Once the two time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers were eliminated in the Western Conference semifinals it was assured that there would be a new king atop the NBA.
Many observers expected the NBA’s new royalty would be based on South Beach with LeBron "King" James leading the Miami Heat to a victory in the NBA Finals over the Dallas Mavericks.
But instead it is Dirk Nowitzki and his fellow Dallas Mavericks who wear the crown as NBA Champions following their six game Finals win.
It was satisfying for Nowitzki and mates, especially Jason Terry who, along with Dirk, were part of the Dallas team that lost to Miami in the 2006 Finals. That series was also decided in six games but was painful for the folks from Texas. Dallas led that series 2-0 and had a double digit lead in Game 3 before losing four straight.
Miami’s Dwyane Wade was a focal point of the 2006 team along with Shaquille O’Neal. O’Neal helped deliver what James could not -- and so there will be plenty of questions asked during the offseason by supporters of the Heat.
But will there be any quick answers?
The collective bargaining agreement between the NBA and the Players’ Association expires June 30 and it’s all but certain that the owners will do what its NFL brethren have done and lock out the players.
There’s been some widely reported speculation that the NBA lockout is likely to be more harmful than the one currently shutting down the NFL. The NBA owners are likely to take a very hard line against the players for significant concessions and there’s already fairly recent evidence of the owners’ resolve.
Recall that the 1998-99 NBA season was shortened to 50 games after the owners had imposed a lockout on July 1, 1998. The dispute was not resolved until January 1999 and the Championship that season was won by the San Antonio Spurs.
Recall the ex-Chicago and LA Lakers coach Phil Jackson called it a "tainted" Championship although the Spurs went on to win three more titles over the next decade.
Assuming there is a 2011-2012 NBA season there are a handful of teams that appear poised to make the leap and become true challengers for the NBA title.
In the East, Miami is a 2-1 favorite at the Hilton with the trio of Wade, James and Chris Bosh after falling just a couple of wins short this past season. The most fashionable choice as challenger to Miami will be Chicago (6-1), the team the Heat eliminated in this season’s Eastern Conference Finals.
Boston (8-1) may well still have its own championship trio of Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce but the Celtics’ window may have closed for the aging veterans.
If you are looking for a longshot to emerge from the East you might wish to consider the New York Knicks at 30-1. The trade this past February that brought Carmelo Anthony to New York to join first season Knick center Amare Stoudemire seemed to have a nice upside potential for a while.
Perhaps another key acquisition could propel this once proud but long forlorn franchise back into the NBA spotlight. The prevailing thought suggests that the Knicks may need another marquee player, considered by many to be Chris Paul to complete what would then be a championship caliber roster following the 2011-12 season if not sooner.
The Los Angeles Lakers (7-1) are likely preseason favorites to win the West next season although Dallas (7-1) will also receive some well deserved respect and consideration. The same may be true of the aging San Antonio (15-1), the team that had the best record for much of this past NBA season. The Spurs held on to the top Western seed before being eliminated in the first round by eighth seeded Memphis (40-1).
In fact, based on their performance in this season’s Playoffs it could be a team such as Memphis, or the team that eliminated the Grizzlies in the Western Conference Finals, Oklahoma City (7-1), that could be poised to take "that next step."
Both Denver (25-1) and Portland (30-1) could receive support at well as both teams had fine seasons and have enough of a blend of youth and veteran leadership to be contenders.
It certainly appears that the balance of power – at least at the top level – remains in the Western Conference, which has the NBA champion for a third straight season.
Since the Chicago Bulls won the last of their six NBA titles in 1998 the Western Conference champ has won the NBA title in 10 of the following 13 seasons. Of course, nine of those titles belong to the tandem of San Antonio and the Lakers.
Let’s all hope that the winner of the 2011-12 Championship shall not be named "vacant."
Enjoy the offseason and hopefully NBA coverage will resume on schedule in late October.