What we're most excited about in '11-12
5-on-5: Holding on to hope for a season, here's what we're looking forward to seeing
Even though Friday's labor talks broke off without an agreement, we're looking on the bright side. Our 5-on-5 crew shares what they're looking forward to the most in 2011-12:
1. What's No. 5 on your 2011-12 list of Things I'm Looking Forward To?
Kevin Arnovitz, ESPN.com: I wonder where Dwight Howard will be playing on March 1 and how that team will be composed headed into the stretch drive. What I'm not looking forward to is the kind of Melo-drama that preoccupied the league and disrupted the Nuggets last winter.
Zach Harper, Daily Dime Live: While I certainly didn't agree with Blake Griffin being ranked as a top-10 player in the #NBArank project, I'm very interested to see how his game will evolve from his rookie year to his sophomore year. Will he be active defensively? Will he be a shot-blocking force? Can he and DeAndre Jordan be intimidating deterrents at the rim?
Brendan Jackson, Celtics Hub: Rookies. The 2011 draft may have been one of the weakest in recent memory, but that doesn't mean there isn't plenty of intrigue regarding this year's rookie class. Who will play better to start: Kyrie Irving or Derrick Williams? Can Bismack Biyombo play basketball? Is Ricky Rubio all hype? Who's the biggest second-round steal? Who is the next Wesley Matthews?
Beckley Mason, HoopSpeak: How crazy will the shortened free-agent period be? As soon as the lockout ends, there will be a deluge of moves. Unfortunately, there aren't many big names out there, but schedule logistics will demand decisiveness and encourage an atmosphere of desperation among teams looking to make a move.
Rob Peterson, Hardwood Paroxysm: An absence of lockout stories. I understand the NBA is a business and that there were many serious issues that needed to be solved in the new CBA, but I can't wait for the first story without mentioning BRI and soft or hard caps. The only "system issues" I want read about are the issues Kobe Bryant is having with Mike Brown's.
2. What's No. 4 on your 2011-12 list of Things I'm Looking Forward To?
Kevin Arnovitz, ESPN.com: Will this be the year the Minnesota Timberwolves resemble a functional NBA team? The Wolves have been intriguing -- in the way it's fascinating to watch a Twitter feed on tilt. Now with Rick Adelman at the helm and the infusion of Ricky Rubio and Derrick Williams, the Wolves have the potential to be a place you land on a busy League Pass night.
Zach Harper, Daily Dime Live: I want to see what Kobe Bryant has left in the tank. People are writing him off left and right as an elite player in this league, but I have a feeling he engineered his body through science to have one more go at avoiding the aging process in the NBA. Either that or he became a vampire. Either way, it will be very exciting to see the results.
Brendan Jackson, Celtics Hub: How will teams rebuild? The lockout brings all sorts of uncertainty. That uncertainty will need to be figured out in what will constitute a very short free-agency period. I'm dying to see how creative teams with a ton of money committed to a few players (Heat, Celtics, etc.) will have to be in order to restock their rosters.
Beckley Mason, HoopSpeak: Will John Wall blow up? Many found last season's performance underwhelming, when injuries and depressing teammates dragged the dynamo down. But Wall has looked healthy and incredibly explosive this summer. Wall is more clever than any guard with comparable athleticism, and if his body holds up, expect him to average 20 and 10 in 2011-12.
Rob Peterson, Hardwood Paroxysm: I'm curious to see how Kobe Bryant and Mike Brown work together in L.A. Mad respect to Coach Brown for his defensive schemes, but he wasn't known for having the most innovative offense when he guided the Cavs. Brown will have more talent in L.A. than he did in Cleveland, but the last time Kobe didn't have Phil Jackson as coach, things didn't go so well. (Which means I'm looking forward to it not ending well for the Lakers.)
3. What's No. 3 on your 2011-12 list of Things I'm Looking Forward To?
Kevin Arnovitz, ESPN.com: I'm eager to see how the front offices in Chicago and Oklahoma City will tinker their rosters in pursuit of a title. The Bulls have a championship-quality defense, but they're still a sharpshooter away. Meanwhile, the Thunder have a nice little window while a few of their young pieces are on rookie deals. Can Sam Presti work his magic to put OKC over the top?
Zach Harper, Daily Dime Live: Call me crazy, but I'm genuinely interested in seeing where the Charlotte Bobcats are going this season. If Kemba Walker can be a floor general and Bismack Biyombo can be an early defensive force, this team has the potential to be scrappy enough to frustrate opponents who dismiss them before tip-off.
Brendan Jackson, Celtics Hub: Is this the year Kevin Durant becomes a top-3 player? Will Eric Gordon keep ascending or level off? Will James Harden leapfrog Russell Westbrook as the Thunder's second-best player? All NBA superstars have to start somewhere, and watching young guns morph into go-to guys is part of what keeps us all glued to our seats.
Beckley Mason, HoopSpeak: Will the Heat really run? There have been rumors wafting from the shores of South Beach that Spoelstra's Heat will pick up the pace this season. But Wade has always been a slow-tempo guy, and Norris Cole remains a question mark as a fire-starter off the bench. If LeBron, Wade and Bosh log heavy minutes like last season, will the Heat have enough gas to burn?
Rob Peterson, Hardwood Paroxysm: Can Kevin Love play the role Chris Webber did with Rick Adelman as Wolves coach? In the aughts, Adelman's Kings were one of the more exhilarating teams in the league. Love, who's a better rebounder and better shooter than Webber, should be the focal point of Adelman's offense and the fulcrum for what could be an exciting young team.
4. What's No. 2 on your 2011-12 list of Things I'm Looking Forward To?
Kevin Arnovitz, ESPN.com: Will this be the Celtics' and Mavs' last stands? As Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Jason Kidd and Jason Terry each enter the last year of their contracts, can experience and guile trump youth and athleticism?
Zach Harper, Daily Dime Live: Where are you going, LeBron? Common myths: LeBron is terrible in the fourth quarter and playoffs. Facts: LeBron is historically good in both situations. More facts: LeBron embarrassed his career thus far in the 2011 NBA Finals. So where does he take it from here? Has he finally had enough and will dominate all situations going forward? Or does he continue to give us reasons to doubt him?
Brendan Jackson, Celtics Hub: Last postseason's low seeds. I can't wait to see what the Memphis Grizzlies can do with a healthy Rudy Gay, how good the Blazers will be with a healthy roster (never mind, that will never happen), and if the Knicks will be any better with Melo and Amare having more time together.
Beckley Mason, HoopSpeak: Where will Howard and Chris Paul land? This will be nauseating to read about every day, but these are two of the top five players in the world (and the best, respectively, at their positions), so it matters. If either can get to a squad with another star in place, that team immediately becomes a contender.
Rob Peterson, Hardwood Paroxysm: What Mike D'Antoni can do with Amare Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups when they have a training camp and a full season together. The second half of last season seemed like a shotgun marriage, but this season, D'Antoni must be licking his chops at having STAT and Melo at his disposal. And while Billups doesn't have Nash's speed or court vision, he's just the type of point guard who can keep two superstars happy (and hit big shots when called upon).
5. What's No. 1 on your 2011-12 list of Things I'm Looking Forward To?
Kevin Arnovitz, ESPN.com: What will Blake Griffin add to his repertoire? Griffin is the most telegenic NBA star to come along in a while -- now comes the boring stuff. Imagine the havoc Griffin could wreak with a knock-down 18-footer, a free throw rate in the high 70s and Duncan-in-his-prime defensive stylings.
Zach Harper, Daily Dime Live: Selfishly, I'm beyond excited about the Timberwolves. Is Rick Adelman just there for the paycheck? Is Ricky Rubio the thief who hot-wires the engine? Is Kevin Love going to become a go-to scorer when his team needs a bucket? Are they going to rely on Beas? Will Derrick Williams' meteoric rise in college continue in the NBA? First time in a long time the Wolves could matter for good reasons.
Brendan Jackson, Celtics Hub: Actually having a season that starts in 2011. Let's face it, this lockout has been awful for everyone -- fans, players and the NBA. The casual fan is getting more into hockey and still knee-deep in football. The diehard fans' eyes are falling out over terms like BRI and guaranteed contracts. The players are finding more and more excuses to play for free. And the NBA is looking bad and disorganized. A season will cure all ailments.
Beckley Mason, HoopSpeak: The West, all of it. Not only is the quality of basketball superb in this conference, but watching how the Lakers adjust under Mike Brown, whether the Mavericks can maintain their mojo, and finding out whether the Thunder and Grizzlies are ready to supplant the old guard will all be awesome. Also, we'll get more Blake Griffin and Eric Gordon.
Rob Peterson, Hardwood Paroxysm: I'm looking forward to seeing how LeBron James bounces back from the Finals debacle. He may be the most physically gifted player I've ever seen, but it seemed as if he played some of last season and against the Mavs in a mental fog. Maybe being one year removed from the decision -- ahem, pardon me, "The Decision" -- will provide enough space for him to just play basketball.