NBA Update – 01/10/15

Time for a January Look at the Season

Well, even though the All-Star Game Weekend is the longtime accepted “midpoint” of the season, the truth is that by the end of this week, most teams will have played almost half of their 82 game regular season schedule. So, with that in mind, I thought now would be a good time to take a hard look at the first half of what my good friend Bobby Midnight has dubbed the “Post Kobe Bryant NBA.”

Parity is Alive and Well in the NBA (The CBA is Working)

Disgruntled and disgusted Lakers fans aside, the current Collective Bargaining Agreement is working EXACTLY as the mid-sized market team owners had hoped. Much like this season’s NFL playoffs without any teams from NYC, Chicago or Los Angeles in them (yes I know LA doesn’t have a team-yet), this season’s NBA playoffs won’t feature the Celtics, Knicks or Lakers and it won’t matter one bit. Oh don’t get me wrong, I know Commissioner Adam Silver would give at least one of the family jewels to have these historic franchises in the playoffs, but it’s not going to affect ratings now as much as it would have five years ago.

Smartest Person in the League Award goes to…

…Steve Kerr and Pau Gasol, come on down!

He was Phil Jackson’s hand-picked, Numero Uno choice to be the Knicks’ coach and appeared to be on the verge of signing a multi-year, fully guaranteed $25 million contract to do so when suddenly, he veered left and signed to coach the much better Warriors in Oakland.

While I can’t prove it, I’m fairly certain Kerr was made an honorary member of MENSA in a secret ceremony in the Bay Area during the Thanksgiving weekend.

Pau Gasol is back to being Pau Gasol again and that’s a good thing for one of the truly nicest and most professional players in the league. He’s helped make the Bulls title contenders and shown that he’s not washed up yet.

Luckiest/Unluckiest Person in the League

Derek Fisher.

The unexpected beneficiary of Kerr’s intelligence, Fisher walked into the same unbelievable contract for a totally untested head coach of one of the league’s marquee franchises. Unfortunately for him, it’s with the Knicks who are on pace to win 15 games this season. (That’s not a typo.)

Biggest Question of the Season

Did LeBron James make a basketball mistake in leaving Miami to return to Cleveland?

One thing is certain; “Apex LeBron” was in Miami and the player that returned home in such dramatic fashion isn’t the same player as the one who took his talents to South Beach four summers ago. Injuries, poor team play, the rookiest of a rookie coach in Dave Blatt (at least the Knicks and Warriors had heard of Derek Fisher and Steve Kerr before they were hired even though Fisher looks lost on the sideline so far), the realization that Kevin Love just might not be the star he was on bad T’Wolves teams and recent trades have left the Cavaliers, widely thought to be shoo-ins for the Eastern Conference Finals this spring, looking up at the Bulls, Hawks and Raptors in the standings. (By the way, if one has to live in Canada, Toronto ain’t a bad place to be.)

Biggest Surprise of the Season

Speaking of the Hawks, what in God’s name is going on in the ATL? I dare you to name their starting five without Google. Hell, I’m not even sure they have a coach (actually, they do and his name is Mike Budenholzer). The team is in the process of being sold because one of the current owners was an email racist, they probably won’t have anyone on the All-Star team in February (by the way, I’ll bet you anything in the world you didn’t know that Elton Brand is on the team; frankly I had no idea he was even still in the league), their attendance hovers in the middle of the league and yet, as of this writing, they’re 28-8 and if the playoffs started today, they’d be the number one seed in the East.

Second Biggest Surprise of the Season

D-Wade is back to being D-Wade. The face, heart and soul of the Heat is playing at a legitimate All-Star level again and one has to wonder if during their Christmas Day game in Miami, King James didn’t have at least one “What if I’d stayed here?” moment.

Third Biggest Surprise of the Season

While no one with the sense God gave a seedless grape thought the Knicks would be title contenders this season, no one could have predicted what looks to be an all-time low for the historic franchise that plays in the self-titled “Mecca of Basketball.” He still may get healthy and return to his ball-hogging, high-scoring, can’t guard your house game, but for now, it looks like the Bulls, Lakers and Rockets, all dodged a huge bullet when Carmelo Anthony didn’t sign with them last summer.

Fourth Biggest Surprise of the Season

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Portland Trailblazers.

His Seahawks have already given him a Super Bowl title – and could do it again this year – and now Microsoft co-founder and gazillionaire Paul Allen’s NBA team are legitimate title contenders as well.

Life just ain’t fair.

Fifth Biggest Surprise of the Season

Marc Gasol as a legitimate MVP candidate. No longer just “Pau’s little brother,” the Grizzlies’ center is arguably the best player in the league at his position.

Speaking of the East aka the NBA Least…

…while you weren’t paying attention, in addition to the conference leading Hawks, the Bulls, Raptors and Wizards have all won at least 24 games. In other words, not all the teams in the Eastern Conference are “turrible.”

Meanwhile, out in the Wild, Wild West…

…the Warriors are 29-5, the Blazers 28-8 and four teams – Mavs, Grizzlies, Rockets and Spurs – in the Southwest Division have won at least 22 games. And only in the loaded Western Conference where most home games start as fans in the East are getting ready for bed, could the 24-12 Clippers be considered “disappointing” and no one laugh at that characterization.

Out in OKC, injuries and roster changes must be overcome if the Thunder are to make a serious title run again. One must wonder what happens to coach Scott Brooks if they fall short of the conference finals in late May/early June. And, are these the last days of KD and Russ in Thunder uniforms with free agency looming for both in a couple of seasons?

Best Post-Game Interview

Nick Young aka Swaggy P of the Lakers.

When he plays well and the team wins – it’s disturbing how intertwined these two occurrences are – he’s full of jokes, joys and yes, swagger. When he’s had a bad game and the Lakers lose – again a disturbingly connected occurrence – he mopes, pouts and shows the depth of his emotions more than any other player in recent team history.

Kobe, Kobe, Kobe

This doesn’t end well folks.

No perimeter player has played as many years as Bryant has and there’s a good reason for it – no one’s body can hold up to the stress and strain and he’s no different. It’s not just the 19 regular seasons at the age of 36 and two major leg injuries in recent years. It’s the additional three full seasons worth of playoff games, two Summer Olympics and countless practices and workouts, all at the highest level of competition and stress.

When he missed Friday night’s game against the Magic – a game the Lakers won for their 12th victory of the season – Bryant had sat out 5 of the Lakers last 10 games with what both he and coach Byron Scott described as “general soreness.” And in what has been the most surprising development in all this, Bryant seems resigned to the fact that he’s simply not the player he once while having a hard time adjusting his game to the new limitations of his body.

There are four undefeated champions in history: Rocky Marciano, the IRS, p***y and Father Time. Bryant’s not a boxer so the first one doesn’t matter, his taxes are probably in good shape, he settled with the third one with a TKO (multi-million dollar payment) in the Eagle, Colorado case and now he’s face to face with the last one. And no matter what even the most ardent, devoted and fervent Kobe Bryant fan may want to believe, he’s not going to win this last battle.

I may be proven wrong in the long-run, but something tells me Kobe Bryant’s considerable ego, pride and competitiveness, the same forces that have forged him into arguably one of the 10 greatest players in NBA history, won’t allow him to finish out this contract as a part-time player shooting well below 40% for the rest of his career. I think we’re a few months, maybe even mere weeks away from another “Elgin Baylor Moment” when Bryant walks away from the game in the middle of the season.

If that happens, I’d be surprised, even a bit disappointed, but not shocked. This isn’t how great champions like to go out and whatever one may think about Kobe Bryant as a person, there’s no denying that he’s been one of the greatest in NBA history and is a first-ballot, no doubt about it whatsoever, Hall of Famer.

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