Saturday, November 26, 2011

A new dawn is breaking

A new dawn is breaking, and with it, a new CBA. We don't know the details of the NBA deal yet, but rest assured, if it weren't ratified the NBA would explode.

Events like this are a mixed blessing for bloggers, after months of anticipation, the pressure has built up to the point where there are too many things to say in just one post. You only get one though. My first thought was to do a hasty set of preseason predictions, but those can wait. I could do a top-something of things I'm glad to have back, but those things will all have been overshadowed by the NBA being back at all and will be self-apparent to boot.

Instead, I think I'll take a different stance and roll with a list of things most people forgot about because of the lockout, which are worth remembering. So without further ado here they are in no particular order, I'll keep going until I run out.

  • Ricky Rubio finally graces an NBA court; after years of anticipation and increasingly lowered expectations, Rubio is going to step onto the NBA hardwood under new coach Rick Adelman. With talented shooters at three of the four other positions, the pass-first PG will have the opportunity to rack up the assists in what I predict will be a Rondo-like manner. He says his shooting is the best it has been in years with the extra time off the lockout gave him, and he's my dark horse to take home ROY.
  • Beasley vs Williams; while we're on the topic of the Timberwolves, let's shift focus to Michael Beasley, who was "up to no good" during the lockout, being caught with drugs, mushing the face of a fan among other things. With Derrick Williams incoming, these two second overall picks with extremely similar games will face off; one is going to be a future face of the franchise, the other is going to be in Adelman's doghouse and likely to be traded. It'll be interesting to see how it all plays out, but Williams is my bet given his youth and work ethic.

  • Will Jeff stay Green? Danny Ainge trading starting C Kendrick Perkins for SF Jeff Green was a wildly unpopular move in the eyes of some Celtics fans, and even moreso because he is soon to be a free agent. Rumours have circulated that the talented combo-forward wants to show the Boston faithful he was worth it, but they might get outpriced by teams with more caproom who are willing to spend. His decision could make or break the Celtics season.

  • Kemba or DJ? The Bobcats find themselves in a tricky situation with incoming rookie Kemba Walker playing the same position as another member of their young core in DJ Augustin. MJ will have to make a call soon, because Kemba is experienced enough to not need a whole lot of seasoning, and should be ready to be a leader in the NBA right now. Word on the street is MJ has had it with DJ.

  • Bismack Biyombo; his miraculous rise up the draft boards after one good game against a bunch of high school players stunned the basketball world, before they promptly forgot about him. I've been scouring the news for the past 148 or so days for anything NBA related and not once has Biyombo crossed my path. He was drafted as an extremely raw prospect with amazing physical abilities, but taking him at 7 remains a gamble and I made my feelings on the matter clear.

  • While usual suspect for trouble Michael Beasley was up to his old tricks, another troubled player with megawatt talent kept his nose clean. That player was Lance Stephenson. The rugged guard from Lincoln HS and Cincinatti has been laying low in Indiana, working out, and I have it from a reliable source who's met him a few times that he is noticeably more mature. He once graced the cover of SLAM magazine with former 1st overall pick and franchise face John Wall, but was relegated to the second round after an unimpressive stint in college and off-the-court dramas. Things didn't get any better once he made it to the NBA, as off-court issues kept him in the doghouse, with the Pacers unwilling to jeopardise their clean image until the legal proceedings were resolved. With a fresh season, Stephenson is given a fresh start to help the Pacers and work his way into the rotation. Larry Legend calls him the most talented player on the roster, so let's see if he can get some burn.

  • Nick Young or Jordan Crawford? The Wizards' two-guards both had impressive seasons, but were most effective playing without the other. Washington is forced into a tough decision, to pick their home-grown shooter in Young, or the more versatile Crawford to pair with John Wall in the backcourt.

  • Will Kyrie Irving start? It's usually a given that the first overall pick will start on his new team, but like second pick Williams, he's facing competition from an older player. For Irving it's Baron Davis, who will likely spend the season mentoring Irving with reduced minutes. That said, the division of those minutes and who gets the symbolic nod from Byron Scott is worth keeping an eye on.

  • Where in the world will Greg Oden end up? It's probably an indication of the weakness of this free agent class, but Oden is probably the best chance you'll get to land a franchise changing player, if you can keep him on the court that is. His health problems make the supremely talented and still young Oden a gamble for the Blazers or whoever else wishes to bid for his services. If Phoenix hadn't landed Gortat I'd have bet on him ending up there in the hopes that their legendary medical staff would get him right, but for now it's a mystery.

  • What position will Sacramento star Tyreke Evans play? They drafted another combo guard in Jimmer to pair with Reke in the backcourt, so the question remains whether Tyreke will shift to a more scoring mentality or continue to distribute while Jimmer goes off the ball.

  • Mark Jackson is finally in the coaches box; after years of lobbying from fans of the earthbound former PG, he's finally at the helm of a team and has the unenviable task of reforming the Warriors into a respectable team. The Warriors have just drafted rookie Jeremy Tyler who I'm a fan of, so I hope things go well for Jackson.

  • What happens in Denver? They ended the season with incredible depth after the Carmelo trade, until most of it walked away to China. Karl is left to replace the minutes of Chandler, Smith and Martin with incoming rookies Jordan Hamilton and Kenneth Faried. Look for Hamilton to play a lot of SF for the Nuggets to replace the players who went east and be a surprise candidate for ROY.

  • Who backs up Luis Scola? Houston have brought in Kevin McHale to replace Rick Adelman, and now must decide which of the three young post prospects they want him to mould into their PF for the future. Finesse rookie Motiejunas, reliable Patterson or the athletic Hill. There's no question that Scola will start barring injury, this much we know at least.

  • While we are in Houston, who do they tab to replace the recently retired Yao Ming? It's a tossup between moulding Hill into a C, or McHale attempting to teach Hasheem Thabeet how to play basketball. I'm guessing they'll stick with Thabeet given his potential as a defender, but don't expect any miracles.

  • What is to become of Flynn? He was traded to the Rockets, but will fight for playing time against other young players Lowry and Dragic. I see him being relegated to a role off the bench as second string PG to provide a scoring punch.

  • Where to now for former stars Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady? Both of them are getting a bit long in the tooth and are on their last legs. A move to the Suns didn't help Carter find his groove again, but McGrady proved he could still contribute at the NBA level. The SG spot in Chicago appears to be there for the taking, I'm betting the two of them will both attempt to sell themselves in a chance to get that sweet ring before retiring.
  • With new ownership, can the Pistons finally begin their rebuild? Incoming rookie Brandon Knight looks set to take the starting spot from the disappointing Rodney Stuckey, Greg Monroe was a revelation last season, Jonas Jerebko is healthy again and Austin Daye is promising as a younger version of Tayshaun Prince. However, the two-guard remains a worry, and the bad stink that is Charlie Villanueva is still hanging around to steal minutes. Hopefully, Lawrence Frank can forge this team into a more competitive product.

  • Evan Turner; it seems to be a trend in recent years that second overall picks will disappoint (Durant being a marvellous exception). It all started with Darko, then Beasley, Thabeet and finally, Evan Turner. The former NPOY in the college ranks wasn't comfortable in the NBA from the first whistle of Summer League until the end of the season. There were flashes, but with the deepest draft in years looming, Turner will need to show a marked improvement from a disappointing rookie year to remain a part of this franchise's future.

  • Is Bayless finally getting a shot? The forgotten man of the 2008 draft class, Bayless has bounced around from team to team without the chance to run the point full-time, and Toronto was no exception last season. With a possible amnesty clause giving Toronto a chance to divest themselves of Jose Calderon and give Bayless his shot, the former Summer League MVP is on his last chance to assert himself as a player to build around for the young Raptors.

  • Speaking of forgotten men, will Gerald Henderson finally be able to put it all together? The athletic but injury-riddled SG is going to be leaned upon heavily this season with the departure of Stephen Jackson. Outside of Corey Maggette and Kemba Walker, the Bobcats will be in desperate need of players who can create their own shots. Like many young players Henderson must face the prospect of being replaced by a younger model, with a number of young prospects at the SG position in Barnes, Lamb and Beal likely to declare for the draft this season and the Bobcats rebuilding. He has shown the ability to be clutch, is ultra-athletic and a respectable shooter, but his upside is questionable after a few seasons in the system. I was ready to replace him with Alec Burks in the 2011 draft, but still want him to find his way.

  • Can Enes Kanter still ball? It's been years since Kanter played a competitive game of basketball given the lockout and his eligibility issues at Kentucky, but after being taken third overall in the draft, the Turkish big man must fight his way into a crowded Utah rotation featuring former 3rd overall pick Derrick Favors, Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson. That much rust might be difficult for a young player to shake off in limited minutes.

  • Is Josh Smith's move to SF permanent? Moving Josh Smith to the SF position reaped rewards for the Atlanta Hawks, as they beat out Orlando in the first round and tested the Bulls in the second, but he's played much of his career at the 4 (to my dismay) and the Hawks might shift him back there if they can't find a better C in free agency to allow Horford to play his natural 4.

  • Will Westbrook continue to take ill-advised jumpers down the stretch of close games, or will he finally trust Durant under enormous public pressure to do just that. I love Westbrook, but he's also one of the most frustrating players to watch, and bad decision making by Russ was directly linked with losing close games against the Mavs in the playoffs.

So those are the more obscure storylines to pursue this season off the top of my head, I hope they gave you something to look forward to outside of the big questions for the next season. This is a great day, it took all I had not to post this in entirely capital letters, but I thought I'd spare you all that on this joyous occasion.

Today I don't care about Heat, Celtics, Lakers or even the Mavericks, I'd hug a fan of any of them in recognition of the relief felt by us all, regardless of affiliation.

Enjoy this moment my friends, we stepped back from the abyss.

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