The Commish weighs in on the new NBA season.
Toward the end of this past season’s “Mad Men,” in the “Blowing Smoke” episode, the show’s fictional ad agency Sterling Cooper Draper & Price was reeling from losing its Lucky Strike account and the reverberating fallout. Lucky Strike made up almost three quarters of SCDP’s account billings. In essence, without Lucky Strike, there’s no SCDP.
So they were scrambling to find new business. Bush-league stuff. They went to the funeral of a rival agency’s exec to try to pilfer clients – the equivalent to seedy-lawyer ambulance-chasing, like Paul Newman in “The Verdict” – and came away with nothing. Lead character Don Draper – SCDP’s genius marketing star – had taken to manipulating his girlfriend, Faye, a consultant for SCDP and other agencies, to spurn her ethical obligations and reveal to Don some of the other agencies’ unhappy clients.
It was desperation-time. Nobody wanted to mess with them. Don had tried to lure Heinz, but they passed, given SCDP’s shaky and tenuous existence. SCDP thought they had the drop on the inaugural ad campaign for Virginia Slims (the show is set in the 60s), but Marlboro went with someone else. It was a crippling blow. That night, Don sat down and wrote a full-page ad in the New York Times entitled “Why I’m Quitting Tobacco,” a scathing critique of the tobacco industry that sought to give SCDP moral high-ground and refashion the agency as activist, rather than outcast. It caused a stir in the ad industry proportionately equivalent to LeBron’s “The Decision” – or at least close to it.
What always struck me about that episode, however, was an earlier conversation that he had with his protégé Peggy hours after they received the bad news from Marlboro. Don was lamenting SCDP’s new leper status, which prompted Peggy to suggest that SCDP just change the name of their agency. Don scoffed, said it was ridiculous. Peggy insisted: “You always say that if they don’t like what they’re saying about you, then just change the conversation.”
“Change the conversation.” That’s what’s about to happen for LeBron and the Miami Heat with the new season just hours away. When Miami and Boston – the Heat’s chief rival for Eastern supremacy – square up tonight it will be the beginning of LeBron’s process of changing the conversation. Ever since the Cavs were bounced out of the playoffs with LeBron playing passive-ball, it’s been nothing but four months of questions, criticism, bile and controversy for the guy.
To many folks, LeBron’s gone from beloved to reviled and, somehow, from the best player to looking up to a 22-year-old Kevin Durant. But that’s all been based on public relations stuff. There hasn’t been a way for LeBron to change the conversation from “The Decision,” yet – unless you include his CNN interview of “Hater Day” tweet barrage that didn’t really help the situation.
The conversation-change begins tonight, because tonight we get back to basketball and this much is clear: he’s still plays better basketball than everyone else (I might take Kobe Bryant in a “big game,” but I’m taking LeBron is the 98 percent of the games). This is also clear: his team will contend for the title and, perhaps, enter the 2011 Playoffs as the overall favorite. LeBron’s rep and that of the Heat will continue to be “a” story, thanks to the boo-birds they’ll entertain at many NBA arenas, but it will begin to play the back as “the” story to actual basketball. By the time we reach the big Christmas Day game against the Lakers, I’m sure the greater intrigue will center around which squad is better, not how much America dislikes LeBron. As hoops fans, this has to be a relief.
So let me use this as a queue to finally change the conversation, talk some basketball and hit you with my preseason predictions:
Most Valuable Player – Kevin Durant
KD is right there in the best player “discussion.” But I think the MVP is a cinch, provided his play remains at last season’s level and his team improves even slightly. I expect a 30-8-4-1-1 out of him while he approaches 50-40-90 shooting percentages. If he does this for a 55-win top three seeded Thunder, the MVP is his.
Most Impactful Player – LeBron James
LeBron has been THE force of nature in this game for at least five seasons. He took over that title from Shaq in 2007. When you combine the sheer force of his play with his all-everything talent, you have what can often seem like an act of god play out on the court. What’s unfair and downright frightening is that, this season, he’s added “motivation.” No player has entered a season this motivated, since 1995 MJ. Not 2004 Shaq, not 2007 Kobe – no one. 2010 LeBron is on a “whole ‘nother other” mission. It’s the seven ringless years, it’s the media and fan backlash, it’s the championship-or-bust expectations of his super team – it all adds up. Force + Brilliance x Motivation = an em-effin problem.
Best Big Game Player – Kobe Bryant
Age and knee issues will keep Kobe from playing consistently dominant basketball. But, he’ll be able to get up for those big games (Miami, Orlando, Boston, Texas Two, OKC) and he’ll still probably be the best, most compelling/impactful player in those big games. Kobe and hoops fans should cherish this season. It might be our last glimpse of Great Kobe.
“Y’all Must’ve Forgot” (shouout to Roy Jones Jr.) – Chris Paul
I can’t wait for him to remind these idiots that he is still, easily, the best point guard in the league. Expect his usual 20-11-5-3 gem.
The New Allen Iverson – Carmelo Anthony
I love Carmelo’s game. And I like ‘Melo the player enough. But he hasn’t shown us that he’s a leader, which is what we need out of a seven-year supposed franchise player. Put Melo on the Knicks or Nets or almost any team without an already proven leader and what do you have? You have a rudderless team with a big-time scorer. Unless Chris Paul or Chauncey Billups is in tow, miss me with the ‘Melo trade rumors.
Rookie of the Year – Blake Griffin or John Wall
I was very critical of both as they entered the league. They seem poised to prove me wrong. I wouldn’t mind that.
EAST (based on record)
7. New York
WEST (based on record)
1. L.A. Lakers
3. Oklahoma City
4. San Antonio
7. L.A. Clippers
8. New Orleans
Eastern Conference Finals: Boston over Miami
Western Conference Finals: L.A. Lakers over OKC
FINALS: L.A. over Boston