Evolution usually refers to process in slow development, a means of environmental shifting that is methodical. The NBA isn’t evolving, however, it’s changing. The revolution is being televised, and the business of basketball is doing circles around the actual game, going so fast that fans and media alike are having trouble keeping up. With the blink of an eye, an also-ran is a championship contender; players apart become players-in-part; and PPG is trailing the metrics of PER and WARP. But don’t misunderstand the settings – we’re seeing a tectonic plate shift under the NBA’s very floor, and the players are taking a new leap forward.
Moving into the prelude of the 2012-2013 regular season, as training camp and preseason preparations are at their genesis, what has transpired is a league amalgam of dynamic shifting. That very thread of transition and change is exactly what is depicted here, with some of the unique, bold, and provocative stories leading into what could be another defining season in the NBA’s history.
Dwight Howard and The Minstrel Show
For years, the sports audience has known Dwight Howard to be affable, polite and funny like a late night talk show host, with the fans in tow as the laugh track amidst his nightly performances…and with good reason. The NBA game is a marketed, multimillion dollar venture of entertainment, never a boy’s game, but a game played by men making a demigod’s purse. Howard is amongst champions in Los Angeles, no longer trifling with the possibility of making Orlando Magic, but the opportunity to make real magic in Forum blue and gold in Lakerland. The late show in Orlando is over, and while Superman 2.0 may not need to change to be successful, the question is whether Kobe Bryant will abide in his disposition as court jester.
Think About The Future! (Pay The Man)
When Jack Nicholson’s Jack Napier pointed a revolver at a corrupt Gotham police detective in 1989’s “Batman,” it’s for sure that he didn’t anticipate dropping into a vat of acid. Then again, it can be surmised that the Oklahoma City Thunder didn’t fully anticipate such a long pause regarding James Harden’s contract extension, either. The Thunder could very well drop into their own mixture of volatile corrosives if nothing changes with J-Hard’s situation. No. 13 proved that you don’t have to start to be a factor and you don’t have to shout loudly to the press to play big, but you DO have to get paid when you play the asses off of the other 29 teams. The future in Oklahoma City is NOW, and the future isn’t guaranteed. Neither is the fifth season of Harden’s contract.
Pull Up Your Knickers
The New York Knickerbockers are at a red alert. The team has failed its expectations to bring playoff success, and they have to bring in the noise, bring in the funk. Former All-Star Amar’e Stoudemire has to show the people that, if he’s no longer bouncy, he at least has more than a two-step and a dunk. Carmelo Anthony – who asked for the city and asked for the team when he left Colorado (and asked for the ball when Jeremy Lin came from the abyss) – now has to make good on his accounts received. The Knicks have no gimmicks, no niche players to foreign markets, only players with greater expectations – and with the remodel of the Madison Square Garden, collapse by implosion won’t be tolerated.
Kings of New York?
Red, white, and blue isn’t always a desirable combination for some parts of America – it certainly wasn’t an inspired palate inside of the Izod Center for the former New Jersey Nets – but the BROOKLYN Nets have black. By literally fading to black, the Brooklyn Nets have Shawn Carter to thank for a new aesthetic inspiration; the borough has the oft-criticized Billy King to thank for introducing the new Backcourt 2000 in Deron Williams and Joe Johnson (shout out to Penny!); and the Nets have to thank God Almighty for owner Mikhail Prokhorov, whose pockets are deep enough to absorb the new luxury tax. No more Lost Ones.
Face/Off: Gang Green/Gangrene
It’s hard to know just what the prospects are for the Boston Celtics. They lost Ray Allen, their backcourt shooting anchor of the last five years; Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce were retained, despite the rumors of their being sent away via trade during the summer’s draft; and foolishly, the same Celtics decided to give $40 million to Jeff Green, a young tweener forward who sat out a full season because of a bad ticker. On the other hand, the same gang added rookie Jared Sullinger and journeyman swingman Courtney Lee and anticipate the healing of breakout stud Avery Bradley to bolster the bench. So, the matter of the hour is whether the Celtics will ultimately fight for a title with their new youth or fight bitter corrosion with their old dogs.
John Wall: Mediocre Excellence
Many of us underestimated just what it might take for Washington Wizards point guard John Wall to be great. Many of us also saw the Word of God highlight clips and maybe waxed about how things may be different had he petitioned to enter the 2009 NBA Draft as a fifth-year high school senior. Just as many of us (and more) saw what he did as John Calipari’s muse with the Kentucky Wildcats and compared the North Carolina native to Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans, but we didn’t see that he didn’t really understand the process of leading grown-ass men.
Loveland: The Folly of Khan
The Minnesota Timberwolves may be the first team in the modern era of the league to sell against itself with its own star player, Kevin Love, and hold itself hostage through Love’s contracted right to pursue free agency. Only 24 years old, Love has emerged as the most well-rounded post player in the NBA. Having led the league in 2010-11 in rebounds per game, and having averaged 26 PPG, 13.3 RPG, with a three-point field-goal percentage of 37.2, the former UCLA Bruin is shooting comparably to Dirk Nowitzki and rebounding with the vigor and guile of Charles Barkley. Of course, all aforementioned of Love can be totally made of little value to the long-term future of the Timberwolves, should Love choose to leave in three years. Meanwhile, Minnesota is looking to lock down a playoff spot to compete with the likes of a championship contender before the Love may be lost.
Curry: The Spice of Life
When Nike starts having to make special shoes for you, just so you can stay on the court, and you’re not a non-signature athlete, you have a serious problem. This is the reality of Stephen Curry, the Golden State Warriors’ most prized basketball possession. His name is analogous to his plight – you put Curry in a game, and he’s going to enhance the Warriors’ play; if you put curry in a dish, you’re likely to win on that meal. You subtract either of Curry from their respective hardwood and culinary settings, and the experience becomes unpalatable. Simply put, the Bay needs its star point guard to get right to make any serious noise in the West.
Charlotte Bobcats: NBA Team or Team Jumpman?
Oh, how far the immortal Mike has fallen. There’s nothing wrong with failure, but when you own a whole NBA squadron of young and dumb, it helps when you actually recognize what’s stopping you from succeeding. Re-outfitting the Charlotte Bobcats closer in Carolina and navy blues won’t solve it the puzzle of success. Neither will an army of gray and orange Jumpman shoes streaking about the hardwood. What it might take? Not listening so intently to longtime yes-man executive (and former teammate) Rod Higgins and maybe using the right hired gun (*cough-Rich Cho-cough*) to advise the G.O.A.T. in making the right decisions, because some players don’t pass the eye test. Neither did Mike back in the 10th grade.
Historians of the game remember the aforementioned Jordan and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar particularly for one thing that is often failed to be readily recognized – both men had unbelievably long primes in the post-Bill Russell era. Jordan’s individual- and championship-based prime lasted roughly 12 whole years from 1986-87 to 1997-98; Abdul-Jabbar, so finely polished out of UCLA that he was virtually a Basketball Hall of Fame candidate upon his arrival in Milwaukee in 1969, actually may have established his dual individual-championship prime in two phases (pre-Magic Johnson and with Magic Johnson) from Year 2 to Year 19, the combined non-bookend 18 career years of his reign. In the case of LeBron “King” James, Year 3 to Year 8 of James’ career came as a preface to his current glory, but Year 9 became his crowning season. At 27, James may have the ability to play another 10 seasons as a title-hoarding behemoth. Taking the notion of dominating a game from any place on the floor to new heights, 2013 will likely be the Re-education of LeBron James.