25 Critical Changes We'll Witness in the 2012-13 NBA Season
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There's going to be some big change in the 2012-13 NBA season. The recent James Harden trade basically slapped everyone in the face with that idea.
It's been quite a while since the league has been this volatile and this ready to dramatically change at a moment's notice.
Basketball fans are going to witness some critical changes this season. Here are 25 of the biggest.
25. The Big Four Label Gaining Popularity
Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant will headline the Lakers' Big Four.
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Ever since Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett joined forces for the Boston Celtics, people have been way too liberal in throwing around the Big Three label. Things have only gotten worse since the Miami Heat and New York Knicks formed their own Big Threes.
It's gotten to the point that fans and even commentators refer to the best three players on a given team as that team's Big Three.
You can overhear fans discussing whether the Detroit Pistons' Big Three of Greg Monroe, Rodney Stuckey and Tayshaun Prince is better than the Toronto Raptors' Big Three of Andrea Bargnani, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. It's getting out of hand.
But there's good news for any fans sick of the Big Three label. Now that Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard are all suiting up for the Los Angeles Lakers, the Big Three title is getting pushed to a Big Four. There's another player to throw in now!
Needless to say, this shift will be a refreshing change of pace for anyone that had to fight their gag reflex any time someone mentioned the words "Big Three."
24. A Competitive Toronto Raptors Team
Kyle Lowry should be a big upgrade for the Toronto Raptors.
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The Toronto Raptors' recent play has ranged from very bad to downright terrible. Since losing Chris Bosh to free agency two years ago, the Raptors have compiled a 45-103 record, finishing near the bottom of the Eastern Conference in both of the last two seasons.
However, the Raptors acquired guards Kyle Lowry and Landry Fields in the offseason and they'll also finally see what Lithuanian center Jonas Valanciunas, the No. 5 overall pick in the 2011 draft, is made of.
Lowry is a good young point guard who averaged 14 points, 6.6 assists and 4.5 rebounds last year for the Houston Rockets. He's a definite upgrade over Calderon, and should provide ample scoring opportunities for Fields and big man Andrea Bargnani.
Valanciunas should also make an immediate impact. He may be a rookie, but he's looked good in the preseason, and his game meshes perfectly with Bargnani's.
Valanciunas plays like a big man is supposed to. He's already got a pretty nice back-to-the-basket game and is a solid rebounder. Now he is just a rookie, so there will be definite growing pains. But he'll give Toronto the post presence that they've lacked since Bosh's departure.
Throw in 2012 first-rounder Terrence Ross and the Raptors should actually have a fun team that can compete in most games this season. That's a lot more than can be said for...
23. A Not-So-Competitive Orlando Magic Team
Like it or not, Jameer Nelson is probably "the man" for the Orlando Magic this season.
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On paper, the Orlando Magic's best player is either Arron Afflalo or Jameer Nelson. Ouch.
The Magic got a truly horrible haul back for Dwight Howard, and they're about to give a lesson in what happens when a team based solely around a particular player's skill set loses that particular player. Here's a hint: It's not pretty.
Maybe new head coach Jacque Vaughn can play the “nobody believes in us” card and at least get Orlando to compete in some games. But it's far more likely that the Magic are really, really bad for the first year in quite some time.
22. The Derrick Rose Watch Will Begin
Hopefully, Derrick Rose is able to return to the court soon.
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It's still not entirely clear whether Derrick Rose will play this season, but if he does, how he's treated by the Chicago fans and media is set to change dramatically.
There isn't a set of fans in basketball (or really any sport) that loves a player as much as Chicago fans love Derrick Rose. They worship him. It's almost unnerving how much they care about him.
So until Rose shows that he's unequivocally, 100 percent healed, Chicago is going to treat him like a house of cards.
Any time that he draws contact going to the basket or is slow getting up after a collision, Chicago fans are going to act like the overprotective soccer mom who pulls her child out of games when they trip once.
Let's just hope that's what happens. Because without a healthy Derrick Rose, the NBA season gets a little less interesting.
21. Immediate Rookie Impact
Anthony Davis leads a strong rookie class.
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Last year's rookie class had one impact player in Kyrie Irving and a handful of contributing players (Kenneth Faried, Brandon Knight and Iman Shumpert among a few others). This year's group figures to have a much bigger impact.
Obviously the New Orleans Hornets' Anthony Davis is an instant difference-maker, but he's not the only one.
The Unibrow is joined in that regard by the Washington Wizards' Bradley Beal, the Portland Trail Blazers' Damian Lillard and the Detroit Pistons' Andre Drummond. All of these guys should help to jump-start their respective franchises.
Add that to the long list of rookies ready to chip in right away (featuring Jared Sullinger, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Harrison Barnes, Perry Jones and Austin Rivers), and the 2012 draft class is set to make a big difference this year.
20. The Absence of Larry Bird
Larry Bird may have made his final exit from professional basketball.
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For the first time in nine years, Larry Bird won't be involved with professional basketball.
Bird resigned as president of the Indiana Pacers in June, and it's quite possible that he's done for good. When asked about a potential return to the league, Bird said (per Ben Golliver of CBSSports.com):
You never know. It's got to be the right job, the right people, what their commitment really is. I've got some interest in some jobs out there but whether I do it again, who knows.
Hopefully Bird returns to the game someday, but if not, it's been a pleasure, Larry. Your inevitable 40-50 close-ups every time the Pacers were on national television were a delight.
19. A New Running NBA Joke
There's some definite joke potential surrounding JaVale McGee.
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Now that LeBron James has won a title, last year's running jokes about LeBron's lack of rings or lack of clutch play in fourth quarters are history.
Clearly, a new joke is going to have to step in and fill the void. The odds-on favorites are:
- Anything JaVale McGee does
- Darko Milicic saying this
- A Raymond Felton obesity joke
- Hasheem Thabeet
It'll be a tight race. We'll have to check back in at midseason to crown the winner.
18. A New All-Star Game Ballot
The All-Star Game will look a little different this year.
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The All-Star ballot was antiquated. And that's putting it nicely.
Thankfully, the NBA has recognized the declining relevance of traditional position labels and has removed the center position from the ballot. Fans now will vote for three generic frontcourt players.
There are still some issues with All-Star voting, but this is a great change for the upcoming season.
A few undeserving centers slip into the All-Star Game every season because there have to be centers on the roster. That's led to some big All-Star snubs, like LaMarcus Aldridge's exclusion from last season's game.
Not only will the change make the All-Star rosters more fair, it should make the game itself way more enjoyable. The game is supposed to be a no-defense game played at breakneck speed. It's all about excitement and dunks and flashy passes.
That feeling of adrenaline gets slightly sullied when you see the centers on both teams lumbering down the court to set up for a not-so-thrilling jump hook.
Obviously that's not to say that centers shouldn't get in if they're deserving. But the new ballot will bring some critical improvements to both the voting and the game itself.
17. No More Absurdly Long Pregame Rituals
LeBron will have to be much quicker with the chalk this season.
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
This season, players will have just 90 seconds to prepare for tip-off following the player introductions. Failure to be ready for tipoff will result in a delay-of-game warning.
The guideline is intended to cut down on all of the excessive handshakes and pregame rituals that players go through before games.
Here's what you need to know about this rule—it stinks. Watching random players go through crazy rituals before each game has been an NBA staple for years. And now it's over.
No more watching Kevin Durant go through elaborate greetings with every member of the Oklahoma City Thunder. No more watching LeBron James go out of his way to high-five the Charlotte Bobcats' eleventh man while secretly thinking, “Who is this guy, anyways?” Those days are gone forever.
16. No Superstar Pushing for a Trade
No one will miss last year's painful Dwight Howard trade saga.
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That's right, folks. There won't be any more MeloDrama. The Dwightmare is finally over.
It seems like it's been ages since the biggest narrative at the start of an NBA season didn't involve a disgruntled superstar pushing for a trade.
But despite a little “Will Chris Paul re-sign with the Los Angeles Clippers?” chatter and the inevitable discussion of the recent James Harden trade, the focus heading into this season is pretty much all on-the-court stuff.
Instead of talking about where Dwight Howard or Carmelo Anthony will end up, we get to talk about how well the new Lakers will mesh together and whether the Boston Celtics and San Antonio Spurs can once again defy Father Time.
It's a breath of fresh air after the brutally drawn-out trade sagas of years past.
15. Vinny Del Negro Will Spend His Last Season with the Los Angeles Clippers
Vinny Del Negro won't be with the Clippers for much longer.
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Technically this isn't a change, but it's still an important storyline to follow this season.
Vinny Del Negro was this close to being fired last year. The Los Angeles Clippers struggled mightily late last season, but managed to turn it around just in time to save Del Negro's job.
This year is different. The Clippers' focus this season isn't actually on this season—it's on Chris Paul. Paul already turned down a max extension to his deal, and the pressure is on the Clippers to prove that Los Angeles is the place to be.
CP3 has never complained about Del Negro, but it's become clear that Del Negro can't take this team to the next level. Not after Gregg Popovich coached circles around him in last year's playoffs.
Barring an epic collapse, the Clippers will let Del Negro finish out the year peacefully and then let Paul pick and choose whatever coach he'd like.
14. An Even More Intense Miami Heat and Boston Celtics Rivalry
More than a few of the Celtics are taking Ray Allen's departure personally.
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If anything, the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat are going to hate each other even more this season.
It wouldn't have seemed possible just a few months ago, but now that Ray Allen has defected to Miami, the intensity on this series has gone up a notch (and the intensity was around 10 before he left).
Allen accepted a deal in Miami that's about half as much as he would have made had he stayed in Boston. You think the Celtics aren't a bit upset about that? They are.
There's been a lot of banter between the two teams since Allen's departure, headlined by Kevin Garnett's now-famous quote (per ESPNBoston.com's Chris Forsberg):
I don't have Ray's number anymore. I'm not trying to communicate. I'm just being honest with everybody in here. ... It's just what it is.
Games between the two teams were already chippy, and now they're going to get downright nasty. Because now it's personal.
13. LeBron James Playing Under No Pressure
LeBron James will play freely for perhaps the first time ever.
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
How long has it been since LeBron James hasn't started the year with a gigantic bull's eye on his back? Has that ever happened?
For quite possibly the first time ever, LeBron won't be under the world's microscope. The monkey that had been on his back for so long now rests firmly on his finger.
People will still be following him closely of course—he's still the most famous athlete in the world and someone who transcends sports. But he no longer has any critics to answer to. He took care of that in his absolutely destructive playoff tour this summer.
LeBron will finally be playing freely. Weirdly enough, we don't really know what that looks like. But we're about to find out.
(Note: If you don't think LeBron's going to tear through the league this season—even compared to his normal standards—then you're crazy.)
12. New Uniforms
The new Nets uniforms may look good, but a few new uniforms most assuredly do not.
It's quite possible that there won't be a more exciting moment this season than when the Denver Nuggets trot onto the court wearing these bad boys. Needless to say, the Nuggets' new uniforms were designed to momentarily blind other players.
Just look at the Nuggets players wearing them. The only one in this photo that looks even remotely happy is Kenneth Faried, and he's clearly looking at someone and mentally saying, “Wait, seriously? We have to wear these?” Everyone else ranges from angry to downright depressed.
Obviously, nothing can match the visceral thrill of seeing the Nuggets in their new duds. The San Antonio Spurs clearly recognized this and actually tried to cancel out that excitement by introducing the most boring alternate uniforms in human history. Smart move.
Anyways, here's a rundown of this year's best new uniforms.
11. The Oklahoma City Thunder Bench Will Struggle
Kevin Martin will be hard-pressed to replicate Harden's success with the Thunder's bench unit.
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
It can't be understated how important James Harden was to the Thunder reserves last season. Everyone already knows about the scoring, but it goes far beyond that.
When backup point guard Eric Maynor went down with an ACL injury, Harden took over both the scoring and play-making duties for the second unit. Literally everything keyed off of Harden's ability to create for himself and others, most often through the excellent two-man game that he ran with Nick Collison.
Kevin Martin can score, but not in the same way that Harden can. Martin plays much more like Kevin Durant than Harden. He does most of his scoring off of screens or as a spot-up shooter.
By contrast, Harden was one of the best at the league at getting to the rim and finishing, getting 3.4 shots at the rim per game and converting over 70 percent of them (courtesy of HoopData).
Oklahoma City is looking at a bench unit of Maynor, Martin, Perry Jones, Nick Collison and Hasheem Thabeet. They could also get contributions from Jeremy Lamb, but that would mean leaning heavily on two rookies and Hasheem Thabeet.
Not a great look for a team coming off a Finals appearance.
10. A Clearer Picture of Jeremy Lin Will Form
We'll learn a lot about Jeremy Lin as a basketball player this season.
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We learned what Jeremy Lin wasn't last year. We learned that he wasn't just another scrub that will linger on an NBA bench for the next few years. But even now, no one really knows what he is.
But which one is the real Jeremy Lin? Is he one of the extremes? Is he somewhere in the middle? How good is he?
For better or for worse, the world will find out exactly what Lin is capable of this season. He's got some help now that James Harden is in Houston. But all eyes will be on him. For the first time, we'll get a clear picture of who Lin is as a basketball player.
9. Blake Griffin Will Have a Decent Jumper
Blake Griffin has been working on his jumper.
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This would be a scary change for the rest of the NBA. Blake Griffin has spent this offseason working on polishing his jumper, and though he's not claiming to be Larry Bird, it sounds like he thinks he has improved.
He told Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times:
It's not one of those things where people are going to be like, 'Oh, wow, it's completely different.' For me, it's much more compact than it was. I feel like there's less chance for error. But, still, I've got a lot more work to go.
If Blake's jumper is even just respectable this year, then it will give the Los Angeles Clippers offense a huge boost. Griffin scored 20.7 points per game last year (fourth among power forwards) without the ability to consistently hit any shot beyond 10 feet.
An improved mid-range game would open up things offensively for not just for Blake, but the entire Clippers offense.
Since neither Griffin nor DeAndre Jordan can consistently get jumpers to fall, opponents are able to pack the paint against the Clippers. If Blake can space the floor better with an improved jumper, then he'll give Chris Paul much more room to work with.
Not a fun thought for defenses.
8. Brandon Roy in a New Uniform
Seeing Brandon Roy in a new uniform will be a huge change this season.
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images
It feels weird knowing that Brandon Roy will be suiting up for the Minnesota Timberwolves this season.
For the past six years, Roy's name has been synonymous with the Portland Trail Blazers. He was the Trail Blazers.
Even now, one of my favorite basketball memories is Roy's heroic Game 4 against the Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 playoffs. To think that he'll be attempting things like that with another team is just strange.
It's hard to say how effective Roy will be this season and just what role he'll play for the Timberwolves. But it sure will be a big change watching him play against the Trail Blazers rather than for them.
7. The Steve Nash and Pau Gasol Connection
Steve Nash and Pau Gasol will love playing with each other.
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
As much as everyone is drooling over potential Steve Nash and Dwight Howard pick-and-rolls, it's actually Nash and Pau Gasol's relationship that will constitute the biggest offensive change for the Los Angeles Lakers.
Gasol really wasn't a huge factor for the Lakers last season. Despite having a solid statistical season (over 17 points and 10 rebounds per game), he was often the third option in an offense featuring Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum.
Not this year. Nash is going to love him.
The pick-and-roll is Nash's bread and butter. It's the reason that his mid-2000s Phoenix Suns teams were such offensive juggernauts. And while Howard is a good roll man, his inability to hit any kind of shot beyond seven or eight feet means that he's not the perfect partner for Nash.
Nash and Gasol on the other hand...that's an ideal pairing. Gasol can do for Nash what Amar'e Stoudemire was able to in his time with Phoenix. Gasol may not have Amar'e's hops, but he has a higher basketball IQ, more range on his jumper and is a far better passer.
It might take a while for the Lakers offense to maximize Gasol and Nash's collective gifts, but if they ever get it together, it could be a title-hinging offensive change.
6. Chauncey Billups Will Retire at the End of the Season
This season might be Chauncey Billups's last.
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Chauncey Billups was adamant about returning to the Los Angeles Clippers following his season-ending Achilles injury last year. He told the Los Angeles Times' Broderick Turner:
There is no way I'm going to crawl out of the league. I'm going to be back. Trust me.
True to his word, Billups re-signed with the Clippers this summer. But he only signed a one-year deal, and the comments he made last season made it sound like he didn't want his final NBA season to end in injury, not that he really wants to keep playing.
Plus, it's not as if he hasn't flirted with retirement before. He strongly considered it after being amnestied by the Knicks last year.
This could be Chauncey's last stand in the NBA. So make sure you tune into some Clippers games and watch the former Finals MVP do his thing. You wouldn't want to miss Mr. Big Shot's retirement tour.
5. The New Anti-Flopping Rules
The crackdown on flopping could pose a problem for Blake Griffin.
Harry How/Getty Images
Flopping has been hurting basketball for years now.
There's nothing more frustrating than watching your team turn over the ball because an opposing player acted like he'd been gunned down by a sniper after the faintest brush of contact. Unfortunately, that happened a lot last season.
ESPN even launched a “HoopIdea” blog last year, essentially an entire blog dedicated to the idea of preventing flopping in the NBA. Thankfully, flops like this one made the league realize that it had a problem, and anti-flopping rules will finally come into play this season.
Honestly, the rules are pretty lax. The league office will take a look at any questionable falls after each game and will dole out punishment if they feel that a flop occurred.
The first flop is met with a warning, and any subsequent flopping will result in small fines ($5,000 for the second, $10,000 for the third, etc). If a player gets caught flopping six or more times, it could result in a suspension (could being the key word here).
Not exactly the strictest of punishments. But it's at least progress. The new anti-flopping rules should definitely cause players to at least think twice before diving to the floor, and you can't ask for much more than that at this point.
4. Basketball in Brooklyn
The Brooklyn Nets have arrived.
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Goodbye, New Jersey. Hello, Brooklyn.
This year marks the inaugural year for the Brooklyn Nets, and the Nets' first year in Brooklyn will be a far different experience than their last year in New Jersey.
The addition of All-Star guard Joe Johnson and the return of a healthy Brook Lopez mean that the Nets will be headed for the playoffs rather than the lottery. It also gives the Nets one of the Eastern Conference's most entertaining teams.
That's a big plus because the Brooklyn crowd should be electric this season.
New York City is still the mecca of basketball. Jeremy Lin's emergence made that obvious last season. Games at Madison Square Garden felt different than games anywhere else. There was an energy there that didn't exist in any other arena. Games at the Barclays Center should have a similar feel this season.
It'll be a big change from last year, but basketball in Brooklyn should get off to a great start this season.
3. The New CBA Will Lead to More Financially Motivated Trades
The new CBA played a huge role in the recent trade of James Harden.
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The James Harden trade was only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to small-market teams trading away key players thanks to the new collective bargaining agreement.
Though it was intended to create more competitive balance between big-market and small-market teams, the new CBA is absolutely crippling to any small-market team that ventures into the luxury tax.
Sam Presti, the Oklahoma City Thunder general manager, is one of the shrewdest in the league when it comes to managing the salary cap. But even he (or Thunder owner Clay Bennett) wasn't willing to go into the luxury tax to keep Harden.
Oklahoma City's situation was unique considering how much young talent they had to sign, but the fact remains that many small-market teams are going to seriously consider making moves specifically to avoid the dreaded tax.
It's hard to say exactly when the first domino will fall, but the number of trades initiated primarily for financial reasons will skyrocket this season. If it was already a problem in the NBA, it's about to become an epidemic.
2. The New York Knicks Will Bench Amar'e Stoudemire
Amare Stoudemire is a likely candidate to come off the bench this season.
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
It might sound crazy, but it's hard to imagine the New York Knicks not bringing Amar'e Stoudemire off the bench.
The pieces just don't fit in New York. When it comes down to it, Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler and Stoudemire can't all play together. Not when all signs point to the idea that the Knicks are far better when Melo plays the 4 rather than the 3.
You can count on one hand the number of power forwards capable of containing Melo off the dribble. And while Anthony definitely struggles to defend some of the bigger forwards in the paint, Stoudemire's not exactly a defensive stalwart himself.
If Amar'e came off the bench, he and Anthony wouldn't be stepping on each other's toes so much offensively, and the Knicks could bolster a weak second unit. It makes perfect sense.
The problem is that Amar'e, an alleged superstar, isn't going to like it. And that brings us to the most crucial change for this season.
1. Amar'e Stoudemire Will Be Traded
Stoudemire may be wearing a different uniform by the end of this season.
Nick Laham/Getty Images
As mentioned earlier, if Anthony is serious about making sacrifices for the betterment of the Knicks, then he'll spend a lot of time at the 4. And that would mean Amar'e coming off the bench, either as a power forward or a center.
If he's not willing to accept that role, then the Knicks have almost no choice but to move someone. And if someone has to be moved, then Amar'e would be the clear choice. The Knicks have far too much invested in Anthony and they can't trade Chandler, the driving force behind their defense.
That leaves Stoudemire, the first of the three to join New York and a player who was hearing MVP chants just two seasons ago. It's unbelievable to think that he could be traded, but unless he accepts a sixth-man role (and he won't), he's probably going to get shipped off.
The real question is actually if anyone would trade for Stoudemire, whose monster contract and shaky knees don't exactly make for the most attractive franchise cornerstone. There have to be a few GMs willing to roll the dice with the big man, but Stoudemire's knees are making a deal less and less palatable by the day.
Like most things involving the Knicks these days, the Stoudemire situation is going to get messy this season.