What We've Learned about Every NBA Team So Far This Preseason

Ben Shapiro@benshapironyc1 Analyst IIIOctober 22, 2012

What We've Learned about Every NBA Team So Far This Preseason

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    It doesn't matter who your favorite NBA team is. 

    The odds are the team that takes the court on opening night of the 2012-13 regular season won't be the same when the season ends in April. 

    Things change over the course of a season. Heck, things can change from training camp to the preseason. 

    It's only Oct. 23. The preseason is still in full swing. Most fans still feel optimistic about their teams as the season approaches. 

    What have you learned about your favorite team so far? Even though not one game that will count in the standings has been played, every team has changed since the 2011-12 season ended.

    Something is different; something is new. The question is, what is it?  

Atlanta Hawks: Josh Smith Won't Be Signing a Contract Extension This Season

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    The story of Josh Smith is one most NBA observers are familiar with. 

    Player approaches free agency. Player won't sign a contract extension. Player plays through the season before his impending free agency as the target of rumors and speculation surrounding his long-term future with his current team.

    On Saturday, Oct. 13, Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News reported that Smith told the Hawks that he wasn't going to sign an extension during the season.

    NBA rules stipulate that if Smith becomes a free agent, he can sign a deal for five years. If he signs an extension, he can only re-up for three years. 

    That places Hawks general manager Danny Ferry in a tough situation. 

    With as many as 10 members of his current roster slated for free agency following the 2012-13 season, Ferry is faced with more question marks than he'd probably like. 

    If Smith intends to stay in Atlanta, then Ferry will have the money to make that happen.

    However, if Smith were to decide to leave, then the Hawks could be left high and dry in the sense that a current asset would be lost without any sort of value being recouped. 

    It all sets the stage for a season that could be filled with Josh Smith trade rumors. Those will only increase if the team stumbles in the first few months. 

    It's going to be an interesting season in Atlanta. 

Boston Celtics: The Issue of Ray Allen's Departure Isn't Going Away

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    Not since LeBron left Cleveland has a player's offseason movement been the source of so much anger and angst. 

    When Ray Allen chose to leave the Boston Celtics for the Miami Heat on July 6, 2012, the decision was met with tons of media attention, and tons of anger in Boston.

    One might expect that anger to have dissipated a bit more than three months later.

    Think again.

    Maybe the fans have gotten over it, but the players and the teams haven't.

    On Sept. 28, Kevin Garnett revealed that he and Allen were no longer talking and that he had lost Allen's cell phone number.

    The most recent salvo has been fired by Allen. Allen was on Miami sports radio station WMEN on Oct.19 when he claimed he felt Celtics management forced him out of Boston.  

    Anyone that thinks this rivalry between the Heat and Celtics won't be one of the NBA's fiercest this coming season is probably fooling themselves.

Brooklyn Nets: Nets Fans Might Owe Mark Cuban a 'Thank You'

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    When the free-agent signing period of 2012 started, Nets' point guard Deron Williams was considered one of, if not the top prize available. 

    When Williams decided to stay with the New Jersey Nets and accompany the team on its move to Brooklyn's Barclays Center, Nets fans were thrilled. 

    Williams signed a five-year, $99 million deal to play in Brooklyn. The final decision came down to Brooklyn and Dallas. Williams has roots in Dallas, and of course, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has been putting competitive teams on the court for years.

    It was something that Cuban didn't do that ultimately helped to sway Williams toward staying in Brooklyn.

    In an interview with Howard Beck of The New York Times that was published on Oct. 8, Williams went public with his disapproval.

     “A lot of the questions that me and my agent had for them really didn’t get answered that day—you know, pertaining to the future. And I think if he was there, he would have been able to answer those questions a little bit better. Maybe would have helped me,” Williams said.

    Cuban's absence might not have been the only reason Williams stayed in Brooklyn, but it sure didn't hurt the Nets' chances.

    This season, Brooklyn fans will get to see firsthand just how thankful they should be.  

Charlotte Bobcats: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist Will Be Able to Learn on the Job

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    There stands a fairly good chance the Charlotte Bobcats will be an improved team this coming season. After all, after finishing the 2011-12 season with a record of 7-59, the Bobcats have little room to go anywhere but up. 

    How far "up," though?

    A lot of that depends on how good the Bobcats' 2012 NBA draft pick is.

    That pick was Kentucky star Michael Kidd-Gilchirst, and so far this preseason, the Bobcats haven't been shy about allowing him plenty of time to develop on the court during games.

    Thus far, that hasn't translated into a lot of points, but make no mistake about the team's commitment to its highly touted rookie.

    First-year head coach Mike Dunlap didn't mince words when asked about his talented forward.

    “With Michael, our biggest job is to stay out of his way,’’ Dunlap said, adding you could hinder MKG’s instincts by “giving him a thousand plays.’’

    Kidd-Gilchrist has started all four of Charlotte's preseason games and his average of 22.5 minutes per game is currently sixth on the team. 

    Those numbers could easily increase this season as Charlotte tries to harness Kidd-Gilchrist's talent and improve on what was a league-worst offense in 2011-12. 

Chicago Bulls: Kirk Hinrich Is Back Because He Can Be a Starter

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    Not news to Chicago Bulls fans: Derrick Rose is out while recovering from a torn ACL. 

    Perhaps news to Chicago Bulls fans: Kirk Hinrich didn't just return to Chicago because he loved the city, as the allure of a shot at starting in place of the injured Rose may have played a big role as well.

    There's nothing wrong with that.

    According to Hinrich's former coach, Scott Skiles, Hinrich wasn't just tempted by his residency in the Windy City.

    The ability to run the show in Chicago played a big role in returning Hinrich to the same team he played for from 2003 through the end of the 2009-10 season.

    So far Hinrich has not only started at point guard, but he's leading the Bulls in both minutes and assists per game.

    The real question is, what happens to Hinrich's enthusiasm for the Bulls once Rose does return from his injury?

    Rose is a career 21-points-per-game scorer. Hinrich is averaging only 9.8 per game so far in the preseason. Those numbers won't make Bulls fans, or opponents, forget about Rose's absence.  

Cleveland Cavaliers: Kyrie Irving Doesn't Appear Headed for a Second-Year Slump

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    When former No. 1 overall pick and 2011-12 NBA Rookie of the Year Kyrie Irving lost his temper and broke his hand during an offseason practice, there could have been concern about how he'd bounce back from the injury.

    Irving appears to be more than just okay. He has looked sharp in the preseason, especially considering he has got a new backcourt mate in 2012 lottery pick Dion Waiters and other new teammates as well.

    So far this preseason, Irving has led the Cavaliers in both scoring and minutes per game. He's also leading the team in free throws attempted.

    Irving might not put up impressive assist numbers, but that is partially a product of his own scoring ability and the lack of great options on his own team.

    Cleveland Cavaliers fans will have plenty of concerns this season, but Kyrie Irving's recovery from his broken hand and his production on the court won't be among them.  

Dallas Mavericks: Dirk-Less Mavs? We'll See What That's Like Soon

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    Since Feb. 5, 1999, the Dallas Mavericks and Dirk Nowitzki have been nearly inseparable. That's a 15-season stretch in which the Mavericks and the No. 9 overall pick in the 1998 NBA draft have seen plenty of individual and team success. 

    That streak may continue in the 2012-13 season, but not at the start of it. 

    That's because for the first time in his career, Dirk Nowitzki is going to actually miss a considerable portion of the season. He has never missed more than six games in a season before. 

    After undergoing arthroscopic surgery for a bothersome right knee on Oct. 19, 2012, Nowitzki is expected to need six weeks of recovery time. 

    That will cause him to miss approximately 13 games. It will be a new experience for NBA and Mavericks fans to watch the team play without the man who has averaged 22.9 points per game over his career.

    Dirk's knee has been bothering him since last year and he hasn't played in the preseason. Dallas' scoring thus far has been split fairly evenly between O.J. Mayo, Chris Kaman, Vince Carter and Shawn Marion.  

Denver Nuggets: George Karl Doesn't Care About How Much Money His Players Make

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    Don't take it the wrong way, Nuggets fans. No one is implying that George Karl is not concerned with ensuring his players earn a living. 

    It's just that Karl is not going to allow the size of a player's contract to dictate his starting five or how many minutes individual players receive.

    "You think that's ever influenced me? You think I give a (darn) about what they make? You honestly think that bothers (me)? The only time it's good to know what the players make is to demand they play like a $10 million player," Karl bluntly stated.

    Karl's very well-defined stance on this issue has been playing out most overtly in the battle for minutes at the center position. 

    It is there that JaVale McGee, who signed a four-year, $44 million contract this past July, is battling for minutes with Timofey Mozgov and Kosta Koufos. 

    So far, Koufos has started two games and McGee and Mozgov have each started one. The minutes have been split fairly evenly as well.

    Koufos leads with 19.2 per game, but that's not much more than the 17.5 McGee has averaged or the 16.5 that Mozgov has played in each contest.

    The final decision has not been made as of yet, but one thing Nuggets fans can be assured of is the size of each player's contract won't play into George Karl's final decision.  

Detroit Pistons: Andre Dummond Might Turn into the Steal of the 2012 Draft

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    When Andre Drummond left the University of Connecticut following his freshman season, there was no shortage of critics who declared him unready to withstand the mental and physical rigors of an NBA season. 

    On June 26, 2012, ESPN's Chad Ford had this to say about Drummond:

    He doesn't always play hard. He takes off plays and sometimes entire games. His skill level (highlighted by his awful 29.5 percent free throw shooting) is a major work in progress. He doesn't always work hard off the court to improve his game.

    Nearly four months later, Drummond finds himself looking more and more like a key part of the 2012-13 Pistons rotation, and even potentially battling for a starting position.

    Drummond has had some big games this preseason, highlighted by a 19-point, 10-rebound effort against the Milwaukee Bucks on Oct. 13th. 

    Drummond is third on the Pistons in scoring and leads the team in rebounds per game. That type of production will be hard to keep off the floor once the season starts. 

Golden State Warriors: All Is Not Well with Andris Biedrins

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    It wasn't all that long ago that Andris Biedrins was thought of as not just a backup center, but a starting one. 

    It was the 2008-09 season and Biedrins started 58 games for the Warriors. He averaged 11.9 points and 11.2 rebounds per game, and even blocked 1.5 shots a night as well. 

    Since then, things have gone downhill. Biedrins has been plagued by injuries, as well as ineffective play. 

    Now, as the 2012-13 season prepares to begin, Biedrins is not in the good graces of head coach Mark Jackson, and he's in danger of losing his position as the primary backup center to rookie Festus Ezeli. 

    The Warriors have long since given up on Biedrins as a starter. The team traded guard Monta Ellis to the Milwaukee Bucks last March to acquire a former No. 1 overall pick in center Andrew Bogut. 

    Like Biedrins, Bogut has had his fair share of injuries. Unlike Biedrins, Bogut has been very effective when he has been healthy. 

    Chris Ballard of SI.com reported on Oct. 12 that Biedrins has been dealing with mental anguish over his terrible free-throw shooting. Over the last three seasons he has shot just 23.1 percent from the line.

    With Bogut slated to return from injury and Ezeli impressing in the preseason, Biedrins' minutes this coming season seem less and less certain.  

Houston Rockets: Linsantiy Might Not Be over Yet

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    For those that thought "Linsanity" would end when Jeremy Lin signed a lucrative contract to join the Houston Rockets this past summer, think again. 

    The scoring hasn't been so spectacular, but Lin is leading the Rockets in assists with 6.5 per game. He's also leading the Rockets in GQ magazine covers. 

    Lin graces the cover of the November issue of the popular men's periodical. 

    Lin has left New York, but he's still capable of making some highlight reels, he's still garnering plenty of media attention, and if he is able to add in a winning streak with a few dramatic victories, then full-on Linsanity will engulf the Houston metropolitan area. 

Indiana Pacers: Gerald Green Is Making the Pacers Happy

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    Gerald Green was a high-school phenom. Green left high school, skipped college and was selected No. 18 overall in the 2005 NBA draft by the Boston Celtics. 

    Unlike some high-school stars, success was hard to come by for Green. He was traded from Boston, struggled during stints in Minnesota and Dallas and eventually landed in the D-League. 

    Last season, the New Jersey Nets took a flier on the former first-round pick and were rewarded with a solid 31-game stretch which saw Green set career highs in nearly every statistical category. 

    On July 12, 2012, Green signed a new contract with the Indiana Pacers, and it looks like he may find a permanent home there.

    Green has been a bright spot this preseason. On Oct. 12th, he scored 18 points while also grabbing six rebounds and dishing four assists.

    Indiana Pacers president Donnie Walsh is singing praises of Green's talent and maturity. After seven seasons in and out of the NBA, Green seems to have finally found the right place to be, at the right time as well.   

Los Angeles Clippers: Jamal Crawford Is Not a Gym Rat

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    It was Allen Iverson who famously uttered the phrase, "We're talking about practice." He did so to make light of the overall importance of the task. 

    That was in 2002. More than 10 years later, Los Angeles Clippers shooting guard Jamal Crawford revealed something about his own personal practice habits. 

    He doesn't really have them.

    In a story reported by the Los Angeles Times on Oct. 18, 2012, Crawford revealed that this past offseason was the first one in which he had really dedicated himself to self-improvement on his own:

    This summer was actually the first summer I worked on my game. I usually just play off of raw talent, but I just wanted to work on something and be in great shape coming into camp. I came here right after Labor Day, which is the earliest I've ever gone to any team in the summer, and all the guys were here, committed to getting better.

    Should his Clippers teammates and their fans be flattered? Should fans of the Blazers, Hawks, Bulls, Knicks and Warriors—all teams the non-practicing version of Jamal Crawford has played for—feel cheated? 

    One thing is for sure; if practicing really does improve one's game, then Crawford will be popular in Los Angeles this season. Even without a lot of practice, he's already one of the better sixth men in the league, and a pretty darn good shooter, too. 

Los Angeles Lakers: Is LeBron Headed for Hollywood?

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    In general, the things you learn during the preseason about any given team are going to impact it in the coming season. If not, then perhaps the following season. And yet, this item won't actually impact the Lakers and the NBA as a whole until after the 2013-14 season. 

    Then again, when the greatest basketball player in the world has a window of opportunity to go play for the Los Angeles Lakers, it is serious news—one, two, three or even five years in advance. 

    The simple fact is that Lakers owner Jerry Buss is already on the record stating that the team intentionally structured its contracts so that many of them expire entering the free-agent signing period during the summer of 2014.

    It just so happens that a certain player named LeBron James, who is currently under contract with the Miami Heat, has a deal that expires that summer. 

    Nothing has been said in any official manner yet, and nothing will be for a couple of years.

    Still, the Lakers have a nasty habit of landing big-name, high-profile mega stars.

    If your franchise has already had Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jerry West, Magic Johnson, Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Dwight Howard wearing your uniform, then the image of LeBron James in purple and gold goes from "fantasy" to "possible reality" pretty easily. 

Memphis Grizzlies: Rudy Gay Was Shopped This Past Summer

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    It's one thing to have one of your team's top scorers involved in trade rumors. It's a whole different set of circumstances for a team to actually field offers for him. 

    Yet, according to a report by Ronald Tillery, that's exactly what the Memphis Grizzlies did with Rudy Gay this past summer.

    The Grizzlies took the calls, weighed their options and declined them all.

    Does that make Gay untouchable? Not really.

    The Grizzlies declined the offers because they were below market value. Team officials seem to think that's due in large part to Gay's max contract and the perception that the Grizzlies were looking to dump him because of the money he's still owed.

    It might be interesting to see how this impacts Gay. After all, no one in the Grizzlies' front office seemed to imply that Gay would absolutely not be dealt. Sometimes, a star can react poorly to a team shopping him.

    Memphis will need a good season from Gay, as it hopes to return to the playoffs and bounce back from a tough opening-round playoff loss to the Clippers in 2012.   

Miami Heat: New Offseason Additions Could Impact Norris Cole

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    With so many high-profile stars on their roster, the 2011-12 Miami Heat didn't have too much room for "sleepers." 

    They had enough room for Norris Cole, though. 

    Cole, who was selected No. 28 in the 2011 NBA draft, was an instant hit in Miami. He had some big games and played a significant role in the Heat's fast start to the lockout-shortened season. 

    That role might be altered a bit this coming season, however. 

    Miami brought Rashard Lewis and Ray Allen into the fold this past summer. The two players are expected to help the Heat, but they might not help Cole's cause too much. 

    The South Florida Sun-Sentinel's Ira Winderman seems to think that Cole could fall through the cracks of the Heat's new-and-improved, deeper rotation.

    How Cole handles a drop in production and playing time will impact his long-term future in the league.  

Milwaukee Bucks: The Bucks Know They Must Defend in the Low Post

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    On March 14, 2012, the Milwaukee Bucks traded center Andrew Bogut to the Golden State Warriors.

    The long-term impact of the trade has yet to be determined, but one thing the Milwaukee Bucks know is that without their former No.1 overall pick manning the pivot, the interior defense will inevitably suffer.

    Or will it?

    Rather than depending on one pivotal defensive player. The 2012-13 Bucks will rely on a crew of talented, athletic players who head coach Scott Skiles hopes will have the defensive intensity he expects out of his squad.

    “We want to be up in the top 10—maybe even the top five—as a defensive team,” Skiles said.

    That crew includes Samuel Dalembert, Drew Gooden, John Henson, Joel Przybilla, Larry Sanders and Ekpe Udoh. They won't all get to play a lot of minutes every night, and balancing the playing time of such a rotation will be one of the coach's toughest challenges, according to Skiles:

    There are going to be nights where there are going to be three guys who deserved to play in the game, but didn’t get to play at all, or didn’t get the minutes they wanted. We’ve got to stay with that, stay with those guys and keep them part of it. Chemistry’s going to be big for us. That’s one area right there we’ve really got to be mindful of and pay attention to.

    It's also going to be essential to the amount of success the Bucks have this coming season. 

Minnesota Timberwolves: The Start of the Regular Season Is Going to Be Rough

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    The Timberwolves were already prepared to start the 2012-13 season without the services of point guard Ricky Rubio. 

    The dynamic point guard suffered a torn ACL last March and won't be fully recovered in time to take the floor when the season starts. 

    Now, Kevin Love will join him. 

    Love, one of the NBA's best rebounders, won an Olympic gold medal last summer. Last Wednesday, Love suffered a broken hand while working out. The Timberwolves say he will miss six-to-eight weeks. 

    It's one thing for a team that isn't all that good to begin with to be missing one of its two best players, but both of them?

    Love averaged 26 points and 13.3 rebounds a game last season. Don't expect his fill-in to replicate those numbers.

New Orleans Hornets: Ryan Anderson Is Ready to Go in the Big Easy

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    Everyone knows that the Hornets made some big moves this past offseason. 

    They selected Anthony Davis with the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft. They followed that up by selecting Austin Rivers at No. 10. 

    Shooting guard Eric Gordon was re-signed to a lucrative contract extension. 

    There was one more big move also. 

    On July 8, 2012, the Hornets acquired forward Ryan Anderson, the reigning NBA Most Improved Player, in a sign-and-trade deal with the Orlando Magic.

    Anderson signed a four-year, $36 million contract to play in New Orleans, a place where his ability to knock down three-point shots will be highly valued. He was also one of the league's top offensive rebounders in 2011-12.

    The presence of Anderson has Hornets head coach Monty Williams excited.

    “People think of Ryan as just a shooter. But Ryan can post up a little bit and he’s a good rebounder,” Hornets coach Monty Williams said of his versatility. “He’s got a bit of an edge to him. He’s emotional, which is something we need. He’s hungry." 

    As for Anderson, he's happy to be wanted and to have a reputation as a player to be reckoned with as well. 

    “I feel so much more comfortable coming to a team where I do have experience now,” Anderson said. “It’s definitely a different feeling.”

New York Knicks: Amar'e Stoudemire Can't Be Relied Upon to Stay Healthy

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    If so-and-so were healthy, team "X" would be really dangerous. 

    "So-and-so" is Amar'e Stoudemire, and "team X" is the New York Knicks. 

    Oh, and Amar'e Stoudemire? He's still not healthy. 

    You just never know with Amar'e. It could be his back, or he could cut his hand while engaged in a postgame locker-room temper tantrum.

    Those are both on the 2011-12 Amar'e injury list. 

    The latest? How about a knee issue? 

    On Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012, Jared Zwerling of ESPN New York reported that Stoudemire would miss two-to-three weeks with a knee cyst.

    It's just the latest in a long string of injuries for Stoudemire.

    The New York Knicks are a better team with a healthy Stoudemire, but that doesn't seem like something Knicks fans can really count on at this point.  

Oklahoma City Thunder: James Harden's Free Agency Is an Issue

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    The Oklahoma City Thunder are one of the NBA's brightest franchises. 

    The team is led by a three-headed monster of young, gifted stars with seemingly limitless athletic potential. 

    Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and James Harden are already some of the NBA's most talented and they all have youth on their side. They also all boast NBA Finals experience, following a tough 4-1 defeat at the hands of the Miami Heat last June. 

    The question of whether or not the three men will continue to play for the Thunder beyond this season has been swirling around the team. 

    Marc Stein of ESPN.com reported on Oct. 19, 2012 that the questions surrounding Harden's impending free agency following this coming season have started to grate on his Thunder teammates this preseason.

    Thunder center Kendrick Perkins summed up the sentiments of many of the players.

    "It's hard, man. Any time you're dealing with your livelihood, trying to get stuff behind you and get stuff done, it's definitely hard. All I do is pray for him and hope they can hurry up and conclude this situation so we can move forward," Perkins said.

    Notice that Perkins said "we." That's because the questions surrounding Harden's contract extension—or, rather, his lack of a contract extension—have gotten to the point where they're overshadowing other important aspects of training camp.

    That's probably why Harden's teammates would love to see him sign an extension before the Oct. 31, 2012 deadline. If that doesn't happen, the questions are likely to linger past the preseason and into the regular season, where distractions can prove even more costly.  

Orlando Magic: Glen Davis Could Emerge as a Star

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    The Orlando Magic—remember them? 

    Last seen floundering back and forth while trying to keep, or trade, or not trade, or re-sign their now-former center, Dwight Howard, the Magic can currently be found trying to rebuild their franchise. 

    It could be a while until the Magic return to the playoffs, but not if Glen "Big Baby" Davis has his way. 

    Davis has stepped up big-time in Howard's absence. Yet in spite of averaging 19.2 points and 7.5 rebounds per game this preseason, Davis recently told the Orlando Sentinel that he wasn't happy with his production. 

    “I don’t feel like I’m where I need to be,” he said. “In order to help this team make the playoffs, I need to play with more intensity. I need to finish shots. I need to be a complete player, not only on offense but defense."

    Orlando Magic fans are probably going to learn that not only will the team be okay without Dwight Howard, but they might grow to love Glen Davis as well. 

Philadelphia 76ers: Andrew Bynun's Knees Are Always an Issue

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    When the massive Dwight Howard trade was finally completed on Aug. 10, 2012, a number of NBA observers felt that the 76ers had emerged from the deal as the real winner. 

    That might be the case, but in order for the 76ers to validate this belief, the guy they received in the trade is going to have to actually play basketball. 

    Thus far, it hasn't happened. 

    Andrew Bynum is an amazing talent, but he has got knee issues; he battled them while he was a member of the Los Angeles Lakers, and now, he's fighting the same battles in Philly.

    Bynum's former teammate, Pau Gasol, seems to think the injury issues could grow worse in Philadelphia, as he told Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Times on Oct. 3. 

    "Let's see if his body holds up and he's able to play through a whole year," Gasol said. "That will be important. It was important last year for him to do that. But now with a different role with much more pounding, it will be different."

    Bynum is hoping to follow in the footsteps of other great Philadelphia big men such as Wilt Chamberlain and Moses Malone. In order to get to that level, he's going to have to be healthy.  

Phoenix Suns: Michael Beasley Is Going to Shine in the Desert

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    Someone is going to score points in Phoenix. 

    It may end up being former No. 2 overall pick Michael Beasley. 

    Beasley, who has watched his fame decline since his rookie season, is enthusiastic about his prospects for success in Phoenix. 

    So far, Beasley is only averaging 9.5 points per game in the preseason. Hoopsworld reported that Phoenix Suns head coach Alvin Gentry has given Beasley some insight into what the Suns' coaching staff will expect of him this coming season. 

    “Just to be aggressive,” said Beasley. “To play basketball like I know how to and basically do everything that the team needs.”

    The combination of an uptempo pace, a lack of genuine scorers on the roster and Beasley's newfound more serious attitude may end up creating a player far more similar to the one who was drafted right behind Derrick Rose out of Kansas State in 2008, as opposed to the one who has struggled through several tough NBA seasons. 

Portland Trail Blazers: LaMarcus Aldridge Thinks Quite Highly of Himself

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    There's nothing wrong with having an ego. To be a professional athlete, one must possess a certain degree of cockiness. 

    So perhaps there's really nothing at all wrong with Blazers power forward LaMarcus Aldridge's opinion of himself, as expressed to radio hosts Isaac Ropp and Big Suke.

    "I still do feel like I'm the best power forward in the game," Aldridge said.

    Aldridge's confidence could also prove to be something that the many young and inexperienced players on Portland's roster find influential in a positive way.  

    Aldridge is one of the league's best power forwards. The Blazers will need his contributions to ensure that the upcoming campaign is the only rebuilding season and not the start of a prolonged period of mediocrity. 

Sacramento Kings: James Johnson Could Win the Starting Job at Small Forward

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    It was way back on Oct. 1 that the subject of James Johnson claiming the Sacramento Kings' starting-small-forward slot this season was broached. 

    Since then, Johnson has done little to discourage that situation. 

    On Sunday night, the Kings beat the Los Angeles Lakers, 99-92, in an exhibition game and Johnson started at small forward. 

    He might not want to get too accustomed to that role, though, because Kings head coach Keith Smart has used three different starting rotations in the last four games.

    Even if Johnson is not named the starter, he has played valuable minutes this preseason, and that will only help down the road.   

San Antonio Spurs:The Spurs' Success Is Providing a Blueprint for Other NBA Teams

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    The San Antonio Spurs are a model of consistency. So it can't be too much of a surprise that some of the more downtrodden NBA franchises are attempting to stabilize their own organizations by following the Spurs' lead.

    The Orlando Magic are one team in particular that has made their admiration of the Spurs no secret.

    New Magic general manager Rob Hennigan used to work in the Spurs organization and came away with a great impression of the franchise, which he said has influenced how he'd like to structure the Magic:

    One of the things that the Spurs do really well is build synergy within their basketball operations department, opening up steady and transparent communication lines. They teach you to be humble and to not be afraid to ask questions or ask for help. You could trust that everyone there was on the same page working toward a common goal.

    Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich has been at the helm for 16 seasons. In that time, the team has won four NBA titles, and these achievements were realized while key personnel have gotten old, retired or just lost their effectiveness. 

    None of this is news to Spurs fans, of course, but the fact that other franchises are now being so obvious in their intentions to emulate the Spurs is a fairly unique circumstance. Especially in the hyper-competitive, super-secretive world of professional sports. 

Toronto Raptors: Landry Fields Is Happy to Be out of New York City

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    Toronto's signing of restricted free agent Landry Fields this past summer was one that raised a few eyebrows. 

    After all, Fields was coming off a disappointing season and the Raptors, a team not known for casually throwing cash around, were bringing him to Toronto for three years and $20 million.

    Now that Fields is settling in with Toronto, he has been outspoken about the reasons behind his subpar 2011-12 season as a Knick and how he is not shocked to be a member of the Raptors as the 2012-13 season rapidly approaches.

    Fields told Marc Berman of the New York Post that he was dealing with some personal, off-court issues.

    “My comfort level wasn’t there,’’ Fields said. “Something I was going through personally, not even dealing with the team. It was hard not to let that carry over onto the court.’’  

    With all of that squarely in his rear-view mirror, Fields could end up as regular contributor for Toronto. 

Utah Jazz: Marvin Williams Can Be a Consistent NBA Player

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    Marvin Williams left Atlanta as a bust. 

    He wasn't terrible, but when you're the No. 3 overall pick and you can't even claim a starting position, you can be called a bust. 

    No one is calling Williams a bust now that he's in Utah. And if he keeps putting up big numbers, people will start to question how Atlanta handled—or maybe mishandled—him over the course of his seven-year career there. 

    Williams has been a pleasant surprise for the Jazz this preseason. He has started all six of their preseason games and leads the team in scoring with 12.2 points per game while shooting 54 percent from the floor.

    Maybe the former lottery pick is finally ready to become the player many thought he'd be when he left the University of North Carolina for the NBA back in the spring of 2005. 

Washington Wizards: Injuries to Key Players Have Allowed Others to Flourish

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    The Washington Wizards are one of the NBA's most banged-up teams this preseason. 

    Who's hurt, you ask? Oh, only three of the most important players on the roster, that's all. 

    John Wall, Kevin Seraphin and Nene are all hurt. For any team to withstand the loss of such a talented trio is a difficult task. 

    In their absence, the team is getting contributions from guys such as Trevor Booker, Jordan Crawford and rookie Bradley Beal. 

    Beal is an especially intriguing case. The No. 3 overall pick in the 2012 NBA draft, Beal was expected to contribute regardless of injuries to other players. 

    Head coach Randy Wittman has been impressed by Beal's maturity.

    "He has shown great poise out on the floor," Wittman said. "That’s something you can’t teach, especially to 19-year-olds. Sometimes it takes a couple of years in the league to develop a poise out on the floor, but he has shown it thus far and it’s something he has to continue to look to do."

    Beal is merely the highest-profile player who has taken advantage of the increase in available minutes. 

    Once the season begins and the regulars start to recover from their injuries, some of the players who are seeing increased minutes now will likely loose them. 

    Beal seems like he's among the least likely to suffer a drop in playing time when the injured Wizards eventually return to action.