Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The NBA season begins

I love the sport of basketball. I have played it for over 15 years. I have coached kids in the third grade all the way through high school. No sport moves faster or has better athletes than basketball. Calling myself a basketball fan is no stretch. However, I have suddenly found it hard to call myself an NBA fan considering I find it a chore to watch the games.

This past season, I watched a total of one NBA game in its entirety. The reason for that one game was because I attended it. The Washington Wizards played the Charlotte Bobcats in what can only be described as 'not worth reminiscing about.' Come playoff time, I tuned in for most of the games during every round. I watched only a handful from start to finish though. The title series between the Celtics and Lakers could not have been any less exciting for me since I greatly dislike both teams. I ended up feeling like I wanted the Celtics not to win more than I wanted the Lakers not to win, but really would have rather neither team won. Apparently I was alone in this feeling since the finals got some tremendous tv ratings, even though plenty of the games were terrible to watch. Ray Allen missed more shots in that series than during his entire Connecticut Huskies career.

Speaking of Ray, I'm in the camp that feels this series did not hurt Allen's legacy. I mean people barely thought of him or gave him credit historically anyway. He was neck and neck or even ahead of Reggie Miller in my mind, even before hitting seven 3's in the first half of game two. Yet, for some reason, he isn't thought of in that company. As far as Kobe Bryant's legacy, I am not quite sure if he was helped or hurt by this series. Sure he won another ring and finals MVP, but shooting 25% from the floor in a game seven doesn't exactly propel you to new heights. In my mind, Tim Duncan should still be considered a better overall player in terms of NBA history. I don't need to go through the two players' stats, all-star appearances, all-defensive teams, championships, and MVP's. They both have represented well as far as individual gains. The thing that separates Duncan from Bryant for me is the team success year in and year out. Tim Duncan's Spurs teams won over 50 games every single year of his career except the lockout-shortened '98-'99 season. Yet, even in the shortened season, the Spurs won 74% of their games and the NBA title. Kobe, on the other hand, led three campaigns where the Lakers won fewer than 55% of their games, including the dreadful '04-'05 season when they finished 34-48. Tim Duncan showed up to win every day for his entire career and I'm not sure Kobe did the same.

But I digress. With the regular season mercifully over and the finals having wrapped up, we finally get to the FUN part of the NBA season: the off-season! For people tired of hearing about the referees, for fantasy enthusiasts, and for college basketball followers, the off-season is the time we love. The draft and free agency are more entertaining than watching countless irrelevant games where the Timberwolves battle the Clippers in mid-January. This playoff season just proved even further how pointless the regular season has become. The Cavaliers were the best team all season long, and it wasn't close. Meanwhile, the Celtics gagged their way through the last 50 games of the year while 'getting healthy.' Which team made game seven of the finals and which team got eliminated early for yet another disappointing exit?

The NBA draft is great fun for me because I enjoy watching college basketball more than the professionals. I know the talent and quality of play is worse but the games seem to mean more on a nightly basis. So, come late June, I am pumped to see where these guys go (even though I will end up rarely seeing them play again, unless they become fantasy relevant.) This year's draft is deep and no one knows who is going to be picked where after #1. John Wall is going first. Evan Turner and Derrick Favors will be the second and third players chosen, in some order. After the top three however, your guess is as good as mine. There is a group of roughly 20 players who can go in any order you can imagine to round out the first round. DeMarcus Cousins is talented enough to go in the top three, but who trusts him? Greg Monroe is as well, yet so often didn't bring his A game in college. There are plenty of small school players looking to make noise, as well as big time recruits that left early, even though they didn't reach the level many expected of them. Luke Babbitt, from the former, has been predicted as high as 8th. Ed Davis and Lance Stephenson, from the latter, should have stayed in school and both would have gone in the top 8 next draft. Instead, they are just two of many waiting to see where they are bound for. There have been drafts in the past where we aren't sure who is going to be picked where. However, that is usually because no one deserves the high slots. It seems this time around, you can make a case for any number of players being taken 4 through the end of the lottery and the players left out won't be much worse.

On a side note, Greivis Vasquez graduated from the University of Maryland. He was a very good collegiate player and should be drafted Thursday, possibly in the second round. I expect he hopes to be taken by the Wizards. I know a lot of players would like to play professionally near where they went to college, but apparently Greivis has fans he cannot desert. I have attended three professional sporting events in D.C. in 2010 and I saw Vasquez at two of them. The third was Stephen Strasburg's major league debut. Vasquez might have been there, but if he was, no one cared. On the other two nights, one being the aforementioned Wizards game and the other a random Nationals game, Greivis was in attendance and the crowd loved him. Especially since all opposing ACC schools hated him when he was at Maryland, it seems like a nice fit if he stays in Washington.

Roughly a week and a half after the fun of the draft, NBA free agency commences. Now, normally, this is slightly exciting yet always underwhelming. It never finished like the NHL off-season where big name stars move all over the place. But this year has some hockey potential, if you will. In the back of my mind, I expect to be disappointed again. I expect LeBron to return to Cleveland. Wade will go back to Miami. Dirk and Amare will stay in Dallas and Phoenix respectively. Those all seem likely. But there is that off chance, that 'free agent summit' possibility, that these guys all talked and a handful want to team up together in 2011 and a few others want to move to new towns. Let's just say I'm not expecting it and I haven't gotten my hopes up, but wouldn't that just make the best time of the NBA year even better?

Then, come next November, I can draft my fantasy teams, and go back to not watching the sport I love, kind of.

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