Wednesday, October 24, 2012

NBA WEEK: A Fan's Top Ten Storylines

 Special guest, NBA fan and longtime friend of the blog, Jeff Schles (@mootzadeli), lists his Top Ten Storylines for the upcoming NBA Season.

Editor's Note: On this third day of NBA Week, it is my special pleasure to welcome one of my oldest and best friends, Jeff Schles, to Puddles of Myself. This is the first time that Jeff has ever contributed to the blog it would not be an official NBA Week without his contribution. Jeff and I have spent years discussing and arguing over sports. When we were kids, we would have sleepovers at my house and then the next morning we'd pore over the sports section of Newsday and quiz each other over team records and player stats and argue who was better, Jordan's Bulls or the Kemp/Payton Sonics. 

These days, Jeff lives in Providence with his wife and runs a gourmet food truck, Mootza Deli. We don't argue as much, but no big sporting day or night (or even slow sporting day or night) passes without Jeff and I frantically texting each other our up to the minute thoughts and opinions on a game or a news story. We've been doing it for almost 20 years and I'm looking forward to doing it for many more.

OK, enough of the sentimental stuff. Here is Jeff Schles' Puddles of Myself debut.

After the shortest offseason in, well, four years, due to the Olympics, here comes the real deal, the NBA regular season.  First off, let me tell you that all I cared about growing up was the TCW*, getting outside and sports! Sports of all kinds—if it was on I watched it.  Over the years basketball became one of my favorite sports, if not my favorite.  I can sit down on any night and watch any game.  I recount a story of a few years back when Domino and I went to a Celtics/Heat game in Boston.  We sat behind the rim at just about eye level, which was amazing.  We cheered for just about every play, our seats dead in the middle of season ticket holder alley. A lady turned around and, in a Southie accent, asked who we were and who we were routing for.  That was simple: obviously Domino and I, as the two most interesting men in the world—and also true basketball fans—proceeded to explain to her that on any night we will watch any team and cheer on basketball and great basketball play.  I respect the game more than anyone and will always defend it.  So I write now to judge, challenge myself, and give some perspective into the game.

(*Editor’s Note: TCW stands for Total Championship Wrestling, which was a backyard wrestling league I ran on the trampoline in the backyard of my parents’ house on Long Island. We had legends such as Schamus (before WWE!), Orvis, Mr. Mattman, Big Boz Man, Gang Starr, Stingray, the Blob, Mad Dogg, Small Package and many others. Let’s just say a few folding chairs and used doors were broken and a few mothers looked at my mom strangely at PTA meetings.)

This is my list of the Top Ten Storylines for the 2012-2013 NBA Season, which Domino told me to deliver to you in no particular order.

1. Brooklyn’s new basketball representation. The Brooklyn Nets are a retelling of the old sports history of perhaps New York’s most well-known outerborough. All that Brooklyn has had for the past 55 years is memories of the Dodgers and Ebbets Field and some passable Cyclones games down in Coney Island. This Nets ownership and braintrust are trying to revive the glories and atmosphere of years past.  I mean, I’m talking about herringbone stripes on the hardwood. It’s so New York, it’a so Brooklyn, it’s so...Jay-Z. And, perhaps most importantly, it's just like my new J. Crew wool vest (something that sweater-loving Domino would approve of himself) that I’ve been waiting to wear since winter time.  I love the Nets being in Brooklyn and their new uniforms like I love the overly-exaggerated news reports about how the Barclays center is already falling apart because it is rusting.  Well, guess what? The building is supposed to rust—it’s a common way to protect the structure. Rusted facades, black and white jerseys and herringbone wood floors. The Nets are already making style and swag waves. You just have to love it!

2. Kobe continuing to tell it like it is. The Lakers are Kobe's team and he is going to show Dwight how he can make his own corner in the Lakers legacy. Just take a look at this classic quote from Kobe:

"I got a question earlier about whose team this is. I don't want to get into the,'Well, we share ...' No, it's my team. But I want to make sure that Dwight, when I retire, this is going to be his. I want to teach him everything I possibly know so that when I step away this organization can ride on as if I never left."

This quote shows why Kobe is the best, without a doubt (yeah half of you just tuned out, so be it, I don’t care). He is a winner, a winner like the greats of basketball past: Jordan, Kareem, Magic, Russell, Bird, and lets not forget Cousy, who would run circles around you like Steve Nash in the Bridgestone tire commercial.  Only Kobe could get away with making such a bold statement about Dwight Howard and the Lakers. In fact, this off-season, Kobe went off on just about everything from flopping (which we will discuss later) to A-Rod’s batting woes. Kobe is the Lakers and he should be able to and most likely will make Dwight Howard a winner.  Right now Dwight is a bore; I can’t bear him or his personality. And I know most sports fans feel the same way.  I’m sick of the average numbers he puts up. Sure, he can easily get 20 and 20 and, yes, he’s averaged a double-double for his career; he’s still a one-dimensional player. We all know his issues at the foul line, but more importantly, he needs to be able to step out and hit some shots from beyond five feet.  With Dwight on the floor, it will be hard for teams to double Kobe. Kobe will no longer have to endure the pain of all the injuries that have added up over the years because he was doing the extra work that others didn’t want to do.  Kobe is the king, and for the next few years before Kobe steps off the court and into greatness with the potential of leaving the  game with more championships than Jordan, it is Dwight’s responsibility to learn how to be a Jordan, a Russell, a Magic, a KOBE!*

(Editor’s Note: In no way do I support Jeff’s unabashed “Kobe-gushing.” Kobe Bryant is a very good basketball player and I enjoy his quotes. Those are the only nice things I will ever say about him.)

3. The absence of Derrick Rose. By now, everyone has seen the new D. Rose commercial and that terrible broadcast recording of “holding on to his knee, holding on to his knee and down.” When Rose’s injury happened, all basketball fans stopped. Why? Because when you think about modern day floor generals, almost no one comes before D. Rose. This proved to be the case when the Bulls were bounced out of the Playoffs in only the first round after they had tied for the best record in the NBA. There is no timetable for Rose’s return, but most expect him come back around the All-Star break in February. According to that logic, I see the Bulls as a .600 team at best. Kirk Hinrich and Marquis Teague are going to need to handle the load to keep Chicago in striking distance of the Pacers in the Central Division. We all know Rose is a beast, a magician; we marvel at the way he shakes and bakes his way through the lane and shake our heads at his falling to the floor fade aways. I want Rose back. I want the Bulls to be a powerhouse like they were with Rose on the floor.  I want the Heat to have to work to make it through the Playoffs besides a potential match up with the Celtics.  On behalf of basketball fans everywhere, I just want to say this: D. Rose get better quick. Get healthy, and make it last.

4. Will the tragedy of the Portland franchise continue? The Trailblazers were once a team that sold out 814 straight home games and had 21 straight Playoff appearances, both of which are NBA records. Can this franchise form a new identity around All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge and move past the tragedies of the Brandon Roy and Greg Oden injuries? Also, what happens when Roy—after going to Germany and to get the special treatment/surgery or whatever it is, gene therapy, which Kobe did—comes back to Portland as a member of the Timberwolves and looks close to brand new? Do the Trailblazer faithful collectively pull their hair out and vomit all of their artisanal beers because their team wasted their amnesty clause on Roy? I feel bad for the Northwest region, LaMarcus Aldridge (the only real deal left on the team), and mostly for the fans.  Portland fans deserve better; they deserve to have Kevin Durant, they deserve to have a playoff team back in the Rose City.

5. The approval of a new stadium in Seattle. It’s a sin that the Seattle Supersonics were taken from the city, which is one of the most die hard sports cities in the country.  A few years back I got a chance to visit Seattle. After days of exploring the city, I found my way down to the Port of Seattle where the Seahawks play at CenturyLink Field and the Mariners play at SafeCo Field.  It is like no other sports arena complex I have ever seen—it is the crowning jewel of a great city on the water.  Yeah, I imagine the people of Seattle who live around the stadiums have a lot of traffic, but they should they be proud of their city and teams (well, maybe not the current Mariners, but you know what I mean).  Both of their stadiums are state of the art and they have some of the best fans around.  In the NFL, players and teams don’t talk about going into playing the Seahawks without mentioning the “12th Man”—the fans. You can just ask “Pretty Boy” Tom Brady when he was gobbled up in Week 5 of the NFL season.

It’s rare for a city to lose a franchise that has won a championship, which the Sonics did in 1979. Lenny Wilkens, then coach, and Hall of Fame point guard, as well as finals MVP, Dennis Johnson led the Supersonics to their first and only championship. The Gary “The Glove” Payton and Shawn “Reign Man” Kemp Supersonics teams in the 90’s played a brand of basketball that caught my attention and made them one of my favorite teams of all time. Along with Jordan and the Bulls, the Supersonics of the mid-90's really got me into basketball. That team was stacked: Sam Perkins, Hersey Hawkins, Nate McMillian, and Detlef Schrempf.  The era culminated in the 1995-1996 NBA Finals match-up with the Michael Jordan led Bulls, which led to one of the most entertaining championships of my childhood.  And many arguements with Domino. 

The team never quite reached the same heights during the Ray “Jesus Shuttlesworth Allen” and the Rashad “I Get Paid Too Much” Lewis era, but they eventually hit the lottery when they were literally in the NBA Draft Lottery and selected Kevin Durant in the 2007 NBA Draft. But then on July 2, 2008 the deal was done that moved the Supersonics to Oklahoma City where the team has blossomed into one of the youngest, most exciting title contenders since the early-90’s Chicago Bulls. However, last month the city approved an agreement to build a $490 million arena to house both basketball and hockey teams for the city. I can’t wait for the I-5 rivalry to resume.

6. The new flopping rules. It’s not that I’m necessarily opposed to or in support of the new flopping rules, I just worry about the effect it might have on the way teams play defense.  But first, for those of you not completely familiar with the flopping controversy, we should review how flopping is defined and what the new NBA penalties are.  The following is directly from the NBA website:

"Flopping" will be defined as any physical act that appears to have been intended to cause the referees to call a foul on another player. The primary factor in determining whether a player committed a flop is whether his physical reaction to contact with another player is inconsistent with what would reasonably be expected given the force or direction of the contact.

Physical acts that constitute legitimate basketball plays (such as moving to a spot in order to draw an offensive foul) and minor physical reactions to contact will not be treated as flops.
Any player who is determined to have committed a flop during the regular season will be subject to the following:

Violation 1: Warning

Violation 2: $5,000 fine

Violation 3: $10,000 fine

Violation 4: $15,000 fine

Violation 5: $30,000 fine

If a player violates the anti-flopping rule six times or more, he will be subject to discipline that is reasonable under the circumstances, including an increased fine and/or suspension.

The policy doesn’t look that bad at first, but once you get deeper into it, you can see why I am slightly unnerved. There is a fine line between what can be construed as a flop and an actual offensive foul. For instance, in the NBA Finals in June, Mario Chalmers was given a technical foul when he “flopped” after hitting a Serge Ibaka screen; however, when you’re Mario Chalmers’ size and you run full-tilt into Serge Ibaka, aren’t you bound to flail a little bit? It’s a hard call to make and those fines are steep. It’s classic David Stern—always looking for more money for the league.  I am all for preventing Ginobli, LeBron and Griffin*, the godfathers of flopping, from being able to fake an elbow to the face and look like they just got shot, but I am also in favor of preventing these guys from just being able to freely slam the ball down without having their shots fully and fairly contended before the rim. I don’t want the NBA to lose any more of its defensive integrity. I put this along the same lines as not being able to hit the quarterback in football. I know the game will always change—new guys come into the league, players get injured and retire—but the lasting effects of the flopping rules are yet to be determined.

(*Editor’s Note: Honorable mention also goes to Vince Carter and Dwyane Wade.)

7. The Boston Celtics. The Boston Celtics franchise is rivaled in American sports by only the New York Yankees and maybe the St. Louis Cardinals.  It’s a mixure of deep honored tradition, the willingness for players to sacrifice for the team, the endless numbers hanging in the rafters or from the fences, memorable quirks and charms like the parquet floor and of course all the championship banners. Since moving to Rhode Island, I’ve had the ability to see the Celtics frequently and, more importantly, to see the how the franchise’s greatness will transition from the Big 3 Era to whatever this next era will be.

Ray Allen leaving to go play for the Heat is somewhat comparable to having Big Papi going to the Yankees.  The Boston fan base embraced Ray as one of their own (who wouldn’t with that beautiful shot?). Ray is a stand out guy and one who works as hard as anyone.  Will the revamped Celtics make another run? I say yes.  The problems the Celtics had the previous two seasons are no longer there.  First, the team has gotten younger. Fourteen guys on the roster are born later than 1985.  The veteran leadership of Pierce, Terry, and Garnett cannot be overstated, especially Garnett’s heart and the clutch shooting of both Pierce and Terry.  Rondo may be one of the best guards in the league, especially with D. Rose out and Nash continuing to age.

With Jeff Green coming back from season ending surgery last year, the Celtics look to play not only an uptempo game to match the likes of the Heat and Thunder, but also to match up with the Spurs and Lakers in the post with key additions such as Darko Milicic and Jared Sullinger.  Will Doc stick around for the next generation Celtics? I hope so. 

8. The Thunder-Heat Rivalry. The Oklahoma City/Miami Heat clashes could turn out to be one of the best new rivalries in the NBA.  Yes, we still have established rivalries such as Lakers-Celtics, Knicks-Bulls, Spurs-Lakers, Celtics-Pistons (dormant) and Knicks-Pacers (dormant for awhile), but I see Thunder-Heat as bringing basketball to its next era. Although the their Finals series only went to five games, the first four games were decided by one or two possessions that mainly went the Heat’s way. Despite the Lakers’ additions of Nash and Howard, the potential for a Thunder-Heat Finals rematch still remains promising. Plus, with Ibaka and Westbrook signed through the 2016-2017 season and Durant through 2015-2016, only James Harden’s current contract situation is a cause for concern for the franchise’s core group. Meanwhile, Lebron, Bosh and Wade are all signed through the next two seasons with player options after that

However, it has already been rumored that Lebron will opt out of his contract in 2014 in order to get more money, since he did take less in 2010 to make sure they got, “not 4, not 5, not 6,” so maybe the Heat will only end up getting one title. The Thunder are certainly ripe for a championship. They even showed their mental toughness along with great leadership, by not standing tall on the sidelines at the end of Game 5 of the Finals. They were led by Durant and by head by Scott Brooks who said at the time, “we are going to treat them like they’re the champions after this game. We are going to walk and shake their hands, acknowledge all of them.” It takes a lot of guts to say what Scott Brooks said and even more for the players of the Thunder to perform those deeds with the sincerity that they did.  It shows they have what it takes to be champions. Lebron lost, Lebron learned, the Thunder lost and now they have the knowledge and mental toughness to go out and get back to the Finals.

9. New playoff blood. This year I see the Warriors and the Nets as the two teams that will make the Playoffs after missing out last season. Both are not so much sleepers as they are laying and waiting to get out there and shine. The Warriors positioned themselves well with the addition of David Lee a few years back and drafting well with the selections of Stephen Curry and Harrison Barnes, whom some say could be the next big star.  Barnes went into UNC as one of the top rated college prospects of all-time, but just didn’t prove himself to be the best of the best in the college game.  I believe he will flourish in the pros with the help of second year head coach Mark Jackson.  Key role players such as Brandon Rush and Carl Landry will need to bring their game up to compete in a division stacked with the likes of Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard, Blake Griffin, Lamar Odom and DeAndre Jordan; all of which reside off  I-5 south in Los Angeles.

What about the revamped Nets? We already know that their floor will at least get them some props, but Mikhail Prokhorov and Billy King, GM, have put together a fantastic team of young and old.  Will the Nets step out of the shadows of their past failures and create a buzz in their brand new building? I think so.  The Joe Johnson and Deron Williams duo rivals the backcourt of any other contender. The additions of guards Tyshawn Taylor and C.J. Watson, as well as the continued development of second year man Marshon Brooks, and better than average contributions from Kris “ Please Don’t Remember I Was a Kardashian” Humphries (who I hate to admit is somewhat of a double double machine) will give the Nets a roster depth that they were definitely missing last season. However, it will be up to Avery Johnson and assistant coach P.J. Carlesimo to cultivate a team chemistry and identity in order to create a winning atmosphere in the Barclays Center.

10. In with the old out with the new. Despite all the new blood in the league, it looks like the old guys still got it and it may just be a few more years before the new generation of talent gets to take over the lime light.  Coming out of Summer League, the NBA folks were all buzzing about Damian Lillard, a guard out of Webber St. who tore it up in Las Vegas, averaging 26 points, 4 rebounds and 5 assists per game.  Frankly, I had no idea about this kid, but after reading up on him I was sold. This kid could be the real deal.

Another rookie I love is Thomas Robinson, who showed in Summer League that he can be the next David Lee, averaging basically a double double with 13 points and 9.8 rebounds per game.  The one thing he must do to improve is to get his shooting percentage up and make sure that he is going 110% at all times.  Unfortunately, it may be difficult since he's playing in the NBA No Man’s Land known as Sacramento. I see trouble brewing with DeMarcus Cousins and Tyreke Evens, who both still need to grow up, which hopefully which does not hinder the huge upside Robinson shows.

No doubt that a summer spent with the big boys in London did wonders for Anthony Davis.  If you watched the Olympics like I did, all you saw on the basketball court was Anthony sitting down and talking either to LeBron, Kobe, and who ever else would let him.  Sure they gave him the rookie treatment sending him up to check in without being told to do so and getting yelled at by Coach K.  I don’t need to say much about Davis as this kid is a true next generation star as long as he stays healthy. 

What about the old? Will Jerry Stackhouse find a youthful edge with the revamped Nets? Probably not. But Kevin Garnett still has it; he will certainly reach back to the days of his youth like Derek Jeter did and show the rookies how things are handled properly in the NBA.  However, the additions of Jason Kidd, Marcus Camby, and Kurt Thomas to the New York Knicks just bores me.  Thomas can barely walk, Camby just wants to retire as a Knick and Kidd will try to bring some balance to the backcourt as long as his legs don’t give out. Sheed...I won’t go there.  The Knicks just got real old, real fast!  Then, of course, there’s Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant, two freaks of nature who just won’t let the game pass them by.

Alright, Domino, I’m all set. Was that enough words for you? Once I get going, you know it’s near impossible to stop. I guess that’s something we both have in common.

No comments:

Post a Comment