Bethlehem Shoals writes about the NBA without a conscience and sometimes, he can't be contained. When the hour is right, and the news demands it, you'll get more Shoals than usual. One of these hours has arrived, so here's another installment of Longform Shoals.
Want proof that these playoffs have problems? Look no further than last night's lottery, which was easily the televised basketball event of the week.
Yes, I know that no one actually suited up, put a ball in a basket, or moved around all that much. But it had everything that this postseason has lacked: suspense, surprise, and the promise of a new day. Not to mention that in a regular season ravaged by injury and inequality, the race to the bottom had become front page news. For about half the teams in the league, the lottery was 2007's Finals.
As much as everyone assembled in Seacaucus, New Jersey wanted that first pick, though, all of them would have settled for the second selection. And while today Boston and Memphis feel pain after having tanked for nothing, pretty much every team in the lottery has something to look forward to this June.
But when some fans are crying out that "the NBA is dead," the league as a whole desperately needed a shot in the arm. These playoffs haven't just disappointed; the absence of stars, controversy over rules, and dearth of entertainment have sparked a full-blown emergency over the health of the sport. Thankfully, the lottery allowed us to forget all of that and believe that very soon, a change would indeed come.
Of course, we've been here before. On the eve of LeBron's entry into the league, the sport was supposedly ailing and in dire need of assistance. Back then, there was a widespread belief that LeBron could turn things around all by himself. Yes, the class of 2003 ended up boasting two-and-a-half other marquee names. At the time of that lottery, though, no one was thinking about Melo, and Wade and Bosh were relative unknowns. All the buzz was over LeBron and the messianic hype surrounding him.
This time around, there are two mega-stars in the wings, and an endlessly deep draft class that's already well-known to the public. Greg Oden and Kevin Durant are grand prizes, and Horford, Brewer, the Wright's, and Conley have all drawn gushing reviews. This isn't a one-man revolution, it's a movement.
It takes more than a single superstar to rescue the league. It doesn't matter whether or not LeBron is the next Jordan, since even Jordan had a little help from Magic, Bird, the Pistons, Barkley, Pippen, Hakeem and any number of other 1980's greats. Sure, James has done well, Melo, Wade and Bosh have exceeded expectations, and Kobe and Arenas have upped their games. But their "new NBA" needs reinforcements, and that's exactly what this lottery represented.
From this perspective, the age limit was a stroke of genius. For teams and fans alike, one of the major flaws with the draft has been a lack of information. The influx of high school players and international prospects resulted in numerous "who" picks, or reputations made based on June workouts and rumors alone.
With the NCAA merely optional, a rift between the professional and college games developed, leading some fans to side with one or the other. With the draft skewed toward potential, college players could set their sights on the lottery before they had proven their worth. And anyone unfortunate enough to stick around for four years of college was stigmatized, as if going the distance were a sign of inadequacy.
Now, the talent has had an extra year to accumulate, more players are known quantities, and drastic gambles are no longer in fashion. National champions Florida will likely have three of its former student-athletes selected in the top 10. Oden and Conley come from runner-up Ohio State. Hibbert or no Hibbert, Georgetown will land Jeff Green in the lottery. And while UNC's Brendan Wright is a freshman, he has certainly gotten more publicity than Bosh did four years ago.
Obviously, we have no idea how good this class will be. Even Oden or Durant could be a bust. What's important, though, is that for the moment there's a widespread belief in this draft's promise. Serious draft junkies feel like this every season, but this time the sentiment has gone mainstream. Applaud the league for a job well-done, and for giving us the sense -- if only for a few months -- that these playoffs are not the future of the NBA.
Previously on FanHouse:
NBA Mock Draft: Portland Will Take Kevin Durant
2007 NBA Draft Lottery Live Blog