This time last year, basketball and NBA fans alike were all dreading the enduring lockout. The most exciting headlines we had about the NBA season was the progress between the players association and owners of teams as well as the YouTube mix tapes of Brandon Jennings, Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and others playing in recreation and street ball leagues with other hoopers and everyday people.
Luckily for us all, the lockout ended after Thanksgiving, and we had one of the most exciting NBA seasons in years including a great Olympic gold medal campaign. This year, the season will start on schedule, the first games having been played earlier this week, and there have already been major developments for big time players and teams. With trades, injuries and rookies who are looking to take the league by storm, this is shaping up to be another exciting year. Here’s an analysis of some of the top teams in the league.
The Oklahoma City Thunder were the runner-ups in last season’s NBA finals, making three consecutive seasons of losing to the eventual NBA champion (Lakers, Mavericks, Heat). After a great off-season, with some of their players helping win in the Olympics and drafting and developing players with great potential, they were poised to have the best season they have ever had. Then James Harden was traded. In return, the Thunder received Kevin Martin and Jeremy Lamb, plus a few draft picks. While this could pay off in the end, as Martin has never been on a quality team and Lamb has a high upside, choosing to break up their successful core could become very risky.
The Los Angeles Lakers ended last season with a rough series against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the playoffs. Afterwards, there were questions of Pau Gasol’s toughness, Andrew Bynum’s maturity, Mike Brown’s coaching ability and if Kobe was more detrimental than helpful. In the offseason the Lakers did what they always somehow do and made major headlines. Almost taking vengeance on the Chris Paul debacle, the Laker staff traded four draft picks for two-time MVP Steve Nash. A little less than a month later, they traded big man Andrew Bynum for Dwight Howard in a four-team mega trade, which resulted in the Lakers becoming relevant within championship conversation once again. The team still must gel, but the Lakers are now clearly in contention come June.
The San Antonio Spurs were the hottest team at one point last season and looked like heavy favorites to win the title. However, they fell short of the NBA finals by losing to the Thunder in the western conference finals. With their championship window just about closed, the team made some bold but necessary choices in keeping key veterans Stephen Jackson and Boris Diaw, while resigning the face of the franchise in Tim Duncan. With the development of a solid younger player in Kwahi Leonard, the Spurs still look to be a good, competitive team this season.
After fighting hard through each round of the playoffs, Boston lost to Miami in the conference finals last season. Boston only had one solution, and that was to get younger fast. Ray Allen departed to South Beach, but with the additions of Jason Terry, Courtney Lee, Leandro Barbosa, Jeff Green and Jared Sullinger, do not expect Boston to miss him much. Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce are getting older, and much like the Spurs, the Celtics’ window of opportunity is closing, but they will still be good.
The Chicago Bulls had championship intentions last year and tied with the Spurs for the best record in the NBA. Having the number one ranked defense and improvements in both Joakim Noah and Loul Deng’s play had Bulls fans ready to crown them. Derrick Rose unfortunately was lost in the playoffs and some of this season after tearing his ACL during Game 1 against the Philadelphia 76ers. The Bulls suffered an early exit as a result. In the offseason, the Bulls lost key pieces of the bench, but they did add former Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich, and a few others to reassemble their depth. However, with Rose out until February or later, it will be a very difficult first half for the Bulls.
The King has a ring. LeBron James has been scrutinized every year since making the playoffs for not being able to get it done. Two seasons ago with the “Decision” still fresh on everyone’s mind, he disappeared in the finals and had one of the worst finals performances for a superstar player ever in the NBA. Last season LeBron, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and crew were able to defeat the Thunder to become NBA champions. The Heat reloaded by adding shooter Ray Allen and his running mate from his Seattle days, Rashard Lewis. While it could be difficult for the reloaded roster to gel like last year, the Heat look ready to face all challengers on their way to raising another championship banner.