Playing the What If Game
I thought it would be fun if we played around with a hypothetical view of what might happen in the NBA this season. There are so many things that people take for granted and just assume are givens, but what if everything doesn’t go according to plan? What if Kobe goes down in the first game of the season and suddenly the Lakers aren’t Championship favorites? I’ll go through a few of my favorite what ifs and then try to explain what would happen to the rest of the league if this was to take place.
#1: What if Boston is happy with its one Championship and the entire team just starts playing for themselves? What if what everyone feared would happen in the first place happens this season and everyone wants the ball? What if Rondo is suddenly forced to play mediator as the big three becomes a three-headed monster and there isn’t enough ball to go around? What if it deteriorates so bad the sum of the parts does not equal the whole? Who becomes the favorite in the East when Boston suddenly isn’t the team everyone thought they would be? Do Detroit and Cleveland suddenly duke it out for supremacy in the Conference that gets even weaker? Teams in the past who have won a title have magically forgotten to play as a team the next season and fallen off the wayside. Will that happen to Boston?
#2: What if D’Antoni actually works out in New York? What if Stephon Marbury and Eddy Curry magically begin running and gunning and scoring and winning? What if the East isn’t ready for that style of offense and the Knicks surprise everyone? What if Jamaal Crawford suddenly becomes a major scoring threat and Duhon and Robinson become legitimate running guards? It is difficult to tell how players are going to respond to more tempo. Maybe Randolph and Lee and Curry will become rebounding monsters with everyone throwing up shots and be inside for easy putbacks. The Knicks would love to think this is going to happen but they have had plenty of potential and coaching in the past and it has not produced.
#3: What if LeBron just can’t win in the postseason? What if James is just destined to be another one of those great players who has great teams during the regular season and just can’t win the big ones no matter who is around him? We’ve seen it from plenty of players in the past, including players like Karl Malone. It doesn’t mean LeBron is necessarily a bad player but maybe that he just can’t manage to put it all together in the postseason. Cleveland is one of the trendy picks to come out of the East this year, but what if Bron Bron just can’t win when it matters? Will he be traded away or will they just attempt to bring in yet another "star" to push him to the limit? I’m sure the NBA and millions of fans would love to see James succeed, but maybe it just isn’t meant to be.
#4: What if Andrew Bynum isn’t the answer the Lakers need? What if Bynum comes back from his injury and doesn’t magically turn into Shaq or even a player worth the huge contract they just signed him to? Maybe Andrew Bynum isn’t the next greatest superstar and suddenly Kobe is stuck with yet another overpriced and overrated talent (see Kwame Brown). Maybe the Lakers won’t be as good as they were last season and teams will be ready for Odom and Gasol. I know they’re the favorites in the West, but it’s certainly not a guarantee. The West is getting better and Bryant may start wearing down. Or maybe Bynum turns into another Amare Stoudamire and just can’t ever pull himself out of injury trouble despite showing major flashes of brilliance. There is no guarantee Bynum will play more than 10 games this season and no guarantee he will be worth the money.
#5: What if youth starts to prevail in the West? What if suddenly upstart young teams like the Jazz, Hornets, Grizzlies and Trailblazers suddenly catch fire and start winning? What if they gain the confidence to take on the heavy hitters and actually do? What if we’re not talking about players like Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan but Greg Oden and Mike Conley? What if all the stars we thought were going to play well are past their primes and suddenly the league is being turned over to a new set of superstars? Eventually there became a time when Michael Jordan and Patrick Ewing and Alonzo Mourning and Hakeem Olajuwan had to move on and let the new breed take over. Maybe this is that year.
#6: What if Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson figure it out and make Denver a great team? No one is giving the Nuggets any credit (including me), but what if they pull it together and suddenly George Karl’s got himself a team? Maybe the Nuggets will prove everyone wrong and Iverson will be the leader and superstar he was in Philly. Denver could magically become the team to beat in the West and start giving other teams fits that no one ever dreamed they would. Maybe Nene will become the player so many teams though he would and finally stay off the IR and on the court. Maybe Kenyon Martin will wake up and be the player everyone feared in college and New Jersey. They have plenty of scoring options, but can everyone work together and make this team win?
#7: What if Ron Artest makes Houston a contender? Obviously this is a what if I’m banking on with my predictions, and one that someone makes every single year, but what if Artest finally snaps out of his funk and stays on the court enough to be an All Star this season? What if he learns to play with Yao and McGrady and the Rockets get a major steal? What if Artest and McGrady and Yao become unstoppable and everyone forgets about what a head case Artest had been? Maybe McGrady or Yao or Artest could be an MVP candidate. Maybe Houston really will be the team to beat this season, and everyone will be wondering why they never gave Artest any credit in the first place…although at this point in his career I’m not sure there will ever be a time in which people will forget why they refuse to give him any credit…
Well, that was fun, my little preseason version of the What If Game. Let me know if you think any of these what if’s are even possible or if I’m just way out in left field. Anything could happen, right?