50 Biggest Storylines Heading into the 2012-13 NBA Season
With October 30, the date of the NBA's season opener, baring down on us, so many questions have yet to be answered.
It's going to be a fun season, that's for sure. There's no telling which teams are going to make the finals and which teams are going to be clawing to get in. But we have plenty of time to sort all that out.
In the meantime, here's are 50 stories we know we'll encounter over the next seven months.
1. LeBron's Quest
The most obvious has to be first on the list, doesn't it? That's LeBron James' continuing quest to become whatever he's trying to become.
Whether it's to challenge Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan or just to become a dynasty unto himself, this figures to be another interesting chapter in LeBron's career.
Another MVP, another NBA title and another Finals MVP are on the line for LeBron this season, and right now he's got to be the front-runner for them all.
2. Ray Allen vs. Boston
It's probably going to be the most fun game between a player and his old team, and it happens on opening night.
Dwight Howard's return to Orlando is certainly going to make for the most feisty crowd of the season, but there are definitely going to be fireworks when Ray Allen and the Miami Heat take on the Boston Celtics and his old teammates after an offseason full of barbs back and forth.
Look for this game to set the stage for further histrionics between these teams later this season.
3. Rookie of the Year Rumble
It's Anthony Davis vs. the field, but instead of it being like Tiger Woods vs. the field back in 2006, it's more like Tiger taking on the field today. Davis is not as much of a lock for Rookie of the Year, but there's still a decent chance he'll win it.
The leading challenger is Damian Lillard, but Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Bradley Beal have a good shot as well.
What'll be interesting to see is whether averaging a double-double will seal it for Davis, which has been the case in the past, or if he's going to have to dominate on offense to take home the award.
4. Mike Dunlap in the NBA
It seems like every time I see this name I completely forget who the dude is if it's out of context. For those of you who are the same way, this is the new head coach for the Charlotte Bobcats. You know, the guy who was an assistant at St. John's last season.
Will this Alaskan native be able to make the leap from being an assistant on a Big East team that went 13-18 last season to being a head coach in the faster, stronger NBA?
5. Knicks Fans Loving Their Old Dudes
Among other interesting developments, this offseason has been punctuated by Knicks fans falling in love with the old dudes their team picked up.
Among the additions were Jason Kidd, who put up the worst per 36-minute stats of his career on a nearly pointless Mavericks team last season, Kurt Thomas, who can't play more than 15 minutes a game before he collapses, and Marcus Camby, who was legitimately good last season, but is further behind in terms of being ready to play than Rasheed Wallace.
The Knicks are probably going to win more games this season, but I wouldn't be surprised to see them lose again in the first round of the playoffs.
6. The Clippers' New Bench
After relying on the likes of Mo Williams, Nick Young, Reggie Evans and Kenyon Martin off the bench last season, the Clippers are going in a completely different direction.
They've added Lamar Odom, Jamal Crawford, Grant Hill and Matt Barnes, plus Ronny Turiaf and Ryan Hollins, but those two guys won't add much.
It's a riskier bench with a potential for disaster, but it could be their saving grace if things actually work out.
7. Denver as a Title Contender?
Depth won't be an issue for the Denver Nuggets this season. After adding Andre Iguodala, Denver goes at least two players deep at every position. And if the Nuggets need to whittle it down to eight guys for the playoffs, they have a terrific first eight in Ty Lawson, Iggy, Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth Faried, Kosta Koufos, Wilson Chandler, JaVale McGee and Andre Miller.
That's a lineup that's going to play better defense than expected and continue to be a high-powered offense, coming at the defense from all angles.
They might be sleepers, but don't fall asleep on them.
8. Bynum in a New City
You can't keep a guy from getting injured by sending him to a new city (unless you send him to Phoenix, perhaps), but you can change his outlook on the game and calm him down.
That's got to be the hope of the Philadelphia 76ers, who picked up the injury-prone big man this summer. Should Bynum mature after the Lakers basically told him that they can do better by trading for Dwight Howard, he could end up being the best big man in the game.
All that, however, is going to be dependent on how well his knees hold up. And if the past month has told us anything, it's that he still has issues.
9. Phoenix Puts Together Its Cast-Offs
If you're a fan of basketball experimentation, you have to be excited about this year's rendition of the Phoenix Suns.
What you have is Goran Dragic, a pick-and-roll point guard who's better at scoring off the pick than hitting the roller; Luis Scola, a guy who sets monster picks and hits shots when asked; Martin Gortat, a center who can finish off the pick-and-roll; Jared Dudley, a guard who can leak out and hit a three when he's open; and Michael Beasley, who completely ruins it all by being a volume shooter who needs the ball in his hands.
Plus, we can't forget about Jermaine O'Neal with the Suns' training staff. That might be the best one-two punch of the year.
10. Wayward Hope
What was once a desert is slowly starting to create life again. Here and there little wisps of plants grow, shrubs are poking through the arid dirt and ponds are appearing. But there's a hot sun in the sky threatening to dry it all up again.
I'm talking, of course, about the hope that fans of teams like Toronto, Minnesota, Golden State and even Washington have after long periods of hopelessness.
Their teams aren't winning any titles this season, but they have a shot at making the playoffs, which would be huge progress.
11. The Final Playoff Spots in the Western Conference
The race to be the seventh or eighth seed in the Western Conference is going to be one of the best and most memorable in a long time, or it at least looks that way.
What we have going is four teams—Dallas, Utah, Minnesota and Golden State—with a legitimate shot at two spots. Three of those teams have injury issues, so there will always be a monkey wrench to throw in there.
If I had to pick which two make it based on what we've seen in the preseason, it would have to be Utah and Minnesota. But there's a long time between now and May.
12. Derrick Rose's Timetable
Everything points to Derrick Rose being right on schedule, or even slightly ahead in his return from ACL surgery this offseason.
Rose has been given no timetable for a return, but it seems there's a big window, ranging from the All-Star break to the end of the season. All that can really be said is that the Bulls have no reason to rush him back, and he'll be back when his doctors and knee says he's ready.
It'll be something to keep an eye on, especially if Chicago is in a fight for a halfway decent playoff spot.
13. The Bizarro Avengers
Why did it take me so long to get to these guys? Regardless, there's going to be a media storm surrounding a team that is doing the best it can to scoff at Miami's compilation of three star players. "Only three?" they must be thinking, "How cute."
The Lakers aren't here to save the world from a dynasty, they're here to put it back where it was and where it's supposed to be, centered in Los Angeles and not Miami.
If you're a casual basketball fan, this team is great. They'll be a fun watch and never boring. And you know what, hard-core fans should love them as well. It's no fun hating a Lakers team that doesn't have a shot at a title.
14. The Bucks Play Weird Basketball
If this were 2001, I would say the Bucks look like they have a chance to be top-five team in the Eastern Conference. Unfortunately for Milwaukee, volume shooters are so 2000.
What makes it even worse is that the Bucks have two high-volume scorers in Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings, both of whom are in the final year of their contracts. Ellis is looking to show the rest of the league that he's a valuable player, while Jennings is fighting for the best deal he can get as a restricted free agent.
It looks like these guys are going to try to shoot as much as possible, meaning we could see both attempt more than 18 shots per game.
15. Lin Comes Back to the Big Apple
In what will be the most-hyped return of the season, Jeremy Lin returns to New York City on December 17.
Something tells me the Rockets won't look like playoff contenders at this point, but Lin could well be averaging a good chunk of points and a handful of dimes.
Part of me hopes that Lin ends up struggling for the first month-and-a-half of the season before rolling into New York and scoring 35 points, including a game-winning, half-court three. That would break the Internet.
16. Dwight Returns to Orlando
In what will be the most vitriolic homecoming since LeBron's first trip back to Cleveland, Dwight Howard takes his first trip back to Orlando on March 12th.
By the time this game rolls around, we'll know where the Magic stand, which will most likely be in no man's land. That means this will probably be the only post All-Star break game that energizes the Orlando fans. So don't be surprised when they show up buzzing.
It's going to be nasty. It's going to be angry. It's going to be one hell of a fun game.
17. JaVale McGee's Antics
Until he stops being the main content for basketball blogs, there are going to be criticisms about JaVale McGee. His goofiness has been unrivaled since Metta World Peace was Ron Artest.
Don't be surprised, however, if this season he gets more mentions for his outstanding play than he ever did before. Just don't expect the craziness, such as him running back on defense when his team still has the ball, to stop.
18. Thomas Robinson Pushes DeMarcus Cousins
There's been a lot of hype about DeMarcus Cousins this season. He's in his third year in the league with a coach who has finally done a lot to calm him down and get him playing to his strengths.
However, the biggest thing that figures to push him to become one of the best centers in the league has to be the Kings drafting Thomas Robinson, another big man who's full of energy and can rebound.
You have to think that's only going to push Cousins even further to prove that he's the team's best big man.
19. The Battle for New York
This seems to have been one of the main questions of the past summer, at least ever since the Nets were able to land Joe Johnson for some flotsam. Who's going to be the better team in New York?
Well, the short answer has to be the Knicks, but it's not going to be a runaway.
The best way I can think to put it is that the Knicks will end up with the better record, but Nets fans will be happier with the outcome of the season, meaning the Knicks will have troubles along the way that upset their fans while Brooklyn outperforms its station.
Let's hope we see them snag the fourth and fifth seeds, so we can see a straight-up competition between them in the playoffs.
20. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist Takes over the Bobcats
It's going to be hard for anybody to take over a team that has made the playoffs once since 2004 and turn them around overnight, but Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has a halfway decent shot at doing just that.
I'm not sure if he's going to be good enough to be the No. 1 option on this team over the next decade, but his athleticism suggests he's going to be a very good No. 2 man at the very least.
In the beginning, he has a chance to change the attitude of this team, bring in a bit of a winner's swagger and a hard worker's confidence. That's not going to win the Bobcats many games this year, but it's going to put them on the right track.
21. The Jump of Kawhi Leonard
Much like every other blogger on the Internet, I picked Paul George to have a breakout year in 2012 after an impressive 2011 rookie season. Kawhi Leonard is my pick to do the same this season.
He is exactly the guy who can extend the Spurs' chances at a title run. He's a high-energy forward who can do almost everything on the court. Should he be able to build on last season's modest stat line that he compiled in just 24 minutes a game, San Antonio could end up starting him full time.
At the least, they can keep bringing him off the bench and use him for a quick pick-me-up.
22. Orlando Takes the Path to the Bottom
I'm still trying to decide whether this Orlando team is bad enough to fall to the bottom of the league. It'll be down there, but it might not bottom out with the players Dwight Howard left behind.
With Jameer Nelson, Glen "Big Baby" Davis and Arron Afflalo, the Magic can play defense and try to shoot their way into games, which might win them 30 games.
J.J. Redick will most likely get traded with his expiring deal, but it might take more than that to clear this team out.
23. James Harden's Contract Situation
The Oklahoma City Thunder are the only top-tier team with an ongoing contract issue with a key player. But it should be cleared up one way or another soon.
Obviously, the Thunder front office doesn't want to give Harden a max contract, and he shouldn't get one, either. Does that mean some foolish team won't offer him one in free agency next season? Probably not.
Even still, you have to imagine that pointing out to Harden and his agent that Russell Westbrook took less than max money when he signed his first contract out of his rookie deal has to be worth something. I think the two will come to an agreement before the end of January.
24. Could Atlanta Actually Be Better?
This may be my favorite storyline to pay attention to during the first few months of the season because it seems kind of impossible.
Atlanta is losing Joe Johnson, its best scorer. He was a guy who held down its perimeter defense and, for all intents and purposes, was the best player on its team over the past four seasons.
Now, however, the Hawks get the luxury of a full season from Al Horford, a contract year from Josh Smith, another season of improvement from Jeff Teague and a positive offseason.
Can any one player the Hawks picked up equal Joe Johnson's output? Definitely not. But a combination of Lou Williams, Kyle Korver, Devin Harris and DeShawn Stevenson can sure come close.
25. Will Golden State Stay Healthy for a Playoff Run?
More so than any other team that has been out of the playoffs for at least the past three seasons, I want the Golden State Warriors to make a playoff run if only to see Oracle Arena rocking again.
The only problem is that they have a point guard with glass ankles and a center who can't seem to avoid freak injuries.
If those two should stay healthy for an extended period of time, this Warriors team could end up in the playoffs.
26. What Will Andrei Kirilenko, Brandon Roy Bring to Minnesota?
The Minnesota Timberwolves took a bit of a risk this offseason, a smart one, but a risk nonetheless. Now that Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio are out for at least a month, Andrei Kirilenko and Brandon Roy become two of their most important players.
If they return to their old NBA form, the Timberwolves could end up staying afloat long enough that they'll be playoff contenders once Love and Rubio come back. If not, it could be another early summer for the Timberwolves.
27. How Much Better Is Boston in 2012-13?
Last season the Boston Celtics were a team that depended on five guys to keep them in every single game. If one had a bad game, they would be okay. But they couldn't have too many of their best players play poorly.
This year, however, they've upgraded the shooting guard spot with Jason Terry, and added Jared Sullinger, a rookie who can score in the post when Kevin Garnett is sitting, Jeff Green, a talented player who remains a question mark, and Courtney Lee, a player who can straight-up shoot.
This is a better team without a doubt, but we can't yet tell how good it will be.
28. John Wall vs. Kyrie Irving
This is my favorite emerging rivalry that hasn't really emerged yet. These teams had a bit of a row going when the Cavs took them out of the playoffs three years running. But nobody on either of these teams remembers those days.
Now you have two teams similarly rebuilding. They're both centered around a star point guard and both just took a chance in the draft on high-scoring shooting guards.
This is a rivalry that needs to happen not only for the fans of each team, not only for the Eastern Conference or the NBA as a whole, but for the history of the league.
29. Can Jonas Valanciunas Live Up to the Hype?
He's not received the hype of Anthony Davis or Damian Lillard, but he's a guy who's expected to change the outlook of a team, along with fellow new guy in town, Kyle Lowry.
If Valanciunas is legitimate, it allows Andrea Bargnani to play a more natural spot at power forward and allows Amir Johnson and Ed Davis to come off the bench.
Valanciunas isn't quite a make-or-break player, but he's right on the borderline for the Raptors.
30. Is Detroit Finally Moving in the Right Direction?
The Pistons have been in a terrible position ever since their original "rebuilding" project broke up the core of their championship team.
Detroit killed its future when it signed Charlie Villanueva and Ben Gordon to deals that paid them at least a combined $16 million in each of the past three seasons.
Now the Pistons have gotten rid of Gordon, found a great power forward in Greg Monroe and are hoping to hit it big with Andre Drummond.
31. Is Indiana Going to Be a Threat to Miami?
Last season it looked like the Indiana Pacers were going to legitimately take down the Miami Heat. They won two of the first three games of their playoff series, one of which was in Miami, before losing the next three.
The Pacers didn't do too much this offseason in terms of player movement, but they did take a gamble on Gerald Green and traded for Ian Mahinmi to add a bit of depth to the frontcourt. So there's something there.
But the Pacers are looking more to Roy Hibbert and Paul George and their expected improvement to take them to the next level.
32. Can the Grizzlies Balance the Workload?
With an injury to Rudy Gay at the end of 2011 and an injury to Zach Randolph for the majority of the 2012 season, it was hard to tell how well these two will work together when the team is in full stride.
What seemed to work at times for Memphis was bringing Z-Bo off the bench, but that doesn't seem like something he'd go for in a full 82-game season.
Beyond that, if these two can't make it work together, is there a possibility that the Grizzlies would trade one of the two? That's definitely something to watch.
33. How Much Can Dallas' Cobbled Lineup Produce?
The Mavericks more or less declined to defend their title last season when they let Tyson Chandler go to the Knicks. Now they seem to be bridging the gap to the 2013 offseason in hopes of doing better in the free agent market.
What they have is a conglomerate of expiring contracts and question marks, from O.J. Mayo to Chris Kaman, Elton Brand and Darren Collison.
It doesn't seem like they can survive too long with Dirk Nowitzki out, but they may be able to work some kind of strange magic.
34. Is Damian Lillard the Player Everyone Thinks He Is?
If there's one player who has gotten progressively more hyped since the end of the college basketball season, it's Damian Lillard.
With the ability to score, Lillard has become the most popular choice for the Rookie of the Year award not named Anthony Davis.
It'll be interesting to see if he's going to be able to live up to the hype or if he will be just another mid-major pick to fall to the wayside.
35. Utah's Trade Options
The Jazz are in an interesting place. They have a starting forward and center, Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson, who are very good, but they also have a forward and a center on the bench, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter, who are looking more and more interesting.
Will they take a chance and go for some upsets in the playoffs with the team they have, or will they break their team down a bit to build it back up again by trading Jefferson, Millsap, or both?
36. The Lakers Try to Take Down Oklahoma City
The Lakers have grabbed all the offseason attention, but that doesn't make them the favorites to win the Western Conference.
They have to deal with the reigning Western Conference champions (along with the Spurs and a host of other very good teams in the West) before they can take a swing at the title.
The Lakers certainly have the star power to break down the Thunder, but they were just thrown together and are centered around older players, which could hurt them in the long run.
37. The Fight for Center Supremacy
Dwight Howard is still the best center in the NBA, even though he had a down year and didn't win the Defensive Player of the Year award after last season.
However, it seems like there are more budding challengers than ever before.
Besides Andrew Bynum, guys like Marc Gasol, DeMarcus Cousins, Roy Hibbert, Greg Monroe and even Andrew Bogut, if he can stay healthy, are knocking on his door trying to make an argument.
38. Denver's Defensive Development
The Denver Nuggets were 21st in the league last season in defensive efficiency and 29th in points allowed per game. Part of that was due to their fast-paced offense. But they also weren't good defenders.
Now that they've added Andre Iguodala, one of the league's premier perimeter defenders, and with some advancement in the post from JaVale McGee, the Nuggets have a shot at jumping into the top half of the league defensively, possibly even higher.
39. Gerald Green's Comeback
Most people remember Gerald Green as the guy who blew out a candle on a cupcake sitting on the back of the rim during the 2008 Slam Dunk contest. What am I talking about? Most people don't remember Gerald Green at all.
Well, Green was back last season after stints in Russia, China and the D-League as a member of the New Jersey Nets. You know what was the craziest part of his comeback? He was legitimately good, not just athletic, averaging career highs in nearly every category.
This season will decide whether Green can play and contribute on a good team. He's signed with the Pacers.
40. Blake Griffin's Jumper
It's a story that has come up for the second year in a row now, that Blake Griffin is trying to develop a jumper.
He's never had much of anything outside of eight feet. But watching preseason games this year, he wasn't as atrocious as before when he went up for a mid-range jumper. There was some arc on the ball, and he even made some of them.
If he gets that jumper down, he could be one of the 10 best players in the game. But it has to be consistent.
41. Sacramento's Home-Court Question
The Kings' owners got a deal done to stay in the city for the time being, but they backed out of it when the city said they would get no help in either building a new arena or renovating the current place.
Now Sacramento, a team in transition, will have to play a season with an uncertain future. The Kings shouldn't mind it too much, but the disgruntled fans might have trouble dealing with some of the worst owners in sports, and they might show their distaste by just not showing up.
42. Jared Sullinger...Just in General
There's a lot to like about the situation surrounding Jared Sullinger. The only way he'd be any more beloved for playing well in the preseason would be if he were a member of the always over-hyped New York Knicks.
But even after Sully's impressive preseason, you have to imagine he's going to have to do some work to become a legitimate NBA power forward. But it's going to be fun watching him grow and try to prove that he should have been a lottery pick.
43. Rondo as an MVP Candidate
There's been a lot of excitement surrounding Rajon Rondo this offseason. There's a belief that he's going to turn on his offensive game to the point where he'll be able to make some waves in the MVP race.
You have to imagine that if he's able to do that, the Celtics are going to be the second-best team in the Eastern Conference at the very least. Plus, they'll have a great shot at taking down the Miami Heat and potentially winning a title.
44. Midseason Deals
There's not much talk yet about who might get traded, but then again we have little idea about who is going to be good and who will be terrible.
Of the good teams with players to spare, it wouldn't be crazy to think that the Pacers would shop Danny Granger. He's growing superfluous with Indiana now that Paul George is looking like he could take over the scoring load. If the Pacers were able to get a guy like Paul Millsap out of the deal, you'd have to imagine that they'd think about it.
45. The NBA's Flopping Rule
There's going to be a lot of fun this season seeing who is forced to change his game now that the NBA has implemented an anti-flopping policy
Guys like Manu Ginobili, Jarrett Jack, Anderson Varejao and Chris Paul are definitely going to have to change it up a bit, and Blake Griffin, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Paul Pierce are going to have to be on notice as well.
It'll be interesting to see if the league will try to make an example of a big-name star initially or just let the rule run its course.
46. Carlos Boozer and the Bulls
The Chicago Bulls are in an interesting situation with Carlos Boozer. He's not as terrible as everyone makes him out to be, but he's not a guy as a starting power forward who is going to be tough enough in the playoffs.
They could use their amnesty provision on him and go along with the season, or they could see if anybody would be crazy enough to trade for him.
Of course, the most likely option would have him remaining with Chicago through the end of this season, at which point the Bulls might have a better chance of trading him and getting something of value in return.
47. Who Replaces Brian Scalabrine?
This one might be the most important story of the entire season. The people of Chicago and NBA lovers around the world are losing a great creator of entertainment and he must be replaced.
As of right now, you have to imagine that Josh Harrellson is the front-runner for the job. He's a big white dude who is going to play in garbage time. He can hit threes and he's nicknamed "Jorts."
What more could you want out of the new Scalabrine?
48. Chicago Surviving
The Chicago Bulls have two guys coming off the bench this year who were in the same role last season, Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler. The Bulls' second unit wasn't on the court all that much last season, but it did have the second-best three-point shooting percentage in the league and it did play fine defense.
That, combined with Derrick Rose's injury, Carlos Boozer's diminishing role and the question about Kirk Hinrich's ability to run the point has to have a few people more than a little concerned in Chicago.
I think the Bulls will make the playoffs, but they could end up drawing Miami in the first round if they fall far enough.
49. New York's Lineup Tinkering
The Knicks have one of the most tinker-able lineups in the league. But Mike Woodson is in a situation where if he tinkers with it and it doesn't work out, he could be out the door faster than he can trim his circle beard.
With the injury to Amar'e Stoudemire, he can immediately throw Carmelo Anthony in at power forward, his best position offensively and defensively last season, and put J.R. Smith at small forward.
If that works out, I would say keep doing it and bring Stoudemire off the bench until he proves that he can play 34 minutes a game again without his knees exploding. That gives the Knicks somebody with pop coming off the bench.
Plus, that means Stoudemire can sit next to Kurt Thomas and Marcus Camby and get the best tips on how to ice down his knees after a game.
Come on, guys, you know I couldn't go without an old guy joke here.
50. The 2013 NBA Title
There's no way to predict who the NBA champion will be next June, but I can tell you one thing: This has to be the most unsure I've been about the outcome of an NBA season since 2008.
Sure, the obvious choice for the NBA Finals is a matchup between the Lakers and Heat. But that's not anywhere near a slam dunk.
Miami has a tougher road than it did last season and Boston has a definite shot at making the finals out of the East, as does Chicago, if Derrick Rose is back and healthy for the playoffs.
In the West, you have to include San Antonio and Oklahoma City in any kind of conversation, along with the Clippers, if Blake Griffin develops a jumper, and Denver, which is a pretty good dark horse.
I wouldn't even rule out Indiana or Memphis, if things go right for those teams.
All that matters right now is that basketball is nearly back, and it's here to stay for the next seven months.
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