Intrigue Abounds in NBA Season’s Second Half
With the NBA’s All-Star Weekend behind us, the second half of the lockout-compressed season will be full of interesting storylines. Players are trying to follow the example set by LeBron James in 2010, looking to engineer moves to cities where their friends play or where they want to live.
Dwight Howard of the Orlando Magic is one of these. Orlando has never come as close to an NBA title as when they lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2009 NBA Finals, and they have been eclipsed by a number of improved teams, including the Chicago Bulls, Oklahoma City Thunder, and Miami Heat. Howard has repeatedly said that if the Magic do not surround him with players that give them a chance to win, he will leave Orlando once his contract expires this summer. Before the season began, he even demanded a trade to the New Jersey Nets, Dallas Mavericks, or Lakers.
With the Mar. 15 NBA trade deadline fast approaching, the Magic have been frantically searching for players to add that would convince Howard to stay. Monta Ellis of the Golden State Warriors has been referenced as a good option, but the Warriors may only be willing to part with him if they actually get Howard in return, making a trade unlikely unless a third team gets involved.
Other teams looking to make moves include the Lakers, who have declined since their titles in 2009 and 2010. Forward Pau Gasol, who is now 31, has been implicated in trade rumors ever since he was included in the league-vetoed deal that would have brought Chris Paul to the Lakers. The team is still looking for a point guard to replace the senile Derek Fisher and provide Kobe Bryant with a chance to match Michael Jordan’s six championships.
In a recent development, the Boston Celtics have announced that Rajon Rondo, one of the best point guards in the world, is on the trading block as well. It appears that the Celtics have finally realized that their current squad is too old to contend for a championship and are upset with Rondo’s attitude as well. It will be interesting to see if the Lakers and Celtics, the league’s most bitter rivals, decide to help each other out with a trade involving Rondo to L.A. and salary relief to the Celtics.
Besides the intrigue of trade rumors, the second half of the season will be even shorter than usual, which means teams have only thirty-or-so games left to shape up into postseason form. With the lockout forcing teams to play games more often than they usually would, the three best teams so far have been young, athletic squads with oodles of talent: the Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls, and Oklahoma City Thunder. These teams have four of the five best players in the world in James, Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose and Kevin Durant. It will be interesting to see if these three frontrunners, none of which have won an NBA title in the last six years (but have been threatening to), can finally put it all together and win a championship.
Will James (who is incidentally having one of the greatest seasons ever) finally shed his reputation as a crunch-time failure? Will Rose be able to overcome his injuries and subpar performances by teammates to return the Bulls to the podium for the first time since Jordan’s era? Will Durant finally lift the Thunder all the way from the league’s third-worst team in 2009 to the NBA champions just three years later?
If the answer to all of those questions is no, which team will be crowned champion? Maybe it will be the upstart Indiana Pacers, who gave the Bulls a run for their money in last year’s playoffs and are currently third in the Eastern Conference, or perhaps the aging San Antonio Spurs, who just completed an impressive 12-1 stretch that included nine road wins. Or it could be the Los Angeles Clippers, who eventually landed Paul and paired him with young studs Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Maybe it will be one of the teams lurking in the shadows—like the surprising Philadelphia 76ers, the Magic, the Lakers, the defending-champion Mavericks, or even the “Lin-triguing” New York Knicks—who could make a trade or go on a hot streak that propels them to the forefront of the playoff race.
It’s all about playing well in May and June; the regular season is just a tune-up. At this point, between five and ten teams have a legitimate shot to win it all. Captivated NBA fans will be following the trades and watching teams jockey for playoff position with bated breath.