1) New York Knicks
The arrival of first Amar’e Stoudemire and the Carmelo Anthony at mid-season made the garden come alive in ways that it hasn’t since the late 90s.Â Knick fans were even talking about a title for the first time since the Patrick Ewing era.Â Title or not, with as much clout that James Dolan/Cablevision this current Knicks squad was a surefire goldmine entering the 2011-2012 season.Â Now, the longer this lockout drags on, the longer that it will take for Dolan to be able to really capitalize on all of the marketing/revenue generating potential of his two superstars across Cablevision’s various platforms.
2) Memphis Grizzlies
Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley must’ve been salivating at the prospect of a year filled with arena sellouts and increased luxury box revenue.Â For the first time in the franchise’s history the Grizzlies made it to the second round of the playoffs and this group of “blue collar” players led by Zach Randolph, Mike Conley and Marc Gasol resonated with fans in Memphis in ways that no previous Grizzlies team had ever done.Â The goodwill curried between fans and the organization this year will gradually come apart over the course of the lockout. And instead of reuniting fans with their beloved playoff contending Grizzlies in 2011-12, the Grizzlies front office now has to pray that fans aren’t too bitter to return once play resumes.
3) Indiana Pacers
Unlike the Grizzlies, Pacer fans have experienced playoff success in recent memory so a strong showing in the first round of this year’s eastern conference playoffs wouldn’t have necessarily bowled them over.Â That said, you couldn’t undersell the allure of a bunch of unassuming basketball players in Indiana.Â There are no superstars on this Pacers squad.Â Nor are there the mischievous sorts whose antics sullied the franchise in the early part of this decade.Â Roy Hibbert and Tyler Hansborough are players whose games and personas are lifted straight out of Hoosiers, and Darren Collison is one of the most underrated perimeter players in the league.Â There’s nothing not to like about this group of guys.Â Unfortunately, most fans tend to see the lockout as a millionaires versus billionaires squabble.Â This perception is bad PR for the players in the short-run, but in the long run, when franchises like the Pacers have to work overtime to win back fans, the owners will realize that the players aren’t the only ones to lose out from this situation.
The Warriors have worked very hard this past year on building their brand.Â And you know what, it’s hard to brand yourself as an NBA team when there’s no NBA season.Â With no record of recent success to harken back to and virtually an entire roster on the trading block, once play resumes the Warriors will have to work even harder to prove to fans and sponsors that they’re not just scrimmage partners for teams like the Heat, Lakers, and Mavericks.
5) Chicago Bulls
Carlos Boozer is my personal pick to be this lockout’s Shawn Kemp, the player who returns out of shape and dooms his team’s chances at contending.Â Looking at all the contenders you’ll be hard pressed to find more of an outlier in a team’s nucleus than Boozer.Â The other Bulls stars Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson were all Bulls’ draftees and metaphorically speaking came up through the Bulls system together.Â Boozer is the big star that was meant to get them over the hump.Â Thing is though, this team is not really built around Boozer.Â The Bulls need his 20points, but you also get the impression that other than that, they pretty much need him to stay out of Derrick Rose’s way.Â A regular off season would give head coach Tom Thibodeau time to work with this group to make sure they learned the appropriate lessons from the Indiana and Miami series, and more importantly to get on the same page.Â If they have to rush through the pre-season, I am hard pressed to believe that this Bulls squad can take another step forward.