On tap for today: one last lockout question, assessing the reigning chumps, and the required "who will win it all?" question. Let's get to it, shall we?
1. Be honest. Do you forgive the NBA for the lockout?
Alex Maki: No, I still hold complete contempt for both sides. I think the league office acted like a bunch of jerks, indicated no intention to compromise or discuss in good faith. Nearly all of the players get paid too much money for me to have empathy for them. The little people still got screwed. And I fear that the new deal fails to address issues that should be of concern, such as superstars forcing their way out of their cities. But, that all being said, I am gearing up to attend more T-Wolves games this season than ever before. So at the end of the day my beliefs will not be aligned with my behavior. And the NBA is only going to care about my money giving behavior, as they should.
Kevin Draper: I can't bring myself to care. I love basketball, and basketball is back. Great.
Joe Bernardo: Yes and no. Am I pissed that it took missed games to resolve issues that could have been resolved a couple of years ago? Yes. Will I still watch the NBA? Of course...but not without reservations. The lockout revealed to me the inherent flaws in the current state of the NBA. I realized that David Stern no longer commands the respect of the owners and cannot think out of the box any longer. I realized many of the small-market owners aren't the best businessmen...and will whine and bitch to get what they want, as exemplified by Dan Gilbert and Michael Jordan. I realized the players still don't quite understand that they're pampered and spoiled. And, above all, I realized that the 2011 Lockout was not about parity between teams, but rather a way to cripple the Lakers. (A subject I will tackle in a later article!) Yes, I will always watch the NBA, but I don't have as much faith in the League as I did prior to the lockout.
(Editor's note: Leave it to a Lakers fan to think that his 2-2 team is crippled and conspired against.)
Jordan Durlester: I forgave and forgot all about the lockout shenanigans the minute I read that glorious tweet from Adrian Wojnarowski. I'm sure it's a naive and juvenile outlook but frankly I couldn't care less -- Basketball is back. That's the bottom line and it's what I'm choosing to focus on. In fact, I'd argue the lockout made me more excited for the season to begin (I mean, how fun/weird was free agency this year?). Ponder this, bitter NBA-defenctors: No lockout, no We Believe vs Dubs...and did you even see Durantula's flag football team!?
Lucas Sokol Oxman: The lockout was inevitable. Hopefully, the next one comes later rather than sooner. It comes with the territory. Coming from a small market town (Portland), I do like some of the changes that have been advantageous for those teams from similar markets.
2. Which team is best suited for success in an abbreviated season?
Alex Maki: I hear some people claim that young teams will do well, and some folks state that established teams will do better. If we have a 2 (young versus old) x 2 (a lot of experience vesus a little bit of experience) table, I am going to have to go with teams that fall in the young and experienced cell. These teams will have the legs to produce great efforts on back-to-back nights, and also will not need a ton of practices to hone their craft. Teams in that cell include Oklahoma City, Chicago, Denver and Memphis.
Kevin Draper: Traditional wisdom in the NBA says that you need to go eight-deep to be competitive. The teams I think are going to do well are the ones that go ten-deep, at least. It's not only that older players are going to need fewer minutes and more off days, but we are going to see more injures across the board, and teams will have to deal with long stretches without their best lineups. So, I think the Pacers, Nuggets and Bulls will perform well.
Joe Bernardo: OKC. They're young, athletic, have a relatively deep bench, and hungry after getting ousted in the Western Conference Finals last season. Plus, Kendrick Perkins' lockout diet puts Sir Charles' Weight Watchers diet to shame! If the team's "slowest" guy can get that fit, think about the rest of the team. With that said, however, I wouldn't put too much stock into regular season success. Most of these teams, especially the older ones, will play just well enough to make the playoffs. They'll really make their run in the post-season, a la the New York Knicks in 1999.
Jordan Durlester: Ugh. I'm trying so hard NOT to say OKC because it's so expected -- they're young, hungry, deep, blah, blah, blah. However, I truly can't find a single compelling reason to choose anyone else. WAIT. The Knickerbockers just claimed Jeremy Lin off waivers, instantly making them the team best suited for success in this abbreviated 66-game regular season.
Lucas Sokol Oxman: Duh, OKC. Unless they impulsively trade Westbrook, which would be arguably the dumbest idea of all time. OMG, a 23 year old has emotional outbursts, gimme a break people. I wanna throw in a crazy team into this mix: Denver. Sure, they aren't the most defensively minded quad, but they usually score enough to keep themselves in games, and have a super deep roster. Just sayin'...
3. Who has a greater chance of missing the playoffs in 2012, the Dallas Mavericks (0-3) or the Los Angeles Lakers (2-2)?
Alex Maki: The Mavs. Just like question 5, this is going way beyond the data contained in a sample size of two. But they were crushed in their first two games (both at home). They lost a lot of pieces, and replaced them with veterans who have questionable motivation and declining skills. And they lost a center that, although perhaps a bit overrated, was a defensive leader. The Mavs didn't play defense before Chandler, and they ain't gonna play defense after his departure. The Lakers will also take a step back, but as of right now they still have a dominant center and power forward, and a slightly over-the-hill but nevertheless still-amazing Kobe Bryant.
Kevin Draper: The Dallas Mavericks. If that team loses Dirk Nowitzki, I think there is no question that they miss the playoffs. Jason Kidd, Vince Carter, Shawn Marion, Lamar Odom and Brendan Haywood doesn't get it done out West. The Lakers can survive a Kobe injury because they have Gasol and Bynum. The Mavs do not have that luxury.
Joe Bernardo: The Mavs. I think they put every ounce of energy into last year's championship run and are still hungover from the celebration. They lost too many key players and are really waiting to sign big-time free agents next year. Plus, Lamar Kardashian is proving that he's truly a basket case. The Lakers, on the other hand, are motivated to prove all those naysayers wrong. They'll make another roster move before the trade deadline (hopefully, a point guard!) and be good enough to make the playoffs (though they'll get bounced in the first or second round). Most importantly, the Lakers already won two games!
Jordan Durlester: Dirk can go ahead and book his Bavarian holiday tonight. They exhausted their maximum amount of effort last year bringing home the ship and I feel like it aged that team 39 years. Losing JJ was big...losing Chandler was bigger. If they don't figure out how to fill those voids quickly we might be looking at a lottery team.
Lucas Sokol Oxman: Definitely Dallas. They've had a tough schedule so far, but there are just too many structural issues. Dirk can't do it alone, and it might sound insane, but I think Chandler and Barea were way more important than people might've known at the time.
4. True or False: The 2011-2012 Minnesota Timberwolves are this year's version of the 2008-2009 Oklahoma City Thunder (finished with 23 wins).
Alex Maki: (sigh). False. Maybe I am just too deflated after our loss to the Bucks on Tuesday. Though I forgot that the 2008-2009 Thunder only won 23 games, they had two legitimate superstars in the making on their team, both of whom could make the important baskets with the game on the line. They also had some very nice supporting-pieces-to-be. On my most optimistic days I feel the Wolves have one superstar in Love (as of right now, incapable of hitting the game-winning shots), two potential stars in the making (Rubio and Williams), and a bunch of other random stuff (Beasley, Barea). My gut tells me that Love is going to walk in the next year or two. Even if Rubio and Williams both develop, they won't be as good as Durant and Westbrook. And I do not have confidence that the supporting cast will be good enough. We need 2-3 solid free agent signings in the next two years, and then maybe we would have a chance. But even then our game will look completely different than the Thunder's.
Kevin Draper: True. Kevin Love is already a top 10 (maybe even top 5) player, and Rubio and Derrick Williams have a chance to be special. If either one of them turns out and they pick up a decent center than yeah, they have a chance to be great. Though Kevin Love would have to sign a long term contract...
Joe Bernardo: True. I like Derrick Williams and Ricky Rubio together. They just need true NBA experience to improve their games. Kevin Love is AMAZING and one of the best power forwards in the league today. J.J. BayArea ("they set hella screens"), Bonzi Wells, and Brad Miller should provide veteran guidance for those youngsters. Rick Adelman will always squeeze every ounce of basketball juice out of his players. I see them as one or two pieces away from being a playoff team...much like those 2008-2009 OKC Thunder.
Jordan Durlester: True. I love this team so hard. Kevin Love is a superstar who just continues to improve his game, Anthony "Potential" Randolph still has me captivated, Rubio and D-Will are gangbusters, and they play with such energy it makes me want to shout-out insanely knee-jerk statements like "this team will be the greatest team in NBA history!" Eat your hearts out, Mankato.
Lucas Sokol Oxman: False. Even though the new-look T-wolves could beat the Heat on NBA 2K12, I just don't see them living up to the huge expectations the first year out. If Love is anything like his UCLA teammate Westbrook, soon enough the emotions will surge over, and the will to win will lead him elsewhere. In the meantime, I will enjoy watching that Rubio guy pass the rock.
5. Two games is clearly a big enough sample size. Who will win it all this year?
Alex Maki: I hate picking the bastards, but I have to go with the Miami Heat. The Big 2.5 should all be on the same page this year. Battier is going to make an already stalwart defense that much more legit. Haslem looks to be healthy at the beginning of the season. All of that makes them disgustingly tough to beat. And, if Norris Cole's coming-out party actually went down on Tuesday night, that does not bode well for the rest of the league.
Kevin Draper: OKC and Miami in the finals. Miami probably pulls it out.
Joe Bernardo: Miami. They were UP in the finals last year, but choked after they got overzealous and the Mavs played zone, D-Wade ran out of gas, and LeBron played hot potato. They don't have as much pressure on them this year and added some nice talent that will help them rest their Big 3. Shane Battier will now be assigned to be their #1 defensive stopper against superstar wing players. Eddy Curry could, if he focused long enough, be a solid bench contributor. Finally, if the way Norris Cole played against Boston the other night was any indication of filling the hole of a clutch point guard, then we might as well crown them Champions now. Plus, the Celtics, Lakers, Mavs and Spurs are too old. The Grizzlies, Clippers, and Thunder (though not for long) are still too young. And the Knicks and Magic still have holes to fill in order to really compete. I think the only other real contender is the Bulls, which I think Miami will beat. Of course, they still have to play the season and be lucky enough to stay injury-free, but at the end of the day, it's hard to go against Miami.
Jordan Durlester: Miami. TALENT TALENT TALENT TALENT. If I was a betting man, and if I had any money, I'd bet all of that money on LBJ hoisting the Larry O'Brien trophy at a gaudy South Beach nightclub.
Lucas Sokol Oxman: Is it ironic that the Big 3 in Miami will have an asterisk next to their first championship together?