This season has all the makings of the most compelling year ever in NBA history.
The major markets all have great rivalries and teams. Along both coasts, the teams are strong, and in the middle of the country, you have great stars, greater stories and serious contending teams.
OK, let’s start with the East Coast. All roads lead to the star-studded parade of the Miami Heat. There is an old adage that says the rich get richer and the strong just keep getting stronger. This certainly applies to the Miami Heat with the addition of one of the best shooters of all time, Ray Allen. It is hard to believe the Heat could actually be better than last season, but the big three, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and LeBron James are all in their primes, still getting better and learning to play together. Any time you play the Heat, whether at home or on the road, it is not just a game, it is an event. They are the team to beat, and it will be a challenge for anybody to knock them off the top of the mountain.
The rivalry of the two New York teams, with the Nets moving from New Jersey to Brooklyn, has got to be one of the more interesting stories of the NBA. Mikhail Prokhorov, the multibillionaire Russian owner of the Nets, has spent an ungodly amount of money to make his team competitive. They move into the new Barclays Center in Brooklyn this year, which incidentally opened with sold-out concerts from Nets minority owner Jay Z. With the addition of Joe Johnson, Gerald Wallace and a healthy Brook Lopez, the Deron Williams-led Nets have all the drawing power to compete with the other team in the five boroughs, the New York Knicks. The Knicks, of course, start and stop with Carmelo Anthony (sometimes, a la Kobe, stop a little bit too often). He is a superstar, but they also have a healthy Amar’e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler to add to the front line. A new point guard, Raymond Felton, replaces Linsanity, and let’s not forget about Jason Kidd returning to the New York area. The fight for New York is on, and both teams are loaded.
The other teams worth mentioning here are Boston, Indiana and Chicago. Boston still has Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, and with Doc Rivers at the helm is always dangerous. Can the Celtics stay strong, and do they have enough to compete? We will see. Indiana has a newly very wealthy Roy Hibbert to pair with their star Danny Granger and look to be a competitive team again this season. The Bulls just re-signed their coach, Tom Thibodeau, to a new big four-year contract. They have Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah and Luol Deng, but all the great coaching in the world won’t do them much good without a healthy Derrick Rose. With Rose healthy, they can beat anybody, without him, they may struggle to make the playoffs.
As interesting as the East match-ups might be – and yes, I know they have the world champion Miami Heat – the biggest stories are coming out of the West. Everyone wants to see what the Lakers are going to do this season … but we will get to that in a second.
When you talk Western Conference, you must start with the Oklahoma City Thunder. They lost in a tough final with the Miami Heat last season, but now their young stars are battle-hardened and have a chip on their shoulder. Not a good sign for the rest of the league. Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Serge Ibaka are all younger, healthier and more motivated than their competition. Need I say more?
Los Angeles joins New York in having the best in-town rivalries in the history of the NBA. The players will not call it a rivalry, but last season the Lakers and the Clippers finished one-two in the Pacific Division and both teams reloaded big-time for this year. The Lakers added not one, but two superstars in Dwight Howard and Steve Nash. They did so without giving up their two biggest stars, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. So how is it all going to work? Are there enough balls to go around on the star-studded team? Kobe has made it very clear that this is his team, and I don’t think that anybody, including Nash, Howard or Gasol, would argue that point. Every team in the league is talking Lakers, including the Lakers. If it all comes together, then this could be one of their greatest summer coups ever.
Let’s also not forget about their crosstown rivals, the Clippers – not technically crosstown since they play in the same venue. Since the addition of Chris Paul last December, the Clippers have been talking championship. Blake Griffin and Paul make up the nucleus of this team, and in their short time together have become one of the best dynamic duos in the NBA. Over the summer, they added Lamar Odom, Jamal Crawford and Grant Hill among others and now believe they have what it takes to beat not only the Lakers but also go all the way to the championship. The Clippers are brimming with confidence, and the Lakers and Clippers have developed into one of the best rivalries in basketball. The Battle for Los Angeles is full of stars and could not be more exciting.
The San Antonio Spurs, Dallas Mavericks, Memphis Grizzlies, Denver Nuggets and revamped Golden State Warriors all believe they have done enough over the summer to be competitive this season. The Spurs are getting a little long in the tooth, but overlook Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili at your own peril. The Grizzlies, with an in-shape and healthy Zach Randolph and newly motivated Rudy Gay (Olympic snub) will again be one of the toughest, hard-nosed teams around. The Mavericks, with Dirk Nowitzki and … well they’ve always seemed to be competitive. The Nuggets’ addition of Andre Iguodala and the Warriors with a fit Stephen Curry and Andrew Bogut should both prove to be tough outs.
Any team emerging from the West will be battle-scarred and tested.
All major markets have huge firepower this season, and in between there are some of the best teams and stars this game has ever produced.
This season, we should see some of the best basketball in history.