Roundtable: 70 wins a possibility?
The Lakers are too young to pull it off. That Bulls team was a highly professional and committed group that focused on the job each night. These Lakers around Kobe Bryant haven't even won a championship yet, so they have too much to learn before they can think of becoming the most dominant team of them all. The Lakers are very impressive and they have the game's best player, but let's wait until February or March and see how healthy they (and their rivals) are before we begin comparing them to the most accomplished teams.
The NBA season is just too long for any team not led by Michael Jordan to win every game night in and night out in the dog days of February and March. We should know this by now. We've seen the Suns, Pistons and Celtics get off to similar red-hot starts in recent years only to fall way short of that magic 70 barrier.
While the Celtics are the class of the East, they have been in a lot of close games early in the season. And the the age of their stars -- Paul Pierce, 31, Kevin Garnett, 32, and Ray Allen, 33 -- makes them susceptible to injury. This season will eventually prove to be more challenging than 2007-2008, when Boston won 66 games.
Put simply, there are more good teams now. Last season, 11 teams won 50 or more. I expect 10 or 11 to do it again this year. Meanwhile, the bottom-feeders are getting better; of the seven teams that lost 56 or more last season, four -- New York, Milwaukee, Miami and Minnesota -- could push toward or past 30 victories. From there, all it takes is the wrong combination of back-to-backs and one semiserious injury to derail a club hoping for 70.
The other part is that teams like the Cavaliers, Raptors and Heat (who are worried about losing Dwyane Wade) have to be more committed than ever about trying to win now. Those three franchises would be ambitious anyway, but over the next two years they must show improvement or else risk losing their biggest asset.
This is a good thing for the league, because it's a demonstration of star players demanding that their teams win. We're likely to see more of this dynamic in the next collective bargaining agreement, when long-term contracts across the board are likely to be shortened and players will enter free agency at a faster rate than before.
So, in that sense, it's probably great for the NBA. David Stern has to be cackling with glee as he rings up the cash register. Do you think all this talk about LeBron is going to hurt the Nets, Knicks and Pistons when it comes to season-ticket or skybox renewals between now and 2010? Besides, these LeBron suitors are not exactly gutting their rosters (at least not yet). They are all poised to stay reasonably competitive while they await 2010.
What's worth noting is that a creative general manager could exploit the misguided ambitions of others. Take Cavs GM Danny Ferry, who has seemingly been given a blank check by owner Dan Gilbert to build a strong talent base around LeBron. Ferry has a big bargaining chip in the expiring contract of Wally Szczerbiak ($13 million). Could Ferry, for instance, peddle Szczerbiak to New Jersey for Vince Carter? With one or two moves, Ferry could position the Cavs for a run at the title -- and appease James at the same time.
While I don't fault McDyess for getting his "cake" and eating it too, it does seem less than fair to the fans in Denver. How about a rule that says any player traded and then waived can sign with any other team
But the bottom line is that the Wizards were 1-10 and needed a change. After more than five years, Jordan's way had run its course and Washington had to try something different. It's no different than what has happened to loads of NBA coaches over the years.