Right Field

What Now for the NBA?

“Well . . . the goddamn thing is over now; it ended . . . with all the grace and meaning of a Coke bottle thrown off a third floor fire escape on the Bowery.” – Hunter S. Thompson

The NBA lockout ended over Thanksgiving, five months after it began, following two years of pointless back-and-forth between the owners and the Players’ Association. Please note, I refuse to call this travesty a negotiation. The lockout ended the only way it could have: The players conceded to a 50/50 split of BRI (Basketball Related Income) at the last possible moment.

Don’t be fooled by all the deadlines that have passed. The true “drop-dead date” was always Thanksgiving weekend. Casual fans only start paying attention to the NBA on Christmas Day, when the NBA schedules three nationally televised marquee matchups. The deal had to be done by Thanksgiving weekend to allow these games to happen. Losing these games would have alienated causal fans, which would have been catastrophic when the NBA resumed operations. Loss of these casual fans would have dramatically hindered the NBA’s ability to recover from the public-relations nightmare of the lockout. Only the most diehard fans of a basketball team or the league have been alienated so far, but those will also be the easiest to woo back.

Conventional wisdom says that older, veteran teams like the Dallas Mavericks and the Boston Celtics will benefit the most from the extra time off. That depends too much on the dubious assumption that all key players stayed in basketball shape during the lockout. Surely, there are more than a few players who believed that the season would be cancelled and acted accordingly. Expect a few teams that should contend to be hurt by waiting for key personnel to play themselves into shape throughout January.

This is the fun part of the season. Before free agency, before training camp, before preseason, comes my favorite time of the year: prediction time. Here is my most audacious prediction:

You know how the Chinese Zodiac lists the Year of the Pig and the Year of the Dragon? By Independence Day, we will be referring to 2012 as the Year of the Black Mamba. Kobe Bryant will own this season.

There is a perfect storm of excellence brewing for Kobe this offseason.

Between an unusually early exit from the playoffs last season and the lockout, Kobe is starting a season truly rested for the first time in years.

He had surgery in Europe, a procedure not yet available in the States, in which plasma cells and growth factors were injected into his bad knee. So Kobe is also starting a season truly healthy for the first time in years.

The Lakers will be retuning a veteran core with a lot of experience playing together and a lot of playoff experience as well. This will minimize the effects of the retirement of Phil Jackson.

He’s already the most relentless player in the NBA, and he has extra motivation this season from the following:

He is only one title from tying Michael Jordan’s six rings. He was overlooked last season with all of the public’s attention paid to LeBron James and Dwayne Wade in Miami. He wants to prove he is still the best. He wanted to show he can win a title without Shaquille O’Neal. He’ll want to show he can win one without Phil Jackson.

Believe me, I hate writing good things about Kobe even more than you hate reading them. But nobody is keeping up with Kobe this season.

Final predictions: The Lakers will beat the Heat in six games to win the NBA championship. Kobe Bryant will win both the regular season and the Finals MVP trophies.

Damn it all.


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