The NBA is in full lockout mode. The last time this happened (1998. Chicago fans will remember this as the offseason after Jordan’s final game with the Bulls, which was followed by a 6-season, Corey Benjamin/Eddy Curry induced blackout.), the results were catastrophic. David Stern grew a lockout beard that haunts my dreams to this day. 16 players organized a “charity game” which was designed to raise money for the NBA Players Association. (You will never find footage of this game. It’s like David Stern had it all redacted from the public records. It did wonders for the players’ image. Anthony Mason showed up in a black fur coat with a white fur “14” on the back. Pre-murder case Jayson Williams was a color commentator. And it was the first time in months anyone had seen Shawn Kemp, which is also the first anyone had seen the 100 lbs. of
muscle beer Shawn Kemp had gained since the lockout started. If anyone has footage of this game, please send it my way, or at least post it on Youtube. A nation thanks you.) Ratings dropped for three seasons after the lockout. The loss of Michael Jordan left a void for the NBA’s marquee player (Kobe and KG were still pups, Shaq had been swept out of every playoffs in his career, and Tim Duncan had has about as much personality as Mel Gibson has bar mitzvah invitations.), a void which was legitimately filled by Latrell Sprewell (Yes, that Latrell Sprewell.) for at least a couple of months.
The ’98 lockout was resolved in time to save the ’99 season, although it had to be abbreviated to 50 games from the regular 82. Since then, both sides have put off fixing the real problems with the league’s financial problems (The contracts are gauranteed, which wouldn’t be a problem if players like Eddy Curry didn’t get 6 year deals for upwards of 75-100 million dollars based on a couple good weeks of basketball in the last year of their contracts. The salary structure doesn’t really protect smaller markets like Oklahoma City, Sacramento, or Charlotte, nor does it help them keep their star players. Probably most importantly, there is no system for revenue sharing like they have in the NFL, so New York will always turn a profit no matter how terrible while New Orleans struggles to survive even though it’s been to the playoffs more in the past decade.), and now it seems this lockout may threaten to delete the entire 2011-2012 season. Bummer.
Who will the casualties of this lockout include? We already know Yao Ming is retiring. We may have seen the last of Kevin Garnett, Jason Kidd, Grant Hill, and other older players. Some players have even signed contracts overseas. (Most notably, Deron Williams of the New Jersey Nets. Most of these players have opt-out clauses in their contracts should an NBA season actually occur this year.) But aside from actual retirements, which players will come back as shells of their former selves? Who among the NBA players will gain a hundred pounds of molten hops, or fail to work out for a solid year, or get incarcerated after a high speed chase with the Minnesota state police? (Wow. The answer to all three might be Michael Beasley.) Well, without further ado, here are the pre-season lockout awards. (Which I’m totally calling “The Kempies.”)
Most likely to gain a
solid flabby hundred lbs: Shawn Kemp set the standard for this Kempie. He went into the ’99 lockout a svelt 240, and came out on the other end no smaller than 310. No athletic activity for 9 months made Shawn a fattie. Why wouldn’t someone who gets paid to be athletic keep his body in shape during a work stoppage? If anything, it’s a great time to add some good weight while still keeping your athleticism. It takes a special kind of lazy to not work out at all and allow yourself to get that big. Who can take the torch from the man whose name lives on in infamy?
And the Kempie goes to…Baron Davis. Baron Davis is out of shape when there are games, how can we expect him to get in shape when there aren’t? Like Kemp, Baron could have been one of the very best to ever play his position, if it weren’t for his amazing lazy streak. This guy’s work ethic is so bad he has to throw alley-oops from a car. But seriously, he’s so lazy the LA Clippers (Yeah, he wasn’t good enough for the LA Clippers. THE LA mother-$%#@ CLIPPERS!) had to package a first round draft pick with him in order to make him valuable to another team. (They traded what became the first pick in the draft along with Baron to the Cleveland Cavaliers, forever adding the “…Derrick Williams was a Clipper?” chapter to the NBA’s “What if…” conversation). If the NBA misses significant time this season, Baron Davis will be the league’s first 250 lb point guard. (Magic Johnson was probably about 250 when he came back from his HIV-induced retirement, but he came back a power forward.)
Honorable mention: Michael Beasley. Anyone who’s nickname is “B-Easy” can’t love work all that much. Add in some run-ins with the law over marijuana use, and suddenly the Beasley goes from talented if not moody swing forward to Oliver Miller‘s sponsee in Overeaters Anonymous.
Team most likely to benefit from a shortened season: In ’99, the the Utah Jazz, led by
108-year old 35-year old Karl Malone and 36-year old John Stockton tied for the NBA’s best record at 37-13. Their top 6 players in minutes per game averaged nearly 31 years in age. The San Antonio Spurs, the other 37-13 team, averaged the same, nearly 31 years in age, despite its top player being a 22-year old Tim Duncan. The Miami Heat (33-17)? 31 years. Veteran teams with continuity in their rosters do the best in a season where free agency, training camps, and the preseason are all cut short to accomodate a shortened season. Expect Dallas, San Antonio, and Boston to benefit from this lockout more than the others. (The Lakers get excluded because of their completely new coaching staff.) But who will benefit from this lockout the most?
The Kempie goes to…the San Antonio Spurs. Just as before, Tim Duncan and crew will benefit from this lockout more than the other teams. The big three of Manu Ginobili, Duncan, and Tony Parker know each other better than any three players in the league, and the other pieces know where they fit and exactly what roles they fill. Their average age? 30.
Honorable mention: The Boston Celtics. Honestly, they’d be the winners if they didn’t stand to lose Big Baby Davis and Jeff Green this offseason (whenever it takes place). They have the veteran leadership, coaching stability, and the hunger after being embarrassed by the Miami Heat last season.
Player we’ve seen play his last game in the jersey that made him famous: Back in ’99, this was an easy pick. During the lockout, Michael Jordan injured himself with a cheap cigar cutter, severing a tendon in his right index finger. Jordan retired from basketball a second time, never to be seen on the court again. “But I thought Jordan came back to play with the Wizards?” you might be asking yourself. Foolish, foolish child. Why would Michael Jordan, the Greatest of All Time, play for a second-class organization like the Wizards? (If I keep wishing it never happened, it’ll be true some day.) That wasn’t Michael Jordan, that was some sort of evil zombie, Black Lantern version of Mike. (Black Lanterns are the sole reason to hope DC and Warner Bros. don’t ditch the Justice League movies, even if the Green Lantern didn’t sell. They’d have to repackage the idea somehow. Imagine Batman as a Black Lantern.) If I say to you “Michael Jordan,” and your first thought is “chubby guy on the Wizards,” something went terribly wrong in your childhood. While we’ll surely see more retirements this extended offseason, which players will end up on another team before the new season starts?
And the Kempie goes to…Dwight Howard. Look, I’m not sold that the Magic will trade him before the new season starts, but I’m also not sold that the new season will happen before Dwight’s contract reaches his early opt-out clause next summer. Should there be some sort of abbreviated season ala 1999, Dwight (definitely) will (
definitely probably) still ( definitely probably maybe) be a (former) member of the Orlando Magic. Count on it.
Honorable mention: Chris Paul. Same story as Dwight, only without the same level of success. The only thing keeping him in New Orleans would be some sort of not wanting to LeBron a city when it’s down, especially when that city is New Orleans.
Player most likely to be secretly hoping the lockout lasts a year: As players get on in years, their bodies wear out after taking a beating for 82 to 100-plus games year. While a lockout is bad for the checkbook, older players have usually made more than enough money to sustain their families for several generations. All that matters now is winning. As we established earlier, a shortened season benefits older players moreso than younger ones. So which of the NBA’s elder statesmen wouldn’t really mind so much if the season was cut short (or cut entirely)?
And the Kempie goes to…Kobe Bryant. Kobe ended a strong season with a bumpy last 5 weeks or so, narrowly escaping the first round against the Hornets, and getting totally annhilated by the Dallas Mavericks. His body broke down as the season wore on (Pau Gasol deciding to let Marc be the better Gasol brother didn’t help). After the season, word broke the Gray Mamba had a controversial knee procedure to help rejuvenate his old legs. If anyone wants the time off, it’s Kobe Bean Bryant.
Honorable mention: Dirk Nowitzki and LeBron James (for very different reasons). I couldn’t decide on one or the other, so they tied. One of them gets to bask in the glory of the Finals until next season starts. The other gets the extra time to work on his (lack of a) post up game. One of them gets the limelight prominently on himself, while the other gets to escpape the
unfair (totally fair) criticism the media (Read: everyone except ESPN.) hit him with everyday. One got to travel back to his homeland, where he was greeted like some ancient hero of Greek mythology come back from slaying the Minotaur. The other can never go back to the city he called home for 8 years, which would be sad if that city wasn’t Cleveland and his new city wasn’t Miami. Seriously, LeBron is spending his offseason kicking back on the beach, making out hanging out with Dwyane Wade.