The “#unfollownba” Twitter movement, led by sports columnist Bill Simmons, has come to a close, marking the end of an unbearably frustrating NBA lockout. There will be a 2011-12 professional basketball season after all —no longer will fans be deprived of the electric Shaquille O’Neal-Charles Barkley duo on TNT.
Although unwanted by players and coaches alike, the shortened season could prove to benefit certain parties. Teams composed of experienced players who know how to rest their veterans — the San Antonio Spurs being the obvious example — will benefit from the shorter season. On the other hand, the Los Angeles Lakers appear to be hurt by the lockout, as they have been granted a shortened training camp and fewer practice days — things that new head coach Mike Brown will need while becoming accustomed to his new position.
One player has already reaped the benefits of the lockout for reasons that have nothing to do with revenue sharing: Miami Heat forward LeBron James. If not for the lockout, the major off-season story would be the mystery of how James’ normally elite play disappeared during the fourth quarter of last June’s NBA Finals. The lockout successfully masked this point, which now seems unimportant.
There is one story, however, that has survived the lockout: the ever-growing rumors of New Orleans Hornets point guard Chris Paul’s efforts to force his trade to the New York Knicks. In an NBA where teams like the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat have prospered by creating “dream teams,” New York may be in place to put together a three-headed monster — which also includes center Amar’e Stoudemire and forward Carmelo Anthony — that could rival the best teams in the East.
Yet, this season may be a less than ideal time for the Knicks to acquire Paul. Having just one year of experience sharing a court together, Anthony and Stoudemire are still becoming acclimated to playing with one another, let alone another superstar. In addition, with the shortened season, there would be less practice time for Paul to become acquainted with the Knicks’ style of play. Team chemistry could be thrown into a season-long funk, thus wasting a season in which Stoudemire and Anthony are in their prime. A better solution for New York may be to wait until the 2012 off-season to make a move for Paul.
While New York assembles a dream team, its Miami counterpart appears primed to take the leap and become a great team. James and point guard Dwayne Wade aren’t just the best duo in the NBA — they’re the two best players in the league. Although the Heat are still below average at the center position, this doesn’t appear to be an issue with Wade, James and fellow superstar forward Chris Bosh demanding the lion’s share of Miami’s touches. If they decide that current center Udonis Haslem isn’t the answer in the paint, the Heat could make a play at Tyson Chandler, an unrestricted free agent.
The Spurs, Lakers and Dallas Mavericks are perennial favorites coming out of the West, with the Oklahoma City Thunder a legitimate threat as well. But the Portland Trail Blazers are the team to watch, as they appear poised to take the West by surprise. Portland forward LaMarcus Aldridge may be the player who’s about to take off — I wouldn’t be surprised if Aldridge joins forward Kevin Love and center Dwight Howard in the 20 rebounds-20 points per night club.
With Aldridge’s emergence, point guard Brandon Roy won’t need to be the main man for the Trail Blazers but can instead focus on maintaining his health and reinventing himself as a role player and team leader. Center Marcus Camby and forward Gerald Wallace make for an interesting — albeit oft-injured — front court.
Will the Mavericks defend their title? Will Blake Griffin and the Clippers take Los Angeles by storm? Are the Memphis Grizzlies the real deal? Who’s Metta World Peace?
I do not have all the answers, and to be honest, I don’t care. What I do know is that on Dec. 25 I’ll be wearing my favorite Brandon Jennings T-shirt and finally watching basketball being played at the highest level.
McAndrew is a member of the class of 2015.