In case you missed it, this NBA regular season is REALLY close to its conclusion. That’s right. Believe it or not, there are only 15 days until the playoffs start. Sneaks up on you, doesn’t it? Once April 20th hits, basketball fans will only care about who wins 16 games first. That’s all that matters. But let’s be real, the regular season isn’t just a five and a half month waste of time. It’s a five and a half month odyssey that produces a bulk of storylines and a fair amount of winners and losers of its own before we even get to the winning and losing that casual fans will remember.
In case you missed it, I’m not a casual fan. I’m weird. I’m a certified basketball nerd who follows the NBA like it’s my religion, and this benefits my life in no specific way whatsoever, other than allowing me to discuss the winners and losers of the NBA regular season with close to complete confidence in what I’m saying. On that note…
WINNER: LeBron James
We might as well get the most obvious winner of the season out of the way right off the bat. I’m keeping this section short since next week I’ll breaking down my extended MVP ballot, and a large part of that will consist of semi-biased, although completely warranted gushing about the greatest overall basketball player in the last decade or so, who happens to be in the midst of perhaps his finest season of his career. Just know that if the Heat close this season out with a title (still a while down the road, but it doesn’t seem totally out of the question to assume it might happen), LeBron will take a major leap forward in the “Greatest of All-Time” discussion thanks to back to back titles, and a regular season for the ages.
LOSER: Dwyane Wade
You’re probably wondering why Dwyane Wade would be considered a loser of this season, when conventional standards wouldn’t justify that at all. He has been a vital part of the best team in the Eastern Conference, put up extremely good numbers all year long, and could very well end up a top 25 player ever by the end of his career… but nobody is noticing. Dwyane Wade is making just a tad over $17 million this season playing in the sunshine state, but doesn’t need to spend a single penny on sunscreen… you know, because he’s spending so much time in LeBron James’ shadow. Word play at its very finest. Speaking of guys being in LeBron’s shadow…
LOSER: Kevin Durant
28 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, 50-40-90 club… and he’s a distant second in the MVP race. No need for sunscreen in Oklahoma City either.
WINNER: Erik Spoelstra
30 years ago it was a common belief that you needed a dominant big man to win a title in the NBA. Today, the best team in the NBA puts five players around the perimeter, plays without a center, and posts up their shooting guard and small forward more than their power forwards and centers. Erik Spoelstra could be called a basketball innovator. And to think he was one loss away from being fired last spring until LeBron walked into the TD Garden and killed the Celtics.
LOSER: Fired Coaches
Happy trails to Mike Brown, Avery Johnson, Alvin Gentry, and Scott Skiles, who were all relieved of their duties within the season, even though three of their respective teams will probably end up in the playoffs. The bright side for Mike Brown and Avery Johnson is they have ESPN experience. The bright side for all four guys is there will surely be teams that would be more than willing to hire any of them within the next couple of years, because some teams are just that desperate.
WINNER: Dwight Howard
Congratulations Dwight! You’ve come a long way, and it surely has been a bumpy road, but you’re no longer the biggest diva and piece of crap in the NBA. That title belongs to Andrew Bynum/Frederick Douglass/Pete Weber, or whoever he wants to pretend to be. I’ve already gone out on a limb on Twitter, and I’ll say it again here so everybody knows that I mean business; I don’t think Andrew Bynum will ever play another game in the NBA again… in part because of two chronically bad knees, but also because he does stupid things like going bowling while he is rehabbing said bad knees. So let me raise the question, who lucks out more than Dwight in this situation? Nobody! His biggest competition at the center position in the league has chronically bad knees, and a beyond questionable motor and desire to play basketball for a living.
LOSER: Philadelphia 76ers
Let’s break this down: On August 10th Philadelphia traded away Andre Iguodala, Nikola Vucevic and Mo Harkless, and in return got Andrew Bynum and Jason Richardson. Andrew Bynum was coming off his best season, Jason Richardson would seemingly be a nice complementary piece to the Bynum/Holiday duo, Andre Iguodala needed a change of scenery, and nobody even knew who Nikola Vucevic and Mo Harkless were. All the way around, that trade made sense on paper, especially since Philadelphia wasn’t going to contend for the title with the team they had in place. But the funny thing is, NBA games aren’t played on paper. On paper we didn’t take into account that chances were, Andrew Bynum wasn’t going to be able to play a full season, or even one game. On paper it didn’t necessarily say that Jason Richardson was past his prime, and would only play 33 games himself. That paper certainly didn’t say that Nikola Vucevic was going to be a double-double machine. All that metaphorical paper said was Philadelphia could challenge in the Eastern Conference because of this trade. Not quite.
WINNER: Houston Rockets
Here is an example of a trade that did work out exactly how it looked like it should on paper. When Oklahoma City and James Harden couldn’t come to terms on a contract extension before the season started, Houston was more than willing to ship over whoever they needed to in order to bring in James Harden, his massive beard, and his potential to be one of the ten best players in the league. You could say that both teams won this trade: Oklahoma City has the 2nd best record in the Western Conference, Kevin Martin has had a nice season coming in off the bench, and the Thunder don’t need to worry about giving a third player a max contract. But let’s be real, if this trade doesn’t go down Houston wouldn’t be close to sniffing the playoffs even if the playoffs were covered in Icy Hot, and Oklahoma City’s upside could only be higher than it is right now.
LOSER: Danny Granger
If Danny Granger was a lost puppy and the Pacers were his owner, would they have already taken down the posters they put up around town, or would they leave them up for a while? If I had to guess, I’d say they took them down and already found a new puppy (Paul George).
Come on, I had to show some love for my school somewhere on The Skyhook. The Florida Gulf Coast University Eagles improbable run to the Sweet Sixteen prompted a whole bunch of school spirit, more bandwagon fans than you could imagine, the unofficial renaming of Fort Myers to Dunk City, and even a very well-received piece on what it’s like to be a student at FGCUas our basketball program ascends. Check it out!
LOSER: Father Time
Father Time is undefeated, and will remain undefeated for the rest of eternity unless we find the spring water that the people were drinking in Tuck Everlasting or everybody goes to Germany like Kobe did. But this year Pops Time took a nasty right hook to the jaw in the form of great seasons from Kobe Bryant (27 points, 5.5 rebounds, 6 assists, 46% shooting, 17th season) and Tim Duncan (17.4 points, 10 rebounds, 2.6 blocks, 50% shooting, 16th season), a very good season from Paul Pierce (18.8 points, 6.5 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 43% shooting, 15th season), good seasons from Dirk Nowitzki (17.3 points, 6.9 rebounds, 48% shooting, 15th season), Kevin Garnett (14.9 points, 7.8 rebounds, 49% shooting, 18th season), and Ray Allen (10.8 points, 46% shooting, 17th season), and varying contributions from Vince Carter, Jason Kidd, Jason Terry, Andre Miller, Antawn Jamison, and Steve Nash, all of whom are at least 35 years old.
WINNER: Western Conference
A lot is at stake during the next week and a half in the NBA. Imagine this: If the Lakers manage to sneak into that 8 seed in the Western Conference (my personal belief is they will), we could potentially be treated with seven straight Western Conference playoff series’ that at the very least will be legitimately interesting from a hype standpoint. Just check out the 1st round matchups and imagine the possibilities of where this wild ride could lead us:
Spurs/Lakers: One last Duncan/Kobe battle. Sign me up as many times as possible. If you can only sign up once, I’ll use aliases.
Clippers/Grizzlies: Rematch of the 7 game 1st round series they played last year that saw the Clippers prevailing on the road in game seven.
Nuggets/Warriors: Two very fast, young, and talented teams + Stephen Curry = A playoff series I would thoroughly enjoy watching.
Thunder/Rockets: This has to happen. If there is such a thing as basketball Gods (I believe that there is), they will make sure James Harden plays the Thunder, and delivers at least one “Screw You Guys, I’m The Best Guy Out Here” performances.
LOSER: Eastern Conference
A legitimate question that was posed in a podcast I recently held with my cousin and a friend of mine from New York: If the Eastern Conference put together a team of All-Stars (all players must be healthy right now), could they beat Miami in a seven game series? Common sense would say yes, with the amount of depth they could put on that roster, even with guys like Rajon Rondo, Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Anderson Varejao, Danny Granger not available, they should win… but the fact that all three of us has to think pretty hard about it shows how far ahead of everyone else in the Eastern Conference Miami is.
The NBA will always be the ultimate winner at the end of the day. We all watch it, we all speculate about it, and we all love it… no matter how things go down during the season.