One For The Ages: Why Next Season Will Be The Greatest In NBA History

By Mike Wesson
Updated: April 22, 2006

WASHINGTON, DCNext season will be the greatest in NBA history. The class of ‘96 are veterans. The class of ‘03 has next. The Spurs and Pistons are classic. And a playoff spot will be harder find than a NBA player with jeans.

I know, I know. The playoffs just tipped off and I’m already talking about next season. But what a season its gonna be. First, let’s take it back 10 years.

We knew the draft of 1996 would be good–but this good? A.I., Marbury, Ray Allen, J. O’Neil, Kobe, Steve Nash, and even undrafted Ben Wallace have all been All-Stars and won annual league awards. They undoubtedly make up most of basketball’s royalty since Jordan ascended to basketball glory. And they still have something to prove; All of these players have made it deep into the playoffs, but only Kobe and Big Ben have won championships. Next season might be the last of the best we see of the bunch.

And no longer waiting, but taking the torch from the greatest draft class, is arguably the second greatest (alongside ‘84) that include: Melo, D Wade and LeBron. Even Kirk Hinrich and T.J. Ford are trying to take young teams into the postseason. Not since Magic and Bird has the league anticipated such quality, young talent. With each of the trios’ teams in the playoffs, look for the first wave of classic shots, plays and games to emerge. Melo is proving clutch in the Rockies, Wade has taken the reigns in South Beach and LeBron is bringing the Midwest a flair and hunger it hasn’t seen since ‘98.

That of course was the year Mike left. It was also the end of a two year showdown between Jordan-Pippen and Malone-Stockton. Other epic rivalries include; Ali vs. Frazier, MC Hammer vs. Vanilla Ice, Bush vs. Kerry/Gore, Desperate Housewives vs Sopranos, Yankees and Red Sox and now the Spurs vs. Pistons.

That’s right, the Spurs and Pistons. It’s becoming a classic American battle. We first learned of the Pistons (AKA Hard Work) when they blew up the Lake Show–and seemed like the only ones that weren’t in shock. The Spurs got theirs last year and the Pistons are doing everything to tie it up at 1 apiece before next years episode 3.

Boring? Negative.

Only fans of daytime soaps and the evening news wouldn’t get hype for one of these games. Gino, TD and TP facing off against Billups, Prince, the Wallaces and Rip? Pure basketball. Next year, when both the Pistons and Spurs go for 73, you’ll become a believer too.

But there will be other teams trying to get in the playoffs. Most hoop fans will be on edge next season. Unless major trades takes place only NY, Toronto, Atlanta and Charlotte should have

losing records in the EC. Portland, Seattle and Minnesota should be the only sub .500 teams in the WC. Aside from San An, Dallas and Phoenix, it’ll be a crap shoot to see makes the other 5 west spots. Detroit has the EC on lock. But New Jersey, Indy, Cleveland and Miami could all meet them in the EC Finals. Same dice roll for an EC playoff spot. Chicago and Orlando should be pleasant surprises, too. Finally, don’t count Philly out.

Well, in the city of brotherly love, something has to happen with A.I. they missed the playoffs for the first time since ‘97-98–even though The Answer (do they still call him that?) dropped a career high 32 per game. If he’s still in Philly, he’ll be determined to get back in the playoffs. Look for another career high in points, assists and steals. He’s tough as they come, next year we’ll see a tougher, desperate and smarter #3.

Head two hours north of Philly on I-95 and we hit New York, New York. It’s hard to imagine Marbury and the Knicks going through hell again. But, then again, it’s not. Even though Larry Brown has taken all seven team he’s coached (before this year) to the playoffs–including the ‘93 Clipppers (and as Washington Post columnist Tony Kornheiser said “Nobody takes the Clippers to the playoffs!”), Marbury will have to leave if he wants to be successful. Starbury’s game is like his nickname. Let him shoot, let him pass, but please let him play or let him go. He’s an offensive machine. If he’s still in NYC, Starbury, Isaiah and Larry Brown should make for good reality basketball.

To the west coast where there is a man named Kobe. Shaq forgave him (meaning much of public will begin to do the same). And the rape charges were dropped; things didn’t turn out so bad. So he’s back, and better. Now the question is slowly being answered; Yes, Kobe can win without Shaq. KB looks like a reincarnation of MJ in ‘87-88. The cadence in his talk, demeanor, turn-around-jump-shot, one on one moves, everything is a carbon copy of Mike. Just as Jordan was dropping 35 plus a game, before getting deep into the playoffs, so will Kobe. He’ll win a series of titles in a few years (if the Pistons or Spurs breakup), with a supporting cast, not a roster of former all-stars. Odom is versatile and should flirt with a triple double every game. If Kwame can grab boards stay scrappy and Smush can keep smashin’, Kobe and company will replay what we saw in Chicago years ago. This year 62 in 3 quarters and 81. Next year, 101?

And Shaq. Bienvinidos Miami or adios Miami? Shaq is almost done. He himself admits playing in the NBA is a fantasy. He is a certified man of the law and has his MBA. If this season is any indication, things are coming to and end for the games most dominant player. Now the question is, can Shaq win without Kobe? Shaq will either score low or high 20’s. It will be an all or nothing season for The Diesel. He knows time is short and will try to do all he can next year to win. If he can hold up, nearly 30 per. If not, a shortened season and low 20’s. That will determine what the Heat have to do. Miami may soon have to focus on rebuilding with it’s current roster. That means unloading Posey, J Will, Walker and Payton if they don’t make the a conference finals. But don’t count them out yet. They have Pat Riley who as Chris Rock noted should be a Black leader, because “no other man has taken more Black men to the promised land.” With D Wade and Riles, things will be back in order sooner than later.

Basketball is about scoring and we want to see points. We don’t care if it’s Phoenix or Kobe. Stern likes it because we like it. Simple business. Well, we should all be happy next season. This year Kobe, A.I. and LeBron went for 30 or more points per game. Next season add two more: Arenas and McGrady. Caron Butler may cause Gil to stay under 30 per. But if they decide to play a west coast style offensive, #00 can still do it. McGrady wants to play and knows Yao won’t drop even 25 per. If he stays healthy, it’ll be a Texas shootout each game. With Shaq fading and Denver developing, D Wade and ‘Melo can also do it. That’s a realistic 7 players dropping 30 plus next season.

And what a season it’s gonna be. One you’ll be telling the kids about. Maybe some records will be broken. But that’s not the point. Next season will be about everything basketball: Scoring. D. Superstars. Teams. Veterans. The future. And off the court stories. And as we wait for this years playoffs to wrap up, know this: it’s all setting up next season–one of the greatest in NBA history.