...but the training staff has cleared me to resume full-contact basketball witng activities. For the last 10 days, while suffering from lazybumitis, I've soaked up as much preseason a healthily possible, pored over about 658 other ball blogs, watched the NBAtv previews, and tried o sneak into the Staples center disguised as Artests' Zoloft carrier (I made that up), and marveled over Gilbert Arenas' Cosby look. As much as the world drools while waiting to see how LWB get loose in MIA, there are uncountable other storylines percolating, from the Arenas saga while Wall hits the scene in DC to the D. Cousins psyche experiment during young Tyreke's "fork-in-the-road" 2nd season (we KNOW Evans is talented, but can he use the Force to expand his team game and raise the Kings collectively, or will he start toward the Dark Side, putting up huge numbers on a team that can't find ways to win?). Here are 2 major plotlines in "As The League Turns" that got me tuning in:
1. Rise of The Fallen
Last year, the Nets were putrid, Washington was embarrassingly painful to watch, Minnesota looked like a Div II team that snuck it's way into the NBA, and watching the NO Hornets was like watching an injured fighter trying to limp through a 12 rounder with one arm. There's no way to sugarcoat it, there was some disgusting basketball played in those there cities. This is what I love about the NBA, though; we've seen these squads low, now we get to see what they're made of. Michael Beasley gets to try and jumpstart his career while simultaneously helping the Wolves return to threat status out west. Yeah, it's the preseason, but watching dem Minny Boys run the Lakers off the floor over in Spain was a promising sign; Beaz looks confident with his slick drives and wet leftie pull-ups, K Love looks dominant on the boards, and the rook Wes Johnson looks like the real deal. The Nets were a W.O.A.T. candidate last year; but now, with new owner, new coach, new athletic wings, and a new lotto pick forward, I'm excited to see these young cats grow together. Washington had one of the most atrocious seasons ever from a PR and bad luck standpoint; Agent Zero went from being a near-Top-10 "Hibachi" player to living in a halfway house upon his release from frickin' prison. The DC brass said screw it, blew the squad up (sending Jamison to be "The Guy Cleveland Got Instead of Amar'e. D'OH!" and Caron Butler to the "Ground Hog's Day" Mavericks). but we see the young talent in Javale, Blatche, and Nick Young. Add the insane potential and speed of # Uno John Wall and the tantalizing Yi Jialian, we got us something to watch in DC. Finally, we heard the rumblings from CP3 in the NO, and after watching the Hornets be continually outgunned and out-muscled last year even when Paul WAS on the court was just sad (just 18 months ago they were considered the "young team on the rise out West". OKC says "Gimme that!"). No Paul is chillin' in public, but the Hornets front office KNOWS the clock is ticking, and Trevor Ariza and Marco freakin' Belinelli ain't gonna cut it. What big move can N'awlins pull off to convince their savior to stay? Man, I'm amped...
2. Youth Movement
It seems like the league kinda stagnated for a few years in the early 2000s. There was some ugly, ugly basketball out of the East, I mean, the Nets made the Finals twice, and Philly went with Iverson, Mutombo, a plumber, and some dudes from the local Philly bars on the squad, for crap's sake. I was watching the replay of the Nets/LA Finals in 2002, and it was jaw-droppingly horrendous to see Keith Van Horn stinking it up in June. BEN WALLACE made 4 All-Star teams. Let that sink in. 4. Look at some of the number one draft picks: Kenyon Martin (2000), Kwame "Hands Of Stone" Brown (2001), Bogut (2005), and Bargnani (2006). ALL are decent player, Bogut looks like he may be a borderline All-Star, but as far as number one picks, they sucked. One positive about these lean years, though; it makes the hardcore NBA fans really appreciate the explosion of talent we're about to see throughout the league. There's gallons of talent every where you look; CP3, Deron, D. Rose, Aaron Brooks, John Wall, and Rondo are trying to unseat Steve Nash as The PG of the NBA. Yeah, LBJ and Kobe are the top 2 perimeter players, but Wade, Carmelo, Durant, Danny Granger, Rudy Gay, even relative unknowns like Wilson Chandler (don't trip, 15/5 isn't tuuurrible) and young comebacker Mike Beasley are pushing them for supremacy. Just like 2 years ago, Elton Brand was a 20/10 guy, but now the new crop of long, athletic, multiskilled bigs like Anthony Randolph, Javale McGee, Gallinari, Chris Bosh, Blake Griffin, and rooks DeMarcus Cousins and Derrick Favors are smashing the old "back to the basket" idea of post players. And with Tim Duncan in the twilight of his career, Boston's Big Three all showing signs of decline, and Kobe' showing a few chinks in the armor due to age, in-their-prime teams like D. Howard's Magic and The Miami Triumverate, along with super-young squads like OKC, Portland, New Jersey, The Wizards, and even Philly and the Clips, are licking their chops, waiting for their chance to shine. All in all, young talent spread out + the "Old Wolf/Young Challenger" dynamic will make for some fierce, compelling basketball this season.