NBA15 Tip-Off: Top Storylines

29 Sep

“An old Indian game. It’s called put-the-ball-in-the-hole (“R.P. McMurphy“ to “Chief (One Flew Over the Cuckoo‘s Nest (’75))).”

* * * *

NBA 2015-16 is about to take the court.

Camps have opened with pre-season play beginning on October 2nd. The regular season is slated for tip-off at month’s end (27th). The opening act is a cross-country twin-bill pitting last season’s Finalists against a pair of playoff opponents, both with new head coaches.

The reigning champ Warriors get to unfurl their championship banner in hosting 1st-Rd foe New Orleans (0-4 (Alvin Gentry)), while the Cavaliers head due West to face the Chicago Bulls (Fred Hoiberg) at the banner-filled United Center.

1) Golden State Warriors

You can’t pen a piece about an upcoming season without first giving the champs their due. It’s made easy by the fact that the Warriors are expected by many to get back into the Finals, given the woeful competition and barring the dreaded injury influenza.

What 1st-year head coach Kerr and team accomplished still feels a bit fantastic.

His court leader in guard Steve Curry took regular season MVP honors and became the first 3-point specialist to lead his team to a title. All pretty special stuff that must’ve left victory parade participants Al Attles (coach) and Rick Berry (superstar) beaming with pride (’75 NBA title).

But a smoother roadway to title-town hath never been paved.

The Warriors breezed by the Pelicans (R1 4-0), did get tested by Memphis (4-2 (R2)) but then swept hot-house orchids Atlanta (4-0) and faced a Finals opponent in the Cavaliers who were without their #2 in Kev Love and hobbled elsewhere. LeBron James is special but he ain’t that special. Even Magic (Jabbar-Cooper-Wilkes-Worthy) and Larry (Parish-DJ-Maxwell-McHale) needed their buds.

2) Cleveland Cavaliers

Love re-signed in the off-season. What else do you need to know, except that LeBron James (2y ext’sn) is, if not giddy with optimism, fairly content with State of Cavalier-land and should fully expect a return visit to the Finals next May.

Mr. Blatt was a little shaky in the playoffs (“Not alot you can do (Curry)”), but then Eric Spoelstra came under frequent fire before guiding the Heat to a couple of O’Briens. And the East is pretty barren of serious contenders these days, the West not much better. That points to a quality of competition issue that was in all likelihood absent from everyone’s agenda this off-season. And that’s a shame.

3) Kobe Bryant

He’s denied having decided this’ll be his last run as a player, in opposite of GM Kupchak‘s public musings. Instead, Bryant speaks of a personal renaissance (“rebirth“). He did live in Italy. But Kobe’s body may have more to say about the decision than does his desire. And then planning on a final season absent formal annoucement may simply be his way of forgoing what he and many fans disdain, that being the “farewell tour,” aka, attendance-enhancer & memorabilia-booster.

Like the pantheon of pinstripers populating the long, mostly successful history of the Yankees, Kobe’s been a part of a similar near unbroken chain of great Lakers links since big George Mikan (d.‘05) and “Kangaroo Kid” Jim Pollard (d.‘93) were filling the peach-basket (it was steel rimmed) in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

Some nicknames have surfaced over the 19 seasons he pounded NBA hardwood after enlisting straight from high school (Lower Merion, Ardmore, PA (‘96 R1-13 (Hornets-to-Lakers)), “Black Mamba” being the oddest. But like Wilt, Yogi & Cher, the worldly lad from Philly has always been known by one name, Kobe.

Suffice to say Bryant has scored lots o’ points and garned plenty o’ personal hardware in his long NBA tenure (MVP, All-Star, etc.), but it’s the title haul (5), equaling 80s Showtime, that will define his b-ball legacy.

To his character, well, let’s just say the sexual assault arrest (‘03), then case dismissal (‘04), a Bryant apology (sans admission of guilt) and final civil settlement, will likely afford the Lakers great the privilege of not having a statue erected outside Staples Center (x6) in his honor. Then again, these decisions aren’t cast in stone: 2030?

4) Spurs Forever?

There’s been discussion recently as to whether or not the Gregg Popovich Spurs have constituted a true dynasty. My initial view was that five titles in sixteen seasons was qualification aplenty and denial of such was stingy (P.Jackson).

Thinking more on it, a reflection triggered by the baseball Giants failure to once again defend their World Series or even Pennant titles, I’ve come to the belief that San Antonio’s inability to win back-to-backs or even get back to a Finals the season following a championship may very well disqualify them of the dynasty tag. No big whoop.

What owner Peter Holt (‘93) and his Spurs have accomplished since they took their first title in ‘98-99 may be more significant than achieving the dynasty thing: a space-time continuum (Poe). Doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue but weighty matters seldom do.

The core for 4 of the 5 O’Briens, Tim Duncan (C), Tony Parker (PG) and Manu Ginobili (G), all return for one more season as the Argentinian hints this one will be his last. When any of the three exit it won’t be long before the others follow.

Can the Spurs hold form and fashion one more title run in this staggered 2015-16 season? The infusion of more young talent with the vets didn’t take them too far last spring, bowing out to the Clippers in R1. But the door to title-town is wide open in this NBA and the humble Spurs seem to never stop learning.

5) Commissioner Adam Silver

Commissioners rarely rank high on those most-admired lists. Making money for the owners (and college Presidents), presiding over draft events and dolling out player punishment is what they devote majority of their time. Rarely, one will take the job to heart and go beyond the money rake (Landis / Giamatti (MLB)).

But don’t include Mr. Adam Silver in that select group. The name is apropos.

What can you say that’s inspirational about a point-man Silver who seeks to co-mingle gambling with sport (“good for business”) and handled the sad, multi-sided Sterling matter with all the finesse and courage of a corporate raider? He’s a media darling?

It can’t be an easy job, Commissioner of a major sport. But some leaders are more suited to the task than others who have no more love for the game than the politician who dons whatever ball-cap the campaign whistle-stop dictates.

Bold moves like paring down of an excess of franchises that might pump life’s blood in quality of competition back into the sport, and elimination of gimmickry like the 3-pointer (ABA) that’s destroyed b-ball’s dichotomy, could work wonders for a popularity of that’s ebbing at lowest in decades. Odds on that: 1000 to 1.

6) Team Potentiality

Before the 2015 Conference finals, if you asked me to name-off teams likely to contend for next season’s showcase venues, I’d have included the Houston Rockets and Atlanta Hawks with no hesitation. That was four months and “a 1000 years ago.”

Both front-runners flamed-out in their respective CFs, winning one measly game between ’em both (4-0 (ATL v CLE) / 4-1 (HOU v GSW)).

While the Grizzlies and Clippers didn‘t advance as far in 2015 post-season play, both showed something to build upon. Los Angeles’ addition of wily vet Paul Pierce may be the binding-agent they truly need to become a cohesive crew.

Steven Keys
Straight Shooter
Photo credit: S.Curry, wc.cca, 2.24.15, K.Allison.
Posted: 9.29.15 @ 2:18pm EST; Copyright ® 2015

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: