By week's end, we will finally have some real NBA action to speak of.
Training camp for teams competing in the overseas preseason games begins on Sept. 29. The rest of the NBA kicks off camp a week later. No matter how you slice it, basketball is right around the corner.
Prying eyes will soon want to know what their team is working on. In the weeks leading up to the season opener, every team will be doing heavy conditioning, building its rotation and ironing out offensive and defensive sets.
In every camp there is going to be an item that is placed on a higher plane than the rest of the work. Each franchise has a priority improvement it needs to reach in order to succeed in the 2012-13 season.
Priority Job: Creating a new flow to the offense
It is a fresh start for the Atlanta Hawks in the 2012-13 season. With Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams out of town, the Hawks will need to give their offensive philosophy a complete makeover.
Last season in Atlanta, Johnson put up 16 shots per game. He also registered four assists and three free-throw attempts, while committing two turnovers a night. In total this is about 24 possessions each game that finished or nearly finished (assists) with the ball in Johnson's hands. For Williams, that number is 13.
The assist leader for the Hawks, Jeff Teague, registered under five per game. With those 37 possessions no longer on the court, Teague needs to make more of an impact on the games. It is his distribution that will make a new-look offense flow. With new faces like Lou Williams, Anthony Morrow and Kyle Korver in the fray, a new offensive philosophy is paramount to Atlanta's continued success.
That new philosophy will be Teague's increased responsibilities, as well as considerably more opportunities for Al Horford. Horford only received 9.4 shots per game last season but connected on 55 percent of them. The Horford-Teague tandem (with Devin Harris mixed in) will keep Atlanta from reeling at the departure of a star.
Priority Job: Integrating new skill sets into an old scheme
Change will be a big thing in Boston this training camp. However, even with all the new faces, the scheme and product coming out of the Celtics home will remain very familiar.
Boston has not been a "Big Three" for a few years now, and the loss of Ray Allen has been minimized by new additions. When Avery Bradley heals up, the Celtics will have three shooting guards, all capable of starting at the NBA level.
The team is still Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Doc Rivers. That has not changed from last year or the year before. What has changed is an influx of talented role players who will all be fighting for time. On paper, at least, gone are the days of Marquis Daniels and Sasha Pavlovic playing big roles. Boston signed a lot of talent this offseason and has even more coming back from injury.
Rivers has his work cut out for him integrating these new pieces into Boston's proven system. How many minutes will Jared Sullinger, Jeff Green and Chris Wilcox get? What happens when Bradley returns? These are all questions he must find the answers to in training camp.
Five straight seasons with deep playoff runs have proven this system works. Now Boston must infuse that system with some much-needed talent.
Priority Job: Developing a deep rotation
The Brooklyn Nets are going to score points, and they are going to win games. However, over an 82-game season, a dynamic starting five can only get you so far.
Brooklyn could very well be starting three All-Stars, and it has surrounded them with two of the better role players in the league in Kris Humphries and Gerald Wallace. Beyond those five players, the Nets are razor-thin on talent.
Andray Blatche and Josh Childress are massive hit-or-miss signings, and MarShon Brooks has big expectations for his sophomore campaign.
Injuries and dud games are going to happen over the course of a season. How far the Nets can go in the postseason will weigh heavy on their seeding. Deeper teams can win more games when their starters falter or are absent, leading to better seeds.
Brooklyn's starting five will get it far, but it must use training camp to figure out a second unit that can hang with the others in the NBA.
Priority Job: Let positional battles work themselves out
Is there a position in Charlotte that is already decided besides that of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist?
Every way you turn with the Bobcats roster there is uncertainty in roles. With the additions of Ramon Sessions and Ben Gordon, both Kemba Walker and Gerald Henderson are up in the air. In the frontcourt there are four or five quality players jostling for position.
With a new head coach in Mike Dunlap, it is important to let the play on the court do the talking. That means using training camp as a filtering system in which the starters and backups will emerge through zero bias. It will also be important to mix and match these players into different units.
After a seven-win season, Charlotte is a blank slate. It should be treated as such at camp. Everyone has an opportunity to win playing time, and no one is a sacred cow (save for the No. 2 overall pick).
Once these roles are more defined, the work can begin on building a winning team.
Priority Job: Develop a productive offense sans Derrick Rose
The Chicago Bulls are going to be without superstar point guard Derrick Rose for some time. Without him last season, they were unable to escape a first-round upset in the playoffs.
The root of their problems without him come on the offensive end. Rose controls the Bulls offensively, and without him they stumble. In his 39 games last season, Rose averaged 18 shots and six trips to the free-throw line per game. Eight assists and three turnovers per game mean that roughly 35 possessions per game came down to what he did with the basketball.
The Bulls should look at his absence as a benefit during training camp. Tom Thibodeau can use this time to create a more versatile offense that can succeed not only when Rose is out, but also when he returns. Rose did play in 63 percent of the Bulls' 2011-12 games, yet the team was just 18th in points per game with 96.3.
There is room for improvement with the East's No. 1 seed, particularly on the offensive end. If they can do so without Rose to start the season, then they will be that much better when he returns.
Priority Job: Set a lineup and stick to it to build chemistry
The Cleveland Cavaliers had an astonishing 16 different players earn at least one start for them last season. For a team with that much transitioning, it is remarkable that they won 21 games.
That they did win some games shows just how good this team can be. They believe they have all their pieces in place now. With Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson now having some seasoning and two early first-round picks, the Cavaliers can make some major strides this year.
In training camp, it will be imperative to allow these rookies to meld with the team. Both Tyler Zeller and Dion Waiters figure to see a lot of minutes as rookies, and in a fast-paced team like Cleveland, training camp is very important.
Once Byron Scott has seen enough to make some crucial decisions, like starting shooting guard and small forward, this team can really work on their chemistry. There will be some hard times in 2012-13, but a successful camp will go a long way toward facilitating future success.
Priority Job: Learning to play with an entire new backcourt
For the past five years, the Dallas Mavericks have played a style of basketball dictated by Jason Kidd. For the past eight years, they had Jason Terry as a calming presence and veteran knock-down shooter helping close out games. Both players are now, abruptly, out of the picture.
Enter a much younger and more athletic duo in Darren Collison and O.J. Mayo. Last season, 35-year-old Vince Carter started 40 games at shooting guard in Dallas, while the 39-year-old Kidd started 48. Mayo, 24, brings much more athleticism and bulk scoring prowess to the Mavericks, while Carter was just biding time.
The biggest adjustment that must be made during training camp is Collison's integration. The Mavericks do not play the same style of basketball that Indiana did. While fellow newcomer Chris Kaman will be a suitable Roy Hibbert, Dirk Nowitzki presents a whole different kind of player for Collison. Point guard is the toughest position to transfer teams as, especially as a starter. Collison must run the Mavericks offense and run it through a player in Nowitzki, whom he has rarely seen in person.
The Mavericks' top priority is to make this transition as smooth as possible. Having Kaman on board is a big part of that, but training camp can be used to experiment with their new backcourt.
Priority Job: Figure out how to use their new shooting guard
The Denver Nuggets were big benefactors of the Dwight Howard trade when they landed Philadelphia star Andre Iguodala. He is an immediate upgrade over Arron Afflalo, especially defensively.
The Nuggets allowed more points than all but one NBA team last season. On the contrary, they scored more than anyone as well. Iguodala gives them a different dimension. He was named to the All-NBA Defensive team two seasons ago and was an All-Star and Olympic gold medalist in 2011-12.
Training camp will be where Iguodala's role is defined. Right now it isn't fully understood just how he will be utilized on this run-and-gun team. Denver can score in bunches but was unable to get needed stops in the postseason. Iguodala can get those stops, but doing it alone never got him far in Philadelphia.
It is the Nuggets' priority to utilize Iguodala as more than just a defensive stalwart; he must be an example for his new teammates to follow. At training camp he will be teaching them as much as they teach him.
Priority Job: Finding offense outside the point guard and center positions
The scoring leaders for the Detroit Pistons last season were Rodney Stuckey and Greg Monroe. Detroit managed just 90.9 points per game last season, so despite being a decent defensive team, it managed only 25 wins.
During training camp, the Pistons really need to find offense from more traditional locations. The Pistons offense has become incredibly disjointed in recent years, a lot of which can be blamed on a lack of talent at the small forward and shooting guard positions.
Tayshaun Prince has been a fantastic player in Detroit for a long time, but his difficulties on the offensive end have hampered the Pistons' capabilities. At a position dominated by offensive players, Prince is merely average.
There must be a concerted effort made by the Pistons to get more scoring from these swing positions. Whether that means Kim English earns significant minutes or Andre Drummond plays alongside Monroe remains to be seen. They also jostled things up by dealing Ben Gordon for Corey Maggette.
There are a lot of options for Detroit to use to improve, but there is one thing it cannot do. That is stand pat, because the position it is in now is worse than bottoming out—it is purgatory.
Priority Job: Build chemistry and trust
Despite having one of the better looking starting fives on paper, this unit has never shared the floor at the same time.
It appears as though they will be fully healthy for the season opener, though Andrew Bogut may miss training camp. While it isn't ideal that their newest starter won't be able to practice with the team right away, the rest of the Warriors can use this time to create chemistry between them. Even subtracting Bogut from the unit, this isn't one that has had extensive time together.
Between Stephen Curry's injuries, Klay Thompson's emergence and the probability of Harrison Barnes starting, this unit could use some serious reps. When the season starts, the Warriors must hit the ground running. In a division with two legitimate contenders and two other frisky teams, falling behind early is a death sentence.
It will be tough enough building trust with Bogut in real games; the rest of this team needs that confidence and chemistry built up in training camp. This way they can leap right into the regular season.
Priority Job: Gain confidence in new teammates
Even more so than Golden State, Houston really needs to use training camp as an introduction seminar. The Rockets could conceivably start four new players in 2012-13.
The definite players are Jeremy Lin, Omer Asik and Patrick Patterson. If Kevin Martin loses out to lottery pick Jeremy Lamb, then the Rockets will be starting an almost entirely new five than last year. If this happens, Houston's starting unit will have a combined six years of NBA experience.
Kevin McHale will need to use training camp to first get his players on the same page. A lot of them are wide-eyed young players with a whole lot to prove. Once he has them believing in him, McHale can begin work to get them to believe in each other, a much more difficult task.
For the Rockets to have any success this season, team chemistry will be the top priority. They can become the fun and loose young team who scraps out wins, or they can fold due to inexperience and a lack of trust and win fewer games than anyone. The difference will happen in training camp.
Priority Job: Clearly define the point guard and his role
A very good team in 2011-12, the Indiana Pacers decided to swap out their starting point guard, Darren Collison. The move was presumably made to open up the spot for backup George Hill. Then they signed Charlotte starter D.J. Augustin, another point guard.
Hill is more of a combo-guard, while Augustin bears much more resemblance to the departed Collison. During training camp these two players will be battling for playing time. it isn't often a team succeeds in the NBA with a "point guard by committee," so look for one player to force himself into a full-time role.
The No. 1 priority for the Pacers is to figure this situation out. The other spots on the roster are pretty well defined, and also well-known talents. The point guard is the question mark in Indiana, and with the rest of the East gunning for the Pacers, this is something that must be settled early.
Priority Job: Developing newfound depth
The Clippers appear to have added some of the best depth of the NBA offseason. A recent signing of Matt Barnes topped off a summer than brought Lamar Odom, Jamal Crawford and Grant Hill to Los Angeles.
The Clippers also have veteran Chauncey Billups returning a lot faster than expected. Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan are going to be responsible for the Clippers being contenders. However, it is this new added dimension Los Angeles will employ that will push them to the next level.
During training camp, these new players are going to not only mesh with the Clippers from 2011-12, but with the fellow free agents as well. If these players can fall in line during training camp, the Clippers can start the season as one of the deepest teams in the NBA.
In this case, what happens in the spring and early summer of 2013 will be because of the seeds planted during Clippers training camp this fall.
Priority Job: Building chemistry between superstars
There is a big difference between building chemistry between role players and backups and constructing that chemistry between stars. There are so many more variables. Popularity, skill, fame and money all come into play.
This is what the Lakers must contend with this season. Their big name additions—Dwight Howard, Steve Nash and even Antawn Jamison—have all been the stars of their respective teams for numerous seasons. When stars converge, a lot of things can happen. The success can be immediate, like Boston and Miami; however it can also be slower, like New York.
The seeds for Boston's immediate success were planted in training camp; the same must happen for Los Angeles. The Lakers may not be talented enough to win on that alone, like Miami may have just done. Chemistry forged in training camp between the new stars and Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol could be what sets the Lakers apart come the postseason.
Priority Job: Continue to improve individually
Even though O.J. Mayo and the Grizzlies parted ways, this offseason has been very quiet for Memphis. The status quo has pretty much remained intact through the summer. The team did make a crafty move in picking up point guard Jerryd Bayless on the cheap but didn't do much else.
You can argue the benefits or detriments of this type of offseason for a team on the verge of making noise late into the postseason. The problem is, there is no magical priority that is going to get Memphis over the hump anymore. Its training camp is different from a lot of teams; the consistent player returns mean that each one must improve.
Every member of the Grizzlies returning must work to improve his individual game during training camp for this team to rise in the Western Conference.
Priority Job: Avoid the hangover, avoid becoming fat and happy
The cliche rings as true as ever for Miami in 2012-13. The Heat reached their full potential in 2011-12 and won the NBA championship. At training camp just a few short months removed from the celebration, it will be tough to remain focused.
The Heat have the talent to repeat, but whether they have the mindset or not will be the big question of the season. The championship hangover is something talked about often, but it is more of a result than an excuse.
As those of you 21 and older know, the hangover happens because of mistakes made previously. To avoid a hangover, Miami must not be complacent in training camp. It all starts at the beginning, and that is no different for the Heat's title defense.
Dwyane Wade knows this better than anyone on the team, so he will be doubly important in keeping his teammates focused.
Priority Job: Find a more balanced offensive attack
It is no secret in the NBA that the Bucks are a very backcourt-heavy team. Their two stars, Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings, man the shooting guard and point guard spots and are Milwaukee's offense.
Though Ellis only played in 21 games with the Bucks last season, he combined with Jennings to average 34 shots per game. When a team becomes that focused on just one aspect, it also becomes very average. Training camp in Milwaukee must be spent trying to diversify the offense. Jennings and Ellis are good, but only good enough to lead a team to a .500 record. What happens outside of these two will force the Bucks into the playoffs.
Milwaukee has some young talent that could help with this diversification. The top priority of camp has to be to get more people involved scoring the basketball.
Priority Job: Defining roles on a young and new team
The Timberwolves appeared to be a fringe playoff team last season before Ricky Rubio's injury. The young point guard is hoping for a December return after an ACL injury last season.
In the meantime, Minnesota has a lot of new faces, and a lot of jobs are up for grabs. Offseason additions Andrei Kirilenko, Brandon Roy, Alexey Shved, Chase Budinger and Greg Stiemsma are all expected to see playing time. How much and where are the questions which will be answered in the coming weeks at camp.
The big turnover in personnel is a good thing for the Timberwolves. They were able to add plenty of fresh talent without sacrificing their cornerstones, Kevin Love and Rubio. Now with those two set up for a while, defining the roles of their teammates is paramount.
Priority Job: Leaders must make their presence known
Leadership might be in short supply at New Orleans Hornets training camp. This team is very young and has very little NBA experience.
At training camp, it is going to seem a bit unorganized at the start. Responsibility will fall on the team leaders to get things in order and keep them there throughout. Who those leaders are going to be, we don't know yet. Eric Gordon would be the prime choice, as he has had the most NBA success, but even he is just 23 years old.
Either way, someone must step into this role. This team has far too bright of a future to have it get off on the wrong foot because of a bad training camp for its prized rookies. Austin Rivers and Anthony Davis need immediate role models at the NBA level, and training camp is the team's first chance to provide them with just that.
Priority Job: Feeling out the point guard situation
Seldom does a team find itself in the situation the Knicks are with their point guards. The fans won't forget about Jeremy Lin easily, and that means trouble for both Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd.
Training camp will be immensely important for both players to get to know their new team and the Knicks system. Being a new point guard to a successful team is difficult enough; with the added pressure of New York and the wake of Lin leaving, tension could be palpable.
Bad whispers coming out of training camp could be disastrous for this team before a real game is even played. Some of this responsibility will fall on Carmelo Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire and Mike Woodson, and how they are able to help these two along. The majority will fall on the two new point guards, though.
They are the top priority for the Knicks' training camp, and training camp is their top priority.
Priority Job: Figure out what they have with newcomers
The Thunder are already an elite team and proved such with 2011-12's trip to the NBA Finals.
Without a whole lot of roster turnover, there isn't much more they can do. What they did do this offseason was take a few fliers on guys like Hasheem Thabeet, Perry Jones and Hollis Thompson.
The Thunder have the luxury of a deep and well-rounded team that is pretty set in stone across the board. Barring major injury, they are going to be contenders. The benefit of being that type of team is the ability to take chances on players.
During training camp Oklahoma City will have an opportunity to experiment with some of these players. Their top priority is finding a diamond in the rough that can help them in some minor way down the road.
Priority Job: Discover a team-oriented approach to basketball
The Magic have a great opportunity here to recover from the end of the Dwight Howard era. Despite not having a wealth of talent, the collective sigh of relief with Howard out of town will buy them some time to rebuild.
Particularly with training camp, there is immense opportunity. The Magic have a young team, but there are some potential studs lying about. The biggest story of Orlando's camp is going to be Howard's trade, and while the bright lights are there, the Magic's new crop of players can develop at their own rate.
That development is key to the Magic moving in a more team-oriented style. For nearly a decade now, the Magic's offense has been run through one man. With Howard gone, the team can open things up and play a more exciting style.
There is a big bright side for the Magic this season, and it starts at training camp.
Priority Job: Integrating Andrew Bynum into the system
Philadelphia has a pretty straightforward priority for training camp: getting Andrew Bynum comfortable with the team.
The 76ers aren't going anywhere in 2012-13 without Bynum playing well. This makes him the No. 1 priority in the coming weeks. For a big star, changing teams is a unique experience. Bynum is also going from being the typical third offensive option to the first.
In Los Angeles, his training camps involved veteran leadership and coaching. Philadelphia is more of a youthful team with a less tenured coach than Bynum might be used to. Training camp is critical for the 76ers, who had such a great ending to 2011-12, making the second round of the postseason.
If they are to repeat that performance or more and stay afloat in a talented Atlantic Division, Bynum and the team must have a solid training camp.
Priority Job: Doling out playing time to young talent
The Phoenix Suns have an abundance of players who should earn minutes in 2012-13. The trick is giving them all enough time to have an impact, but not enough to bog the team down.
A couple difficult choices revolve around the small forward and shooting guard positions. Jared Dudley started for the Suns there in 2011-12 and played exceedingly well. On the other hand, newly acquired Michael Beasley has the potential to be an elite-level scorer and can only reach that potential with starter's minutes.
At shooting guard the Suns have Shannon Brown, who started 19 of his 59 games for them last season. Phoenix also went out and signed struggling Minnesota guard Wesley Johnson. Despite failing to live up to expectations, Johnson started 127 games for the Timberwolves over the last two seasons.
At point guard there is the concern of burying lottery pick Kendall Marshall behind free-agent pickup Goran Dragic. In training camp it is most important for a young and transitioning team to get their lineups set through experimentation and repetitions.
Priority Job: Keeping things simple enough to win
Portland could start the season with two rookies in its starting five. In fact, the possibility of that happening is very good. With both Damian Lillard and Meyers Leonard being taken in the first round this past June, and the fact that both filled immediate needs, this is probable.
Therefore, the top priority for Portland is to ease into things and keep its playbook and defensive schemes simple but effective. Both Lillard and Leonard are very talented players, just a bit raw. They can contribute immediately, but things must be tempered.
However, tempering them enough to still win is of the utmost importance. Portland has eyes on the postseason in year one of these players' careers. A tough feat to do with two rookies starting, but if training camp eases them in, then the sky is the limit.
Priority Job: Make a concerted effort to improve defensively
Is there any doubt as to the top priority for the NBA's worst defensive team of 2011-12? The Sacramento Kings surrendered more than 104 points per game last season en route to a 22-44 record.
There is so much talent present on the Kings roster that that type of finishing record is unacceptable. The defensive effort will start with star big man DeMarcus Cousins in training camp. He has to come out and set a defensive tone which will be followed by the likes of rookie Thomas Robinson on down to the backcourt.
Between Robinson, Cousins and Jason Thompson, the Kings have the potential for a great defensive frontcourt. It all comes down to the ideology of the team going into the season. If defense is a top priority in training camp, it will be a top priority throughout the 2012-13 season.
Priority Job: Continue phasing in the young talent
Last season's top three in minutes played in San Antonio were unsurprising. Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili all led the team in court time.
While the time to phase them out certainly has not arrived, it is important to use training camp to continue looking at future replacements a few years down the road. Camp could be the start in decreasing some of Parker's 32 minutes per game and working more with Patrick Mills, who recently re-signed with the team.
Duncan similarly still played 28 minutes per game, perhaps a little high for a player of that age. This could mean a few more minutes thrown DeJuan Blair's way, as the three-year veteran has been putting up solid numbers in just 21 minutes per game.
There is plenty of other young talent on this team looking for a chance to thrive. Training camp is the prime spot to see what they can and can't handle.
Priority Job: Building chemistry with countless new faces
The new Raptors are bountiful this offseason. Even Andrea Bargnani seems like a bit of a fresh face after missing nearly the entire 2011-12 season.
True new players include point guard Kyle Lowry, Landry Fields from New York and lottery picks from both last season (Jonas Valanciunas) and this season (Terrence Ross). All these players will play integral roles in the Raptors' season. Toronto did not have a great year in 2011-12, and things got bad after Bargnani's injury.
A training camp full of fresh players is a training camp full of fresh opportunities. Camp is going to subject some to heated battles for positions like point guard, where incumbent Jose Calderon will try fighting off young star Lowry. Fields will tussle for minutes with Ross, and Toronto has three power forwards looking for work elsewhere to supplement their minutes.
Camp will be tough for some Raptors, but competition that early in the season builds camaraderie.
Priority Job: Ease the point guard transition for the bigs
The Jazz made the playoffs last season but did not play well while there. They showed they were not content with the first-round sweep and made two moves to change the point guard and small forward spots on their roster.
Most importantly here is the point guard change. Utah dealt starter Devin Harris and is bringing in veteran Mo Williams to be his replacement.
Utah's offense is very centered on its two big men, Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap. The duo combined to take 31 shots per game, and they were the only two in double-digits in field-goal attempts. Changing the point guard on them like this is a risky move. The point guard has so much responsibility to distribute and run the pick-and-roll in an offense of this style that a switch is dangerous.
Williams is different than Harris, so training camp will consist of a feeling-out period, hopefully followed by new integration and an ability for Williams to utilize his skill set as well as an ability to conform to Harris' old role.
Priority Job: Developing backcourt chemistry
It is obvious that the key to a successful future in Washington is developing backcourt chemistry between John Wall and No. 3 overall pick Bradley Beal. Training camp will be their first opportunity to begin fostering that relationship.
If these two players are in sync to open the season, the rest will fall into place. Wall has the talent to be an elite distributor but needs some of the scoring burden taken off his shoulders. With a more than competent shooting guard by his side, he might not have to take 14 shots per game and could see an uptick in his assist numbers, maybe approaching double digits.
Beal needs to have a successful camp as a rookie for this season to go anywhere. Wall played with two poor-shooting sidekicks last season, and the team won 20 games. If Beal can improve upon what they got from the position last season, then training camp will have been a success.