Monday, July 28, 2014

America is Football Crazy, But You Can't Beat the NBA Offseason

The high-profile moves of the world's best player LeBron James (left) and ear blower Lance Stephenson (right) have contributed to the NBA's eventful offseason.
By Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

I'm a football guy, but I guess that doesn't really say much anymore.

In America, we're pretty much all football guys. The ratings from NFL and college football broadcasts will back that up, as will the remarkable attendance numbers we hear every week from NFL and college mega-stadiums.

There is no question that football, particularly the NFL, is the king of our sports landscape. So, with training camps opening in the NFL and two-a-days looming for college ball, why the hell can I only think about basketball right now?

The obvious answer is LeBron James' massive decision to return to Cleveland, a move that rearranged the league's power structure and perhaps made free agency more fun than it's ever been. Still, there's more to it than that. In a summer that featured the NFL Draft, a hand full of new coaches and quarterbacks in different places, and supposed hopes of contention from fans around the NFL, it has been the NBA offseason that has grabbed everyone's attention.

Suddenly, there seems to be an intriguing storyline EVERYWHERE!

As you may remember, I am a fair weather Heat fan, but even I was fascinated by James' decision. When The King announced a return to Cleveland I was surprised at my initial reaction. I didn't curse his name or claim he'd be sorry for leaving South Beach in favor of a river that catches on fire. No, all I could think of was how fun the Cavs were going to be next year.

Oh my God, they're gonna pair him with Kyrie Irving and the phenom Andrew Wiggins! Wait, should they trade Wiggins and try bringing in Kevin Love to form a new Big 3? How many aging shooters that played with LeBron in Miami will sign with the Cavs before the end of the month?

And what about the rest of the Eastern Conference? The Bulls may have a healthy Derrick Rose for the first time since 1994, and they just added Pau Gasol. How will he fit in defensively and play offensively next to Joakim Noah? Should those same Bulls trade away all their depth and make a move to grab Love themselves?

How about them Pacers. Without Lance Stephenson will ANYBODY other than Paul George be able to do anything offensively? Are they as good as they started last season, or as bad as they finished? Is Roy Hibbert the last true big man, or a stiff that disappears for weeks on end (both, maybe)?

Speaking of Stephenson, will his addition make the newly re-named Hornets contenders? As one of the better emerging two-way players in the league, and only 24-years old, Stephenson left two years and around $17 million on the table to leave Indiana in hopes of being "the man" in Charlotte. Will that gamble pay off with increased numbers and the ability to contend next to star big man Al Jefferson, leading to a max deal for Stephenson in 2017? And is Charlotte suddenly a legitimate contender in the uneven East?

Last year the Wizards and Raptors took everybody in the East by surprise, making runs to the postseason. Heck, the Wizards even knocked out the scrappy Bulls in the first round. Will rising star DeMar DeRozan and newly re-signed Kyle Lowry be able to take the next step in Toronto, and will Paul Pierce be able to make up for the loss of Trevor Ariza next to John Wall and Bradley Beal in Washington?

Wait, the Magic traded Arron Afflalo for what?!?! Oh well, at least it will be fun to watch first round pick Aaron Gordon running with second-year shooting guard Victor Oladipo next year. Speaking of Orlando, their old coach Stan Van Gundy has been given full control in Detroit, and has an interesting, if mismatched, roster to tinker with, while Phil Jackson has Carmelo back in the fold in New York. Whether that goes well or not, it should at least be fun.

Oh, and you can't forget about the four-time defending conference champs. The Heat may have lost LeBron, but they added Luol Deng, a darn good small forward in his own right, brought back Bosh and Wade, and added sharp-shooting stretch four Josh McRoberts.

They won't be the power they were with LBJ, but it would be foolish to look past Miami next year. Remember how we all thought Manu Ginobili was dead after the 2013 Finals? Desperation and pride could lead Wade on a similar comeback path in 2014-15.

Even at the bottom of the conference, you still have the Celtics dangling Rajon Rondo, and the Bucks adding Jabari Parker to a young core in Milwaukee, after landing Jason Kidd in one of the oddest coaching sagas ever.

Look at all those story lines, and that's just from the weaker conference! That doesn't even look at the West and Dallas' interesting trade to bring back Tyson Chandler, their signing of Chandler Parsons out from underneath the rival Rockets, or how the Rockets replaced Parsons with Ariza.

Or the Spurs reloading for another title run, the Clippers looking to break through with the Donald Sterling fiasco hanging over their heads, the Warriors letting us know that MeatLoaf was actually singing about trading Klay Thompson back in the day, the Suns and Eric Bledsoe reaching a negotiating crossroads on a long-term deal, the Thunder hoping to get back to the Finals without Harden, Harden calling all of his teammates in Houston except Dwight Howard expendable, and the development of superstar-in-waiting Anthony Davis.

See, there I go again. I said I was going to stop with the East, but the NBA has given me so much fun this offseason that I couldn't help myself!

There is something fun going on pretty much everywhere in the league, while in the NFL, a league known for its parity and ever-evolving style of play, we get more of the same, tired, old, recycled talking points.

"Expectations are sky-high in Foxboro, but how many years does Brady have left?"

"Can Peyton Manning break through and win another Super Bowl?"

"Some player did something terrible off the field!"

"The Harbaugh brothers are tough and no-nonsense!"

"The Bills and Browns stink! Will the new QBs they drafted be the answer? (No)"

"Which team will come out of nowhere to contend?"

"Which Eli Manning will show up this year?"

"How will Tony Romo ruin everything for Dallas?"

My God, I feel like the NFL has just been using these same headlines the last decade, but don't even get me started on college football. They've basically used the exact same talking point for 50 years now, only rotated through national powers and changed the ending from "(poll) national championship" to "Bowl Coalition/Alliance National Championship" to "BCS Championship" to "College Football Playoff."

Then you just add the obligatory "what's up with that program that used to be good but isn't anymore?"

Don't believe me? The statements below could have been the cover phrases of Sports Illustrated's college football preview any year during those given decades and nobody would have batted an eye.

1950s: Can anyone stop Oklahoma from winning the national championship? Also, what happened to Army.

1960s: Can anyone stop Texas from winning the national championship? Also, what happened to Minnesota?

1970s: Can anyone stop Ohio State from winning the national championship? Also, what happened to Michigan State?

1980s: Can anyone stop Miami from winning the national championship? Also, what happened to Alabama?

1990s: Can anyone stop Nebraska from winning the Bowl Alliance National Championship? Also, what happened to Miami?

2000s: Can anyone stop Florida from winning the BCS Championship? Also, what happened to Notre Dame?

2010s: Can anyone stop Alabama from winning the College Football Playoff? Also, what happened to USC?

Now, to be fair, we love football because things (largely) change slowly. There is no LeBron James-like free agent that can turn you from a lottery team to a championship contender in one fell swoop. Heck, even Peyton Manning inherited a playoff team, albeit an underwhelming one, when he went to Denver.

But we love football because it's hard to make a quick fix. Remember that Eagles "Super Team" from a couple years ago? Yeah, that didn't quite work out as well as the Heat, because football is a different animal.

In college, we have our national powers, and we love them. It's hard for a non-established program to play with the big boys, but every decade some smaller program does. Whether it's Oregon and Boise State recently, or Purdue and Kansas State in the 90s, or BYU in the 80s, it can be done, but it's usually built by a brilliant coach over the course of several years.

No "Decision" built any one of these teams.

That's what makes football so fun to watch and follow, but also why "parity" and "hope" are becoming harder to sell in the offseason than ever.  In a league where some team will probably come out of nowhere to make a big playoff run, we're still talking about Brady, Manning, the Harbaughs and the defending Super Bowl champs.

In the NBA, meanwhile, we're talking about the promise of the Pelicans, the potential of the Blazers, the upside of the young Cavs, the possible rejuvenation of the Mavs… Is it just me, or is there far more widespread "hope" amongst NBA fans than their NFL counterparts right now?

Sure, you can blindly hope that your favorite football team is the one that breaks out this season, but if you're an NBA fan, you can actually point to trends, or a new player/coach with a track record for success or intriguing style.

Don't get me wrong, I'm still more excited about football starting than anything else on the sports calendar, but right now I can't get enough of this NBA offseason and all the (possibly empty) promises it has given me.

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