by John Maza

All-Star weekend in the NBA—a time where the league’s sharpshooters will make it rain threes, the most colorful guards will put on a clinic, displaying their talent in the skills competition, and everyone will enjoy the favorite, the slam-dunk contest, where the gods of flight take center court in their attempt to awe the world with their high flying, gravity-defying leaps of faith.

It is a chance for today’s stars to reunite with past legends, connect with the fans and show off their jaw-dropping colorful wardrobes.  And by jaw-dropping, I mean Russell Westbrook’s camouflaged tuxedo pants or the classic blue tuxedo, big square glasses and bowtie on the hometown host, James Harden.

Oh, and I forgot to mention the granddaddy of them all, the all-star game itself.  The pickup game of superstars, as I call it, where the players try to crossover, dunk on, jump over and alley-oop it to themselves and school their rivals to show their appreciation to the fans for selecting them, before lacing up the sneakers for real and buckling down for the final stretch of the 2012-2013 season.

Although both fun and entertaining, the NBA’s All-Star weekend in Houston was no different from any other in the past few years.

Today’s superstars continuously refuse to participate in the events that make the weekend, such as LeBron James running away from the dunk contest. This is unlike the stars of the past who competed as if the Larry O’Brien NBA Championship trophy was on the line.

This brings me to my final point about All-Star weekend—happy 50th birthday Michael Jordon.

Aside from the entertainment and excitement that surrounds this weekend, the NBA All-Star weekend is a date that all players, coaches, executives and general managers circle on their calendars as it marks the final stretch, the back half of the season.

With the NBA trade deadline at 2 p.m. today the rumor mill is churning, filled sky-high with potential trades and free agency news.

Similarly to baseball’s winter meetings, All-Star weekend is the place where general managers discuss potential moves.

Dwight Howard, Rajon Rondo, Josh Smith, Kevin Garnett, Pau Gasol and Paul Peirce are the biggest names—just to name a few—to hit the rumor mill so far.  As a result, fans are left to speculate on the fate of the remaining teams in playoff contention.

Of course, when examining the NBA landscape, one cannot help but to mention the Los Angeles Lakers; however, I promise that I will make it short.

The Lakers, with Kobe’s window closing on capturing his sixth title, surrounded him with a Hall-of-Fame worthy cast that includes Steve Nash, Gasol and Howard.

However, as everyone knows, this experiment, mainly because of head coach Mike D’Antoni, has failed miserably, but that is another story.

General Manager Mitch Kupchak has made it clear that that he is not trading either Howard or Gasol this season, and I believe him.

In the end, the Lakers will struggle through the remainder of the season, fire D’Antoni, lose Dwight in free agency, but somehow come back with a new coach, a healthy Gasol, a retooled roster and most importantly, a pissed-off Bryant.

Leaping our way across the Staples Center, we move to the Los Angeles Clippers. The Clippers are legit.

They are deep, talented and high-flying, but are still one piece away from being able to compete with San Antonio and Oklahoma City for the Western Conference crown.

However, they will be able to go deep into the playoffs, just not all the way to the big dance, because it appears as if Garnett is staying in Boston—better luck next year.

The San Antonio Spurs could potentially steal the West behind the stellar play and bounce-back year of not only Tim Duncan, but more importantly Tony Parker.

The Oklahoma City Thunder will give them a tough matchup in the Western Conference Finals—however, the loss of James Harden is too great for the selfish play of Russell Westbrook, at times.

Unless Kevin Durant asserts himself as the go to guy, the Spurs will steal the West from the Thunder.

This brings us to the East where two superstar point guards look to be out for the remainder of the season.

Rajon Rondo of the Boston Celtics is out for the year with a torn ACL, and it looks as if Derrick Rose is refusing to return until next season when he is 100 percent.

Although Chicago appears to be the better team now, the Celtics have put together a nice run and are clicking on all cylinders, ever since Rondo’s injury.

General Manager Danny Ainge is known for having a trick or two up his sleeve, and I believe that Boston will add a piece to assist Garnett and Peirce in returning to the Eastern Conference Finals to challenge the Heat.

However, do not forget about Indiana as the dark horse in all of this as their leading scorer and best defender, Danny Granger, is about to return from injury.

Of course, this leads us to the most talked about topic of the NBA, the Miami Heat, and in particular LeBron James. LeBron entered the All-Star break averaging at least 30 points and shooting at least 55 percent from the field over his last seven games.  He is greatness, and the entire league may be witnessing one of the greatest basketball players to ever play the game.

The NBA is no longer the national basketball association.  It is the LJL, the LeBron James league, where King James is showing us a dominate side, yet another elevation of his game that nobody, not even Dwayne Wade, saw coming.

With a healthy Wade and Bosh, both of whom are putting up career numbers this season, and the King himself currently making us all witnesses, the Miami Heat cannot be stopped.

LeBron will get his second ring, and Miami will beat the Thunder in five games defending their crown as NBA champions.

En route, LeBron will join elite company by being named to his forth MVP award to join Kareem, Russell, Jordon and Wilt as the only players in NBA history to win the award four times.

On the flip side, Durant will win the Scoring Title, Damian Lillard will be the Rookie of the Year, Jamal Crawford will be the Sixth Man of the Year and Greg Popovich will be the Coach of the Year.

However, a lot can change in the NBA with the deadline looming, but one thing is set in stone.  This is the year of LeBron James.  How will the rest of the league respond?


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