With half the season in the books and the All-Star Weekend approaching, it’s time once again to looks at the season’s biggest surprises, disappointments and other issues regarding the NBA. But before I get into that, how hard is it for a NBA fan to ask/request a dunk contest involving LeBron James and Blake Griffin? Yeah, we can add in other players who think they can throw down a few great and innovative dunks, but what will really get the casual sports fan to tune into the dunk contest is to see two superstars with great leaping and creativity in LeBron James and Blake Griffin try to out dunk each other for a night. I, along with the rest of the sports world, have been waiting for LeBron to fulfill his promise he made in Phoenix back in 2009 in entering the dunk contest. And either due to injury or something else, he didn’t enter the contest the following year or any other year since then. I know LeBron, Blake, or anyone associated with them are probably not reading this, but I firmly believe that it would be must-see television if they both entered the contest.
Biggest Surprise– Usually, I only place one team in these categories, but this time, I’m going to mention a few teams who have surprised me so far this season.
1) Golden State Warriors- If someone told me that the Pacific division would come down between the Los Angeles Clippers and the Warriors, I would have told them that they’re crazy. The Clippers portion of that statement wouldn’t surprise me, but it is that the Golden State Warriors have turned their team and culture around in a matter of half a season. Part of that is thanks to their new head coach Mark Jackson, who has re-focused the team on playing defense while still playing their up tempo style of basketball. Their roster only has 3-5 recognizable names (one of which has yet to play this season due to injury), so the majority of their great start to the season is that the team has great chemistry of their younger players, which helps the starters like Stephen Curry, David Lee, Jarrett Jack and Richard Jefferson play without having to stress about doing too much for the sake of getting the win game in and game out. Will Warriors fans say that Stephen Curry got snubbed from the All- Star team for the Western Conference? Yes. Do I agree with that statement? Yes, I do think he should have been selected by the coaches. The only thing he can do is use the snub as motivation to not only make the playoffs but make a deep run in the playoffs and show the rest of the league that the Warriors are for real and they’re not afraid to take on anyone in their schedule. But here’s something to think about, if the Warriors are good now, how good will they be whenever Andrew Bogut comes back from injury?
2) The New York Knicks- Going into the off season, I was convinced that Carmelo Anthony was the reason why he threw off the Knicks groove started by point guard Jeremy Lin, who took an opportunity into an overnight worldwide sensation, bringing the Knicks into playoff contention. When Anthony came back from injury, the team chemistry was foiled due to Anthony’s “I am the number 1 scoring option, so give me the ball” mentality. This diva like attitude caused some problems between Carmelo Anthony and Coach Mike D’Antoni, which led to him getting fired. Well, during the off season the roster remained intact (only picking up a veteran point guard in Jason Kidd while trading Jeremy Lin to Houston). And to my surprise, the players on the roster clicked to have an amazing start to their season. This success is thanks in part to Carmelo Anthony opening up to the idea of having the rest of the starters/team contribute to winning every basketball game. The point guard play by Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd has opened up the other portions of their offense because their opponents respect what they’re scoring capability. As a result, the Knicks’ big men have some good possessions and scoring opportunities. Their defense and transition aspect of the game opens up the possibility of playing an up tempo style if they need to. Because of the Knicks’ surprising start, they were, at one point, the best team in the Eastern Conference. They currently are 2nd in the Eastern Conference with the potential to make a deep run in the playoffs. The question is, will their great team chemistry continue into the post-season?
My only disappointment is probably on everyone’s minds going into the All-Star Break, and it is no surprise when I mention this franchise in this category- the Los Angeles Lakers. During the off season, the Lakers were looking to re-tool their roster in order to be on the level of the Oklahoma City Thunder after getting man handled by the Thunder in the 2nd round of the playoffs. In that quest to be title contenders, they, somehow, were able to get Dwight Howard in a trade with Orlando as well as Steve Nash in a trade with the Phoenix Suns. In the process of getting these superstars, they traded away some players as well as draft picks for the next 2-3 years (we’ll get to this in a moment). So theoretically, they had a great starting five that if healthy, would be unstoppable in their quest to win another championship for the league’s 2nd most successful franchise. As the season started and progressed, Nash was out due to a calf injury and the team struggled to find the team chemistry needed to stay on par with the division leading Los Angeles Clippers. In a span of 2 months, they have fired their head coach Mike Brown, flirted with the idea of re-hiring Phil Jackson but settled on Mike D’Antoni, and are off to their worst start in Kobe Bryant’s career of 17-25. And if things weren’t bad enough as it is, the media has over scrutinizing the roster and why they are not clicking the way they should be to the point where they are questioning if Mike D’Antoni is the right coach for the Lakers and if Dwight Howard, who is getting by with average stats, is the right fit for the Lakers.
This is before this past Friday, where the Lakers started a 2 game winning streak by winning against the Utah Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder at home to get their record to 19-25. What’s surprising is that in both games, Kobe Bryant made 14 assists and minimized his scoring to under 25 points. I don’t want to jump to conclusions, but here are my thoughts on the winning streak. Their success is due to Kobe Bryant getting others on the court involved and making the whole team scoring options/threats, not just Kobe. Kobe Bryant has been more of a shooter throughout his career, so will Kobe be ok with being more of a facilitator then a shooter this late in his career if it means that the season might be saved? Only time will tell.
But now, I’ll get back to my thoughts on their season so far for the Lakers. The Lakers’ fans and front office are hoping the Dwight Howard re-signs with the Lakers after this season. He will become a free agent after the season and can go wherever he wants. If he isn’t happy with how things are going and the direction of the team, he can leave the team, which will really put the franchise in a bind because they have no draft picks due to their trades with other teams to get their super star roster. So if you’re the GM of the Lakers and you get the vibe that Howard might want to go elsewhere after the season, should you chance it and try to persuade him to stay or trade him while you still have him under contract? And if you do want to trade him, who would you want in return and where would you trade him?
And if the Mike D’Antoni experiment of run n’ gun offense isn’t working in Los Angeles so far, should you give it more time or should you let him go after the season? Who would you hire as the head coach? Ideally, Phil Jackson would be great because the players responded well to his coaching style, but realistically, I don’t see it happening. Phil would ask for a ton of money and stipulations on his contract, and would the Lakers be ok with him being the head coach for only a few years? In my opinion, they need to look elsewhere to find a coach who would be willing to be there longer then 4-5 years (assuming he doesn’t get fired in the process). I think they should re-talk to Coach K out there in the college basketball land at Duke. Coach Mike Krzyzewski, in his time at Duke, has gotten the Duke Blue Devils several ACC Championships, four National Titles and is the coach with the most wins in Men’s College Basketball history. So when it comes to college basketball, Coach K has done it all, so why not let him have a crack at the NBA to see what he can do?
Before I end this, I must say this about two teams who have changed/will change team colors and logos. The New Jersey Nets made their way to their new arena/home in Brooklyn, New York, where, in the process of becoming the Brooklyn Nets, changed their team colors from Red, White and Blue http://nbawallpaperhd.com/wp-content/wallpaper/new-jersey-nets-logo-wallpaper.jpg
to Black and White http://sportsphotosgallery.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/Brooklyn-Nets-Logo-Wallpaper-1024×768.jpg . Why couldn’t they keep their old ABA colors? Their new neutral colors are very similar to the San Antonio Spurs minus the silver color they have. I’m ok with their logo going from the NJ to the big B logo, but for the owners to forsake their ABA roots by getting rid of the patriotic Red, White and Blue is just head scratching to me.
And recently, the new owner of the New Orleans Hornets Tom Benson, owner of the Saints football organization, threw the idea out there that he wanted to make a mascot change. The New Orleans Hornets’ mascot comes from the old franchise Charlotte Hornets before the franchise was moved to the Big Easy http://logodatabases.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/new-orleans-hornets-logo-2012.jpg . The good news for Charlotte is that they got an expansion team named the Bobcats. But Tom Benson felt that a Hornet doesn’t fit the state of Louisiana and wanted something that did. Enter the new logo design released a few days ago.
When I first heard this story, I thought it was ridiculous. A pelican?! If I was a free agent wondering where I wanted to play, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be salivating at the thought of being a Pelican. But the pelican is Louisiana’s state bird, and we shall find out if this will be the turn the team around. I highly doubt it will. Even with two first round draft picks in the top ten of this past year’s draft, the New Orleans Hornets are one of the worst teams in the Western Conference and may be getting another high draft pick thanks to the lottery.