With training camp on the horizon, league chatter has picked up again, and it's difficult to separate the useful pieces of information from the useless.
It is at this point in the offseason that most fanbases are filled with optimism and have assured themselves that their teams' rookies and free-agency signings will work out flawlessly.
While this won't be the case for every team, there promises to be some surprising teams. It will be a sad day in the NBA when fanbases don't have a reason to get excited for regarding a new season.
In a few short months, we will know which teams have progressed from the 2012 season and those who have taken a step back.
Even Charlotte Bobcats fans have to be optimistic about the arrival of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and the continued progression of Kemba Walker.
Let's try to make sense of the latest NBA grumblings.
James Harden is set to be a restricted free agent after the 2013 season, and barring any serious injuries, he will receive max-contract offers from multiple teams.
While the Oklahoma City Thunder don't want to see Harden leave town, they may not have a choice. If the Thunder were to sign him to a long-term contract, the majority of their money would be tied up in four players.
Jenni Carlson of newsok.com speculates that it may be close to be impossible for the Thunder to re-sign Harden.
According to Carlson, Thunder GM Sam Presti said the following about the Harden situation:
...By the same token, we've been very upfront and transparent with everybody that we have some inherent challenges that we face as an organization as a result of the new collective bargaining agreement. I know we'd love to have him here. I think James would like to be here as well. But at the end of the day... you have to find a way to make it work for everybody.
With Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka all signed to lucrative long-term contracts, re-signing Harden would put the Thunder on the brink of the luxury tax.
Considering that under the new CBA the luxury tax has only gotten more expensive, it appears to be unlikely that owner Clayton Bennett would authorize a big contract for Harden.
If Harden hits restricted free agency next summer,—something that seems very likely at this point—the Thunder will be faced with a very tough and expensive decision.
Presti could try to trade Harden before the trade deadline, but it's unlikely that he would be able to make the team any better in the short term by doing so. The Thunder are focused on winning the 2013 NBA title, and Harden's presence on the roster makes them one of the favorites.
Looking into my crystal ball, I see Harden leaving Oklahoma City next summer and signing a max contract with the Phoenix Suns.
Tyreke Evans had a brilliant rookie campaign that culminated with him winning the Rookie of the Year award. Since then, Evans has regressed statically in each season and is entering the final year of his contract.
The Sacramento Kings don't want to be tied with Evans in the long term until he is able to produce like he did during his rookie season. Although it feels like I'm beating a dead horse, Evans won't be successful until he finds the position that is right for him.
Evans needs time to learn the nuances of a position, something that hasn't been granted to him due to the Kings' desire to have him play both guard positions and small forward.
The speculation on what the future holds for Evans has been incessant. As his future was being debated on the Internet, Evans has been training harder than ever according to Marc Spears of Yahoo! Sports.
According to Spears, Kings GM Geoff Petrie said the following about Evans and his progression as a player:
He's been a lot more focused this summer. Part of it is maturing as a player. You kind of forget that he is only 22 years old. He's definitely put in more work and concentration in trying to improve parts of his game. He wants to be thought of as one of the best players in the league.
The time is now for Evans, and he appears to understand that now. The Kings made a strong statement when they didn't offer Evans a new contract in the offseason, but it had to be made.
Sacramento is clearly willing to let the talented 22-year-old walk if he doesn't develop into a franchise altering player this season.
Evans appears to be poised for a huge season, but until he produces, the criticism won't stop.
The Philadelphia 76ers will have three new starters when this season tips off, but there haven't been any clear signs as to who will start at shooting guard.
The 76ers started Jodie Meeks at the position in each of the last two seasons, but he signed with the Los Angeles Lakers in free agency and is no longer an option. While Evan Turner also spent some time at shooting guard in the past, he would be better off at small forward due to his ability to get to the rim.
Earlier in the offseason, GM Rod Thorn signed Nick Young in free agency and acquired Jason Richardson in the trade that also brought Andrew Bynum to Philly.
Dei Lynam of CSNPhilly.com believes Richardson is the favorite to earn the starting nod due to his skill-set.
While J-Rich is coming off the worst season of his career, that could be attributed to the lockout-shortened season and the drama that surrounded the Orlando Magic during the 2012 campaign.
I expect Doug Collins to give Richardson and Young their fair share of playing time early on in order to see which player fits in with the team better.
J-Rich has a ton more experience than Young but also has also racked up more mileage on his body.
At the very least, both players have the ability to take over a game when they get hot from the field.
While the 76ers don't have an elite shooting guard, their combination of explosive scorers could turn out to be a major asset this season.
The Portland Trail Blazers had two lottery picks in the 2012 draft and hope that they nabbed a franchise point guard and center with those selections.
While point guard Damian Lillard has been nothing short of excellent leading up to this season, the jury remains out on center Meyers Leonard.
When Leonard was drafted with the 11th pick, the Trail Blazers knew they were getting bit of a project. However, Leonard's size, athleticism and ability to block shots was too much for them to pass up.
The Blazers have started LaMarcus Aldridge at center in the past, but they would be a better team if he was able to play power forward. If Leonard is able to transition to the pro game quickly, then Portland would quickly establish themselves as one of the league's most dangerous frontcourts.
I don't want to put any limitations on Meyers. I've been very impressed with what he's done this past week. Training camp is three weeks away so I don't want to have any preconceived notions of what Meyers will be capable of doing overnight almost two months from now. I don't want to say today that Meyers is going to come along slowly. If he's ready to start opening night, he'll start opening night. To say that he's going to be the starter opening night, I think that's too early to say too.
The Blazers want Leonard to start and would like to see him in that role as early as possible. The quicker Leonard is able to develop into a solid NBA player, the quicker that Portland will find its way back into the playoffs.
With the Trail Blazers not expected to make the playoffs this season in a deep Western Conference, the focus should be on developing their young talent and building team chemistry.
Chauncey Billups tore his Achilles tendon a little over a month into the 2012 season, and his future in the NBA appeared bleak. The thought was that the rehab would take a considerable amount of time and that even when Billups returned, he wouldn't have the same explosiveness and lift on his jump shot.
While we still don't know what to expect from Billups, he appears to be ahead of schedule.
According to Helene Elliot of the Los Angeles Times, Billups said the following about his rehabilitation and progress:
When my body feels right, that's when I'll be back. That being said, I'm far ahead of schedule. It's not even like I had a summer. I've been on the whole time, doing rehabbing and other work every day. I'm looking forward to getting back to playing and being with the guys and resuming my normal life as a player.
It isn't uncommon for athletes to exaggerate the progress that they have made in rehab, but that doesn't appear to be the case here.
Billups isn't rushing to get back on the court and won't put himself in that position until he feels that he is ready. A young player would have backed himself into a corner as they tried to put a deadline on their return, but Billups is smarter than that.