What’s a story without a narrative?
That’s the question we’ve come to in our latest installment of professional basketball in the NBA. There’s always a need for a story arc in order to appease the masses. In the 1980′s, it was the Magic vs. Larry rivalry; the ’90′s gave us Michael Jordan; the ’00′s gave us the Kobe-Shaq feud as well as the development of reigning MVP LeBron James. Over the past few seasons, the narrative has been stuck in neutral on the ‘Will LeBron win a championship this year’ story.
Well, the NBA was happy to receive added fuel to that fire after LeBron lost the 2011 Finals because it ended up resulting in the narrative prolonging. It couldn’t have happened at a better time. With the NBA going into a lockout, the fans kept themselves busy pondering if LeBron would win a championship whenever the next season began. Whether they wanted him to fail or succeed, fans bought in and waited with bated breath for the narrative continue.
LeBron and the Miami Heat had their hitches down the road, but found a way to overcome injuries to Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh thanks to legendary performances by James, as well as a few necessary contributions from role players like Shane Battier, Mario Chalmers and Mike Miller.
What this means is that narrative is over. Obviously a lot of attention will be paid on LeBron and his quest for more titles to elevate his legacy to the height’s of those regarded as the best to ever play the game. However, that’s not as stimulating and satisfying as a players’ ultimate desire to win a title and to rid themselves of the labels and monikers they’ve been given throughout their career.
Where will the next big story come from? Look towards the new-look Los Angeles Lakers. Just like LeBron, a lot of pressure will be following Dwight Howard on his quest to win a title. Because once LeBron won a title, Howard became the next best player to have never won a title. Exclude guys like Derrick Rose, Kevin Durant, and Russell Westbrook because of their lack of experience, but it comes down between Howard, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony as the next best players to have never won a title.
Paul and Anthony may have forced trades out of their former residences, but neither made it a spectacle like Howard did, which is jarring because a superstar moving to the New York Knicks you would assume has to drive up media attention. Sure a move to Los Angeles is just as prominent since it’s to a market that’s just as significant as New York’s, but it’s the added pressure of knowing that you are on a superstar-laden team.
There will be no excuses for Dwight to lose in Los Angeles; just like there were none for LeBron James when he teamed up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
The narrative wavers on, in search of new stories to pander to an always growing NBA audience. While that shapes up, the analyst spends their time making predictions on what team will finish where and which players will live up to or below expectations. With so many names on the move–courtesy of the modern-day NBA–the standings for both conferences have become more difficult to apply seeds for each team.
However, does it really matter when there are realistically three teams that have a legitimate shot at winning it all? Either way, there is a need to deliver predictions for the upcoming season just as a reference point to look on at the end of the season.
Eastern Conference Standings
1. Miami Heat (64-18)
Duh. With Derrick Rose out and the Chicago Bulls significantly downgrading their bench, the Eastern Conference regular season crown should belong to Miami. The Heat have finished second in the conference the past two seasons, but with pressure out the window and confidence at an all-time high, Miami should easily be the team to beat in a conference that provides so little challenges.
2. Indiana Pacers (57-25)
The Pacers made a bold move re-signing 7’2″ center Roy Hibbert over the summer. Hibbert was halfway to Portland before Indiana stepped in and decided to match the Blazers offer. With Hibbert anchoring the middle, the Pacers welcome in newcomers in point guard D.J. Augustin (replacing the departed Daren Collison), high-flyer Gerald Green, and inside presences in Ian Mahinmi and rookie Miles Plumlee. Indiana will also be looking to Paul George to make the jump to a possible All-Star.
3. Boston Celtics (54-28)
Losing your top shooter that also happens to be the best three-point shooter in NBA history should hurt, right? Not when you’re the Celtics. The team brushed off the loss of Ray Allen quickly, having signed another shooting specialist in Jason Terry a few nights before Allen departed for Miami. Boston also added on Courtney Lee, rookie Jared Sullinger, and some necessary size in Jason Collins and Darko Milicic.
4. New York Knicks (50-32)
This could end up being the final year of the Carmelo Anthony in New York experiment. Needless to say, the Knicks were extremely disappointed with Anthony’s lack of responsibility when it comes to facilitating and getting his teammates involved. The team made it obvious that they no longer want Carmelo handling the ball, instead making two risky signings in the form of 39-year-old Jason Kidd and Raymond Felton, who always seems to be battling weight problems.
5. Brooklyn Nets (48-34)
Don’t buy into the hype of the Nets being a contender now that they signed Joe Johnson, but do expect them to create a furious rivalry with the Knicks. The Nets not only moved the team to a venue that will draw fans, but also gave plenty of reason to draw those fans with a number of signings that will keep Brooklyn relevant. Brook Lopez returns after playing only five games last season.
6. Atlanta Hawks (45-37)
No Joe Johnson? No problem. The Hawks may have lost out on the All-Star, but they added on three pure shooters in Kyle Korver, Anthony Morrow, and rookie John Jenkins to play alongside two bonafide All-Star’s in Josh Smith and Al Horford. Atlanta also added on Devin Harris to give current starting point guard Jeff Teague the boost he needs to continue excelling.
7. Chicago Bulls (44-38)
Hard times have hit the Bulls. While you could cite how well the Bulls played in the regular season last year when Derrick Rose played in 39 injury-plagued games, you also have to note that Kyle Korver, John Lucas, C.J. Watson and Omer Asik all played prominent roles. Their replacements? Nate Robinson, Vladimir Radmanovic, Kirk Hinrich, Marco Belinelli and Nazr Mohammed. Fun times.
8. Philadelphia 76ers (42-40)
The Sixers could find themselves with a higher seed if not for Andrew Bynum carrying an injury into the regular season. However, this team could be worth worrying about come postseason time. With Jrue Holiday set to break out, coach Doug Collins will be look to creating the next great inside-outside duo between him and Bynum. However, he’ll have to complete the task of making sure that Bynum is committed to the program.
Western Conference Standings
1. Los Angeles Lakers (60-22)
A 38-year-old point guard with back problems, a 34-year-old shooting guard with ailments throughout, a 32-year-old loose cannon at small forward, a 32-year-old power forward who is coming off a poor postseason performance for the second consecutive season, and a center who is coming off season-ending back surgery. Sounds like a championship to me, and, yes, this team will be excellent despite obvious holes and concerns in the roster.
2. Oklahoma City Thunder (59-23)
Oklahoma City will have to make the best out of the draft picks they received because losing James Harden is going to end up hurting this team. Kevin Martin is an excellent scorer and Jeremy Lamb has potential, but losing a ball-handling small forward who can run the point with ease is going to hurt. However, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are a budding duo that are motivated from last season’s crushing NBA Finals loss.
3. San Antonio Spurs (56-26)
As long as Gregg Popovich is the coach of this team, the Spurs are going to remain a legitimate title contender. Even though Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili will most likely deal with nagging ailments throughout the season, Tony Parker–4th in MVP voting last year–will be able to prop this team up. Also, a plethora of a overachieving role players will keep this team scary deep into the playoffs.
4. Los Angeles Clippers (54-24)
The Clippers made a slew of signings this offseason to bolster their bench, but may have made a few mistakes on who they ended up paying for. After all, Grant Hill is already hurting only a few weeks following his departure from the Phoenix Suns medical crew and Lamar Odom is in the worst shape of his life. Jamal Crawford and Eric Bledsoe, however, will be problems for the rest of the league.
5. Denver Nuggets (52-26)
Still without a definitive team leader, the Nuggets could arguably be considered title contenders. It all rides of a few deciding factors, including center JaVale McGee. The former Washington Wizards headache worked out with Hakeem Olajuwon over the summer and discipline from coach George Karl should keep his on-court antics to a minimum. Former Philadelphia 76er Andre Iguodala represents their biggest offseason signing.
6. Memphis Grizzlies (49-33)
The Grizzlies may have seen their title window open and close already. Their first-round loss to the Los Angeles Clippers last season was an embarrassment, especially after the lofty expectations they received on account of beating San Antonio and pushing Oklahoma City to the limit in the postseason prior. Memphis will be without O.J. Mayo and will hold out hope that Wayne Ellington and Josh Selby could possibly replace his scoring.
7. Dallas Mavericks (47-35)
And that may be giving the Mavericks a little too much. For a team that’s about to start Eddy Curry as their starting center, the Mavericks shouldn’t be anywhere near the playoffs. However, Dirk Nowitzki and Chris Kaman will eventually recover from their injuries and newcomers O.J. Mayo, Daren Collison and Elton Brand should keep this team above water long enough to make them a playoff team.
8. Utah Jazz (46-36)
Only because the Minnesota Timberwolves will be without Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio to start the season will the Utah Jazz make it to the postseason. Because the West is so competitive, a team needs to be consistently play well throughout and hope to avoid any devastating injuries at all costs. Minnesota floundered at that aspect, but Utah–sporting new three-point threats in Marvin Williams, Mo Williams and Randy Foye–will be the one to take advantage.
How the playoffs will play out
1. Miami defeats 8. Philadelphia 4-0
2. Indiana defeats 7. Chicago 4-2
3. Boston defeats 6. Atlanta 4-2
5. Brooklyn defeats 4. New York 4-3
1. Miami defeats 5. Brooklyn 4-1
2. Indiana defeats 3. Boston 4-3
1. Miami defeats 2. Indiana 4-2
1. L.A. Lakers defeats Utah 4-1
2. Oklahoma City defeats Dallas 4-0
3. San Antonio defeats Memphis 4-2
5. Denver defeats L.A. Clippers 4-3
1. L.A. Lakers defeats 5. Denver 4-2
2. Oklahoma City defeats 3. San Antonio 4-1
1. L.A. Lakers defeats 2. Oklahoma City 4-3
1. Miami defeats 1. L.A. Lakers 4-2
League MVP: LeBron James
Rookie of the Year: Anthony Davis
Defensive Player of the Year: Serge Ibaka
Coach of the Year: Monty Williams
Most Improved Player: JaVale McGee