Posted Oct 6 2009 10:12AM
Thanks to Twitter, UStream, reality shows, marriages to reality stars, documentaries about global icons, Ron Artest tributes to Michael Jackson and a post-Finals June and July full of blockbuster trades and free agent signings/defections, the 2009 offseason has to rank as the least interminable in recent memory. I can't front, though; I'm ready to watch some professional hoops again. I love the NFL, but that's just Sunday and Monday. What about Tuesday through Saturday? Welcome back, NBA.
With this being the first week full of actual games, it's time to start paying at least a little attention to what's happening on the court. The NBA preseason falls somewhere between baseball's spring training and the NFL preseason on the importance scale. So, although you'll see more of, say, LeBron this month than you will Drew Brees in a middling NFL preseason game in August, this is still a tuneup. Still, there are a few things I'm going to be eyeing for the next three weeks.
Is KG limping ... at all? A lot of Celtics fans went into near cardiac arrest after watching footage of Kevin Garnett "limping" off the practice court last week. Doc Rivers said there's nothing to worry about, that it was just the normal gait of a stiff athlete at the end of a practice. I believe him, but I'm gonna be watching KG closely. It doesn't matter if Rajon Rondo keeps up his "New Millennium Fat Lever" thing or if Rasheed Wallace behaves and plays with some renewed commitment and zeal. Orlando, Cleveland and Atlanta all got bigger -- Boston needs a healthy KG to get out of a deepening East.
Is A.I. actively taking on a vocal leadership role with the young Grizzlies? Days before Allen Iverson officially signed with the Grizzlies, he tweeted about looking forward to playing with a young squad and "leading by example." The leading by example thing is cool -- if you're on the Spurs, Celtics or one of the other veteran-laden squads in the league. But I want to see if A.I. takes on a vocal role with this young Memphis team. A.I. was one of the most fiery guys of his era and I wonder if that will translate into a lot of disciplining on the court. He can't play on an island. I've said it before, but that can truly be the area where Iverson can have the greatest impact.
Is Gil passing the ball? Is he playing point guard? I want to see a few 40- and 50-point games from Gilbert Arenas. Not too many cats can score with the dynamism that Gil can. But the Wizards will only contend if Gil plays more like Chauncey Billups. Pick your spots, feed your weapons, run your squad.
Does Duncan look fresh? It came right from the thoroughbred's mouth. Duncan told ESPN's Marc Stein that his window is closing and he's at the end of his career. But how much does he have left? It'll be interesting to see what Duncan looks like after four months off. The big-man decline is a precipitous one. Will Duncan look refreshed or that much older?
Does Ron-Ron Look Comfortable? Ron Artest can go one of three ways this season. He can go hog-wild-crazy and be a complete loose cannon. He can play/behave passively, overcompensating for what he knows to be his reputation and a skeptical expectation that he's going to mess with the Laker chemistry. Or he can find a happy median. Ron-Ron doesn't do the "happy median" thing too well, but here's to hoping that he blends in seamlessly. And, if he has to go one of the extremes, I'm picking the "complete loose cannon."
How much will we see the Monta Ellis/Stephen Curry backcourt? Well, we didn't see them on the court together at all during their first preseason game. Don Nelson said that's going to change. When he decides to go with the small backcourt, it'll be very intriguing. This summer, Ellis said he doesn't think the backcourt will work. "You can't put two small guys out there and try to play the 1 and the 2 when you've got big 2 guards in the league. You just can't do it," said Ellis. "OK, yes, we're going to move up and down fast, but eventually the game is going to slow down." Uhhh, not if Nellie has anything to say about it.
Is Baron in better spirits? This time last year, I was writing a feature on Baron Davis as the new Clipper. He was optimistic, but not everything was sweet. He was dealing with an injured finger and some of the frustration with the Elton Brand situation was still visible. Then the season happened and things soured quickly. Toward the end of the season, Baron was chanting a "can't wait for next season" mantra like he was under hypnosis. Well, it's here now. Is everything copacetic?
Is Shaq getting in LeBron's way? LeBron got to the line almost 10 times per game last season. No one is a bigger threat barreling to the hole than Bron is. But now there will be a big 350-lb behemoth planted in the paint. Shaq is different than Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Big Z can knock down a 20-footer -- Shaq can't. I'm going to be watching to see if that affects LeBron's game. Will LeBron blow by some lame on the perimeter, rocket into the lane and run into Shaq and the big statue guarding him?
Vincent Thomas writes "The Commish" column for SLAM Magazine and is a contributing commentator for ESPN. His column appears weekly on NBA.com. Vince invites you to email him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter.
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