Well first I have to apologize to the Miami Heat for picking the Oklahoma City Thunder in 7. They pretty much outplayed the Thunder in every way. LeBron James ended the playoffs just like he began: Dominate. He’s definitely proved to me and hopefully to all the other LeBron critics that without a doubt he’s the best player in the NBA. No one could guard him. Not Sefolosha, not Durant, nobody. I also have to apologize to Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra, who I’ve criticized in the past for being out coached. He made all the right moves. Putting LeBron on Durant changed everything. Durant relied more on his jump shot when being guarded by LeBron, while James went for the basket nearly every time, which got Durant in foul trouble in games 2 and 3. Due to that foul trouble, the Thunder had to rely on everyone else, and it looked like Russell Westbrook was the only one who showed up. James Harden only showed up for one half in the whole series, Sepholosha went 1-4 on dunks, and Ibaka, while being a defensive force, was none existent on the offensive side of the ball, and you can only go so far on presence alone Kendrick Perkins. Meanwhile, all the role players for the Heat showed up. First it was Battier, then it was Chalmers, and finally it was Mike Miller, who went an astonishing 7-8 on 3 pointers, bad back and all. The Heat were just the better team. So Congrats to the Heat and congrats to the King. Now onto the reason everyone clicked on this page. Here are my top 10 NBA storylines going into next season.
10. Who is now the best player in the NBA without a Ring?
Now that LeBron James has won his first NBA Title, I think it’s only fitting to start talking about who’s next in line. Who’s the best player without a ring? Maybe people would say Kevin Durant, but he’s only 23 and still entering his prime, which is a scary thought. So he’s out of the equation. If you were to go on career, Steve Nash would immediately come to mind. He’s a two time MVP and still playing at a high level, finishing second in assists per game this season with 10.7. He’s also a free agent, but that will be discussed later on in this article. If you were to base it on dominance, then Dwight Howard comes to mind. Howard can bring it on the defensive end and rebounding, but he still needs work on his offensive game. However if he teams up with a scorer (cough…Deron Williams…cough), he could easily win a championship. While I think both players should be considered for this spot, I have to go with the first player popped in my mind: Carmelo Anthony. He’s one of the most clutch shooters in the game, yet that hasn’t resulted in playoff success, only being able to make it past the first round only once, losing to the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals of the 08-09 season. His playoff record is 17-37, the worst among active players with at least 50 playoff games. He’s also coming off one of his worst shooting seasons in his career and many have questioned if he and his teammate Amare Stodemire can coexist. So far the answer is no. So is the solution trading Amare Stoudemire? If so, it may be Denver all over again. Will a healthy Jeremy Lin be the answer? Perhaps. The Knicks have a decent group of players. Anthony, Stoudemire, Lin, Steve Novak, Tyson Chandler, and Iman Shumpert when he recovers from his knee injury, but they just haven’t learned how to play like a team yet. They have no defensive cohesion, and they absolutely need that to stand any chance against teams like the Heat and the Thunder. So now that the burden is finally off LeBron shoulders and the majority has fallen upon Carmelo, will he be able to lift it up or be crush by it? Only time will tell.
9. Where will Steve Nash go?
As I mentioned earlier, Steve Nash should be considered as one of the NBA’s current greatest players without a championship. Now that he’s a free agent, Nash can pursue that goal by signing with a contender, because right now, the Phoenix Suns aren’t. If Nash wants to win a championship, then maybe he should sign with the reigning champs, the Miami Heat. However, why would Miami want to mess around with a good thing by adding another player who’s at his best with the ball in his hands. If he does sign with Miami, maybe he’s best suited at coming of the bench, when Wade or James are off the floor. Another potential snag is the fact that Nash would make less money there than any other place he’s interested, and if money is a factor, I doubt the Heat will be able to add another multiple time MVP to there roster. So what about the New York Knicks? Unless they move Amare, the Knicks will have the same problem as Miami: money. That and they better resign restricted free agent Jeremy Lin, or they may have a public relations nightmare on their hands. So I doubt the Knicks will sign Nash. What about going back to where his career started to rise: the Dallas Mavericks? All of this will depend on whether or not the Mavericks sign Deron Williams. If the don’t, then why not reunite Dirk and Nash for a couple of more runs at the title. Ultimately, I think he would best suited on a younger team like Portland, Utah, or Indiana, who are really just one star player away from making a run at the championship and all could afford to sign a player like Nash, but Indiana better resign Roy Hibbert if they have any chance in the East.
8. Will the NBA take a harder stance on flopping?
That was the highlight of the NBA season for me. This isn’t the first time Jeff Van Gundy has called out flopping and I doubt it will be the last. It just seems that this tactic is being used more and more. That’s all the James Harden was doing in the NBA Finals, and luckily, the officials swallowed their whistles most of the time, but then again, he was going up against the Miami Heat, who have been known to flop around every now and then. But if there’s one team that defines flopping, it’s Flop City…I mean Lob City, the Los Angeles Clippers. I wanted to like this team, but flopping tactics of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and the biggest flopper in the game Reggie Evans left a sour taste in my mouth. Now David Stern and the NBA executives have stated that they will look into possible postgame analysis to determine if a player flopped or not. As far as punishment goes, I don’t think anyone should be suspended over a flop. I believe it should be fines only, starting small, and increase the fine for repeat offenders. All I know is that this epidemic needs to be stopped.
7. Will Derrick Rose ever be the same?
If there was one victim of this past season’s condensed schedule, it would have to be Derrick Rose. His way of play just didn’t work when he had to play back to back to back games, and it resulted in numerous injuries throughout the season, culminating with his biggest one in the playoffs, a torn ACL. Now he will out the majority of the 2012-2013 regular season, but the question is, does he have to change his style of play to reduce the possibility of re-injuring his knee? The last thing we need is another Brandon Roy situation, where he had to retire due to multiple knee issues, though Roy is trying to make a comeback. Rose’s offense is based solely on cutting to basket, and he was the best at it. Was being the appropriate word here. I know there have been surgical advances when it comes to knee surgeries, but what kind of psychological impact will this injury have on Rose’s future? Will he push past the fear of re-injuring his knee and play as he always had, or will he evolve his game by improving his jump shot and rely more on his passing ability? Depending on how the Bulls do without Rose, it may be best to sit him out the whole season or bring him back a few weeks before the playoffs, that’s if they even make the playoffs. With rumors of Luol Deng being traded, where will the Bulls’ offense come from? Will Carlos Boozer finally show up and play to the standard of his contract, cause I don’t see how the Bulls will be able to move Boozer if he continues to play mediocre basketball.
6. Will the Thunder be able to sign extensions to both Harden and Ibaka?
If there’s one reason why the Oklahoma City Thunder lost to the Miami Heat, youth would definitely be at the top of that list. Going into the playoffs, the San Antonio Spurs were pretty much of lock to make the Finals after winning Games 1 and 2 against the Thunder, but the Thunder beat expectations and beat the Spurs four straight times, a feat that propelled them as the favorites against the Heat. I had them as the favorites. But the Heat went through losing the Finals last year, and it looked like they didn’t want history to repeat itself. Now the Thunder find themselves in the same place Miami was last year. Will, they go the same route as Miami and win the Championship? One things for sure, if they want to win more than one NBA title, they need to resign both James Harden and Serge Ibaka by the end of next year when both of their contracts are up. Yes, James Harden didn’t show up in the Finals, but one bad series shouldn’t erase the impact he had on the team. The same can be said for Ibaka, at least on the offensive end. But with both Kevin Durant and Russel Westbrook signed to big contracts will they be able to keep both. Will the hunger for a championship overcome a potential bigger contract on another team. If it come down to money and they can only keep one player, that player would have to be Ibaka. You can’t teach 6-10 and as I said multiple times before, he really should have been the Defensive Player of the Year. For the Thunder’s sake, let’s hope both Harden and Ibaka put aside money for potential championships, because how great would a potential Heat Thunder rivalry be.
I’ll have storylines 5-1 next week.