149 painful days. That’s how long it took the NBPA and the Owners to agree upon a tentative deal that would bring us back our beloved game.

Before we get too carried away with blind analysis and speculation, it would be important to take note of the fact that this agreement is “tentative”, which means that it isn’t official yet. Stern and Hunter both seemed confident that their sides would sign off, but nothing is for certain.

Now that we have that settled, I find that it would be fitting during this holiday season to give you 30 reasons for why I’m thankful for basketball…

1: I’m excited to watch the Charlotte Bobcats win 40-45% of their games, flirt with the #8 seed in the weak Eastern Conference, but ultimately miss the playoffs. Of course, rumors of contraction will follow, and Michael Jordan will remain stoic. I love it. I’m also excited for Bismack Biyombo (Hasheem Thabeet w/o the college resume.. gulp) and Kemba Walker.

2: I’m excited for many Atlanta Hawks games at 8:00 on TNT in which Al Horford drops 16-10, Zaza Pachulia tries to rip somebody’s face off, Josh Smith blocks a couple of shots, flexes his muscles, and then disappears, and Joe Johnson scores 27 on 8-29 from the field. Oh, yes, I have missed the Atlanta Hawks.

3: I can’t wait for Tom Thibodeau’s  second season at the helm for Chicago. I also can’t wait for Derrick Rose to drop something like 24 pts, 7 assists, and 42% shooting followed by everyone saying, “Wait, this is the same D-Rose from last year. Was he REALLY the MVP?”

4: I can’t wait for another Cleveland Cavaliers season in which they start off strong, go on a 17 game losing streak, and everyone realizes that by February they can’t make the playoffs. I believe in the tag team of Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson, though. I just don’t believe in Baron Davis – who will weigh approximately 235 pounds on opening day.

5: I can’t wait for one of the final above average seasons for the Boston Celtics before they have to reload. Paul Pierce, their best player, is 34 years old. Kevin Garnett has 16 NBA seasons under his belt and posted career lows last season, and Ray Allen isn’t immortal. I feel like Celtics fans will see a little bit too much Glen Davis and Jeff Green this year. The C’s number one priority should be signing Rajon Rondo to a long term contract. Oh yeah, and I can’t wait to hear Tommy Heinson be completely and shamelessly biased in his commentary.

6: I can’t wait to watch the Denver Nuggets be painfully average this season. They have lots of good players – Wilson Chandler, Birdman Anderson, Danilo Galinari, Al Harrington, Ty Lawson, Kenyon Martin, Andre Miller, J.R Smith, Nene – but no really good players. This is a superstar driven league, folks, and the Nuggets don’t have a superstar.

7: I’m excited to watch the Detroit Pistons be really bad this year, followed by the team trading away Richard Hamilton for spare parts, Ben Gordon being anointed as the best basketball player in the state of Michigan, Pistons fans saying, “Wait a second, our two best assets are Rodney Stuckey and Will Bynum. Why did we draft Brandon Knight???” followed by head coach Lawrence Frank nodding sadly and saying, “I… I’m not sure”.

8: I can’t wait for Mark Jackson’s debut as an NBA head coach! I have loved listening to his commentary on Sunday afternoons, and I am sure I will love watching him wince at the prospect of trying to find enough shots for Stephen Curry + Monte Ellis. The Golden State Warriors will be fun to watch, but won’t win many games.

9: I’m excited for the Houston Rockets to be a good team, but not really have a shot at being contenders. They are going to play close games against all the best teams, but be trounced in the first round of the playoffs. Oh yeah, and Kevin McHale will be fired after the year. Gooooo Rockets!

10: I can’t wait to hear this back and forth from Indiana Pacers fans:

Fan #1: Dude, I don’t know why we can’t win any games. Roy Hibbert is the most underrated center in basketball, Tyler Hansbrough can hit the boards and play defense, Dahantay Jones is serviceable, and Danny Granger is a borderline All Star!

Fan # 2: Dude, listen to yourself. All of those guys suck. Danny Granger is our best player. We’re screwed.

Fan #1: (Nodding sadly)

11: I am excited for Blake Griffin! Who isn’t excited for Blake Griffin? In my opinion, he is the best athlete in basketball history. 6’10, 255 pounds, already won a dunk contest. I think Griffin is due for a humungous year. I wouldn’t be suprised if he drops 25 pts, 12 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks, and 4 “Oh my gosh, did you just see that?” plays. I’m a Los Angeles Clipper believer.

12: I am excited to watch my beloved Lakers again. They will consistently have one of the most talented, yet least motivated starting lineups in basketball. Ron Artest (I will never refer to him as ‘Metta World Peace’) needs to be shipped outta town. Pau Gasol will be an All Star, Andrew Bynum could break out for 15-10, and Lamar Odom will  get 276 compliments from analysts that sound like this: “Odom is sooooo skilled for a big man. He can dribble, rebound, and score!” followed by Lakers fans screaming “DON’T LET HIM FOOL YOU!!!!” Also, let us not forget about the marriage between Kobe Bryant and Mike Brown. Will Brown play Kobe 38 minutes per game? If so, I think Kobe will show everyone that he can still score with the best of ’em. I think Kobe has a window of 3-4 seasons in which he can put up 20-25 points per game before he starts to dwindle significantly. If he wants that scoring record, he’s gotta go hard. Oh yeah, and I’m also excited for Luke Walton.

13: I want to see how the Memphis Grizzlies can perform with a dangerous starting five of Mike Conley, OJ Mayo, Rudy Gay, Marc Gasol, and Zach Randolph. Name me ten starting units better than that! You can’t. Also, I like Sam Young, Shane Battier, and Xavier Henry off the bench. Beware the Grizz!

14: I am excited for the Miami Heat. I think it’s fairly self explanatory, but LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade almost won an NBA championship after playing with each other for like seven months. If they can get 27,7,7 from James, 25-6-5 from Wade, and 18-6 from Bosh.. deadly. Best trio in the league. But, as the Mavericks showed us this summer, it takes a team.

15: I’m excited for the Milwaukee Bucks! Andrew Bogut! Brandon Jennings! Stephen Jackson! Luk Richard Mbah-Moute! Fear the Deer! Just kidding. No I’m not.

16: I’m legitimately excited for the Minnesota T-Wolves. This should be their best season since the Kevin Garnett days, and Kevin Love + Derrick Williams + Ricky Rubi0 (whom I am not sold on, by the way) + Michael Beasley are formidable. Look for them to push for the 8 seed in the West. Yeah, I’m all about bold predictions.

17: I’m excited for any devious plan that Mikhail Prokhorov has up his sleeves for the New Jersey Nets. I’m looking forward to their move to Brooklyn more than I am to see Deron Williams and Jordan Farmar throw lobs to Brook Lopez…

18: I would be excited for the New Orleans Hornets, but the inevitable trading of Chris Paul for five draft picks, six players, and a washing machine sucks all hope I have for them. But I mean look at the bright side.  Trevor Ariza is pretty good! Right?

19: I’m excited to watch Knicks games and think to myself, “Wouldn’t the best offense for these guys be a high screen and roll with Amare Stoudamire and Carmelo Anthony? Or does that make too much sense?” followed by James Dolan calling me to ensure me that it does, in fact, make too much sense.

20: I’m excited to watch the Oklahoma City Thunder juggle their talents. James Harden looks to improve upon his 2010 campaign, but how can he do that with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook already cannibalizing themselves for shots? I have a solution, but it involves Westbrook, ductape, the Oklahoma sewer system, and a crazy Thunder fan… moving on.

21: I can’t wait for Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard to post 24 pts, 13 rebounds, 3 blocks, 57% field goal shooting, a league high PER, and the defensive player of the year award, yet MVP voters dismissing him because, well, I don’t know. D12 is poised for a standout year a la Shaq in ’02. I’m serious.

22: I can’t wait for another lousy season in Philadelphia. Andre Iquodala is good, but he’s no LeBron James. And can somebody remind Evan Turner that he’s supposed to be good? Thanks.

23: I can’t wait to watch Steve Nash and the Phoenix Suns play, again! Another 16 point, 11 assist season awaits Nash, who will be overlooked because his team is mediocre. If the Sun’s management still has a pulse, then they need to trade Nash to a contender. It’s the right thing to do.

24: I’m looking forward to the 2011 Portland Trailblazers, and Lamarcus Aldridge’s best ’04 Kevin Garnett impression. He could be looking at second or third team all NBA this year.

25: I’m excited for Jimmer mania in Sacramento. Pseudo prediction: he’s going to average 9 points and one assist off the bench, shoot 40% from three, and basically be Eddie House for the rest of his career. DeMarcus Cousins, Tyreke Evans, and JJ Hickson give this team some optimism.

26: I’m excited to watch the San Antonio Spurs be exactly what they have been for the past 10 years. Tim Duncan doesn’t have many more miles on those knees, so we should all appreciate him while we can. Career averages of 21-11 on 51% shooting, four championships, 9 time all NBA first team, 8 time all NBA defensive team, 2 MVP awards.

27: I’m thankful for the Toronto Raptors. Unfortunately, I am the only one. DeMar Derozan, anybody?

28: I’m excited for the Utah Jazz, who have about 6 C+ players and a host of scrubs. Tyrone Corbin has his hands full in the competitive Western Conference.

29: The Washington Wizards. Everybody repeat after me: Do the Johhhn Walllll. Johhhhhnnn Walllll. Johhhhnnnn Wallllll. How many fifteen foot jump shots can Andray Blatche miss? We’re about to find out!

30: I’m excited to watch Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks try to defend their championship. Dirk’s career numbers? 23 points, 8.4 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 47% shooting, 38% three pointers, four time first team all NBA, five time all NBA second team. He’s a sure fire Hall of Famer, but where does he rank amongst the all time greats? Maybe this year we can get a better picture. Does he belong in the same sentence as Barkley? Duncan? Malone?

Whew…

If you didn’t notice, I just just gave you thirty reasons (one for every NBA team) for why I am thankful for/excited about the 2011 NBA season. I thought it was going to be taken away from me, but instead I get to enjoy the fast break dunks, the no look passes, the sick crossovers, the step back jumpers. I get to enjoy Kobe. LeBron. Wade. Dwight. Durant. Paul.

I love the NBA.

And it’s back!

Merry Christmas, everybody.

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