Do the results matter this early in the NBA season? You tell me if you can remember what was happening this time last year:
1. Who was leading the Pacific Division at the end of the opening month?
(a) Phoenix Suns(b) Golden State Warriors(c) Los Angeles Clippers(d) Los Angeles Lakers(e) Sacramento Kings
The Lakers were 10-5 and a full game ahead of the second-place Kings (who themselves would finish 16 games under .500 and fire coach Eric Musselman). After the Lakers' impressive 26-13 start, their parachute turned inside out with a hard 16-27 landing, and we all know what has become of that.
2. Which coach was likely to be fired last November?
ANSWER: Toronto's Sam Mitchell, a lame duck whose 5-10 Raptors were in last place at the end of the opening month. He went 42-25 the rest of the way, was named Coach of the Year and received an expensive three-year contract from the Raptors.
3. Who was the early favorite to be Coach of the Year?
ANSWER:Brian Hill had Orlando off to a 12-4 start. From there he went 28-38 and was fired after the season.
4. What were the big stories around the league early last season?
(a) The new ball controversy(b) The zero tolerance of refs(c) The Ben Wallace headband incident(d) The Nuggets' "brawl'' in New York(e) All of the above
Let's look at each one of these.
• The new ball was replaced by the old ball, and by the postseason no one was talking about it anymore.
• The referees spent the early part of the season assessing technicals when players scrunched their eyebrows the wrong way, but that hard-line trend had so little staying power that by the end of the season it was official Joey Crawford who was being suspended for mouthing off at Tim Duncan.
• A huge uproar was made of Wallace's attempt at wearing a headband, though it led to nothing apart from the team making an exception to allow Wallace to wear it this season.
• As for the Nuggets-Knicks incident, which was highlighted incessantly on television like new Zapruder footage of the Detroit brawl: While Carmelo Anthony and the Nuggets were dealt a bigger blow in suspensions, the fight itself looks now like a couple of weak punches that precipitated no bigger trend of NBA violence.
5. Which big-name player other than Allen Iverson was certain to be traded by the February 2007 deadline?
(a) Kevin Garnett(b) Jermaine O'Neal(c) Corey Maggette(d) Mike Bibby(e) All of the above
For almost two years it seemed as if Garnett was on the verge of being traded tomorrow, but it wouldn't happen until this past offseason. Let's not get mired in the details: All of those guys were expected to be dealt during the season, and none were. That's why I remain skeptical of an impending trade for Kobe Bryant.
It's true that some important, lasting events will happen early in the season. Somebody valuable may be injured, as Shaquille O'Neal was last November. Some teams -- like Dallas and Detroit, the reigning conference champs of the regular season -- may play strong all season, as did the Utah Jazz last year in their role as surprise contender.
But too much is going to be made of little things this time of year. So much happens early in the season that goes forgotten as the games and months pile upon themselves and the snow falls and the ice thaws and the NBA Finals are played in 90-degree heat. The Pacers looked like a playoff team last December. The Wizards were a sub-.500 lottery team in November, more than two months before coach Eddie Jordan was named coach of the East in the All-Star Game, and four months before their run was snuffed out by season-ending injuries to Caron Butler and Gilbert Arenas. Shaq came back to lead Miami to the division title. And the Spurs, who were 20-6 in late December, had a 13-12 midseason stretch that raised questions that they were too old to win what turned out to be Tim Duncan's fourth championship.
So celebrate the new season. Enjoy the games. But draw few hard conclusions from anything that happens a half year before the outcomes begin to really matter.