Monday, April 14, 2008

Clifton's Top 5 story lines of this past NBA season


But actually, for once I'm almost sad to see the season come to an end. It was an emotional, turbulent, injury-filled, star-studded, "wait-he-got-traded-WHERE?" kind of season. And in the last decade, there hasn't been a more exciting regular season in any sport. I haven't read Steven's Top 5 list (so as to not intentionally mimic it), so here are my 5 storylines from the 2007-08 NBA Season:

5. The return of the "undersized" power forward.

The NBA will always have a thing for guys with "size." But thanks to "The Boozer Factor" (a dominant college player who dropped to the second round purely because of his size, only to become an All-Star talent in barely 4 seasons of play) has reintroduced the undersized big man to quality NBA minutes. Now the Pistons have Jason Maxiel, the Mavericks have Brandon Bass, David West is a KILLER in New Orleans, and a number of teams have small lineups headed by these players that were barely usable a few years ago. It isn't just the rules that have led to the increased scoring and the higher quality of the teams this year. Maybe it has helped that the players that have talent are finally getting the minutes that the lanky projects were getting. For the Lakers, it's the difference between Bynum-Turiaf and Bynum-Mbenga… ewwwwww.

4. The return of the "Balls" of NBA GMs (with respect to Bill Simmons)

For so many years, everybody (well, except Mark Cuban) felt like the "safe and steady" route would win championships. Nobody wanted to make a splash. The rules say that unless a player a) has a career-threatening injury, b) has a contract putting you over the luxury tax, or c) gets into a brawl in the stands at the end of a game, you just don’t have enough reason to trade him. Well this year, the rules finally changed. In the course of a season, Kevin Garnett, Jason Kidd, Pau Gasol, Ray Allen, and Shaquille O'Neal have all been relocated. And what's most ironic is that NONE of them were dumped off--they were all highly sought after by the teams they were traded to. It isn't at all ironic that we are seeing a renaissance level of play this year. There may be an astounding 11 50-win teams when the dust settles, and at least half of them can thank good trades and risky decisions for their success. Sure, a lot of risks don't work out (like getting Eddy Curry, Stephon Marbury, Penny Hardaway, Zach Randolph…really, the entire Knicks roster!), but when a window even cracks open and a talented player is available, it's good to see teams willing to take the risk to go higher.

(Disclaimer: I included him in the list out of kindness, but I still say that Devin Harris, Desagana Diop and 2 1st-round picks is waaaay too much to pay for Jason Kidd him at his age. 3 years ago? Genius…dang)

3. If you don't have a center, get one. If you don't have a point guard, trade your center.

We know what wins championships--defense, and to a lesser extent, rebounding the ball. Those are the things that a quality center brings you. The Suns, Hornets, Spurs, and Jazz are great examples of that. They win games because they have talented centers who contribute to their success. Yes, size does still matter. But the teams that are really doing damage this year, who have stayed afloat in the toughest of circumstances, are the teams featuring the best point guards. Chris Paul has been phenomenal this year, guiding New Orleans through injuries and hard times to the top of the West. Steve Nash has led the Suns all year, but his best work has been in the last two months. The way he has integrated Shaq with the team couldn't have been done by many other point guards in this league. And in the biggest streak of the year, second-longest all time, Rafer Alston took over as a floor leader and scorer when his team needed him, and even without Yao Ming had tremendous results. I don't even have time to talk about the Derek Fishers, the Chauncey Billupses (?), the Allen Iversons, and the Baron Davises that are making their teams at least 10 wins better each year. It may be true that big men win championships, but the little guys next to him aren't appearing quite as important as they used to.

2. The Western Conference: Where "9 teams win 50 games and it's only going to get worse over the next 5 years" happens.

Kevin Durant is learning. Greg Oden hasn't started playing yet. Both of them will have new lottery teammates next year (and they could be Derrick Rose and Michael Beasley!!). Oh, and so will Al Jefferson and the Timberwolves. Meanwhile, the Mavericks, Spurs, and Suns are the only teams you could consider old in the conference--but each of them still has 2-3 more years of 50-win contention. Yes, folks, by the year 2010, barring catastrophic injuries, busts, or mass stupidity, there could be 15 playoff teams in the Western Conference. And each year quality teams will be getting high draft picks for getting bumped. It's a vicious, vicious cycle…Davie Stern might need to do something about this one.

1. Brace yourselves for what may go down as the most closely contested NBA Playoffs of all time.

And if it ends with a Lakers-Celtics Finals matchup… quite possibly the best season EVER.

How's that for a storyline?

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