Roundtable: 70 wins a possibility?
No writer believes that the Lakers (or Celtics) will join the exclusive 70-win club
All the early buzz about the 2010 free-agent class drew a mixed reaction
Writers were also divided on an NBA trade rule and Eddie Jordan's firing
SI.com NBA writers will analyze the latest news and address hot topics from around the league each week.
1. The 1995-96 Bulls (72-10) are the only team in NBA history to win at least 70 regular-season games. What's your early read on the Lakers' chances of reaching that milestone? How about the Celtics'?
Ian Thomsen: I don't see it as being important to the Celtics. As impressive as they've been overall, they've embarked on a bad trend this season of falling behind early in games and that is going to result in a few losses along the way. I see the Celtics making a priority of keeping Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen fresh and healthy going into the playoffs. Doc Rivers is likely to follow the example of Gregg Popovich's approach to pacing his team through the regular season, even if it means sacrificing a game or two.
The Lakers are too young to pull it off. That Bulls team was a highly professional and committed group that focused on the job each night. These Lakers around Kobe Bryant haven't even won a championship yet, so they have too much to learn before they can think of becoming the most dominant team of them all. The Lakers are very impressive and they have the game's best player, but let's wait until February or March and see how healthy they (and their rivals) are before we begin comparing them to the most accomplished teams.
Marty Burns: It's about as likely to happen as, say, your Thanksgiving turkey getting up and walking off the table. The Lakers have the size and depth to make a good run at it, but not the mental toughness (other than Kobe) to get all the way to 70. The Celtics have the mental toughness, but not the size and depth.
The NBA season is just too long for any team not led by Michael Jordan to win every game night in and night out in the dog days of February and March. We should know this by now. We've seen the Suns, Pistons and Celtics get off to similar red-hot starts in recent years only to fall way short of that magic 70 barrier.
Jack McCallum: Neither will come within 10 games of reaching it. Not only were the Bulls blessed with having the all-time assassin, Jordan, bent on reaching a record level of wins, but the team was also extraordinarily lucky in terms of injuries. Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Toni Kukoc, Steve Kerr and Ron Harper missed only a few games among them, and Dennis Rodman was fine in between suspensions. We are now in an era when players inevitably break down, and somewhere along the line this will happen to Boston or L.A.
Chris Mannix: Winning 70 games in the NBA is like winning 116 in baseball (done twice) or running the regular-season table in the modern-day NFL (also done twice). It's tough even under the best of circumstances. There is no question that the Lakers are the cream of the crop right now: They have size (Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom), skill (Kobe) and a deep bench that enables them to stay in games even when their top players are struggling. But the West is just too tough for them to crack the 70-win barrier.
While the Celtics are the class of the East, they have been in a lot of close games early in the season. And the the age of their stars -- Paul Pierce, 31, Kevin Garnett, 32, and Ray Allen, 33 -- makes them susceptible to injury. This season will eventually prove to be more challenging than 2007-2008, when Boston won 66 games.
Steve Aschburner: I doubt the Lakers or anyone else will win 70 games because this isn't an expansion year. When Chicago won 72 games in 1995-96, Vancouver and Toronto were brand-new entries and absorbed 125 losses (the Grizzlies and the Raptors were a combined 1-5 against the Bulls). Several existing teams were inept, too, with Philadelphia (64), Milwaukee (57), Dallas (56) and Minnesota (56) all losing more than two-thirds of their games. Yet against that backdrop, only six teams besides the Bulls won at least 50.
Put simply, there are more good teams now. Last season, 11 teams won 50 or more. I expect 10 or 11 to do it again this year. Meanwhile, the bottom-feeders are getting better; of the seven teams that lost 56 or more last season, four -- New York, Milwaukee, Miami and Minnesota -- could push toward or past 30 victories. From there, all it takes is the wrong combination of back-to-backs and one semiserious injury to derail a club hoping for 70.
2. Is all the buzz about LeBron James and the rest of the potential 2010 free-agent market good for the league? Is it problematic that a few teams seem more interested in gearing up for 2010 than they do in competing now?
Thomsen: It's all good. Two things here. To land LeBron, Toronto's Chris Bosh or another great player, a team in free agency must spend the next couple of years developing an environment that will convince a great player he can win there. Cap space alone isn't going to do it. Not even the Knicks can afford to tank a season and hope to recruit an established star.
The other part is that teams like the Cavaliers, Raptors and Heat (who are worried about losing Dwyane Wade) have to be more committed than ever about trying to win now. Those three franchises would be ambitious anyway, but over the next two years they must show improvement or else risk losing their biggest asset.
This is a good thing for the league, because it's a demonstration of star players demanding that their teams win. We're likely to see more of this dynamic in the next collective bargaining agreement, when long-term contracts across the board are likely to be shortened and players will enter free agency at a faster rate than before.
Burns: Hope sells. Even if it's blind, better-chance-of-getting-struck-by-lightning hope. How else does one explain the lotto, reality TV and all those Cubs fans?
So, in that sense, it's probably great for the NBA. David Stern has to be cackling with glee as he rings up the cash register. Do you think all this talk about LeBron is going to hurt the Nets, Knicks and Pistons when it comes to season-ticket or skybox renewals between now and 2010? Besides, these LeBron suitors are not exactly gutting their rosters (at least not yet). They are all poised to stay reasonably competitive while they await 2010.
McCallum: Well, it seems bad and, for Clevelanders, I'm sure it's irritating as hell and only adding to the collective neurosis of those good folks by the Erie and the Cuyahoga. But in a rotisserie-league era and when true hoops fans work out theoretical deals as virtual general managers, this endless parlor game is here to stay ... and does provide some grist for conversation about bad teams.
Mannix: To paraphrase a quote from Seinfeld, it's not good for the league and it's not good for anybody. Look, I know that the summer of 2010 could change the fortunes of some teams and break the hearts of others ... but it's TWO YEARS AWAY! Teams like the Knicks and Nets have openly slashed payroll at the expense of team success, and I think by the All-Star break others (Dallas? Miami?) won't be far behind.
What's worth noting is that a creative general manager could exploit the misguided ambitions of others. Take Cavs GM Danny Ferry, who has seemingly been given a blank check by owner Dan Gilbert to build a strong talent base around LeBron. Ferry has a big bargaining chip in the expiring contract of Wally Szczerbiak ($13 million). Could Ferry, for instance, peddle Szczerbiak to New Jersey for Vince Carter? With one or two moves, Ferry could position the Cavs for a run at the title -- and appease James at the same time.
Aschburner: That 2010 buzz doesn't seem all that intriguing to fans in Cleveland, Toronto or Miami, and it doesn't do much for those in NBA cities where the local franchise will either be capped out or snubbed again as an unappealing free-agent destination. There's something not quite right, either, about treating 2008-09 and '09-10 as seasons to endure rather than enjoy, all for a potential payoff two years out. Trades make for great conversation and expectations, but we're facing two trading deadlines and one offseason in which too many deals will be made for cap rather than court strategies. That's why I'm tired of 2010 talk already.
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