Does the James Harden trade shift the balance of power in the Western Conference?
In one word: yes. Despite the Lakers off-season acquisitions, the Oklahoma City Thunder were still poised to make another Finals run. Dealing James Harden last week was shocking, and probably a step back for the Thunder – this season anyway. With Harden coming off the bench, he provided leadership, playmaking and scoring for the second unit, not to mention he was a valuable contributor in late game situations.
The Thunder received some great pieces in return for the sixth man; Kevin Martin is a known scorer (18.4 ppg career average) that can fill Harden’s void off the bench, Jeremy Lamb will be a nice player in a couple of seasons, and they got some draft picks.
But it’s this season that was perfect for the Thunder to make another legitimate run at a ‘chip. How will the players acclimate, and how long will the team take to gel? That sense of familiarity with Harden is gone, now the squad has to learn how to play with new faces, minus a full preseason as well.
In the long run the Thunder will be just fine, a young core that is locked up for a number of years, and some emerging talent. In 2012-13 though, they’ve taken a step back.
How will the Los Angeles Lakers gel?
On paper the Los Angeles Lakers shot to title favoritism in many pundit eyes when they acquired Steve Nash and Dwight Howard to saddle up next to Kobe Bryant. Basketball is not played on paper however, and the Lakers still have some unanswered questions.
Will Dwight Howard’s back hold up under the rigors of the regular season? How will he and Pau Gasol space the court, and will there be enough touches of the ball for both of them?
Can the Lakers bench – thin as it is – be trusted?
No one knows for sure, but so far Dwight’s back looks ok. Gasol and Howard will be fine, especially in the new Princeton offense that Mike Brown plans to run, and the reality is that once the playoffs begin the rotations get shortened and depth is no longer a concern.
The two major questions surrounding the team are: Is Kobe willing to take a slighter lesser offensive role, and will this tem gel?
If the Lakers are to win the championship Kobe Bryant needs to average about 25 ppg or less. Last season the Black Mamba averaged 27.9 ppg on just about 23 shot attempts per game. Now with Howard in the middle the load needs to be spread amongst the two bigs and Kobe. Shot attempts need to drop to about 16-18 per contest. Is Kobe going to be willing to do so?
And finally, will this team gel? As we saw with Miami in 2010-11, sometimes it takes time to learn how to play with one another, to truly get comfortable. On the flipside, you have the 2008 Boston Celtics who proved that (literally) “anything is possible.”
Which team will be New York’s finest at season’s end?
Long suffering Knicks fans seem to be divided this season. On one hand you have the eternal optimists; you know the ones, they enter each season with dreams of a ‘chip, then proceed to spend the next 8-months lamenting the under-achieving team they have. Then you also have the ‘realists’, they’re in the minority for sure, but they realize the shortcomings the team, and ownership, have.
The hot topic in New York is which team will have the better season? It’s the question each player at the Brooklyn Nets media day was asked. And even though the players may play it off, to the manic basketball fans of Gotham are eager to see who will reign over The City at season’s end.
The Knicks enter the season with injury concerns and lingering questions on team chemistry. Amar’e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler and Marcus Camby all look set to miss some time, while their two stars – Carmelo Anthony and Stoudemire – still don’t look like they know how to make it work on-court.
Factor in the age of key players Jason Kidd (39), Marcus Camby (38), Kurt Thomas (40) and Rasheed Wallace (38), and you can understand why there is some hesitation when debating if the Knicks are a true contender.
Brooklyn on the other hand have put together a well-rounded team. They have size, depth, inside and outside players, and a nice mix of youth and experience. The only question surrounding the Nets is if they have enough firepower to truly contend. Joe Johnson isn’t known for being ‘that guy’, the one that takes the team on his back and carries them.
New York should make the playoffs courtesy of playing in a weakened Eastern Conference, but with this roster, they do not look like they would win many playoff games, let alone a series.
Depending on Brooklyn’s seed (if they finish in the top four) they are more than capable of winning a first-round encounter, but a second round showing is the best they can hope for.
Can Boston stay healthy all season?
Aside from the Miami Heat, the Boston Celtics are the only true challenger to the Eastern Conference title. Provided they stay healthy, a re-match in the Conference Finals is all but guaranteed. The Celtics are deep, they have some nice young guys that will contribute (Jeff Green, Jared Sullinger) but their anchors are still Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.
If recent history has shown us anything, it’s that when Garnett is healthy, the Celtics are very, very, good. Last season the 36-year old KG seemed to turn back the hands of time, and looked very good all season, more so in the playoffs.
The Celtics had Green, Chris Wilcox, Avery Bradley and Jermaine O’Neal all miss substantial time in 2011-12, and they still made it to the ECF. Imagine what they can do with deeper, healthier roster this campaign.
If this unit stays healthy – you know Doc Rivers is going to coach the hell out of them – then they could easily topple Miami. That rivalry is the one to watch in 2012-13.
What will LeBron James do for an encore?
Ya’ll should be afraid of what he’s gonna’ do next.
Season 2011-12 will be remembered as the year the ‘King’ finally got his ring. James put 9-years of heartache aside, displayed maturity and conquered all that stood in his way.
He became the first man since Michael Jordan (1992) to win a regular season MVP, a championship, Finals MVP and an Olympic gold medal in the same year. James averaged 27.6 points per game, 6.9 assists and 7.2 rebounds per game – astonishing numbers – but it was his willingness to adapt his game and head into the paint more that pushed Miami over the edge.
James has said he’s going to spend more time in the low post this season, and Miami will be playing LeBron as a power forward on the regular which means he will become virtually un-guardable.
LeBron has finally got “it”, he knows what it takes to win and is primed to go on a ‘Jordan-esque’ run in the NBA.
This man should have his name etched on the MVP trophy for a few years to come.