It is now October...

And the NBA Pre-Season began this past weekend, coinciding with the END of the Baseball regular season.
I promised not to talk about basketball until October, and now is that time.

All that know me know full well that I am a Los Angeles Lakers fan, and it seems that EVERY time I mention that to someone, they question how can that be when I have lived in NC my whole life. Quite simply, really... North Carolina had NO professional sports teams until the NBA expanded by 4 teams, adding the Hornets in Charlotte, the Miami Heat, the Minnesota Timberwolves and Orlando Magic. This was set into motion in 1987, to begin with the 1988 season. I was 8 years old and in 3rd and 4th grades as this was happening.

My fondness for sporting events, though, began somewhere around age 5 or 6 -- as a kindergartner/1st-grader -- and was directly fed by my own dad and the fact that if there was football or basketball to be watched, then dammit it was getting WATCHED!
I, being a middle child and subject to having to do my own thing most times, found myself drawn to liking the teams that had my favorite players since we had no local teams to be fans of. This is how I came to be a fan of the Lakers, I was a fan of Magic Johnson. [note this is ALSO how I am a fan of the San Francisco 49ers]
Sure, we later got the Hornets, and they were the quickest of that round of expansion teams to show some relative success, but I am NOT a bandwagon fan. I stayed a Lakers fan during the post-Riley debacles in which Magic Johnson was once head coach. Loved Earvin as a Point Guard, but not so much as a head coach. There are certain types of egos that don't mesh well as coaches, and Magic was one of those if everything I have read on the subject is accurate.


Anyway, we're up to where the time comes to talk about the season upcoming and one thing we're immediately drawn to notice is that a labor dispute between the league and the referees union has the zebras locked out to start the season, which means we will begin with a team of scabs.
This could be a good or bad thing for the league as I see this. See, the replacements will not have the loyalties or animosities that the regular refs have to the superstar players. That means that LeBron won't get to shoot free throws if someone breaths on him as he passes by them and it means that ref Joey Crawford won't be trying to pick fights with players to bait them into technical fouls. In my opinion, both of these outcomes are positives.
On the other side of this, the replacements may not be able to keep up with the pace of the game at this level, they may not be able to handle the enormous egos of the players who will naturally already look down on them as inferiors, without giving them a chance to prove themselves. Those are the most major of the negatives, with one more being that they may use the nerves to make or miss calls. Again, it remains to be seen. I am to understand that a couple of them coming up from the D-League have league experience, so this may not be all the way bad.

We've all heard the major questions as they relate to the top of the league...
  1. How hard a time will the champs have repeating with all major pieces either in place or with a reasonably equal tradeoff installed?
  2. Will Boston be back with KG's knee back in the game and 'Sheed Wallace in their fold?
  3. Will the Shaq/Lebron experiment work to desired results in Cleveland? [Phlip note - HELL no, and EVERYONE except for LeBron will be blamed]
  4. Will Orlando be able to catch lightning in a bottle again and get through the east?
  5. Will Denver show the same resolve they found in the playoffs and come off in the west?
  6. What about the always-in-this-conversation Spurs? What have they in store?
  7. Has the next level down in the league really done THAT little in the name of getting better, or are they REALLY tanking the season in the name of next year's free agency class?
  8. Will any of the on-the-cusp teams like New Orleans and Utah make any waves?
  9. Did LeBron work on his jumpshot mechanics this off-season, or was he too occupied with making sure no one saw him getting dunked on and having adventures riding bicycles around the country with his pals?
There are plenty of other questions to be asked, but those are the ones that stand out in my mind immediately.
It is also a concern of mine just how bad teams that were in the conversation will now turn in the absence of their big names.
Take Houston, they will be without Yao Ming and with the remaining shell of the ever-overrated Tracy McGrady. They will also be missing Ron Artest, departed for the Lakers, but will have Trevor Ariza in his place -- a virtual even trade, comparing in-game contributions and contract size, therefore a dumb move on Ariza's part -- but very few people who can create their own shots or play in the post.
What about the Suns? They've now lost Shaq, have an aging Steve Nash, an already-aged Grant Hill and a fresh-off-of-a-strange-injury (and questionable work ethics-having) Amare Stoudemire.
[Phlip note - I am writing The Suns off, I am pretty sure that they could even miss the playoffs now if the western conference has a strong year]
What about the Pistons? No, never mind that... Ben Gordon will make his own points, but no one on the roster remains from their most recent glory days except Tayshaun Prince and Rip Hamilton, and I am willing to bet that neither hangs around long after Joe Dumars' failed attempt to cash in on the "get me LeBron" sweepstakes, where he took on Allen Iverson's expiring contract in exchange for team morale and tanked a season for his troubles. If anything, Joe Dumars has done all he could to make the NUGGETS better, since he drafted Darko Milicic instead of Carmelo Anthony, then sending them a veteran Point Guard last year and taking Iverson off of their hands. I'm inclined to wonder if Detroit or Denver is signing his checks, since he is only making ONE of those teams better somehow here, and it is not the one he claims to be employed by.

Unknowns come from teams like Miami, who added nothing other than the drama of Deron Beasley going to rehab; and Dallas, who was never that good any damned way, NEVER, not even that year they went through a then-weak Western Conference only to tank the NBA finals to the Miami Heat, who went through a then-weak Eastern Conference. [wow, degrees of separation, see that there?]

At the end of it all, this is not rocket surgery...
The top of the league, the top 4 (2 from each conference) will remain the top of the league.
The Lakers are the natural choice to repeat. And I am NOT just saying that as a fan, the fact remains that the team got NO worse in Ariza leaving, but Artest coming in.
The Cavaliers are the favored team in the east, after adding a scorer whose name escapes me right now to help LeBron, and also bringing in the Shaquille O'Neal experiment. Where I worry with this, though, is the problems that the presence of Shaq in the middle and how it could cripple LeBron's MONEY move, driving the lane. This goes not to mention Shaq and his questionable conditioning of the last 8 years now, with the only exception being when he was in Phoenix.
Denver is #2 in the west, and COULD overthrow the Lakers if they commit to playing the game that they found in the playoffs, simple as that. No major changes were made otherwise to the roster.
Orlando, who won the east is the natural #2. They intrigue me, in that Hedo Turkeydo is gone, but Vince Carter is in, which gives them someone who can create his own shots at least. If he doesn't kill chemistry and fluidity of the game and PLAYS FUCKING DEFENSE, he will be a positive contribution. Dwight Howard now knows he can give Shaq fits because Shaq can't make him bitch up like pretty much ANY other center in the league.

Bubbling just below this comes the fact that you can't yet write off the Celtics in the East, at least not without knowing the fate of Ray Allen's feet, Kevin Garnett's knee and the attitudes of Rajon Rondo and Rasheed Wallace.
In the west, San Antonio is NEVER to be ignored as long as Tim Duncan has breath in his body. The addition of Richard Jefferson should be helpful as well, so long as his knees are up to the task.
With either of these teams clicking as we know they can, they could easily crack the above-named "tops," and contend up to the point of giving the perceived elite teams fits.


There will be no one terribly impactful from this year's rookie class not named Blake Griffin, and I mean that only in that he will take the Clippers from being utterly fucking terrible to being a still-pretty bad team who MIGHT sneak into the playoffs, but even then only as an 8-seed if the rest of the conference above them is THAT bad.


Early Predictions:
(this means how I see this taking place based upon what I know right now, and will be changed as observations made on season's progression)

Rookie of the year
Blake Griffin, and the only thing that will shake him off of that will be an injury.

Defensive Player of the Year
Dwight Howard to repeat based upon blocked shots, rebounding and utter fucking intimidation

League MVP
LeBron James again, because it is a regular season award and David Stern KEEPS a boner for that guy.

NBA Finals
David Stern's will blow a load when Nike makes good on last year's "MVPs" promotion and we GET the LeBron vs. Kobe finals... If all cogs are in place, Andrew Bynum stays healthy and Pau Gasol keeps killing as he did against Orlando last year, LA repeats.
Everyone on the team not named LeBron Raymone James will take on blame for the loss, while LeBron will become the NBA's version of Brett Favre. Finals MVP will be Kobe Bryant again, lest EVERY member of the team will mysteriously die in a tire fire the next morning.




3 and a half more weeks of pre-season ball... Regular season begins 10/31 and 7pm EST with the Nets at the Wizards, a game which even the PARTICIPANTS might ignore.


(I'm a Laker's fan, sue me)
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