With much hype (at least on ESPN), the NBA kicks off the regular season Tuesday night. The league is in the same kind of economic pickle the NHL is, but they get more viewers on average for games at any time of day.
While there were some clear down years for them, it appears that the level of talent and excitement is on the rise. There are some clearly bad teams -- and even a few awful ones -- as usual, but more teams seem willing to play a more athletic style that is going to be attractive to people looking for things to watch on television and ways to spend a few bucks on a night out.
As the season launches, here's one not-so-big fan's list of important truths about the NBA:
The league doesn't suck.
This used to be a problem. Yes, you'll still see a few 77-73 clunkers where neither team can shoot and no one appears interested in moving their feet, but these guys are human beings, and they will have their off nights.
The important thing is that there is more excitement than there are dull moments. This shouldn't be a problem. Teams like Chicago, Boston, Cleveland, Washington, Dallas, Phoenix, Atlanta, Denver, Portland, the defending champion Lakers, and even their arena roomies, the Clippers, show the promise of being exciting to watch while also being at least decent in the standings.
Not a lot of teams on that list, but at least it's a start.
If the Lakers falter, the league is wide open.
It's a big "if," but haters can always hope that Ron Artest blows up the chemistry. It's certainly possible, given that he has never played with an ego like Kobe's.
Also a possibility is that Kobe won't be as driven now that he's proven he doesn't need Shaq around to win a title. This is unlikely, as I don't see him taking his foot off the gas for any reason. Getting Artest was huge, as the loss of Trevor Ariza could have really hurt otherwise. Then again, they probably don't lose Ariza if they hadn't gotten Artest first.
The Clippers are going to be good.
Yes, really. Blake Griffin comes back in six weeks, which sucks, but it isn't the end of the world. Every now and then, a high-profile rookie gets too many minutes early in the season and rams into a wall at around the 50-game mark, when he realizes that he's never played this many games at a high level before (college seasons are 30 games or so plus conference and national tournament play).
Griffin can be a force in the second half, and the Clippers should be somewhat competitive before he plays. Eric Gordon and Baron Davis are a great guard tandem, Chris Kaman is a passable interior player, and I love Rasual Butler. He's got length and he makes people defend him on the perimeter because he's such a good shooter.
Even Mike Dunleavy might not be dumb enough to keep this team out of the playoffs.
Oklahoma City is the most exciting team in the league ...
... and they won't even make the playoffs this year. Just watching these young kids grow up and get better together is great. Throw in super crowds that they're drawing in Oklahoma City, and you have a great environment for basketball.
This team simply isn't ready yet. Kevin Durant, Jeff Green, and Russell Westbrook represent an impressive nucleus, and they're clearly on their way. Should teams like Portland and Denver falter (possible), the Thunder may have a shot at sneaking into the field. It's just asking a lot for them to be better than older, more experienced, and deeper teams.
The league is in salary cap trouble.
Not everyone has spent to the cap this year. That's smart, because there's virtually no chance that the league salary cap will stay where it is now next year. The same is true in the NHL, where teams may be on the verge of some major contract buyouts and trades to get closer to next year's projected number.
In the end, teams like Portland -- who made a deal with veteran point guard Andre Miller and wasted cap space to do so -- may be regretting their spending next summer. After all, LeBron is still scheduled to be a free agent, and desperately few teams (New York, New Jersey, and the Clippers?) from big markets have positioned themselves to be serious bidders. If the cap falls, this list could get even smaller.
No one knows how the playoff chases will end.
That said, what fun would it be if we didn't guess?
14. New Jersey
15. New York
1. L.A. Lakers
2. San Antonio
7. L.A. Clippers
8. New Orleans
10. Golden State
11. Oklahoma City