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Yes, basketball is back. Yes, it’s all very thrilling. Yes, I will watch countless games and absorb thousands of advertisements during those games and probably buy Knicks apparel and will certainly find myself at Madison Square Garden a few times this season. The NBA will end up with hundreds of my dollars this year, probably at a heightened level, simply because they bluffed taking away a product from me that was never going to leave in the first place.
I feel swindled. And dirty.
There was never any doubt, ANY doubt in my mind that the season would still happen, and a betting man would have picked December 25th as the absolute drop dead date for the season to start. Why? Because of this. Five games, three different networks, all combining in an orgy of season kickoffs and nationally broadcast games featuring the biggest teams the NBA has to offer. The NBA is basically irrelevant every season until about Christmas time – that’s when the national schedule of games kicks off, and that’s when football starts to wind down and before college basketball takes off.
Those winter months are the NBA’s money months – starting with Christmas and culminating in the February All-Star Game. There will be dozens of games on ABC, ESPN, TNT, all garnering the best ratings since Michael Jordan was a player and not a pariah.
The best part of the NBA coming back is all the renewed trade talk. This week we’ve heard that Dwight Howard may end up in New Jersey, that Rajon Rondo and Chris Paul may get swapped, and that Paul will only sign with the Knicks. It’s all wishful thinking, of course, but the odds of both Howard and Paul in the New York area within the next few months is certainly higher than it was a month ago.
Will any of that actually happen? Who knows. The Nets have the trade chips, to be sure, but they are still in New Jersey purgatory for another season and Howard is already itching to get out of one swamp – why would he want to land in another? Paul, meanwhile, is turning into LeBron 2.0: he “wants” to play in New York, say unnamed sources who also claimed LeBron “wanted” to play in New York. Unless Paul is traded within the first two weeks of the season, the Chris Paul To The Knicks drumbeat will beat on, as Knicks fans clamor for a third player who has never won anything, and a second player with bad knees.
So I’m slightly bearish on the Knicks 2011-12 abbreviated season. Yes, it’s awesome that we all get to watch Carmelo Anthony and Amare’ Stoudemire every day (barring injury). Yes, it’s awesome that they will get to play about 20 more games together than they did last year (barring injury). Yes, the last time the NBA had a partial season, the Knicks made the Finals (and were promptly destroyed).
An extra two months off will be good for Stoudemire and Billups, but a shortened training camp is not what this team needed. They will come into this season with incredible outside pressure: on paper, they are very talented, perhaps top 3 in the East. They have a coach who will be on the hot seat the entire season, with a dream replacement (Phil Jackson) waiting in the wings. They have yet another trade distraction with Paul, and an even worse outcome if they do not get him given that there is no in-house replacement for the aging Chauncey Billups. A first round bow will not be close to enough to satisfy Knicks fans – they need first round home court advantage and a deep playoff run if they want to avoid more tinkering next offseason.
Most importantly: for a guy who has only played 27 games in a Knicks uniform, I don’t think any Knicks player in history has had more pressure on him than Carmelo Anthony. This is his season, his team, the situation he orchestrated. He will forever be the Knicks’ silver medal, unless he can bring a championship to a team that hasn’t won a thing since New York looked like Serpico. He is joined by bronze medal Stoudemire, who has been a force of nature for the Knicks so far, in the way Shareef Abdur-Rahim was a force of nature on terrible teams. The two runner-ups looked awkward playing together most of the year, and the big layoff won’t do them any favors.
So, Year 2 of the Great Knicks Experiment begins on Christmas Day. Perhaps the savior will arrive shortly thereafter, and the Paul-Anthony-Stoudemire troika will wreck the rest of the NBA all season. But I have a feeling that by Valentine’s Day, we’re all going to feel a little brokenhearted watching LeBron and the Heat torch the league on the way to the first of many titles.