Several teams are heading into the crossroads of their respective development, and this upcoming season could determine the paths of these franchises.
Some could see their rosters disbanded if they miss their mark, or, on the other hand, some could jump on the path to sustained success if the season goes as planned.
Some teams are looking to see if they can break through for playoff success.
The Memphis Grizzlies have come of age and need to show they can go deep in the playoffs with this core, and the New York Knicks are trying to show that their confluence of talent can find playoff success.
Other teams are trying to hang on to recent success, as the San Antonio Spurs and Boston Celtics hope to to stay on the upper-tier, and The Miami Heat hope to repeat as champions.
The basketball world will have its eyes fixed on these teams, amongst others. Follow along to see what people will be watching.
The Boston Celtics’ Big Three went into its winter stage after four years of autumn.
Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen won a title in their first season together, just as they needed to do. Afterwards, they made the NBA Finals once and the Eastern Conference finals twice.
That wasn’t too bad for an aging group.
Now, with Allen gone, the Big Three has been broken up. Indeed, some might claim that it only shifted to include Rajon Rondo instead of Allen.
Still, the departure of Allen symbolizes the shift the Celtics are struggling to make.
Pierce (34) suffered from knee problems and saw his field-goal percentage drop 5.4 percent, and Garnett (36) mostly avoided the injury bug, but saw his field-goal mark drop 2.5 percent.
The Celtics tried to address the issues up front by drafting Fab Melo and Jared Sullinger in the first round of the draft. Both will take time to develop, but could be good.
Courtney Lee and Jason Terry are expected to fill Allen’s production at the 2-spot.
Avery Bradley was initially expected to start there, but had surgery on both shoulders and will miss some time. Terry is aging, but can still put up points, and Lee is a nice reserve shooter.
The Celtics signed Jeff Green to serve as Pierce’s understudy. However, Green is far from Pierce’s level, as he isn’t a consistent producer and is also still recovering from heart surgery.
The Celtics could have plenty of support going into this season after reaching the conference finals this spring. Still, the condition remains that the forerunners of the team are well past their peak.
Pierce and Garnett will be closely monitored to see how they do with another year on their bodies.
Like the Celtics, the San Antonio Spurs have an age problem regarding their core.
Duncan, 36, had an impressive postseason after a reasonable regular-season performance. After averaging 15 points and nine rebounds per game in the regular season, Duncan averaged 17.4 points, 9.4 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game in the postseason.
The 35-year-old Ginobili’s body hasn’t been good to him, as, again, injuries cost him a considerable amount of time last season. The Spurs may soon need to start planning outside what they may receive from him.
Parker, 30, was brilliant in general. He put up 18.3 points per game in the regular season and 20.1 per game in the playoffs, as his bad games were occasional, but glaring.
What’s remarkable is that despite the age of the team, the Spurs won a very high percentage of their games.
Moreover, the Spurs became one of the highest scoring teams in the league by distributing the ball very evenly, as nine players averaged nine points per game.
The fact the Spurs have managed to pile up points like this is remarkable, but the team might have to find a new way to form its scoring attack as its core grows older. Gregg Popovich may want to look to Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard and Patty Mills to pick up the scoring.
Duncan, Ginobili and Parker have had a wonderful run together, but fans can only wonder what shift the Spurs take next in regards to its long-running trio.
The Memphis Grizzlies have grown up during the past three seasons, with the squad largely composed of players 30 or younger.
The Grizz went from 40-42 in 2009-10 to a 46-36 record and a seven-game showdown with the Oklahoma City Thunder in the conference semifinals in 2010-11.
Last season, they compiled a 41-25 record with a franchise-best .621 winning percentage last season. They surprised NBA observers by overcoming a season-long Achilles injury to Darrell Arthur, as well as the loss of Zach Randolph for 37 games to a partially torn MCL.
But the young, up-and-coming team was unable to build on their 2011 playoff success.
An array of errors in the series against the Los Angeles Clippers, such as O.J. Mayo’s shooting woes and Memphis’ turnovers, led to their first-round exit.
Now, the Grizzlies are becoming what they are.
Rudy Gay, Marc Gasol and Mike Conley are all in the primes of their careers. Tony Allen is 30 years old and has figured out how to be relevant on offense, and at age 31, Zach Randolph is heading towards the latter part of his career; Marreese Speights has learned to be productive in limited minutes.
This year has to be the year for Allen. The leader of the “grit ‘n’ grind” defense, he’s at a critical point in his career.
He’s a high-energy defensive player who isn’t afraid to throw his body around. Allen has been one of the best perimeter defenders in the league the last two years, as he locks down and forces turnovers like few others can.
Heading into the last year of his contract and his peak season, Allen needs to make the most of this season and push his team deep in the playoffs. The team that is defined by grinding defensive play is defined by this player who grinds it out on defense.
While the younger starters are trying to show they’ve blossomed into something worth appreciating, Allen has to lead a strong defensive approach that will be the key to the Grizzlies’ playoff chances.
The New York Knicks are trying a slightly different fit around their two star forwards.
Jeremy Lin, who inspired Knicks fans for a short while last season, signed an offer sheet with the Houston Rockets, which the Knicks chose not to match.
That allowed the Knicks to enter this coming season with two established veteran point guards in Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd.
Felton is a journeyman who hasn’t really settled down in the right environment. The Charlotte Bobcats, with whom he started his career, have been anything but stable. He didn’t have a chance to play a full season with the New York Knicks when he went on a torrid run, averaging 17 points and nine assists per game.
His time with the Portland Trail Blazers didn’t go well either.
Now, the Knicks will try to see how Felton does in a full season facilitating for the stars of New York. Mike Woodson will have to hope that he’s more efficient than he’s been most of his career.
Behind Felton is the aging Kidd.
Kidd hasn’t been a backup in his 18-year career, but he follows Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire as the third prima donna on this team. The 39-year-old is used to overrunning coaches and doing what he wants, so Knicks fans will be interested in seeing how this plays out with Kidd coming off the bench.
Speaking of Melo and Stoudemire, the Knicks will not only have to see how they do playing with Felton, but also how they play with each other. The pair didn’t play very well together, as, besides mutually causing each other pain, they were unproductive before Woodson came along.
Things did change after Woodson took the helm, though.
Now, Woodson will have the challenge of keeping the two productive, happy and out of each other’s hair for an entire year.
The difference between the potential success of a relatively cohesive Knicks team and one that sees Melo, Stoudemire and Kidd burn the house down is vast.
The former could at least win one playoff series.
The latter could fight its way out of the playoff race.
Now that LeBron James has silenced his critics by lifting his Miami Heat team from series deficits and winning an NBA title, the trick is defending that title.
After leading the Heat to their second title in franchise history, James helped the United States Olympic team cruise to a gold medal in the London Games. Heat fans will be hoping that James enters training camp recovered from having to put in the extra work during the summer.
James and Bosh were tied for the team lead in rebounding—a category in which they struggled mightily. Bosh had missed time due to injury last season and no Heat center did anything worth mentioning.
If the frontcourt was a problem for Miami, it became worse when the Heat signed Ray Allen and failed to sign Marcus Camby. The combination of free-agent occurrences combined to reduce the team’s starting frontcourt to just one person—Bosh.
With Bosh hanging out in the post with James, Wade, Allen and Mario Chalmers rotating on the perimeter, the Heat will have to space things out right and minimize turnovers to avoid a major disadvantage on the boards.
The Heat will be expected to score an apocalyptic number of points night after night with an excellent quartet of scorers in James, Wade, Allen and Bosh. Allen, Chalmers and Rashard Lewis combine to form a tremendous three-point shooting trio.
Miami is a runaway favorite to break through the Eastern Conference bracket on its way to the NBA Finals, especially with Derrick Rose missing most of this season. Anything less would be a severe disappointment for the Heat.
A second straight NBA title would be a great triumph for James.
If they fall short, there’s no telling how fans will react.
As the best players continue to be shelved on a relatively small number of teams, the Lakers stocked up on stars in the offseason. The Lakers improved upon its stable of stars by acquiring Steve Nash in a sign-and-trade and grabbing Dwight Howard in a four-team deal.
That gives the Lakers three players who are at or near the top of their positions in Howard, Nash and Kobe Bryant, as well as another top-five player at his position, Pau Gasol.
The Lakers are expected to score an immense number of points.
Nash has yet to lose his status as a highly productive pass-first point guard, and Kobe remains the most aggressive scorer in the NBA. Even with an assertive point guard beside him and a strong scorer on the inside, he’ll work as hard as usual to get his own scoring.
Howard is the most deadly post scorer in the game, as he led all centers in scoring and was fourth in the league in field-goal percentage.
Gasol is on the backside of his career, but he’ll be getting a couple more shots per game with Nash seeking to put the ball in his hands a little more.
Also, Jodie Meeks and Antawn Jamison will vastly improve the bench scoring for the Lakers; Meeks averaged 12.2 points per 36 minutes last season, and Jamison scored 17.2 points per game while starting for the Cleveland Cavaliers last season.
Teams coached by Mike Brown are typically strong defensively.
However, despite having three strong defensive starters in Metta World Peace, Andrew Bynum and Kobe, the team was near the bottom in scoring defense and last in steals.
The Lakers replaced Bynum with the best defender at the position—or any, for that matter. Meeks comes in as a promising defender, as well. Meanwhile, the Lakers have to hope that Nash’s offensive production outweigh his struggles on defense.
Nevertheless, Brown’s reputation as a defensive coach will be on the line when the season begins. This team might be able to score like almost no one else, but the question is whether it can play defense well enough to keep opponents at bay.
The Chicago Bulls were devastated when Derrick Rose went down with a torn ACL in Game 1 of the first-round series against the Philadelphia 76ers. The Bulls went listlessly through the series before being dismissed by the 76ers.
The series defeat highlighted what a different team Chicago was with Rose out. The team struggled to score, and without its leader pushing his teammates ahead, the squad lacked purpose despite its try-hard nature.
Now, the Bulls enter the season with Rose on the sidelines for an extended period of time.
This Bulls team still has a ton of grit, as Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson play hard up front, Luol Deng remains a solid wing man, Kirk Hinrich returns as a Chicago stalwart and Nate Robinson will be a spark-plug off the bench.
But once again, this team lacks scoring without Rose.
Noah isn’t much of a scorer, and Deng has been inconsistent throughout his career. Hinrich was never an offensive dynamo, and Robinson and Marco Belinelli can only produce so much. Carlos Boozer can put up his fair share, but he’ll have to show Bulls fans he’s aggressive enough to do it.
Maybe the Bulls can scratch and claw their way through the desert, that will be Rose’s absence, to put themselves in some sort of a playoff position when he returns. However, it will be extremely difficult with their offensive/defensive/emotional leader out of action.
Bulls fans will have to wonder whether it will be Deng, Noah or Hinrich, who goes back to the days of the Baby Bulls with the other two, to inspire the crew. They’ll need constant inspiration as Tom Thibodeau rides them hard throughout the season.
Speaking of whom, Thibodeau will be under intense scrutiny as he enters the last year of his contract.
Thibodeau hasn’t succeeded in negotiations with John Paxson and Gar Forman to get an extension. As time wears on, it seems more and more likely that Paxson and Forman don’t see Thibodeau to be as valuable as Thibodeau sees himself.
The third-year coach will be fighting hard to put the Bulls in the playoffs and hopefully past the first round in order to prove himself to the front office.
Unfortunately, roster realities could get in the way.
The Charlotte Bobcats had a peculiar offseason.
They started by hiring a college assistant as head coach. College head coaches don’t have much success leading NBA teams, and the track record for college assistants is practically nonexistent.
That’s what former St. John’s assistant Mike Dunlap is up against.
Michael-Kidd Gilchrist might have been a surprising pick to those expecting the worst scoring team in the league to take a scorer at the top of the draft. While he doesn’t substantially change that problem on his own, MKG does address a couple of big problems for Charlotte.
He brings a proactive attitude to a careless team.
He also brings defensive energy that was lacking last season.
Their two offseason acquisitions of note were Ben Gordon and Ramon Sessions. Fine, Gordon and Sessions aren’t starters, but their scoring counts for something.
Dunlap and the Bobcats can take consolation in the thought that it can’t get any worse for the unhappy, young franchise than it was last season.
Dunlap can breathe new life in this team that Michael Jordan’s old crony coaches, like Larry Brown and Sam Vincent, failed to instill. He could enliven the players with his up-tempo offense, and he could teach them and prod them like his predecessors never did.
A nice first year for Dunlap would bring Charlotte 30 wins.
The basketball world will watch closely to see if this new coach can have any noticeable effect on the team.
The question on the minds of many fair-minded fans is whether Vinny Del Negro will destroy this Los Angeles Clippers team once and for all.
Make no mistake.
The Clippers didn’t beat the Grizzlies in the first round of the playoffs because Del Negro, a coaching lightweight, out-coached the superior Lionel Hollins. It was a combination of Memphis’ many mistakes and Chris Paul, as well as a couple of other L.A. players, stepping up.
Del Negro proved to be detrimental to the team last season, as players complained about his treatment of them and his erratic coaching decisions, according to ESPN.
At one point, his job was on the line.
Somehow, the man who stalled Derrick Rose’s development during his tenure in Chicago by leading him into poor spots on offense pulled through in his second L.A. campaign.
Now, observers have to wonder whether he’ll corral the talent of Paul, Blake Griffin and others to a deep playoff run, or plunder the team amidst ineffectual screaming.
A no-confidence vote from the players this season could lead to Del Negro’s exit as coach.
And now, Houston Rockets fans, get ready for…a lot of interesting players.
A packed roster with players who are only generally-talented isn’t exactly what Daryl Morey wanted. He had hoped to swing a deal for Dwight Howard or Pau Gasol, per the Houston Chronicle. However, those aspirations never came to life.
Instead, he ended up drafting three talented players with question marks in Terrence Jones, Jeremy Lamb and Royce White.
Morey gave in to the trade demands of Kyle Lowry, shipping him to the Toronto Raptors.
That, along with the departure of Goran Dragic, created an opening for a scoring point guard, which became Jeremy Lin. The whole world will be watching to see whether Lin takes the next step after showing flashes of brilliance last season before suffering a meniscus tear.
After his six-game outburst, Lin had some bright performances.
However, he wasn’t nearly as strong after those six games, averaging 12 points and 5.7 assists per game while shooting 40.6 percent from the field.
The Harvard grad has at least some passing and shooting skills, but his dribbling skills and moves could use plenty of improvement. Surely, the Rockets will take their time to develop him.
Too bad the world isn’t waiting for Lin to grow with time.
Kevin Martin probably isn’t, either. Martin made it clear that he won't re-sign with Houston, per Sports Illustrated, and he could become even more upset if Lin doesn’t feed him the ball properly.
Aside from Lin, the Rockets’ other interesting free-agent pickup was Omer Asik.
Asik is a nice screen setter and defender near the basket, however, he doesn’t score and only played 13 minutes per game last season. He has some promise to be like Samuel Dalembert, but it’s difficult to project someone who played such sparse minutes.
Kevin McHale will have his work cut out for him in training camp.
He’ll have to weed out the unnecessary guys out of the 18 currently on the roster—none of whom just showed up for a shot in camp.
Then, he’ll have to find a way to take this collection of talent and turn it into a playoff team.