It’s not clear what brought the NBA back from the brink of destruction, but some holiday cheer likely spurred the Thanksgiving weekend deal to which players and owners finally agreed. The two sides completed a deal just in time for the NBA to salvage its vaunted Christmas Day match-ups of the Bulls versus the Lakers, the Celtics versus the Knicks, and in a rematch of last season’s finals, the Heat versus the Mavericks. After almost five months of heated conflict, NBA commissioner David Stern and NBA Players Union Rep, Billy Hunter, emerged from the negotiations wearing sweaters looking ready to share eggnog and cookies. Their smiles reflected our own happiness and relief that the NBA is back.
After the 2010-2011 season that was one for the ages, we have so much to anticipate. Undoubtedly NBA fans want to know whether Carmelo and Amare can coexist in New York, whether the Mavs have enough left in them for a repeat, and whether the Miami Heat, can reach the goal for which LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh united forces. Those are the marquee narratives, but there are far more intriguing and unsung storylines to keep our eyes on this coming season. Here are just a few:
Does the momentum carry over for the Memphis Grizzlies? The Grizzlies were one of the best stories of the 2011 playoffs, when the much-maligned Zach Randolph—having endured years of scorn on the Knicks and Trailblazers—came to life and played like a franchise player. Randolph, and emerging stars Marc Gasol and Mike Conley led the Grizzlies their first playoff series win, but in the talent-rich Western Conference, can the Grizzlies become an elite team?
What more can Blake Griffin do? The unabashedly most exciting player in the league could not help the Clippers to more than 32 wins last year. Griffin’s rookie of the year win has raised expectations, but the double-double machine is already doing it all for the Clips. The NBA playoffs are the ideal stage for Griffin’s thunderous game, but it is still uncertain how long it will take for him to get there.
What will become of Kobe’s legacy? I picture Kobe’s daily offseason routine as ashing out Cohibas on a glass table, watching Dirk Nowitzki NBA finals highlights, and then going to shoot three-pointers for three hours. Kobe is out for blood, he heard the chatter about him not getting any younger, and Michael Jordan (as owner) almost blocked him from that sixth ring. This might be the last year for him to go and get it.
Might Minnesota become the league’s most captivating team? Between Spanish teen idol Ricky Rubio channeling the passing skills of White Chocolate-era Jason Williams and Kevin Love beasting on the boards and outlet passes, excitement is back on the court in Minnesota for the first time since the KG era. Add the team’s draft choice Derrick Williams, the new coaching hire Rick Adelman, and perpetual enigma Anthony Randolph, and the Wolves may have become the most fascinatingly watchable team that will win less than 30 games.
Who has the brighter future in the Tri-State Area? Late last season, Carmelo Anthony and Deron Williams made their way east, to the Knicks and Nets respectively. Now, both are looking for help. Anthony faces questions about his leadership after a winless playoff series. Williams faces questions about whether he wants to stay with the Nets. Both are making this coming season the most exciting time for New York pro basketball since Tim Thomas called Kenyon Martin “fugazy.”