Gamblers in Vegas, sports writers, and couch potatoes may debate and predict the outcomes of every sporting event ad infinitum with varying degrees of success, but the unpredictability of sports is the quality that most draws us to it. We watch because, unlike the plot of a Matthew McConaughey romantic comedy, we don’t know how it is going to end. We can try to guess who is the better matchup or who has the most talent, but no one knows who is going to win—thereby absolving me of all my incorrect picks at the beginning of the season.
On that note, I admit that I was wrong—so very, very wrong—in our NBA season preview, and will immediately proceed with the midseason review of the main storylines during this NBA season.
1. The top five aren’t as invincible as we thought.
In my NBA season preview column, I argued that no one would be able to compete with the preseason top five in the league—the Boston Celtics, the Los Angeles Lakers, the San Antonio Spurs, the Orlando Magic, and the Cleveland Cavaliers. While each of these teams had weaknesses, the conventional wisdom was that these flaws would make each team vulnerable to the other four, but that the rest of the league was still on a lower level.
Well, we have seen that their weaknesses have become greater problems for them than we had previously imagined. Orlando has not received enough production from Vince Carter and cannot seem to find any consistent flow—a difficult task indeed when their coach rants all over the sidelines like it’s the NBA finals. The Boston Celtics cannot seem to remain healthy, and Rasheed Wallace’s stomach has more rolls than a French bakery. The Los Angeles Lakers are pretty much perfect….but were I not a Lakers fan, I might say that Bynum’s inconsistency, random injuries, and bizarre lethargy have kept this Lakers team from performing like the defending champs. The Cleveland Cavaliers have begun playing better, but it is still very unclear whether the acquisition of Shaq has helped or hurt them. And the San Antonio Spurs have health concerns, and the offseason trade acquisition of Richard Jefferson has not panned out as well as everyone thought—when you play on losing teams for so long, sometimes you forget how to play. Excluding the games when these teams play one another, these “top 5” are only 140-57 (.71) against the other teams in the league—in short, not exactly the definition of dominance.
2. Atlanta, Phoenix, Denver, and Dallas are potential contenders.
While the top five have suffered, these four teams have a combined record of 17-13 against the top five. While their records are not enough to gain home court advantage in the playoffs, they all have the potential to upset one of the elite teams in the playoffs.
3. Carmelo Anthony has entered the MVP race.
Carmelo shone in last year’s playoffs, but has proven that his performance was no fluke by averaging nearly 30 points a game and working on his quickness off the step. Even if defenders play off him to block his way to the basket, he can use his height to shoot jump shots over them, resulting in a nearly invincible combination.
4. Surprises of the season: Houston, Charlotte, and Sacramento.
After allowing me to think myself was so clever in declaring this a “French Revolution season for these Kings,” Sacramento’s draft pick of Tyreke Evans has proven to be inspired, while Sacramento’s new coach Paul Westphal has led Sacramento to a record beyond expectations even without their best player, Kevin Martin. With Yao Ming out and Tracy McGrady riding the bench, Houston lacks a superstar and is a team of self-proclaimed misfits that has nonetheless managed a 24-20 record with one of the hardest schedules thus far. After a 3-7 start, one wondered if GM Michael Jordan was going to have to suit up again to make Charlotte worth watching. Since Charlotte landed Stephen Jackson in a November trade with the Golden State Warriors, however, the Bobcats have climbed to a record of 21-22.
5. Trade rumors
With no team emerging as the most dominant, all teams are looking for a way to gain an upper edge on the competition. These are some of the potential pieces moving before the trade deadline.
Lakers’ Andrew Bynum for Raptors’ Chris Bosh: Potentially the biggest trade of the season. Chris Bosh has one year left on his contract, so trading for him does not come with any guarantee that he would stay in Los Angeles. Bynum has a long-term contract and is a potential franchise center, but has yet to prove himself consistently—and often seems afraid and discouraged when he is on the floor with Pau Gasol. In addition, the idea of a Bosh, Odom, and Gasol combination could be terrifying for any opponent. With Bynum’s history of knee injuries and seemingly endless potential along with Bosh’s incredible talent and expiring contract, this trade is one of the riskiest and most potentially rewarding of any being discussed.
Rockets’ Tracy McGrady for ???: Five years ago, McGrady was considered to have the potential to become of the best players ever to play the game. Now he is seen as the player with the most points in history not to win a playoff series. After being injured on and off for the past three seasons, no one knows how good he is anymore. His potential, however, makes him an interesting prospect for any team desperate for a franchise player—if they can get him on the cheap.
Cavaliers’ Shaquille O’Neal: The Cavs lost only two games at home last year without Shaq and have already lost three there this season. The Cavs don’t seem to be able to smoothly adopt him into the offense, and then there’s the matter of his fitness…well ,let’s just say he is carrying more weight up and down the court. With his expiring contract valuable to many teams looking to clear cap space for the 2010 free agent bonanza, Shaq could be used as a valuable trade piece.
And that’s the NBA Season at the halfway mark. Stay in school and don’t do drugs.
Alex Thompson ’11 (athomps@fas) stays in school and sometimes doesn’t do drugs.