Out of Bounds with Jason Riley

I’m giddy thinking about the start of the NBA season tomorrow. Here are 9 headlines/observations/predictions I expect to see this year:

Ron Artest vs. Rasheed Wallace.

Has anyone else stopped to think about this matchup?

The Lakers and the Celtics.
The two premier franchises in the NBA.
The last two NBA Champions.
The two favorites to get to the NBA Finals.

And, introducing for the ’09-’10 season… The two craziest NBA athletes of this decade.

sheedartRon Artest Crazy vs. Rasheed Wallace Crazy.

Could there possibly be a better subplot to this rivalry? Somewhere in the world, David Stern is having a night terror dreaming about what could happen if Ron and Rasheed got heated at the same time. Riots? Blood? Fire? Death? There is no cap on the possibilities here. This story is as intriguing to me as any story in the NBA this season.

Let me just say this: There’s no way this goes smoothly for both teams…

Avoiding The Ghosts of Champions’ Past.

The Basketball Health god’s have been rather unkind to defending champions this decade. Injuries have derailed just about every single repeat bid since the Lakers last accomplished it in ’02-’03.

The ’08-’09 Boston Celtics lost their best player, Kevin Garnett, for the entire postseason. Would they have beaten Orlando in the Semi’s? Probably. Would they have beaten the Cavs in the Conference Finals? Maybe. Would they have beaten the Lakers in the Finals? I would like to think we would have taken care of business, but we’ll never know…

The ’07-’08 San Antonio Spurs had to face the red-hot Lakers’ in the Western Conference Finals with a stiff and limping Manu Ginnobli; and the ’06-’07 Miami Heat lost D-Wade and Shaq for a combined 73 games due to an array of injuries. Hell, even the ’04-’05 Pistons title defense was partially derailed with Larry Brown’s lingering health concerns and resulting leave of absence.

The Lakers last shot at a title defense was in ’03-’04 when, fresh off a 3-peat, they got hammered by the Pistons in the Finals. Of course, we all callously remember the Shaq/Kobe/Phil triangle of teeny-bop drama, but we can’t forget that Karl Malone was hobbling around on one leg during the latter part of that postseason. You could make the argument that even the dysfunctional Lakers’ of that season would have brought home the trophy if Karl Malone was 100%.

A rejuvenated and rested Kobe is not the story of the season. Neither is the acquisition of Ron Artest, the development of Andrew Bynum or the steady contribution of Pau Gasol. If history has taught us anything, it’s that health will be the story of this season.

Kobe Bryant’s Quest for His Second MVP Award.

Did you see Kobe in the pre-season? This should give you a pretty good idea:

John Ireland: Physically, how do you feel?
Kobe: I feel like I’m 26 again.

Imagine if Jason Voorhes worked out with Usain Bolt for a summer; that’s how scary Kobe looks. Let’s say the Lakers win 60+ games, Ron Artest stays under control and Kobe puts up 27/5/5. Can you have a better MVP resume than that? That makes him the best player on the best team with the added leadership credit for keeping Risky Project X (Mr. Artest) from imploding. Throw in half a dozen 40+ point games and a few buzzer beaters, and not even the Lebron Sports Network(s) can deny him the award.

You think he doesn’t hear his critics chatting about the wear and tear on his legs? That he can’t successfully co-exist with Ron Artest? That he would have lost again to the Celtics had KG been healthy? That Lebron and Shaq are too much stacked against him? This is Kobe’s Eff You Season and I’m going on record and saying he wins his second MVP.

D-Wade’s Looming Exile from the Miami Heat.

What does D-Wade see in the huddle? A walking knee brace (Jermaine O’Neal), a pair of second year players who can’t get their personal lives in order (Beasley, Chalmers), a way overpaid role player (Haslem) and a stadium that has more empty seats than a Lady Gaga Lingerie Show. Miami lost out on every free agent they went after (Odom, Rasheed, Vince) and settled for a slightly overweight Quentin Richardson. If your big summer acquisition is a 10/4 guy who hasn’t had a good season since 2005, things aren’t looking good.

Kobe was in a similar spot following the ’06-’07 season when he strategically chastised the Lakers organization. Mitch countered by committing grand larceny in Memphis and so far it’s been happily ever after. I don’t see any flicker of hope for something similar in Miami. Eight of their first ten games are at home; when they start the season 3-7, we’re going to start hearing D-Wade free agency predictions. By the All-Star break, Wade will be piling up DNP’s and trying to decide if he likes New York or Orlando better.

Khlamar Odom and the Reality TV Lake Show.

Forget that it’s Lamar Odom and Khloe Kardashian for a minute.

You’re at a party with your somewhat unstable buddy. We all know that guy, right? He’s had a few drinks and he’s in that hit on every chick in sight stage. He starts talking to this kind of fat chick and before you know it, they’re in a cab on the way back to his place. You spend the next week trying to get a hold of him, but he’s not answering his phone. When he finally picks up, you have this conversation:

You: Where have you been?
Buddy: Sorry bro, things have been pretty crazy.
You: You alright? Last time I saw you, you were talking to that fat chick from the club.
Buddy: Yeah, about that…
You: What? Was she a man? Did she try to eat you?
Buddy: We’re getting married bro.

Is there any chance in hell that story has a good ending? Add in the fact that your buddy plays for the Lakers and the fat chick is a reality TV star. Just for fun, let’s pretend that the prenup agreement took 5 weeks, a whole week longer than Lamar and Khloe had even known each other. Oh, wait, that really happened?

I’m 99.9% certain that Phil Jackson’s next book with be called The Lake Show.

The Forthcoming Implosion of the Denver Nuggets.

Last season, everything went as planned for the Nuggets. Melo stopped eating pre-game Twinkies. J.R. Smith didn’t kill anyone (that we know of). The Birdman kicked his cocaine addiction (but still struggled with anorexia). Kenyon Martin left his array of concealed weapons in the locker room. Billups had his first Eff You Season. Nene posted career highs and avoided the training room table.

Each of these western conference teams improved in the off-season: Lakers, Spurs, Mavs, Blazers, Clippers and Suns. On paper, the Nuggets should compete for the Western Conference. On the court, there’s no way everything holds together the way it did for them last season. Every year, there’s that one team that completely fails all expectations. The Nuggets will be that team this season. Here are two reasons why:

(1) You’re asking 4 bad character guys (Smith, Birdman, K-Mart, Melo) to stay cool for a second consecutive season. Ashlee Simpson has a better chance of landing an Emmy for her work on Melrose Place.

(2) Check out how George Karl has followed up his five best coaching years: (Via Bill Simmons)

1987 Warriors: 42-40, Lost in the second round.
1988 Warriors: 16-48, Fired.

1993 Sonics: 55-27, Lost G7 of the WCF.
1994 Sonics: 63-19, Lost in the first round to No. 8 seed (first time ever).

1996 Sonics: 64-18, Lost in NBA Finals.
1997 Sonics: 57-25, Lost in second round.

2000 Bucks: 52-30, Lost Game 7 of ECF.
2001 Bucks: 41-41, Missed playoffs.

2009 Nuggets: 54-28, lost in WCF.
2010 Nuggets: ???????

Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid… Of the Orlando Magic.

Check out this lineup:

G – Jameer Nelson
G – Vince Carter
F – Rashard Lewis
F – Pietrus/Bass/Andersen/Barnes
C – Dwight Howard

Nelson is healthy. Howard is only going to get better. There’s no pressure on Vince to be the superstar. They were 8-0 in the pre-season and had the Liam Neeson in Taken look on their faces. If Orlando had a coach with even a minimum number of brain cells living in his head, they would be the favorites to win the East, and maybe the NBA Championship. Still, even with Van Genius calling the shots, it’s hard to argue against the Magic being right there in the end.

I’ll say this: They scare me more than Boston and Cleveland.

Shaq’s Inability to Play Robin to Lebrons’ Batman.

Shaq + Penny = Shaq leaves on bad terms.
Shaq + Kobe = Shaq leaves on bad terms.
Shaq + Wade = Shaq leaves on bad terms.
Shaq + Nash = Shaq leaves on bad terms.

Why do we think it will somehow be different with Lebron?

I don’t.

Kevin Garnett and the Boston Celtics.

Rajon Rondo looks like he worked out with this guy during the off-season. Doc Rivers might want to watch out with all the jabs he’s thrown Rondo’s way during training camp. Aside from Rondo improving during the summer, the Boston Celtics have a huge question mark hanging over their heads.

Is Kevin Garnett really healthy? Can Rasheed Wallace keep it under control? Is this the year Allen and Pierce start to show their age? Was last year a one-season-wonder for Big Baby?

Fortunately for Boston, the Eastern Conference looks about as strong as UCLA’s football program. The Celtics will have no problem padding their record, having the luxury of playing the Bucks, Knicks, Nets, Pacers, Wizards and Bobcats at-least three times this year. They will be tested by Orlando and Cleveland in the East, but the real story of their season will be how well KG comes back from his injury.

Boston probably has the widest distance between the ceiling and the basement than any team in the league.

Ceiling: The NBA Title.
KG’s healthy, Pierce & Allen don’t lose anything as the season wears on, Rondo & Doc quietly co-exist, Rasheed doesn’t become a cancer.

Basement: An early exit from the playoffs.
KG’s not healthy; Pierce & Allen show their age, Doc destroys Rondo’s confidence; Rasheed goes on a killing spree.

I don’t see them getting by a healthy Orlando Magic team, and I think Cleveland has the ability to give them fits in a seven game series. No matter how it plays out, the championship window is rapidly closing on the Boston Celtics…

T-24 hours to the Ring Ceremony. I couldn’t possibly be more ready…

[See more from Jason Riley by visiting his blog and following him on Twitter]

  • pauu

    Awesome Breakdown! I was waiting for an article like this.

  • Marcus

    Riley’s in a league of his own, good sh*&.

  • lkrfan4life

    Excellent article. Very good points, and unlike most articles posted on here, I agree with pretty much everything said. I especially agree with point number one. Let’s all hope and pray this team stays healthy this year!

    • lkrfan4life

      Point number 2, rather…

  • http://www.ld2k.com Chris Manning

    This is an amazing article. Jason, great (bleeping) job man.

  • Lakers 24 7

    Actually, the Lakers didn’t defend the title in 03-04! The year before they were knocked out in the semis.

  • Sean All Ivy

    I think that Ron and Rasheed are going to play it cool this year because they are both new guys on veteran championship teams and will be policed by future hall of fame team captains. They both also know that they are under the microscope so they won’t be acting up.

    As for the Magic. If you saw any of their games last year it appeared that a lot of their offense was run through Hedo. If he wasn’t hitting sick jumpers he was either dribbble driving to score or dish it to to an open Dwight or Rashard. Also, he commanded a lot more double teams on the perimeter/ wings than anyone else on that squad. I see them losing a lot of their offensive swagger without him.

    Also, I don’t think the Wade situation is that simple. The Heat can offer him more money than any other team can because of the free agent retention rules of the NBA and if he gets assurances from Riley that things will change personnel wise, with the shrinking salary cap league wide, I see him staying in Miami.

  • http://LakersNation Marwan

    Great article let me give you that.

    Now this is going out to everyone. Why do you guys keep implying that Artest is crazy and the same lunatic from the brawl. Don’t you think he realised what he did was wrong 2 games into the 76 game suspension? He doesn’t even fight anymore, and that Kobe incident isn’t really much, just trying to outdo Kobe, the way others wont do it and surprisingly, Artest’s way seems to work. Others just put a hand up but Artest plays the physical defense others are to scared to play.

    So leave the whole ‘Artest is crazy’ issue and ‘he will spark another fight’. Let that go, he proved he can handle himself, and I’m pretty sure he is too hungry for a championship to go hit a guy in the 4th row.

    • WifelovesLuke

      Completely agree with you on all this “Crazy Artest” crap. Have any of the so-called experts watched any of the pre season Laker games? Ron has plugged into the Triangle right where Ariza left off. I had no idea he was such a good passer. And we get his defense and offense? Man, what an upgrade.

      Enough with the “Crazy” label!!!!

  • Short Dog

    Man-Every single one of these teams are D-league status. It’s Lakers all the way. Get the grill and the beer man because it will be a walk in the park. Lakers #1 Bottom Line.

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  • Albuquerque Laker Fan

    Artest is still crazy. Maybe not incite a riot crazy anymore, but still crazy.

    I read a B. Simmons article this past summer describing an incident where Artest missed the team bus to the arena and he ended up running out of the hotel in only his boxers and catching a ride with the team executives and staff. More recently about him sitting in with the TMZ staff on TV.

    I think at this point I am (and others are) just concerned that he might pull !*#! that is more of a distraction from the team.

    That being said, my fingers are crossed that he focuses on playing D, staying within the Tex-angle, and hope his shot starts dropping.

    So far so good….