Thursday, January 7, 2010

What's Your Pleasure

This year's Dallas squad is probably better than the 2005-06 Dallas team that succumbed in a tight Finals. Howard, Dampier, Nowitzki, and Terry are still there, but Stackhouse has become Marion and Harris ceded to Kidd. The role players (Gooden, Beaubois, Barea, Thomas) clearly trumpt the 2006 benchies (Diop, Daniels, Armstrong, Griffin). And truthfully, that champion Miami squad of '06 was not all that good. They only won 52 games in the regular, and required a LOT of help to avoid a 4-0 sweep in the Finals. If I were to wake up today after four years of cryogenesis and read a Mavs box score, I might think that Dallas should now be an overwhelming title favorite.

Problem is, all the competition in the West has also ascended compared to four years ago. The Lakers are clearly better, with the substitution of Pau Gasol for Kwame Brown and Andrew Bynum for Chris Mihm. Denver is better, having replaced Andre Miller with Chauncey Billups and seen a general maturation of its other stars. Portland and Seattle (now OKC) were destitute in 2006, and now are poised to strike. Chris Paul and David West have become bad men in New Orleans, while Williams and Boozer have done same in Utah. Phoenix, like Dallas, is probably better now than they were in 2006 (lacking Amar'e Stoudemire or any real bench).

Sacramento and Memphis, playoff teams then with Bibby, Artest, Gasol, and Battier, have completely renewed their rosters through the draft and, fueled by youth, might be playoff teams this year, too. Houston collapsed in 2006 when McGrady and Yao could not go; now they lack those two but succeed regardless. San Antonio, nearly a champion in '06, may have its best roster yet this year with young mastodons like George Hill and DeJuan Blair gnashing their tusks.

2006 was an unusually weak time in the NBA. The current generation of stars still had the boyish gleam of a Michael Cera, and were not ready to contend like men. (Well, James and Wade did have some sweet performances that spring.) In 2010, the level of competition is the best I can remember since Jordan, Magic, Isiah, and Bird tussled in the late 1980s.

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