Our Christmas NBA Roundtable

Rolly and I take stabs at ten pressing concerns in the first part of the 2013-2014 regular season. And, yes, a roundtable implies more than two sets of opinions, but, well, it's kinda hard to get people together for basketball during Christmas. Especially if there's no free food or there aren't any gifts involved. 

1. Best story/surprise of the NBA season so far?
Rolly: The Portland Trailblazers being at the top of the West for most of the season has been impressive! Last year, the Blazers did not make the playoffs and were barely competitive. This year has been a different story. The Blazers have received excellent performances from LaMarcus Aldridge who should be an All-Star and Damian Lillard who is playing better than last year. Both guys are legitimate MVP candidates. 
Enzo: Surprise? I was mighty surprised by Derrick Rose going down again and, again, being unable to play for remainder of the season. I love how the Blazers are just spanking teams left and right and how the Pacers are lording it over the East, but I still cannot get over the fact Rose, who's supposed to be the quintessential heroic good guy role model, will have to sit out yet another Chicago Bulls campaign. Not the best story, but definitely the best surprise early in the season.

Rolly thinks the Blazers are the best NBA story so far. How about you?
(image from NBA.com)

2. Most disappointing team
R: A tie between the Knicks and Nets who were supposed to compete in the East. Both teams struggled with injuries and their personnel lack chemistry. But since the East sucks, both teams still have a chance to make the playoffs. Maybe the right answer is the Eastern conference has been a disappointment. 
E: I agree. Both NY teams have sucked big time. Their collective performance so far has left almost as bad a taste in the mouth as Miley Cyrus's VMA performance. The Knickerbocker locker room is a mess. The Nets' roster is underperforming, and now saddled with an injury to its best big man. Jason Kidd has resorted to some cheap tricks (hey, hit me). Melo, once again, has shown the world how he's just not a championship-caliber leader. NYC is more than the Big Apple. It's the Big Disappointment.

3. Biggest injury not named Derrick Rose or Brook Lopez
R: Marc Gasol. The Grizzlies are 4-10 since Gasol went down with an injured knee, including the game he hurt himself. They are 3 games behind the 8th spot in the West and Gasol is not expected back until middle of January. 
E: Totally on-point with Gasol, though one might also make a case for Kobe Bryant. Bryant just signed for a lot more checks in the next two years, and, well, his body is just caving in right in front of our eyes. No way KB24 and Lakers are getting #6 in that span of time, unless, well, they get LeBron. But they won't.
4. Who will win the Atlantic Division?
R: The Celtics currently lead the division and Rajon Rondo is expected to back soon. As long as Rondo does not disrupt their chemistry, the Celtics might hold on to the division. The Raptors are right there but they might decide to tank soon and start unloading salaries (Lowry, Fields).
E: Pre-Lopez injury, I would've still believed the Nets could make a run, but a big HELL NO right now. On paper, the Knicks should win this, and, honestly, they have more than enough time to go 180 and dominate their division. But will they? Only if Melo wins the scoring title again, or gets close to it. Only if Tyson Chandler becomes a beast on defense again. Only if Andrea Bargnani and JR Smith can make more than they miss. Too many Ifs, but it's possible.

5. Should the NBA re-align the playoffs?
R: YES the league should fix the playoffs where the top 16 teams make it to the postseason regardless of the conference. Why penalize GSW (9th in West, 4th IF in East) for playing in a tougher conference or division? It should work the other way around where GSW should be rewarded with a playoff spot for being a better team than the Bobcats, Wizards, Celtics and Raptors.
E: In this day and age when all teams can afford to take chartered flights, talent is so widespread, and, frankly, depth is skewed in favor (or to the detriment?) of one conference, the NBA can benefit from an ideal postseason set-up where the top 16 teams, regardless of division or conference, will make the play-offs. We can still have 6 divisions to address scheduling concerns and then have the division champs get automatic home-court advantages in the first round. 

6. Which team should tank their season?
R: The Lakers should consider giving up on the season and preserving Kobe for his last 2 years after this season. They are not a playoff team without him and with him, the Lakers performed worse. It might be time to unload Pau Gasol and get something in return. The Nets should also consider tanking. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett might be harder to move due to No-Trade Clauses but guys like Joe Johnson, AK47 and Jason Terry might get them them future assets and draft picks. 
E: I hate the concept of tanking. It defeats the purpose of sports entertainment (why watch when you know one team is playing to lose?), and counters the spirit of competition in general. Having said that, under the guise of strategically increasing one's chances of getting the best talent from the next draft, I would have to choose the Orlando Magic or the Philadelphia 76ers as maybe the season's most "tankable" teams. They have some interesting talent already (Afflalo, Vucevic, and Oladipo for ORL and then MCW, Turner, and Hawes for PHI), and having potential franchise guys like Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins, Dante Exum, Marcus Smart, or Julius Randle should give them the kind of draft-built depth the Portland Trail Blazers currently enjoy.

7. Which player has surprised/impressed you?
R: Eric Bledsoe has never been a starter before playing for the Suns. He has been a major reason why the Suns are in playoff contention in the West. Bledsoe has been very consistent in averaging 19-4-6 on 49% shooting, all career-highs. His partnership with Goran Dragic as the Suns' starting backcourt has been successful so far. 
E: Oh, man, definitely LaMarcus Aldridge. He has always been very good. I mean, he should have been an All-Star as early as 2011, but this year there's a different air about him. He seems more driven not just to put himself among the league's creamiest of the cream, but to put Portland on his back and carry them into the 2014 Playoffs. It's not just the numbers with this kid. He seems to have really matured and grown as a basketball professional.

8. Which one has been a letdown (excluding injuries)? 
R: Pau Gasol is on a contract year and he is the starting center for the Lakers since Dwight is gone. Gasol is struggling shooting at 45% and he is not even leading his team in scoring. Gasol also whined about his touches and role on the Lakers. 
E: I am hating on Deron Williams right now. He should be the leader, the face, of this Brooklyn Nets squad, and, coming into the season with so much depth and star power on his team, he should have been pumped and just torn the competition to shreds. He's averaging fewer points, rebounds, and assists, and shooting worse from the free throw line this season. His overall efficiency is down by more than 5 points. What gives, D-Will?

9. Who is the MVP?
R: Paul George is the MVP as long as the Pacers remain with the best record and stay ahead of Miami. PG24 is 1-1 vs LBJ in 2 games and his defense is a lot better than last year. George is a more complete player too.
E: Still too early, but if the season ended today, I could live with George getting his first MVP. His Pacers are on pace for a 67-win season. He has developed a more consistent outside shot, and, more importantly, he has really blossomed into a big game, crunch time performer. He might not drop 30 every night, but he does so many things so well, and he is maybe the most clutch player in the East right now.

Paul George and the Pacers are on pace for a near-70-win season.
(image by Ryan Hurst/Streetball.com)

10. Can the Heat repeat?
R: Miami struggled vs Indy but managed to even their series. They know what their weakness is and Coach Spo adjusted by playing big. Greg Oden is still a giant wildcard and if he plays, things could get easier for Miami. If they can overcome the Pacers, they will probably 3-peat. 
E: I want to say no, but coach Spo has become the East's version of Gregg Popovich. He knows how to pace his team. He knows how to motivate them. He knows when to pull back and when to push the pedal to the metal. As good and talented a team that Miami is, I give tons of credit to Spo for being able to manage such a potentially volatile situation (read: the two New York teams and last year's Lakers squad) and produce two titles already. It will be tough for Miami, but the Heat are still the title faves in my book (can I barf now?).

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