Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving Thoughts

I sit at my desk in Japan, mulling over yet another Thanksgiving lost to grilled fish, white rice, and pickled daikon radish. The only cure for such a melancholy day is a little basketball blogging. Some random thoughts on the season that has been and the season that still might be...

1. LeBron

LeBron is as good as a Knick at this point. The trades made the cap room, Nike dropped the hint with the "Big Apple" shoe debut at MSG. LeBron is cooing about Mike D'Antoni. Can we hurry it up to 2010 already?

I read at where J.A. Adande thinks that NY is unimportant to LeBron and that the idea that the NBA needs a strong NY is a myth. Figures that an LA writer would propose such a nonsensical argument. I agree that LeBron doesn't need the Knicks. He's a one man franchise and could be personally successful just about anywhere (Charlotte and OKC included). The thing is, the argument that NY is unimportant for LeBron or the NBA in the new media environment is off base. It may be less important, but one can't just make the argument that the league has done well without the Knicks for decades and leave it at that. The question one must ask is, what the NBA would look like IF New York was strong and had the league's most dynamic young player. If you frame it that way, Adande's argument begins to fall apart. Just because the league flourished and its players became millionaires while Magic was in LA, Bird was in Boston, and Dr. J was in Philly, only occasionally being met by a Bernard King scoring outburst out of the Garden, you can't make a direct correlation to the unimportance of the Knicks.

What if Julius Erving or Michael Jordan had played in New York City? How would that have impacted the league and the cache of its product? What if LeBron had put up a middle finger at Cleveland and forced a trade to NY the way Kobe did in his situation with Charlotte? Lest we forget that Kobe was had by LA in a hostage situation for Vlade Divac. If Garnett hadn't wasted all those years in the Minnesota wilderness by refusing to play for the Wolves. If he had planted himself in Boston earlier, or NY for that matter?

The league has done just fine with a weak NY. It's done fine with a NY featuring Ewing, Starks, and the rest. How would things have been better with a Julius Erving, Michael Jordan, or Kobe Bryant in the Garden 41 times a year? I imagine it would be like the improvement from chocolate cake to Black Forest cake. One is desirable, delicious, and satisfying on its own. The other is an upgrade and much more attractive, delicious, and worthy of envy. That's how I see this LeBron situation. LeBron in Cleveland is great. It's good for the league. It creates a competitive balance. LeBron in NY makes the NY/LA matchup sexy again in the way that Yankees/Red Sox is sexy. The league is better off for that kind of rivalry. My case closes there.

2. The Bobcats and the Thunder

Why are these teams? My preseason prediction was that the Bobcats would trade away all their starters by season's end. All of them. So far, we're looking at trade rumors around Gerald Wallace, Jason Richardson, and there will undoubtedly whispers about Okafor to a contender before the deadline. Felton is now a shooting guard with the emergence of D.J. Augustin. It's happening. It hardly matters though. Charlotte is professional basketball nowhere. Let Duke have that city NBA. Stop being greedy.

The Thunder's prospects are better, but the present is much worse. That franchise ought to think carefully about what they're seeing in Charlotte because it could be their own future. Smallish city with temporary enthusiasm for pro hoops and limited patience for suckitude. When the honeymoon is over, if Kevin Durant is all alone on the floor things will get ugly. They need to be bolder than they've been so far. Install a D'Antoni system and let the fans enjoy themselves.

3. The Lakers and the Celtics

Wow. It feels like 1980 all over again. The two dominant franchises in the sport are the two most traditional. Fantasy hoops fans are lamenting the lack of performance by Bryant and Garnett, but what real fan could argue with the excellent brand of hoops played on both coasts? The lower fantasy performance is directly related to the stellar on court performance of these teams and the limited minutes needed by the big names. Blowouts are great for fans, but bad for stats.

Barring a major upset or injury, these are your finals teams. I absolutely love the Lakers to win it this season. Kobe, Gasol, Bynum, and Odom are great 1-4 players, but the Fishers, Farmers, and Arizas are the guys that are locking things down. Great balance and great system there. Fuck Phil Jackson, but he's a great coach.

The Celtics make me less optimistic long term because I think there's potential for Allen or Pierce to break down a bit. Rondo has emerged, so any injury could be offset, but the fragility of the Boston roster is a concern, albeit a minor one.

4. Parity

The Celtics and the Lakers aside, who has a team full of good players in 2008-09? Let's run down the list for a moment and consider which team's have A-list players, especially in the multiples.

Celtics: Yes
Nets: No
Knicks: No
Sixers: Yes
Raptors: Maybe
Bulls: No
Cavaliers: No
Pistons: No
Pacers: No
Bucks: No
Hawks: Maybe
Bobcats: No
Heat: Maybe
Magic: Yes
Wizards: Yes*
Warriors: No
Clippers: No
Lakers: Yes
Suns: Yes
Kings: No
Mavericks: Maybe
Rockets: Yes*
Grizzlies: No
Hornets: Maybe
Spurs: Yes
Nuggets: Maybe
Wolves: No
Thunder: No
Trailblazers: No
Jazz: Yes

That's a total of 9 "yeses", 6 "maybes", and 15 "nos." You have 9 good teams, 6 fair to mediocre teams, and 15 irrelevant clubs. Is that good business? Is it good business with a salary cap? I will argue until my last breath that the NBA should contract, let some of the fringe guys that lose work head to Europe or Asia, and put a better product on the floor in less cities. Create a better D-League. If you dissolved 10 of the franchises in the "nos," you'd combine some very good players with the 6 maybes and the remaining 5 nos. The parity you seek would be there via quality rather than quantity. You could move to play a real World Championship like they do in the European League Soccer competition. It would be better for the sport and the NBA.

Just sayin'.

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