Tonight, an NBA season that is poised to bring untold levels of excitement and intrigue to the Los Angeles area finally begins. After what seems like an eternity in the few short months that have passed since Mitch Kupchak's ninja attack on the NBA, the Los Angeles Lakers will finally get to debut an All-Star starting lineup that has us giddy with delight. Tonight begins a new era of Lakers basketball.
Of course, it wasn't that long ago that the Lakers were in the midst of the previous era of Lakers basketball. And it is no small irony that the team responsible for that era's untimely demise is the team that will be standing opposite the Lakers around the center circle tonight. Nor is the irony small that the Dallas Mavericks are no closer to resembling the team that swept the two-time defending champion Lakers away like a bit of dust on sidewalk than the Lakers are. Both teams have gone through a complete identity overhaul, keeping only the main superstar and one supporting player while overhauling just about everything else.
But Dallas was not nearly as lucky as the Lakers have been. Los Angeles restructured by choice, and they did so without ever risking not being a competitive squad. Meanwhile, Dallas sacrificed everything (i.e. a chance to defend their championship with the players that got them there) for the opportunity to take part in this season's free agent sweepstakes. When Dwight Howard made his rather stunning about face and agreed to the option year on his contract, it put Dallas in a tight spot. When Deron Williams decided that New Jersey should be his permanent home, it put Dallas in a dark place. Now, with Howard in Los Angeles and (presumptively) not looking for a new home anymore, Dallas has been forced to punt and hope the plan has better luck next off-season, without much hope of success.
That said, Dallas has done an admirable job of making a decent roster out of pieces and parts collected from across the league. They probably won't be anywhere near the top half of the Western Conference playoff draw, but considering that the entire team is pretty much an afterthought when compared to the goal of acquiring a top tier star via free agency, the Mavericks are one hell of a competitive afterthought. Elton Brand and Chris Kaman, along with Dirk Nowitzki, combine to form a trio of big men who all have their merits, though only the (real) German is the kind of player that strikes fear in your heart. The back court is an intriguing pair of guys who seem like they have a lot more to give the NBA than they've previously given. Darren Collison did such an excellent job in place of an injured Chris Paul that some downgraded their assessment of Paul's quality as a result, but after CP3 came back and Collision was subsequently shipped to Indiana, he hasn't come close to capitalizing on his early strong showing. And O.J. Mayo has always been a guy from whom more was expected. If Collison and Mayo pan out, and if Brand and Kaman provide decent production at a cut rate, the Mavs will be a competitive outfit, and that is impressive because remaining competitive seems to be low on the team's list of priorities at the moment.
Unfortunately for Dallas, they won't much resemble that team tonight. Dirk Nowitzki is set to miss the first few weeks of the season after having surgery, and Chris Kaman is also doubtful for tonight's contest as well. Who does that leave jumping center for the Mavs tonight? Eddy Curry ... against Dwight Howard. Good luck with that, 'Baby Shaq'.
So, let the fun begin. Let the questions begin turning into answers. Tonight we find out just how beholden the Lakers are to an offense that hasn't been very successful so far in the preseason. Tonight, we start finding out how much liability can be erased by Dwight Howard's defensive assets (Hey, Accounting humor!). Tonight, we get our first glimpse at real rotations that will surely involve portions of the Lakers All-Star cast at all times.
Tonight begins a new era of Lakers basketball, one that is guaranteed to be short-lived. It's an important distinction to make, because it means there is no time to waste. What better way to start it than by exorcising the demons of the era that came before.
Tickets to tonight's game provided by our ticketing partner, TiqIQ: