There is never a good time, for any professional sport to go through a work-stoppage. However there may never have been a worse time for the NBA Lockout to be occurring, now that the Association has re-captured the interest of the casual fan over the last few seasons. Interest started to pick up with the renewal of one of the greatest rivalries in all of pro-sports, the Lakers and the Celtics meeting in the NBA Finals in 2008 and 2010. This past campaign ended another killer championship series as the Dallas Mavericks defeated the Miami Heat; the two teams were pretty much polar opposites. Miami relied on its big three of Wade, James and Bosh, while Dallas played more of a team game, led by NBA Finals MVP Dirk Nowitzki.
The 2011-2012 campaign had the potential of being even more exciting than last year, with just about every franchise in the Association having an intriguing story-line. There are still a whole bunch of Free Agents out there, that are deeper in limbo than their counterparts who are under contract. Even if the NBA ends up having a partial regular season, how strong will the caliber of play be with a limited training camp and no exhibition games?
Need your memory refreshed as to how the clubs stack up at the current time? Let’s breakdown where all 30 teams were heading into the NBA Lockout, as well as how the extended work-stoppage has effected each franchise. In this installment we will dissect the Eastern Conference:
Boston Celtics: How much do the Big Three of Garnett, Allen and Pierce have left in the tank? Has the window of opportunity closed, or will the Celtics be able to make a run if the season takes place? Will Glen Davis and Jeff Green re-sign with Boston, and can they land another man in the middle to share the pivot with Jermaine O’Neal?
New York Knicks: The Knicks were looking forward to getting a full training camp in order to get Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups on the same page as the rest of the club. Head coach Mike D’Antoni wanted to stress defense more this season, and a full training camp would have helped the players on the squad indoctrinate stronger defense into their game plan.
Philadelphia 76ers: Biggest question heading into the off-season for the Sixers was if they would retain or trade talented forward Andre Iguodala. That question still remains as all transactions between teams have been on hold since July 1.
New Jersey Nets: Is Avery Johnson the right coach to get the Nets out of the cellar in the Eastern Conference? Will the team be able to hold onto All-Star guard Deron Williams after this season? Can General Manager Billy King get more talent on the roster to compliment up and coming center Brook Lopez?
Toronto Raptors: After being in the mix for a head coaching position for the last few years, Dwayne Casey finally has his shot as bench boss for the Raptors. Casey will have his work cut out for him, as he tries to turn the Raptors back into being contenders.
Chicago Bulls: To say that the Bulls had an outstanding campaign last season would be a true understatement. Can they improve on what they have accomplished and make it to the NBA Finals? There is no doubt that NBA MVP Derrick Rose is the real deal; however the team still needs a shooting guard and Carlos Boozer has to stay healthy. Can Joakim Noah be a center on a Championship Team?
Indiana Pacers: Interim head coach Frank Vogel gave the Pacers back their self-esteem last season and was rewarded by being given a contract to be the club’s bench boss this summer. Do the Pacers hold onto Danny Granger, who at 28-years-old, is heading into his peak years? Can Roy Hibbert improve on what he did this past season? Will this be Larry Bird’s last season in Indiana?
Milwaukee Bucks: The Bucks took a step backwards last year; injuries were part of the problem, however the squad’s attitude was not as good as in the previous campaign. Andrew Bogut has to prove that he can stay healthy for an entire season, and Brandon Jennings has to get back to the way he played in his rookie year. Will Stephen Jackson prove to be a cancer in the clubhouse for the Bucks?
Detroit Pistons: Brandon Knight was a great pick for the Pistons in last June’s NBA Draft. The drafting of the guard from Kentucky, officially puts an end to the “Rodney Stuckey Era” in Motown, a guard that the team had so much confidence in that they traded All-Star Chauncey Billups to the Denver Nuggets. Most likely the Pistons will team up Knight with Ben Gordon in the starting lineup, hoping that Gordon can recapture some of the magic he had when he played with Derrick Rose for a year with the Bulls. The rest of the roster contains a lot of questions, as well as a lot of players with the same skill-sets.
Cleveland Cavaliers: All hopes in Cleveland are now pinned on Kyrie Irving, to bring the team back the excitement it had during the period when LeBron James was on the club. The team should show improvement, but are most likely still a Lottery team in the upcoming campaign.
Miami Heat: Miami made the NBA Finals, but they fell short of their goal of winning the Title. What lies ahead in year two for Miami? Can they get an adequate center to man the middle while Wade, James and Bosh try to dominate the game? Has Mario Chalmers won back the starting point guard position after playing well in the Post Season? Just how safe is coach Erik Spoelstra; if the Heat get off to a bad start would Pat Riley assume the reins?
Orlando Magic: Being knocked out in the first round of the Playoffs, did not sit well with the Magic or their fan-base; either does the unknown status of center Dwight Howard, who can become a Free Agent at the end of the season. Does this team still have enough to remain among the elite in the Eastern Conference?
Atlanta Hawks: Is point guard Jeff Teague for real; and if he is does that relegate Kirk Hinrich to coming in off the bench? Teague, after playing limited minutes in the regular campaign, took over as a starter when Hinrich was injured for the Playoffs and performed masterfully. Center Al Horford, is just 25-years-old, and gets better every season. The Hawks have stopped surprising their opponents, who realize the talent on the squad.
Charlotte Bobcats: One year after making the NBA Playoffs for the first time in their existence, the Bobcats blew it up as new General Manager Rich Cho decided to rebuild. Charlotte may have gotten the steal of the NBA Draft picking up Kemba Walker as late as they did. Big man Bismack Biyombo’s stock rose extremely quickly last spring, and could prove to be a valuable asset for the team.
Washington Wizards: General Manager Ernie Grunfeld had a good Draft this past June, adding Chris Singleton and Jan Vesely to play along with talented point guard John Wall. Wizards will improve, but likely not enough to make the Post Season.
Next Up: NBA Western Conference