Thanks to a multitude of injuries, NBA fans have been robbed of appearances by some of their favorite stars this season.
As compelling as the early weeks of the 2012-13 campaign have been, there is plenty left to be desired by fans and media alike, with perennial All-Stars and intriguing young talent out indefinitely due to injury.
Some returns will provide clarity and reassurance, while others are sure to muddy depth charts and create some chemistry issues.
Here are seven NBA returns that every fan is eagerly awaiting.
*Note: All stats accurate as of December 11, 2012.
The Indiana Pacers are hurting without Danny Granger. With their primary offensive option sidelined due to a knee injury, the Pacers have been unable to get in a groove on offense, as defenses have keyed in on limiting the production of Paul George and Roy Hibbert.
Thus far (per Basketball-Reference), the Pacers rank 28th in offensive rating (99.5), and 29th in points per game (90.8).
Hibbert's lack of production, in particular, has been troubling. Since signing a contract worth $58 million over the summer, Hibbert has not looked his usual self without Granger.
While he's routinely played stout defense (anchoring a defense that ranks third in the league in opponents' points per game), Hibbert's scoring average is down three points from last season, and his field-goal percentage is down a full 11 points (currently 38.2 percent from the field).
Assuming Granger can post averages close to his 2011-12 totals (18.7 points per game), the Pacers will be in good shape heading into the spring.
There isn't a whole lot that can help the Washington Wizards rise from the cellar of the Eastern Conference, but John Wall's return from a knee injury will certainly help to further their team chemistry.
Without Wall, the Wizards have struggled immensely on the offensive end, currently ranking dead last in the league in points per game (90.3).
Assuming Wall makes a return at close to 100 percent, the second half of this season will be key to his progression as a point guard.
In his third season, Wall is primed to make the jump from above-average to elite. In order to become one of the league's premier point guards, Wall will need to refine his jump shot much like Jrue Holiday of the Philadelphia 76ers has done.
The New York Knicks have prospered without Amar'e Stoudemire to the tune of a 15-5 record, including two convincing wins over the Miami Heat.
Stoudemire is reportedly eyeing a return around Christmas, which would put him on track to join the Knicks for their holiday showdown against the Los Angeles Lakers.
The key to Stoudemire's return will be his willingness to come off of the bench, which looks like a real possibility, according to ESPN.
Should the six-time NBA All-Star accept a role as the team's sixth man, the Knicks will be well on their way to achieving the offensive balance they have craved with Carmelo Anthony and Stoudemire on the roster.
The Knicks' ball movement and selflessness has fueled their winning ways, which should continue upon the big man's return.
ESPN's Darren Wolfson had tweeted that Ricky Rubio was targeting a return last Friday against the Cleveland Cavaliers, but that date was a bit optimistic. For now, it appears as if the T'Wolves are being cautious with their handling of Rubio and his gimpy knee.
A Ricky Rubio source via email when asked if the season debut will come tomorrow night: "Not tomorrow." Will continue to monitor. #Twolves— Darren Wolfson (@DarrenWolfson) December 11, 2012
The latest report has the flashy floor general making his long-awaited return this Saturday, according to SI.com (via the Star-Tribune's Jerry Zgoda).
Minnesota has looked particularly good on the defensive end without Rubio, allowing just 91.9 points per game, posting a defensive rating of 100.3 per Basketball-Reference.com.
The real problems for the Timberwolves have been on the offensive end, where the return of Kevin Love has not been enough to propel them into the top half of the NBA in pace or offensive rating—ranking 19th and 24th, respectively.
Remember when the Philadelphia 76ers supposedly got a good deal swapping Andre Iguodala and a couple of young assets for Andrew Bynum and Jason Richardson?
Unfortunately, the days of those idealistic thoughts are gone, and reality has punched the Sixers square in the face. As Skip Bayless of ESPN's First Take put it, they got suckered.
Bynum's troublesome knees have him out indefinitely, with no return date in sight.
However, according to CSN Philly's John Finger, Bynum is more optimistic than most about a return this season: “Worst-case scenario, it will be another month,” Bynum said. “Best-case scenario, I can ramp [up the workouts].”
Without Bynum, the team's frontcourt has struggled mightily, leaning on second-year man Lavoy Allen (6.1 points and 5.1 rebounds per game) and the inconsistent Spencer Hawes (7.6 points and 5.5 rebounds per game) more than they would prefer.
Fortunately for the Sixers, a breakout campaign from point guard Jrue Holiday has the team on solid ground with a 12-9 record.
Just when it appeared as if Derrick Rose's entire 2012-13 season could have been in jeopardy, news broke that he could be on his way back to the practice court sometime soon.
According to an NBA source, while ‘‘The Return’’ to the court for NBA games is still up in the air for Rose, the all-everything point guard could be just weeks away from practicing with the Bulls again after surgery on his left anterior cruciate ligament last May.
Rose's return to practice by the new year would be phenomenal news for the Chicago Bulls, who have struggled without their leading man.
The former league MVP's return will be welcomed with open arms, particularly when you consider this statistical tidbit from ESPN's Stats and Information department:
How much do Bulls miss Derrick Rose? Bulls point guards are averaging 6.8 PPG this season, 2nd-fewest in NBA.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 11, 2012
With a record of 11-8, the Bulls have held steady without Rose, although the return of their point guard at full strength could result in some lofty playoff aspirations.
Now that it looks like Dirk Nowitzki will be out until the new year, the Dallas Mavericks will need to find ways to stay competitive in the Western Conference.
The Mavs got off to a quick start to the season, but have since fallen back to earth, as they currently sit in third place in the Southwest Division with a record of 11-10.
O.J. Mayo has helped fill the scoring void left by Nowitzki, to the tune of 53 percent shooting from beyond the arc. However, aside from Mayo, the Mavs have not had any individual offensive performers worth bragging about.
While Dallas doesn't figure to be highly competitive come playoff time, Nowitzki's presence will certainly boost the confidence of Rick Carlisle's bunch.
Plenty has happened in Tinseltown since Steve Nash suffered a fractured fibula against the Portland Trail Blazers.
Nash has yet to take the floor with Mike D'Antoni as his new head coach, perhaps the biggest reason why the Los Angeles Lakers offense continues to sputter.
Chris Duhon's efforts in relief of Nash have been admirable, but let's face it—he's no two-time league MVP.
The latest on Nash is that nerve irritation in his left leg is causing a hold-up, according to Yahoo! Sports.
Though D'Antoni is optimistic that his star point guard can return sooner than later, Nash himself believes it will take at least two more weeks before he can re-join the team, according to USA Today.
While Nash's absence can partially explain the Lakers' early-season slump, there's clearly more to the team's struggles than one missing piece.
For Los Angeles to reach its full potential, D'Antoni will have to modify his offense to accommodate the skill set of Pau Gasol, whose problems have stretched well beyond what anyone could have imagined.