Even before the NBA lockout went official, players, fans and owners were lamenting who would be hurt most by a work stoppage. And you’re certain to catch an earful if you say it’s anyone other than the fans — the ones not making seven figures.
But fans and players are jointly affected if a season is lost by the shortening of numerous players’ primes. The fans miss seeing their favorite stars dazzle on the court while the players lose a season of high quality basketball, in some cases their best.
The situation hits home in particular for the Phoenix Suns, who have hitched their wagon to point guard Steve Nash year after year. No one’s faulted them for that because even in his late 30s Nash has been a productive, game-changing player. But with only so many years left, a lost season would steal away one of Nash’s final years to make magic on the hardwood.
Nash fits into a category of player whose career could be pushed toward its end by an extended lockout, one of four categories of player that will be truly affected by the lockout (no, Joel Anthony does not fit into one of these categories). Let’s take a look at each and see where the Suns stack up:
Obviously, this is the Nash category. The star who is past his true prime but still productive and skilled. Think guys 30 and older, in most cases.
The major players under this umbrella are Nash, Dirk Nowitzki, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce. The debatables for this category? Tim Duncan, Jason Terry and Jason Kidd.
You could make cases for others and argue whether or not certain guys belong in the category or not, but these guys are ultimately declining stars who can’t afford to miss a season. That’s not to say these guys are washed up because they most certainly are not. Bryant averaged more than 25 points last year and Nowitzki took the Mavericks all the way.
The plain and simple of it with these guys is that they can work as hard as they want to stay in physical and competitive form, but if a season is lost they will come back one year further from their peak and that much closer to retirement. In Nash’s case, that fact is compounded by his battles with injuries over the past two seasons. With one or two truly productive seasons left, Nash can’t afford to lose one.
And while Grant Hill is not in this tier of star, he too would be affected in the same way. He’s still playing solid basketball, particularly on defense, and a lost season could be the end of his career.
Stars in their prime
This is the new guard of the NBA. The reigning elite in some stage of their primes. We’re talking LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard. And on the fringe of true superstardom there’s Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love, Pau Gasol, Amare Stoudemire, Joe Johnson, Monta Ellis, Chris Bosh and Blake Griffin.
Again, you could argue another handful of guys belong in that discussion, but only in the latter of the two groups. The first set of guys? Those are franchise cornerstones and it is truly sad to think about losing any of those guys’ primes, whether you love them or hate them (ahem, LeBron James).
I won’t make the blogosphere mistake of comparing any of them to Michael Jordan, but think about the time he spent away from basketball wielding a baseball bat — we still talk about what could have been those years. This would be kind of like that. Is there anyone who isn’t bummed about the possibility of missing a year of Derrick Rose dunks, Blake Griffin super dunks or Wade to James alley-oops?
The Suns don’t have one of these guys, which is why they aren’t going to sniff the latter half of the postseason any time soon, if even the playoffs.
This category casts a pretty wide net, so I’ll limit the number of guys named but think along the lines of Wesley Matthews, James Harden and Nicolas Batum. These are guys, in a range of talent, who just got done playing the best basketball of their career and could face a year off. Right when these guys are starting to really make an impact in the NBA, they could be looking at significant downtime.
In the Suns’ case, this would be Jared Dudley and Channing Frye. Both players just got big contracts in Phoenix and proved they were worth it during the 2010-11 season. Now they’re not getting paid and might be losing a year of what can be a more limited prime.
Really, these players may be the ones hurt the most, particularly on the lower end of the talent range. Guys like Dudley and Frye will still be valuable after the lockout (assuming it ends…), but are being deprived of the opportunity to take an even greater leap in the NBA. Dudley and Frye are key pieces of the Suns’ young core and it has to be hard for Suns fans to think about having one of their potential best seasons go to waste.
This one is pretty obvious so we won’t get too deep. The guys who just got drafted (and really players still developing from last year’s draft) could lose a year off the front end of their career, which is certainly easier than losing one off the end like Nash but still a shame.
In Phoenix, Markeiff Morris looks to be the future at power forward and the Suns could lose a season of his development, further delaying their inevitable youth takeover. We’ll include Gani Lawal here, too, as he is positioned to become a legitimate contributor for the Suns, but not if the season never comes.
You may disagree with particular placement of certain players (looking at you, Lakers fans), or wonder where a host of other players fit in it all, but the ultimate point is this: NBA players could lose a season, which is not a a quantity that can be replenished, and NBA fans lose out on watching those players in their best seasons and final hurrahs. And, on both counts, what a tragedy that would be.