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The NBA Season

In Stride

NBA fans should be loving the game right now as the season starts to come into clearer focus; trades which will shape the rest of the season are being done as I write. But coming out of the All-Star break I want to talk about the remaking of the league now taking place.

No Boston, LA or New York
The traditional media centers and favorites are not in any position to compete for a championship this year. On the other hand, Miami, Seattle, Phoenix, and Houston -- none were upper echelon teams last year -- each boast of why they will be champs come June. Of course the two heavyweights, San Antonio and Detroit, have to be considered favorites. But back to the four teams who have turned it around:

Miami had to be, and was, considered a favorite the day they got Shaq. No surprise there, but we wouldn't have been surprised if it hadn't turned out well for Miami either. Now with Alonzo Morning coming on board, and the super talent of Dwayne Wade, Miami will be tough come playoff time.

Houston made a blockbuster trade when they shipped everyone out of town for the talented malcontent, Tracy McGrady. TMac was that superstar nobody wants; a whiner who basically gives up on his team and fans. Luckily for him Orlando gave him a one-way ticket right into the arms of a solid organization with a quality big man. In kind, McGrady has put in his best season averaging 25, 6 and 6 on his way to a possible MVP.

Although I haven't seen many Seattle games this year, I can see how they handle most teams with precision passing and sweet outside shooting. Ray Allen is another MVP candidate who has come up big not just on the stat sheet, but also in leadership in deferring to the ever expanding game of Rashard Lewis. Seattle has to be this year's surprise team.

Phoenix is the other team that didn't do anything last year but has blossomed with the free agent signing of Steve Nash and the incredibly improving game of Amare Stoudemire. With a good floor general and a dominant big man to go along with the type of athletes (Joe Johnson, Shawn Marion) the Suns have, it's no wonder they average over 110-points a game. The big question has to be: will this game translate in the playoffs?

Changing of the Guard
Iverson is leading the league in scoring and Kobe, TMac, KG, and TD have been their usual superstar selves once again, but there are some different names becoming what I would call All-NBA types of players. Jermaine O'Neal and Dirk Nowitzki were on the cusp but now are dominating stars. But look at Amarae Stoudemire, Dwyane Wade, Ray Allen, Gilbert Arenas, and LeBron James. The top players are still there, but young stars are right there with them as well. The two players in that group who intrigue me most are LeBron and Amare. These two super hoopsters look like they can actually surpass the Kobes and KGs in areas that might just net them Championships in the near future.

What LeBron brings to his game is a real hybrid of Magic and Jordan; the young man has that much ability. Where Kobe or McGrady seem too anxious to carry the load with their offensive games, James seems to understand most importantly what his team needs; scoring, passing, defense. It doesn't matter to him. Enough has been said about the young man. Let's just marvel and soak it up.

On the other hand, Amare is seen as a more limited player than James, but when your limitation is putting the ball in the hoop at a high percentage, not much else matters. Stoudemire's offensive game is such that I would be very surprised if he doesn't score 30 pts./gm next season. He can take you outside, inside, jump over you, put it on the floor. All amazing skills for a young post player, but he still has much to learn. Expect him to just get better and better.

That's it for now. Stay tuned next week for some dialogue about the trades that are throwing kinks into the best thought-out plans of fans, players, pundits and coaches alike.