By Joe Kotoch
Tis the holiday season and in light of that we at Probasketballdraft.com want to extend to you and yours a happy holidays. This column celebrates the year-end review of basketball. We focus on the good, the bad, and everything in between from 2010.
2010 brought basketball fans everywhere hope that the Kentucky Wildcats returned to national prominence with John Calipari and John Wall. The Wildcats were an under the radar team that coasted to the national spotlight by stringing together wins. Ultimately, John Wall wowed scouts and opposing teams alike with his athleticism and dominance. While the Wildcats fell short of a championship, the program returned to its former glory and Wall became the first pick in the draft. Ironically, Coach Cal has used Wall and Derrick Rose, before him, to create a pipeline for young talent. Currently the Wildcats have two potential lottery picks in the next draft in Brandon Knight and Terrence Jones and more next year with Michael Gilchrest and Marquis Teague.
The Duke Blue Devils became National Champions in 2010 for the fourth time under Coach K. The Blue Devils earned this championship with a ragtag crew of upperclassmen. Suffering minimal losses and gaining significant impact players the Blue Devils are positioned to repeat as National Champions. Coach K and Duke are going through a Renaissance. Due in part to being the head coach of Team USA, Coach K has enhanced his legacy and given Duke a significant recruiting advantage. In addition to creating a pipeline with the Plumlee family, three Plumlees’s in four years all committed to Duke and Austin Rivers, son of Doc, the future is very bright for the Blue Devils. Congratulations are in order for Coach K for passing Dean Smith for second on the all-time wins list, with only Bobby Knight remaining in front of his former protégé. It is very possible that Coach K could tie or surpass Bobby Knight for most wins this season around tournament time.
Moving on to the NBA, the Los Angeles Lakers won back-to-back titles for the seventh time and won their seventeenth title overall, now tied with the Boston Celtics for most titles all-time. The Lakers were the recipients of good news this past summer when Phil Jackson decided to give it one last hurrah and seek his twelfth title and sixth with Kobe Bryant and the Lakers. The Lakers enjoyed a breakthrough season from Pau Gasol, who has emerged as one of the best big men in the post. This emergence coupled with the length of Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom makes the Lakers unique and presents difficulties for other teams attempting to unseat the champs. While the Lakers have been up and down overall this season, there is no doubting the champs have the pieces and experience that will likely make them the hunted all-postseason. Barring an unexpected move by San Antonio or Dallas or the sudden emergence of Oklahoma City it seems as though the Lakers are the only certainty to be playing in the NBA Finals.
The Miami Heat made the headline of the summer by signing LeBron James and Chris Bosh while resigning Dwayne Wade. This coup created an instant super-team that is utterly despised by fans of other teams. There is no doubting the sheer awesomeness of starting James and Wade. The last time two of the three best players in the league were teammates the Los Angeles Lakers three-peated with Shaq and Kobe, before that Jordan and Pippen led the Bulls to a three-peat.
Public Enemy Number One, LeBron James. Has anyone suffered a further fall from grace? Almost instantly James went from one of the most beloved players in the NBA to the most hated. Ending the season in a peculiar way, James was questioned about whether he had quit on the Cavs. Then as his camp prepared for free agency it was announced the Cavs, Heat, Knicks, Nets, Bulls, and Clippers all would be considered. The NBA had never seen a 25 year old superstar, face of the league, and two-time reigning MVP be a free agent and so no one could properly advise James on how to handle the situation. Unfortunately for James his advisors/friends were not prepared to handle the unchartered waters of his free agency. James' camp had more leaks then a sinking ship, each day one of the aforementioned teams was rumored to be close to landing James. Further working against James was the decision by him and his camp to request free airtime from ESPN to announce the choice. The Decision as it was dubbed would be one hour on a Thursday night, at 9:00 p.m. Then, ESPN senior writer and LeBron expert, Chris Broussard reported Miami was the choice. Clevelanders and fans from other teams watched with horror as James uttered the callous words Òtake my talents to South Beach.Ó With those words James ripped the heart out of the city of Cleveland and its fans without as much as a thank you. The venom spewed in James direction on tv, radio, blogs, and other sites paled in comparison to Cavs' owner Dan Gilbert's scathing response in the wee hours of the night where he called out James for his commitment to winning, behavior, and his play. The letter diverted attention for a short time from James' selfishness and focused on Dan Gilbert and those before him who enabled James to do what he did. In fact James would eventually apologize months later and only after Zyndrunas Ilgauskas did so. James' handling of his divorce with Cleveland was riddled with immaturity and in the words of Commissioner Stern Òpoor execution,Ó still James continued to dig himself a deeper whole. Shortly after the Heat held a rally for its ÒBig ThreeÓ James foolishly informed fans he expected to win eight or nine titles with the Heat, nearly impossible considering the ages of the three players. Interestingly enough James still had not stopped putting his foot in his mouth, James would eventually state that Akron is not part of Cleveland and distance himself from the city that loved and embraced him for over seven years. To make matters worse the Heat started the season poorly and due to a lack of cohesion started the season 9-8 but turned it around with a big and inspirational win in Cleveland. Since then the Heat have been rolling and are now one of the top teams in basketball, yet James continues to bury himself by speaking out load. Last week James referenced the need to have contraction in basketball for the good of the game. Even if James astutely told the truth, those words are blasphemous in the eyes of the Players Association, Billy Hunter, and agents. LeBron really said the league should eliminate jobs, then stupidly said Minnesota and the Nets were a few examples of how the contraction could be successful. After a few days James attempted to correct his statement by explaining he didn't know what ÒcontractionÓ meant. Perhaps James hoped that people would accept this response since he had no college education but even those closest to him know it's a lie. James has a tendency to speak off the cuff and not think before speaking. Either way the statement of ignorance or arrogance was not helpful and further damaged James' precious image. Strangely, the Decision was only four-and -a-half months ago yet James continues to make outrageous comments that further hurt his image and damage his ÒQ-RatingÓ. One piece of advice going forward - keep your mouth shut and focus on playing basketball.
Renardo Sidney is a 21-year-old sophomore for the Mississippi State Bulldogs. Playing for the first time in his collegiate career Sidney has put up solid numbers on the court in limited minutes. Blessed with great size (6'10Ó 270 lbs) Sidney would certainly be a target of NBA teams this draft had it not been for his idiotic fight with teammate Elgin Bailey. Prior to this season Sidney was suspended by the NCAA for violating his amateur status because Sidney's father accepted a job with Reebok while Sidney was in high school and moved the family to L.A. Even still Sidney continues to undermine his NBA potential with immature and self-destructive decisions. Most scouts and GMs would not consider another player like Ron Artest circa 2004. Ironically, Sidney is very comparable to Artest both have special qualities and skills coupled with freakish strength but ultimately both make horrible decisions and both have videos of them fighting in the stands. My suggestion to young Renardo find inner peace and only play basketball when you can keep the distracters away from you.
2010 was an alarming year for fans in most cities other then New York, L.A., Miami, and Chicago. Players seemed to skirt rules and collude with one another on where they would play. Additionally, two of top players in the league, who shall remain nameless, appear to be angling to be traded by their respective clubs and hope to land in NYC with the Knicks. Players jockeying to go elsewhere while under contract is offensive to fans and undermines the integrity of the game. This problem can potentially damage the league's image and undermine its successful growth worldwide. No one, especially in today's current climate, want to see twenty-somes forcing their way out of town while being rewarded. At its simplest sports is a game and fans view it as such, even though players and owners recognize it as a business. Going forward the players ought to be careful as they have shaken the hornet's nest and the owners are preparing to break the union's back in CBA negotiations. My suggestion to players enjoy the current system for the remainder of the season because there will be significant rollbacks come the next playing season.
The In between
Certainly 2010 was a special year for basketball as traditional college powerhouses returned to glory but mid-majors also rose to prominence. Butler was a half-court-clank off the rim from winning the title while Northern Iowa upset the top seeded team, Kansas, on route to making the sweet-16.
In the NBA the league has stacked up to have 8 or championship teams, the most in years. The price for this though is that more teams then ever have no shot at a title. With the NBA looming towards a lockout and sweeping CBA changes rumored to be coming the players should enjoy this season because for some it may be their last, for others they may lose the perks or guarantees that they've relied on. Ultimately, fans from all cities want contending teams and if the hard cap is adopted there will be the sort of parody that the NFL enjoys and teams from every city will have realistic shots at wining.
2010 saw the rise of basketball worldwide, especially in China and Turkey where former NBA stars Steve Francis and Allen Iverson have gone to play. It is no coincidence that the players are going anywhere in the world to continue playing. Antoine Walker went bankrupt after making over $100 million in playing contracts during his NBA career. More players have struggled financially then people realize and 2011 will see more players suffer Antoine Walker's fate. So as more washed up stars frolic to play international basketball you may consider whether its truly the love of the game or the need to make money that was the reason for their decision.
Thanks to everyone for reading this article and being a loyal follower and supporter of www.probasketballdraft.com. We wish everyone a very happy New Year and hope for a very successful and healthy 2011.