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NBA's new season looks like it's can't miss; just ask the analysts

ESPN NBA analyst and former Knicks coach Jeff

ESPN NBA analyst and former Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy is shown before the start of a preseason NBA game between the Miami Heat and New Orleans Hornets in Miami. Credit: AP, 2012

Greg Anthony called it "a bit of a perfect storm.''

Reggie Miller said, "We are cruising a nice wave right here."

Mark Jackson saw it as "an extremely high point.''

Jeff Van Gundy lauded "a great position.''

OK, so perhaps the top analysts for the NBA's two biggest TV partners -- Turner (Anthony and Miller) and ESPN (Jackson and Van Gundy) -- are not the most objective possible sources. But few would accuse them of overstating the case.

By any objective measure, this is a good time to be the NBA, which as it begins its 2014-15 season is reveling in riches on all fronts, from story lines to the bottom line.

About the latter: The league earlier this month signed extensions with ESPN and Turner that will reap $24 billion and expire a few months after LeBron James' 40th birthday, a development that made the notion of Steve Ballmer paying $2 billion for the Clippers seem significantly less reckless.

And about the former: Well, let's see . . . James is returning to Cleveland, Kobe Bryant and Derrick Rose are back from injuries for the Lakers and Bulls, Phil Jackson is attempting to reshape the Knicks with Carmelo Anthony safely back in the fold, the Western Conference again is a hyper-talented, anything-can-happen free-for-all, etc.

Added bonus: Unlike the only American sports league that is more popular and wealthy than the NBA, basketball has been relatively scandal-free of late and has a widely liked new commissioner still in his honeymoon period.

"I don't want to necessarily look at it as a peak,'' Greg Anthony said. "I think this is a progression that has a lot of upward mobility, and I think it always starts in a league that's star-driven with the character of our stars. I mean, just think about how these guys have resonated with the public. From LeBron James, even though he had his issues when he left Cleveland, to Kevin Durant. These guys have high character, and I think for a sport that really values that connection from their athletes to the fans, we couldn't have a better dynamic when you look at that.''

Said Miller, "I think out of all the sports leagues, and this goes back to '85 with commissioner [David] Stern, I do not think there's another sports league that really markets their superstars at a higher level.''

Miller noted the young players poised to join the superstar pipeline, including the Bucks' Jabari Parker, the No. 2 overall pick in this year's draft. "We do a good job jumping on the backs of our superstars, but at the end of the day, these guys go out and perform at a high level, and I think that always helps the product,'' Miller said. "When your players are out there doing what they do best on the biggest stage, I think that draws fans to the game, and that's what makes it so marketable right now -- and so profitable.''

The NBA has added to its degree of difficulty by succeeding with its two most traditional powers, the Celtics and Lakers, failing to make the playoffs last season and unlikely to do so in 2014-15. But those franchises historically have bounced back after regrouping. Perhaps even more importantly, there is widespread optimism in New York that Phil Jackson will end the franchise's long championship drought -- eventually.

For now, the defending champs are the low-wattage, small-market Spurs, and the public does not seem to mind.

"I think as a fan, there are so many stories because no longer can you say, well, this is a team that's going to run away or these are the two teams,'' Mark Jackson said. "There are so many teams that have a legitimate chance.

"Even if you say, like Jeff said earlier, two in the Eastern Conference and five at least in the Western Conference, that is seven teams with a legitimate chance to, at the end of the day, win it all, and I think it is great for basketball and it's great as a fan.''

Van Gundy did not disagree about the state of the league, but he did sound a note of caution against complacency.

"I think one thing that the NBA through this era of prosperity has to be very aware of is what they can do for the fan, because prices continue to go up; everything around the live viewing experience continues to increase,'' he said.

"Sometimes when you're in this prosperity era, where everything is going well, we can lose sight of who are the main reasons for our successes -- the great players, the people who drive the business aspect, but it's also the fans that continue to buy the product.

"I think we have to look out as all this money is getting passed around. How can we make it better for the fan? Is there a way to cut concessions or ticket prices to make it more affordable? I think it's something we need to explore.''

For now, fans continue to pay in droves to watch their teams in person in most markets, and even more importantly, major TV networks are poised to pay big deep into the next decade.

"It's an awesome time to be an NBA owner, player, coach, management,'' Mark Jackson said. "It's just an incredible time.''

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