Top Four Storylines of the Young 2008-2009 NBA Season

November 26, 2008

Here are the top 4 storylines of the 2008-2009 NBA season, in no particular order:


The triumph of the U.S. Men’s National Team in China reaffirmed America’s place at the top of the basketball pecking order, and in the process, further re-elevated the prestige of the NBA. On a more existential level, it realigned the basketball universe in its proper order, as the country which produces far and away more basketball talent than any other, indeed could rightfully claim, without any disagreement, that it is truly the best in the sport.

The reasons for the success were numerous – a more serious “tryout” approach, a lengthier training regimen that fostered team chemistry, and a shift in the players’ mentality away from underestimating the opposition. But the three most crucial reasons for the gold were 1) the absence of bad luck, 2) a more veteran roster, and 3) D-Wade.

First, the luck. When Jerry Colangelo and Coach K assembled the roster, they incompetently chose to bring only three bigs – Carlos Boozer, Dwight Howard, and Chris Bosh. Among those three, only Howard was a true 5. Colangelo assumed that Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James would be able to pick up the slack and play at power forward should the need arise. Ultimately, Colangelo wanted a quicker team that could defend against pick and pop plays. As for rebounding, USA Basketball assumed that superior athleticism would make up for any height differential on the inside.

However, during the tournament the U.S. was outrebounded in several games. Fortunately, because of the weak competition, the team did not pay the price.

The other good fortune for the U.S. was that there were no injuries or foul trouble among the bigs. Had Howard or Bosh been unavailable against a tall Spanish front line, the drop off in going to the shorter, and let’s face it, less talented Boozer, would have been problematic. For a nation with more talented bigs than any other, such roster composition is inexcusable. No rebounds, no rings, Jerry.

Second, veteran presence. In 2004, we had teams sagging off a young Richard Jefferson and daring him to shoot a 20-foot jumper. Jefferson apparently lacked the mental toughness to deal with the tactic, got psyched out, and clanged shot after shot. In 2006, the team was composed of a younger CP3, LeBron, and Howard. When times got tough, some of these stars showed a disgraceful deer-in-the-headlights look and failed to deliver. What was needed was a veteran, cold-hearted assassin-type shotmaker, a player in the mold of a Sam Cassell, Nick Van Exel, or Latrell Sprewell, who wouldn’t shy from the big moment. After all, the reason for getting away from the college players in the first place was to bring in a more physically developed, basketball savvy team.

Now fast forward to 2008. ‘Melo and crew were now two years older. A cold-hearted assassin shooter in Kobe Bryant was brought in as well. The effect was dramatic.

Kobe by all accounts had a mediocre tourney. He, more than any other player, forced shots in the offense. But, in the second half against Spain, when the U.S. really needed it, he was THE GUY who delivered time and again in the clutch. So-called MVP runner-up CP3 did comparatively nothing, missing a wide-open 4th quarter three. Deron Williams could not contain any penetration on the defensive end. LeBron made a few hustle plays, but did virtually nothing in the second half. A true go-to-guy was needed on this team, and Kobe filled that role.

Finally, D-Wade. Wade got healthy and played like a man possessed. He was the team’s best and most consistent player by far all tourney long. When Coach K brought him off the bench, he was a one-man wrecking crew on defense. He singlehandedly saved the U.S. in the first half of their final against Spain, then made a clutch fourth quarter three with the game in doubt. He was the team MVP.


The Knicks were a team in chaos last year. Management was at war with the press. Meanwhile, Isaiah Thomas had put together a dysfunctional roster in his role as GM, and then felt compelled to play those ill-fitting parts in his other role as head coach. When the players voted Stephon Marbury off the team, and Isaiah later overruled their vote, Thomas officially lost the respect of the team, and a bad season became that much more worse.

This year things have turned around. Isaiah was sent packing, and Donnie Walsh was brought in to run things. His first big move was to hire cop look-alike Mike D’Antoni.

Unlike Isaiah, D’Antoni did not feel compelled to play all the big-money players on the roster. Marbury didn’t make his top 12 and was frozen out. Enigmatic big man Eddy Curry was informed he would be out of the rotation as well. The decisions worked, the team adopted D’Antoni’s wide-open style, and the Knicks posted a winning record.

Amid these changes, Walsh dropped two more bombshells by trading team leaders Zach Randolph and Jamal Crawford. With those trades, the Knicks put themselves in a position to sign perhaps two max contract free agents in 2010. Regardless of how this season turns out, the Knicks have become relevant for the first time in years.


In the past year, the NBA has encounterd two scandals that could have affected the perception of the league’s transparency. The fact that the games have gone on, and that the public has said a collective “ho hum,” shows the true strength of the league in 2008.

Remember the pre-Stern era of the NBA? Drug accusations. The 1980 Lakers Championship title run being shown on tape delay after prime time?

Now imagine if the Tim Donaghy scandal had occurred back then. Investigative findings which proclaimed Donaghy as the only transgressor would have been viewed as a pure cover-up. Today, those reports are taken at face value. And quite frankly, they should be, given the absolute absurdity of the NBA-conspiracy, rigged-games theory.

More recently, the Mark Cuban insider trading allegations have surfaced. Again, this type of thing would have put a black eye on the league years ago. Not so anymore.

For those too young to remember, the NBA is in a much better place than pre-1984, at least in terms of perception. Yes, Stern can get a little fascist with his dress code. And yes, he has unfortunately taken some of the 80’s physicality out of the modern game. But at least now the games are the story, not the scandals.


The story of the NBA, year in and year out, is: Can the underdog Los Angeles Lakers top the Boston Celtics? Anyone who does not understand this fact, quite simply must be classified as a johnny-come-lately observer to the NBA. This contest between the teams can be abstract (Which team leads the race for most titles), or ideally, more direct (Which team will win head-to-head).

Fortunately, this year it appears we might get another Lakers-Celtics final.

The Lakers have come roaring out of the gate, using their depth and an improved defense to full advantage. The Bynum-Gasol-Radmanovic frontline is functioning well, with Radmanovic spacing the floor. D-Fisher has been steady, and Kobe’s minutes have been reduced significantly to keep him fresh for the postseason.

Meanwhile, the second unit has been a difference maker in most games. Versatile Lamar Odom is the catalyst. Youngsters Jordan Farmar and Trevor Ariza have improved their individual games, and have been very effective off the bench. Barring injury, they should make a repeat finals trip.

Back east, Boston’s Big 3 has been solid as ever. Although stopper James Posey is now in New Orleans, their defense still remains tough as nails. Still, Boston’s road this year could be more difficult with an improved Cleveland in the mix.

Hopefully, the basketball gods will smile upon us and give everyone what they want. No dull, small-market franchises with zero tradition. We need Lakers-Celtics, blood-and-guts, tempers-flaring basketball.

By Mike Elliott
Staff Editor for

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