With Tip-Off 2012-13 a mere week away, we’re looking to an old western classic to come up with some reasons why you should tune in to the new NBA season. This week, we’ll be looking at the best basketball storylines coming into a new year through the lens of a Clint Eastwood classic: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Given their sky-high salaries, we probably could have opted for A Fistful of Dollars or even A Few Dollars More, since they all seem so intent on arguing over CBAs, but with no lockout in sight, we’ll stick to telling you what you need to know. We wrap up today with The Ugly:
James Harden’s Future
No storyline will get uglier this season than the impending free agency of James Harden. OKC is crying wolf, saying no small-market team can afford three max contracts and a talented supporting cast even though evidence to the contrary abounds (San Antonio, Cleveland and Sacramento have all paid the tax in the last 10 years and been more than competitive). Meanwhile, Harden is sitting tight, knowing full well that a max contract awaits him whether it comes from the Thunder or not.
This is a dangerous game of chicken Oklahoma City is playing, and they’re playing it with a team that’s a potential 10-year contender. They’re hoping Harden will cave on a less-than-max deal to stay in Oklahoma and win some titles, and he might; he likes his role as a role-player, but OKC doesn’t want to shell out that kind of cash for that kind of player. They could trade him, but that would a) mess with a title team’s chemistry and b) be giving up the most valuable crunch-time sixth man we’ve seen in a long while. Or he could walk.
Or the Thunder could suck it up, sign him and pay the tax out of the millions they’ll make in revenue from all the postseason series they win.
The Return of Derrick Rose
All of Chicago cringed when Derrick Rose went down; it was a simultaneous sports slow blink, like the ball going through Buckner’s legs or Norwood’s kick just wide of the uprights. The Bulls’ 2012 playoff run was done before it ever got started.
His return sometime this season is something to be celebrated. The Bulls are an exceptional team when he’s on the floor; without him, they’re a talented but disorganized bunch with no real filter or finisher. Basically, he’s the glue that holds them all together.
So why is his return ugly? Well, it could be. Bulls Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf says he’s not coming back until doctors say he’s 100 percent, but how fast something like that can change if the Bulls are getting close to a playoff spot or worse, just on the outside looking in. Rushing Rose back for short-term gain would be a long-term mistake; the Bulls are young enough that they can wait another year for a title shot.
The Maxed-Out Pacers
The Pacers proved they can hang last season with a trip to the Eastern Conference semis where, among other things, they showed grit in stealing two games from the eventual champion Miami Heat, but overall they looked overmatched, not quite a complete team.
So this offseason they went out and acquired what they figured they lacked, some veterans for the bench, and locked down center Roy Hibbert by matching the max offer extended by the Trailblazers. But with a core of Hibbert, Danny Granger, Paul George and George Hill, do the Pacers look better? They look good, not great, and now they’re locked in to that base plus David West for at least a few years, leaving many people wondering where the room to grow is?
The answer? There isn’t any; this will be a team on the high side of acceptable for a while.
Orlando’s Return on Howard
Just about everybody in the Dwight Howard deal got something out of the trade except Orlando, the team formerly associated with Dwight Howard. What they got in return is a stopgap solution, a placeholder team while they wait on the five protected future picks from perennial playoff contenders to pan out.
What that means is Orlando is at least five years away from relevancy, unless they can turn those picks into something else in the meantime. Maybe more insulting is that these won’t be picks within lottery range, and Orlando’s team as-is isn’t a team that will do so poorly as to fall to the bottom five. Basically, Orlando is set up for a minimum of five years of mediocrity.
On the upside, GM Rob Hennigan came up through the Thunder organization so it may be safe to assume he knows a few things about drafting. Then again, Hennigan is the point man responsible for this whole mess to begin with.
New Year, New Rules
As the NBA’s top brass strive to make basketball a less pleasurable viewing experience, fans will be welcomed to a whole slew of game-stopping rules this year, ranging from reasonable (instant replay on goaltending and blocking in the closing minutes) to totally arbitrary (anti-flopping penalties). But this year’s most hilarious on-the-fly, off-the-cuff sanction goes to the delay-of-game penalty.
Basically the NBA is looking to cut down on the ritualistic behavior of obsessive-compulsive players by charging them a delay-of-game should, oh I don’t know, LeBron not be able to find the chalk prior to the scheduled start time. Fine, whatever, we all want games to start on time, but is saving that extra few minutes really worth it if these prima donna OCD athletes babble about it nonstop for the next two days after their team loses by one point?