I’ve been a hoops fan for as long as I can remember. I started to have some clue what was going on in the mid-80’s. I remember watching Magic’s Lakers, Bird’s Celtics, Isiah’s Pistons, and Jordan’s Bulls. Throughout that time, I was rooting for the Knicks. Around the time I started to have a clue, they were Louis Orr’s Knicks. They had Pat Cummings, Rory Sparrow, Trent Tucker, Eddie Lee Wilkins, and, if they were lucky, Bernard King. Then they got Patrick Ewing, and my entire Knicks-fan-experience changed (not a moment too soon, either… I was starting to get to be too old to walk around crying because my favorite basketball team lost another game).
Anyway, the point is that I grew up watching hoops in the 80’s, and I was generally able to appreciate that it was a special era for the game. In my opinion, the game became less interesting in the late ‘90s, early ‘00s. I don’t know why. Maybe it was the void left after Jordan retired. Maybe it had something to do with the Pistons-Pacers brawl that spilled into the stands, or maybe the league over-expanded. (Does anyone really need the Bobcats?) Personally, I blame lots of it on the fact that one of the teams in the league had Barney on its jerseys, but I recognize that there are other contributing factors.
Well, whatever made the game less interesting in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s is behind us now. The NBA is fun to watch again. There are genuine superstars playing the game these days, a bunch of well-balanced teams, and a slew of excellent players who are either winding down or beginning their careers.
Let’s start with the superstars. As I see it, there are four: Kobe, D-Wade, LeBron, and Chris Paul. When is the last time there were four guys either in their primes or entering their primes who were this good? I think it must have been when Jordan was young, Magic and Larry were still doing their thing, and Olajuwon was one of the “Twin Towers” in Houston. The league doesn’t only have super superstars these days, but it also has a bunch of solid teams. Even the East is good. The top team from last year has added Shaq. The Celtics have three Hall-of-Famers, and a collection of young talent. The Magic are loaded. Even the Hawks could be good, if they weren’t the Hawks – dress those guys up in some Bulls uniforms, and you have a contender.
Out West, the Lakers and Spurs both have firepower, play D, and have championship pedigrees. The Mavericks have added Shawn Merion, the Blazers might be on the verge of a breakthrough, and the Nuggets showed that they can beat teams a number of different ways. A team with Steve Nash, Amare Stoudamaire, and Grant Hill might not even make the playoffs. Again.
The point of all this rambling is just to say that the top 9 or 10 teams are about as good as I remember the top 9 or 10 teams being for a long time. I Love This Game!
The flip side of the coin is that there are some teams that are just pathetic. I understand how the salary cap works, and I understand that teams would rather have a real chance to be good in the future rather than remain mediocre for a while. The problem is that some of the teams that just cleared a whole bunch of “cap space” aren’t going to get one of the main guys in 2010, and then they’re going to be horrible for a few years in a row. I’m thinking of the Bucks, the Nets, the Knicks, and the Suns. Then there are the Kings, who haven’t really been dumping good players to create cap space, and, yet, are terrible. These guys all think they’re getting LeBron and Bosh to sign with them in 2010? A few of them are going to get nobody, and are going to have 3 or 4 years of winning 25-35 games. I’ll address that in a separate posting. For now, my only point is that the NBA is compelling again. So compelling that I decided to start a blog about it.