Tuesday, May 1, 2012
An Obituary for the Lockout-Shortened Season
Hey, remember the shortened NBA regular season? Now that the playoffs have started, it feels like the regular season only existed to serve as a talking point for diagnosing Derrick Rose’s torn ACL.
The 66-game season was actually a blessing for die-hard and casual NBA fans. There was rarely a night off to forget that the NBA existed, even if it meant a bleak matchup between the Pistons and Bobcats. From night to night, we found out that we didn’t actually care about watching quality basketball, just as long as it felt like the NBA TV B-list player analyst of the night was crashing on your couch when it all ended. We officially learned that practice means even less to fans than it does to a lazy NBA player. We only cared that the NBA is there for us every night, like a friend that we can turn to in order to distract ourselves from darkness and loneliness. Sure, legacies are defined in the playoffs, but the regular season is still a necessary routine that we take for granted when it’s over.
Now that it’s over, we can look back on what we expected out of the NBA season versus what actually happened. For some reason, we thought that the lockout would change the course of the season, but there were few surprises. For instance only two new teams made the playoffs (Blazers and Hornets were replaced by the Clippers and Jazz), but really only one did if you consider Chris Paul to be a superhuman who puts mediocre teams on his back. Here are some more widely accepted-as-reasonable NBA preseason predictions and how they actually panned out.
Teams that were ‘deep’ with a squadron of mediocre players would overachieve this season. At the beginning of the NBA season, we tended to overvalue teams like the Denver Nuggets and the Indiana Pacers, who are the embodiment of ‘squadron teams.’ This means that no one on the team is really a great, game-changing player, but they have so many above-average players that they will easily avoid the pitfalls of the shortened season like fatigue and ‘oldness.’ We instantly overvalued ‘youth,’ forgetting that experience is what wins close games and has an easier time handling ‘teams you are supposed to beat.’
The NBA is a league that facilitates elevated mediocrity for multiple seasons, so I’m not sure why we thought mediocrity could somehow be redefined by a shortened season.
Despite some personnel changes, the Nuggets were basically just the Nuggets again this season. The Pacers were also just the Pacers, with another year of experience and an underachieving Eastern Conference. You could argue that the Spurs had the deepest squadron-style team, with the minutes evenly spread all the way down their bench, enabling players like Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard to improve as the season went along. However, this just proved that success has less to do with depth, youth, and talent, and more to do with having a coach who knew what to do with it.
The Knicks are going to be so awesome this year! It’s funny to think about Carmelo Anthony as ‘the well-executed Dwight Howard.’ Last season, he held the Nuggets hostage, forcing them to trade him to the team of his choice because the Nuggets had “already hit their ceiling.” This season, when things weren’t going well in New York, he more or less power-played Mike D’Antoni into quitting his job. If only Dwight Howard had the balls to ‘make moves,’ or at least just remember that everyone forgets the crappy things a “super star” does anyways.
The Knicks have been awesome this year, but not for basketball reasons.
They are our soap opera team, the one that experienced the season's highest highs and lowest lows, sort of like your friend who is in that relationship where you can never tell if they are five seconds from breaking up or getting married. Even though Linsanity was a fun ride due to ethnic, basketball, and “Internet journalism think piece” reasons, the Knicks never really came together, and only gelled during periods of injury to either Carmelo or Amar'e Stoudemire.
Also, remember when people were excited that Baron Davis was ‘totally going to show up because he was playing on a big stage in Madison Square Garden’? Unfortunately, Baron Davis will be remembered more for serving as the NBA’s ‘lightning rod for fat jokes’ during this season, and I’m sure the B. Diddy’s continued ineptitude during the playoffs will lead to even better jokes now that the stakes are raised.
The Miami Heat will win 60 games. In last year’s NBA Finals, we watched the Dallas Mavericks beat up on a team with two star players and not much else. Then during the offseason, the Heat signed Shane Battier and welcomed back Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem from persistent injuries. This somehow led to the popular perception that they were ‘loaded’ this year just because they added some past-their-prime role players. The definitive hyperboled prediction was that they would be ‘so much better,’ and potentially have the opportunity to win 60 games.
However, their season sort of played out like a dodgeball game, where basically all of their players eventually went down. They lost the Eastern Conference to a Bulls team that played long stretches of their season without Derrick Rose. The Spurs and Bulls both came close to 50 wins, but it’s crazy to think about our wavering esteem for the Heat depending on the time of year. For a better perspective, think about it this way: Not even the Bobcats could achieve 60 losses during the lockout shortened season.
Injury-prone players will be more injured than ever. With so many back-to-back and back-to-back-to-back stretches of games, we assumed that players who generally wore down would wear down even more, due to the lack of recovery time. I supposed Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade, and Manu Ginobili went on their usual injury vacation, but who even knows? When it comes to freak injuries, the only notable incident was early in the season where in the span of a few days, Al Horford and Kwame Brown both suffered the same season-ending injury: a torn pectoral muscle. This random injury that isn’t commonly suffered by most NBA players led to the presumption that this could have been caused by the lack of a full training camp.
Jimmer Fredette will become the sports world’s next religious sensation. The hot new archetype for the crossover athletic sensation must be a hyper-religious figure for our culture to truly be polarized and intrigued. While Tim Tebow might be the alpha-dog religious athlete superstar, Jimmer Fredette was next in line to land in the crosshairs of the cultural hype-cycle. But then he was drafted by the Kings, a team that doesn’t know what to do with any of their decently talented players. Isaiah Thomas stole Fredette’s place in the rotation, and his role as the overachieving undersize rookie who found a way to survive in the NBA. Jimmer has to be the biggest meme bust in recent history and is quietly on his way to becoming an even bigger college-to-pros flop than Adam Morrison.
Maybe our expectations for Jimmer as a pre-existing human meme was unfair. They have to earn it on the court AND in the blogosphere. Jeremy Lin morphed into the ultimate NBA human meme of the year, with Atlanta’s Ivan Johnson winning Most Improved Human Meme. Unfortunately for JaVale McGee, he is still plateauing in the human meme zone, which is probably why Washington traded him for a legitimate low-post presence in Nene.
The Los Angeles Lakers are totally screwed because they still have weak point guards. The Clippers are taking over this city. Instead of benching the D-rate Derek Fisher, the Lakers somehow flipped him into a B-minus-rate point guard in Ramon Sessions without giving up much, which was a decent upgrade above the C-rate Steve Blake. Then, Derek Fisher did the D-Fish thing where he gets out of playing for a team he doesn’t want to play for anymore, utilizing his reputation as an ‘upstanding NBA citizen’ to not report to Houston and eventually make his way to the Thunder. It was a long road just to get benched.
So the thinking was that the Clippers would take over Los Angeles based on a few compelling preseason games. Chris Paul was going to single-handedly change the Clippers culture, which he kind of did, but they still just don’t have enough winners on their team. Just some guy whose greatest achievement is still jumping over a Kia. As for the Lakers, Andrew Bynum decided to overachieve just enough nights for the team to end up as the third-best in the West despite their season-long status as the NBA’s biggest time bomb. Right now, Los Angeles still belongs to Kobe.
Old teams like the Spurs and Celtics will be screwed over by the shortened season, basically ending their dominance. There’s an old NBA saying that is thrown around among legends, NBA GMs, and scouts: “Never write off good players and good coaches.” Actually, that is probably just an assumption that is easy to forget every season because we fall in love with player movement and arbitrary buzz. Franchise stability is an undervalued NBA asset. It’s funny to think about our perception of Doc Rivers as a good or bad NBA coach, but I guess this is his ultimate coaching performance — managing a team that hates Rondo, and turning Avery Bradley and Greg Stiemsma into necessary contributors. Doc resurrected their season without the help of a magical Asian Harvard graduate.
The Spurs never entered a panic zone, and their game plan of resting the veterans and ‘seeing where the chips fell, as long as it was in the playoffs’ worked so well that they clinched the West. Gregg Popovich was so inventive that he invented the “DNP-Old” box score injury description for Tim Duncan. The Spurs are one of the most adequately rested, healthy, and peaking teams heading into the playoffs. We’ll see if it means anything in the playoffs.
Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook will never really get along, ending in a public meltdown. The Oklahoma City Thunder re-upped both of their star players with max contracts at the maximum length. The rationale behind Westbrook’s contract was that he actually wanted to be in Oklahoma City, which is a valuable trait in a league of ‘superstars’ who want to ‘build their brands in major markets.’ Any sort of alpha dog battle was temporarily squashed, but it was also because their team is pretty thin, and there are enough touches to keep both Durant and Westbrook happy enough.
Backup point guard Eric Maynor went down with an early-season injury, which has been cited as one of the main problems with the Thunder going forward. However, it probably solved some of their usage problems, because they have to use Westbrook at point guard for basically the whole game in order to stay competitive. This postseason will turn into another Westbrook vs. Durant media-fueled conflict, especially because we already know that LeBron will let D-Wade close out the games.
All of the attention on Westbrook and Durant will lead the recently concussed and always trending James Harden to seek out more money and attention elsewhere.
The Washington Wizards and Minnesota Timberwolves will be the ‘League Pass’ teams that are ultimately terrible, but young, competitive, and fun to watch. The ‘League Pass’ team is a much-buzzed-about team that has young, energetic talent, competitive games, and sweet highlights, making compelling TV for every NBA prosumer. This year, the Wizards and T-Wolves were early candidates for League Pass Team status, but it didn’t pan out for a few reasons.
After Jan Vesely planted a kiss on his hot girlfriend at last year’s NBA draft, the blogosphere was eager to watch the much-improved Wizards run and gun under Flip Saunders. Except they didn’t actually improve. John Wall and JaVale McGee never turned into the duo that their highlights suggested they could be. Similar to the Golden State Warriors, there was a lot of offensive promise, but tuning in actually felt like you were watching an unorganized high school team aimlessly run around trying to end up on SportsCenter.
Ricky Rubio’s injury instantly made the Timberwolves irrelevant. Before, he had single-handedly made the Timberwolves fun to tune in to, one of the rare players who made you feel incentivized to not miss an amazing play. Mixed with Kevin Love’s ridiculous stat lines, the Timberwolves were probably the buzzworthiest team in the NBA. While Rubio’s injury stunted their team’s growth and their buzz, we’ll get to see if they have playoff expectations next year, or if they will just be our beloved League Pass team.
The playoffs are where legacies are defined, but the regular season is where NBA memes are marinated. Another year, another series of baseless predictions based on the baselessness of the previous regular season. At least we can always count on Michael Jordan leading the Bobcats to ineptitude, Metta World Peace still being Ron Artest, and Lamar Odom’s heart residing in Los Angeles.
Goodnight, sweet NBA regular season. Now it’s time to get overstimulated with the first round of playoff games, then begin phasing the NBA season away with each round. Next year, we’ll return to a traditional 82-game season, spread lightly over an additional two months, and we’ll remember when we had it so good.