It’s like Michael Jordan told me. Before you succeed, you must first fail.”
And Michael Jordan did fail. He could score 50 points at will, but he didn’t win a championship until he figured out when to take over and when to defer. He had to learn the importance of teammates, both building them up as competitors and counting on them in crunch time. The same was true for Hakeem Olajuwon, who was individually dominant long before he was a champion, and it actually took him sitting on the sideline with an injury while his Houston Rockets made a big playoff push without him for The Dream to become the player who won back-to-back titles in 1994 and 1995.
LeBron James needs to have his “ah ha!” moment. He needs to have that spark of inspiration that brings on the dawn of a new player. He has to grasp the difference between everyone saying how great he is and his actually being great.
I vividly remember talking to LeBron fairly soon after the Shaq trade, and I asked him what he thought he could learn from O’Neal.
“Me? I don’t have anything to learn from him!”
That was LeBron’s response . . .and the point at which I just walked away from him. It was also a kind of defining moment for LeBron and a demonstration of how he needs to grow as a player.
Being a champion isn’t just about being one most physically gifted player in the league, dropping triple-doubles, or reveling in the ridiculous media coverage. Being a champion is about knowing when to step up, knowing when to ask for help, and knowing the value of teammates.
Will LeBron get there? More than likely, he will. But he certainly isn’t there yet.
Barnes: Players Feeling The “Itch”
For the most part, we’re hearing a unified message coming from the NBA players as the lockout drags on. First and foremost, they want to make the best deal for themselves, but they also want to make a deal that will benefit players for years to come. That’s basically the press release and we can hear it on demand from just about any player who comes near a reporter. What we really want to hear is what Los Angeles Lakers forward Matt Barnes said on 95.7 The Game in San Francisco:
“Man I hope (it’s over soon). I hope so. It’s starting to be that time now where everyone is itching. We are supposed to be playing now. Earlier in the summer we were supposed to be on vacation and now the ball is supposed to be tipped up. I think everyone is starting to itch a little bit, so I hope so.”
When he says “everyone,” he not kidding. Players, fans, GMs, coaches, even arena vendors are itching for the season to lockout to end, especially in the wake of the first official night of no basketball. The 2011-12 NBA season was supposed to kick off last night, but instead all we got was more talk of the BRI split and posturing from both sides. Barnes points out, however, that as anxious as we are to see the NBA get back on track, the first couple of weeks could be rough if players haven’t stayed ready.
“I think it would be an enforced issue,” says Barnes. “I think hopefully that the NBA players would be responsible enough to stay ready and be ready. There’s no simulation for a real practice or a real game, so it would be pretty sloppy I’d probably say the first month. I think everyone could catch their stride by December.”
Unlike many NBA players, Barnes hasn’t seriously looked at playing overseas during the lockout, largely because he’s coming back from an injury.
“Not necessarily right away for the simple fact that I was coming off that knee injury and we had a lot of complications at the end of the year. I knew I was going to need a little more time to get ready, so the lockout has been a blessing in disguise for me. Now that I am ready to go… I am ready to go. The extra time definitely helped me out this year.”
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