Each NBA season is overrun with various story lines. Some are worth discussion, while others force us to tear our hair out.
But story lines are important in that they help us make sense of all that's going on around us. They connect over 2,400 regular-season games that are seemingly floating on their own.
Some story lines are better than others. Some are sad and debilitating, while others are helpful and earnest. Here are the three best and three worst story lines, ranked by how significant we'll remember them being when we look back years from today.
The Houston Rockets are the league's youngest team and have one of the least-experienced rosters in NBA history. They dealt with a mid-season trade that dramatically altered their continuity, with an offense more fluid than a flowing river.
And they're in the playoffs. That's phenomenal. But Harden shouldn't be on this team. He should be on the Oklahoma City Thunder. And that's a reflection of the league's new Collective Bargaining Agreement and how it's hamstrung the long-term finances of almost every team in the league.
The Memphis Grizzlies traded Rudy Gay because their new owners weren't thrilled about his contract, and when the trade deadline came around, nobody wanted to part ways with valuable assets on rookie contracts/draft picks or acquire soon-to-be free agents who might be looking for a payday.
(Except for the Milwaukee Bucks and Sacramento Kings, two of the league's least-successful franchises.)
The luxury tax and the new CBA will always be a story line, but this year we saw it mold the league in ways nobody expected this soon.
This is listed as one of the better story lines because it helps spread the NBA's talent around the league, preventing super teams from beating everybody else up (regardless of market size) and forcing general managers to maneuver in clever ways.
Here are Tim Duncan's numbers this season: 17.8 points, 9.9 rebounds, 2.7 blocks, 50.1 percent shooting from the floor, a PER of 24.5 (sixth best in the league) and a 94.1 defensive rating (the best in basketball, according to Basketball-Reference.com).
Duncan is arguably the third or fourth best player in the league, and he'll appear on several MVP ballots. He's also about to turn 37, which is insane.
The same applies for Kobe Bryant, who's about to turn 35. Before rupturing his Achilles tendon, Bryant averaged 27.3 points per game on 46.3 percent shooting with the highest assist percentage of his career.
Several other players have unexpectedly exceeded expectations this year—near the end of their careers—including Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Andre Miller, Jason Kidd and Kevin Garnett.
If the Miami Heat do what everybody expects and win their second straight NBA championship, there's a great chance the most notable takeaway from the regular season will be their 27-game win streak.
The longest since a 33-game streak by the Los Angeles Lakers in 1971-72, Miami ran through the league in one of the most impressive ways ever seen.
Big picture, the person behind it all was LeBron James, a transcendental basketball player who accessed his greatest capabilities this season. (He's averaging career bests in field-goal percentage, three-point percentage and rebounds, and he is a certifiable lock to win his fourth MVP award in five years.)
The win streak deservedly brought James' incredible play to the forefront of every meaningful NBA discussion.
Losing a game, or even a playoff series, can be devastating for any team's fanbase. But losing the team to another city? That's a different level of depression.
Six years ago, basketball fans in Seattle experienced this, when their Supersonics became the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Now, the same thing might happen to the people of Sacramento, with their Kings possibly filling Seattle's Supersonics void. Nobody wants to see a team relocate from one city to another, especially basketball fans in California's capital city.
We'll be talking about this until there's a resolution, and when that happens, many people (whether they be from Seattle or Sacramento) will be devastated.
After pairing Dwight Howard, the best center in basketball, and two-time MVP Steve Nash with Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol to form what, on paper, appeared to be a title contender team, the Los Angeles Lakers fired their head coach five games into the season.
Things didn't get better after that, and after a season full of drama, capped off with Kobe Bryant tearing his Achilles tendon in the team's third-to-last game of the season, the Lakers needed all 82 games to qualify for the playoffs.
Frankly, the discussion surrounding a borderline playoff team was undeserved and, at times, nauseating. History aside, the Lakers dominated the headlines when their play reflected that of an irrelevant roster.
The league is filled with more talent than ever right now, but several injuries that've cropped up in recent months have robbed us of seeing the game's brightest show what they can do.
It all started with Derrick Rose tearing his ACL in the playoffs last season. He's yet to appear in a game this year. Then we have Kevin Love breaking his hand while doing knuckle pushups, an injury that limited his play to 18 games.
Rajon Rondo tore his ACL before the All-Star break, crippling Boston's honest chance at dethroning the Miami Heat. After getting traded from the Los Angeles Lakers to the Philadelphia 76ers, Andrew Bynum may never play a game for his new team after sitting out the year with an ongoing leg injury.
Kobe Bryant tore his Achilles tendon while single-handedly dragging the Los Angeles Lakers towards the finish line, Dirk Nowitzki missed the opening couple of months after undergoing offseason knee surgery, and Danilo Gallinari tore his ACL with just a few weeks to go before his team was primed to make some noise in the postseason.
All these injuries have altered the narrative of the entire league, weakening teams that could've done much better.