Posted Feb 8 2011 10:28AM
This is the time of year when the NBA gets a second chance to make a first impression, when the gap between the end of football and the start of baseball allows the league to get reacquainted with the casual audience.
Most importantly, it's an opportunity to keep such audience hooked right through the end of June, until the confetti falls and the Lawrence O'Brien trophy rises in some steamy arena. In a sense, basketball season is upon us yet again, ready for the stretch run that features playoff positioning and perhaps the answer to the season's most pressing question: Where's Carmelo Anthony going?
It's easy to gain an audience, though. It's a lot trickier to keep one. That said, here's how the league can stay fresh and interesting for the next four months:
Keep the Spurzzzzzzz from spoiling the fun. Look, nothing against the loyal basketball fans in San Antonio, and the Hall of Fame-worthy coach, and the Big Fundamental and all that. Seriously: Congrats on the fine season so far. But can we all agree to end it in May? Nobody's saying the Spurs aren't worthy of being champions; on the contrary, with oodles of depth and experience, they've got a title twinkle. And that's what's scary, because the ratings in the NBA Finals were flatter than Tim Duncan's free throws whenever the Spurs showed up. Do you want to spend June stifling a yawn? Didn't think so, either. Effective but dreadfully boring, like a Harvard biochemistry lecture, the Spurs own a variety of punches that can put other teams to sleep. They can work over an audience, too.
Strong-arm the Suns into trading Steve Nash. One of the league's most exciting players and endearing figures is drying up in the desert faster than sweat on a sidewalk. What an unnecessary waste. Whatever's left of Nash's skills can help a contender and also bring a two-time MVP closer to that elusive championship. But the Suns want to keep (torture?) Nash beyond the trade deadline, all in the name of chasing the final playoff spot, which is perhaps beyond their fingers, anyway. Nash may not be the problem in Phoenix but, at 37, he sure ain't the solution, either. The Suns say Nash isn't going anywhere, and if they're being honest, what a silly stance for a club going though an overhaul. Yeah, might as well keep Nash around for another year and watch his value drop along with attendance. Nice strategy.
Find out what ate Gilbert Arenas. Has his game vaporized this quickly? Or does he just need more time? Arenas can't shoot (35 percent), defend or give quality minutes right now, and he's running the risk of becoming an expensive bust of Koncakian proportions. If he has anything left, he'd better show it quickly, because the clock is ticking: on the Magic's season and on Dwight Howard's contract. When he was rescued from the Wizards, Arenas was supposed to bring some backcourt depth, scoring and quick defensive hands to a team that needed all three. Nobody's saying Arenas should be playing like it's 2006, but Orlando is one of the five or six teams with national TV appeal. With a projected Orlando rivalry with Miami at stake, the league can't afford the Magic to disappear along with Arenas.
The Cavaliers need to keep losing. Like, every night. That's right, 0-fortherestoftheseason. You tell me what's more interesting, from a publicity standpoint: Seeing the Cavs win a half-dozen meaningless remaining games or lose them all? If last place is inevitable, why not land with a historic splat? At this point, going 0-for is the only way the Cavs will get anyone (even Cleveland) to notice. And if nothing else, the complete collapse will endear them (in a warped way) to the general public. People won't take pity on Cleveland and the Cavs; they'll embrace them, Cubs-like. Plus, the Cavs are blessed with a built-in excuse; they can keep playing the LeBron James card -- which may be dog-eared already from constant wear -- until mid-April. Besides, losing them all will bring out the best of Charles Barkley on game nights. Isn't that alone worth it?
Blake Griffin must stay healthy. Admittedly, it's a massive request for anyone in a Clippers' uniform. And someone who missed all of 2009-10 after knee surgery. But this is a plea to the basketball gods that must be heard, because Griffin saved the first half of the season, whether Andre Miller wants to believe that or not. He made people on the East Coast stay up and watch the Clippers. That's Moses-parting-the-Red-Sea-stuff. He even awakened Baron Davis, another miracle. Quite simply, Griffin is one of a handful of players worth twice the price of admission, and what's really surprising is he plays power forward, a position that usually doesn't defy gravity. Most players his size have gum on their soles and are nothing more than clumsy brutes who bang and rebound. Griffin's got some ballerina in him. A big future, too.
Make sure Amar'e Stoudemire's knees are well oiled. The popular prediction is Stoudemire will soon tire of carrying the bags by early spring and the stress will either cause his lungs or knees to weaken. That would be an obvious setback for the league's largest market, which is enjoying basketball for the first time in a decade. It would help everyone if Stoudemire, who's getting a reasonable 37 minutes a night, remains fresh for the postseason and gives the NBA a solid first-round matchup (Knicks-Magic, perhaps) and good ratings for New York, which has suffered enough already. He's leading the Knicks in points, rebounds and blocks, all of which require effort and energy. For someone with microfracture surgery in his past, health is never guaranteed.
Keep ticking off the Lakers. It's always welcome when the Lakers hear about their shortcomings, how they've lost their edge, how Ron Artest has returned to Planet Ron-Ron, how Kobe shoots too much, etc. And that's just coming from Phil Jackson. What outsiders are saying is far worse. Which means only one thing: It's February and there's nothing else happening in basketball. It's probably best to keep throwing these logs on a smoldering Kobe Bryant, because then we know what's coming in April. For entertainment reasons if nothing else, the league needs the Lakers to enter the postseason with 'tude, so therefore, let's all agree: Don't the Lakers seem tired, ragged and thoroughly finished?
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