Kobe Bryant's health will play a monumental role in the Los Angeles Lakers' success.
If there’s one guarantee in the NBA, it’s that health is bound to impact your roster at some point during the season.
Entering 2013-14, there are a number of prominent injuries to highlight. Derrick Rose, Kevin Love and Kobe Bryant have created some of the juiciest storylines, but their respective squads aren’t the only ones crossing their fingers. Nagging injuries and poor bounce-back performances could mean the difference between making the playoffs and landing in the lottery.
Nobody wants to see players get hurt, but it happens. Players go down, they miss time and their teams have to find a way to compensate.
The hope is that they always get back up, and that’s what all 30 teams are hoping as 2013-14 quickly approaches.
Lou Williams played 39 games for the Atlanta Hawks during the 2012-13 season. He averaged 14.1 points, 3.6 assists and 1.1 steals per contest, and he was a big reason for the successful 22-17 start. Then he went down with a season-ending knee injury, and the Hawks turned into a .500 squad the rest of the way.
Williams, who was in his first season with Atlanta, was supposed to help the organization create a new identity in the post-Joe Johnson era. Now, he will try and do the same in the post-Josh Smith era, but it all starts with staying on the floor.
Although he is only 6’2”, Williams can make a name for himself at shooting guard. He’s a combo guard by definition, but his shooting ability will let him play alongside Jeff Teague in Mike Budenholzer’s system.
Williams has the potential to be a dangerous scorer for the Hawks, and the hope is that he reaches his potential by staying on the floor from start to finish.
Expect the Boston Celtics to proceed with caution when it comes to Rajon Rondo. The point guard is coming off a torn ACL, and until he’s 100 percent, he shouldn’t be seeing any action.
The Celtics are in a full-blown rebuild, and there’s no reason to rush Rondo back onto the floor. His future with the team is in flux—as it almost always appears to be—but the organization doesn’t want to put its current franchise player at risk.
You also can’t ignore the concept of tanking. Boston still has talent spread throughout the roster, but by sending Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Brooklyn Nets, Danny Ainge officially waived the white flag for the immediate future.
Letting Rondo sit won’t be the worst thing in the world, and if the Celtics choose to go that route, they’ll once again show that their eyes are locked onto the bigger picture—building toward the future.
The fear for the Brooklyn Nets has to revolve around one simple question: Did they mortgage their future for a championship window that is already closed?
There’s no denying this team is talented. Deron Williams and Joe Johnson are lethal scorers in the backcourt, Brook Lopez is making a name for himself at center and Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett round out arguably the most star-studded core in the entire NBA.
But while talent is certainly a step in the right direction, this group must be prepared for games to be missed during the regular season.
Garnett and Pierce are 37 and 35, respectively, and both will be a year older by the season’s end. There’s always the concern that Lopez’s foot sets him up for a slow start, but with this team, it’s going to be much more important to finish strong.
The goal in Brooklyn is championship or bust, and reaching the former will be predicated upon how healthy this group is entering the postseason.
The Charlotte Bobcats have got 99 problems, but injuries aren't one.
Charlotte is set to open training camp practically free of injury, which is good news for anybody wanting to see more wins. Unfortunately, for those targeting Andrew Wiggins in the 2014 draft, Charlotte may just play itself right out of contention when it comes to the first pick.
The truth is, the Bobcats improved over the summer. The starting lineup is capable of competing, but once Ben Gordon makes his appearance off the bench, the talent starts to dilute.
At some point in 2013-14, injuries will hit this club. If you’re hoping for as many wins as possible, keep your fingers crossed that it’s not Al Jefferson, Kemba Walker or any of the other members of the starting unit.
Some teams can’t afford to lose a single starter, and the Bobcats epitomize that concept at this point.
The Chicago Bulls proved during 2012-13 that they can win games without Derrick Rose. They used their defensive mentality to stay competitive, and they knocked out the Brooklyn Nets in a tough seven-game series.
But while this team is deep enough to make a name for itself, Rose's health will determine how competitive it can be moving forward. Fans were frustrated with his non-comeback last season, and they’re more ready than ever to get back into championship contention.
The hope, of course, is that the time off means a better, stronger Rose. He’s had time to work on his jumper during the process, and more importantly, he’s had space to get comfortable playing contact games against NBA competition.
The Bulls are contenders with Rose leading the way, and Chicago is ready for the point guard to show what he can do in the post-injury chapter of his career.
When Andrew Bynum was last healthy, he made legitimate strides toward becoming the best center in the game. He proved he can be a two-way player for the Los Angeles Lakers, and he showed the Philadelphia 76ers that he was worth giving up Andre Iguodala for.
Now, one year later, Bynum is a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers, and he must come back strong if he wants to continue down the path he was once on in L.A.
As much as the big man needs to play well for his own image, the fact is, he also has a chance to help the franchise move on. It is still recovering from LeBron James' decision to leave, and he can be a part of guiding it to the postseason.
For better or for worse, Bynum is going to be an integral part of the team’s success. The fact is, though, there's a load of talent on the roster that will support him along the way.
Such talent should help relieve the pressure, and that’s a good thing for someone who hasn’t played in more than a year.
The easy option here is to go with Dirk Nowitzki. He missed a bulk of the 2012-13 season, and he’s hands-down the best player left on the Dallas Mavericks.
But while it’s imperative for the Mavs’ success that the big man stay healthy, Devin Harris has a chance to rejuvenate his career while providing depth to a rebuilding roster.
The deal that sent the point guard back to Dallas nearly never took place because of a discovered toe injury. The contract was ultimately signed, but now the waiting game takes place to see how long his timetable will be.
To add insult to injury, rookie point guard Shane Larkin is recovering from a broken right ankle. Jose Calderon is set to run the show from the 1-spot, but any help he can get will be much appreciated in the race out West.
The No. 1 health concern for the Denver Nuggets has to be Danilo Gallinari.
Following the loss of Andre Iguodala, Denver needs somebody to fill in at the 3. Gallinari has the shot to challenge defenses, and at just 25 years old, he can be a No. 1 scorer on a fairly balanced roster.
Despite displaying enormous potential, the forward’s improvement was brought to a halt by a torn ACL. He played in 71 games during 2012-13, but a non-contact injury forced him to miss the remainder of the year—postseason included.
Making it that far before getting hurt sounds like a blessing, but in reality, it pains his chances of an early return. He’s now fighting the clock as the summer winds down, and the team can only hope he’s healthy sooner rather than later.
The Detroit Pistons have a future All-Star at the center position. Andre Drummond proved people wrong during his rookie year, as he showed how he can be a monster at the rim on both sides of the floor.
In order for Drummond to reach his ceiling, he needs two things: more minutes and a clean bill of health.
The former needs to come from the coaching staff. Despite showing production in his first season, the then-19-year-old was given just 20.7 minutes per game to strut his stuff.
The latter stems from the back injury that forced him to miss 22 straight games down the stretch. The Pistons were a bit of a longshot for the postseason, but not having the big man to impact the paint did them no favors.
Fans in Detroit hope this was a one-time thing. Injury-prone big men can ruin franchises, but on the other hand, a solid center can be the foundation for a very successful organization.
This team has acquired talent during the offseason, and the desire is to pair those players alongside Drummond for years to come.
David Lee left the 2013 postseason with an untimely injury against the Denver Nuggets. However, as unfortunate as that was for the Golden State Warriors, it helped display just how valuable Stephen Curry is to the franchise.
Curry’s ankle is likely going to be a concern every season for the rest of his career. If he’s ever lost for a significant amount of time, the team loses its top shooter, scorer and emotional leader.
The Warriors are talented, and more importantly, they continually improve every year. But despite having guys like Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes and Andre Iguodala on board, Curry has proven time and time again that he can be counted upon to bring the team to life.
Without Curry, you have to wonder just how good the group can be against the best that the West has to offer.
Needless to say, Warriors fans hope to never find out.
The Houston Rockets dealt with injuries and inconsistencies at the point guard position during the 2012-13 season. Jeremy Lin was highly touted coming in, and while he showed signs of breaking out, he never hit the ground running the way fans would have liked.
But as important as the point guard position is in today’s game, the Rockets are going to be all about Dwight Howard. With all of the promise he brings to Clutch City, the truth is, he’s also a bit of a risk.
We heard about his health ad nauseum during his solo year in L.A., and his occasional lack of athleticism was the result of his recovery from back surgery.
If all goes according to plan, this is going to be a moot point for Houston. Howard will come back strong, and he will continue his dominance as the best center in the NBA.
But if he continues to look like the guy we saw in Los Angeles, his time in Houston is going to kick off with more questions than answers for a hungry fanbase.
If you’re a fan of the Indiana Pacers, you’ve got a close eye on two things.
First of all, you want to know when Danny Granger is going to return to form. He played just five games in 2012-13, and after having knee surgery back in April, the hope is that he can provide a necessary scoring touch right out of the gate.
The second thing to keep an eye on is how his reappearance will impact Paul George. The budding superstar recognizes that he is the new leader of the team, according to Michael Pointer of IndyStar.com, and you have to wonder if there will be a clash for control at any point.
In an ideal world, Granger and George will create one of the most potent 2-3 combos in the Association. Their offensive skill sets will give Indiana the scoring it needs, and their defensive abilities will stay true to what the team is all about.
Not all stories have happy endings, though, and this will be an interesting one to watch as the year progresses.
The Los Angeles Clippers are getting ready to enter training camp as a healthy unit. That’s the good news.
The bad news, is they’re never quite out of the woods when it comes to Chris Paul, as his chronic knee problems could be a concern somewhere down the road.
At 28 years old, the Clippers point guard is healthy and ready for the year. But we've heard that story before, and in certain scenarios, it hasn’t always stayed that way.
Los Angeles simply needs to keep an eye on his health. One-off injuries won’t cripple the organization, but recurring ones could be a sign of bad things to come.
At this point, there’s no need to be worried about Paul and his health—just cautious as he and the Clippers look to take another step toward contention in 2014.
This one is as easy as it comes. Without Kobe Bryant, the Los Angeles Lakers are a vastly different team. Some might argue that his playing style prohibits the growth of others, but no player in today's game is as hungry to win—or as willing to do whatever it takes to make that happen.
According to Jonathan Hartzell of NBA.com, Bryant has "shattered" the timetable for his return. The 2-guard is chasing his sixth championship, and a brutal injury is just a speed bump along the way.
At 34 years old, the superstar’s health is going to concern fans, and that’s understandable. He's not the young man he used to be, yet he's as important as ever when it comes to finding success.
His time in L.A. is coming to an end sooner rather than later, but the truth is, he's going to give it all he’s got until the bitter end.
Like the situation for the Los Angeles Clippers and Chris Paul, the Memphis Grizzlies must take a proactive approach to Marc Gasol and any future health problems.
At this point, there's no indication that the big man is entering the year hurt. He played well in the playoffs, and he played in 95 out of a possible 97 games during 2012-13.
The concern here stems from discussions that took place late last season regarding Gasol's minutes. He is a physical player who bodies up opponents night after night, and that wear and tear can have a negative effect when you least expect it.
If Gasol remains healthy throughout the season, this becomes a non-issue. But with David Joerger set to take over the head coaching position, he'd be wise not to push the center for too many minutes if an injury should happen to appear.
The Miami Heat have enough talent to get by without Dwayne Wade at full health. In fact, Wade himself is talented enough to play well without being 100 percent.
That said, the Heat are a different animal when their 2-guard is at the top of his game, and fans in South Beach know it.
During the 2013 postseason, LeBron James took over, and the Heat went on to win it all. However, if Wade had been fully healthy, the struggle might not have been so intense, as the San Antonio Spurs pushed them to the brink in a grueling seven-game series.
Miami is going to contend for a title whether Wade is feeling good or not, but for it to be considered the odds-on favorites deep into the year, the star's health can't simply be tossed to the side.
The Milwaukee Bucks are going to close out the summer with bumps and bruises in different spots around the roster. That said, one man is working hard to come back from a season-ending injury: newcomer Zaza Pachulia.
The center's season was cut short in 2013 due to a right Achilles injury. He played just 52 games, but his resume was impressive enough to earn a three-year, $15.6 million deal.
Pachulia is going to bring size and physicality to the Bucks frontcourt. He's not a shot-blocker by any means, but playing behind Larry Sanders, he won't have to be.
Pachulia also won't be expected to score a whole lot, which should help make his return a smooth one.
During the 2012-13 season, fans in Minnesota got a look at something they’d hoped to never see: life without Kevin Love.
Following a season full of injuries and disappointment, the game’s best power forward will look to come back with a vengeance. When healthy, there are few other players as productive as he is. His scoring and rebounding are unmatched by most across the league.
The Minnesota Timberwolves have done a lot to improve their roster over the past few years, and 2012-13 was supposed to be when it all came together. As it turned out, injuries across the board halted that thought.
The whole roster must be healthy for this group to make a playoff push, but success starts and ends with Love.
The New Orleans Pelicans have an obvious health concern surrounding Eric Gordon, but as any true fan knows, it's all about Anthony Davis moving forward.
Gordon is a big-time scorer when healthy, but Davis is the glue that holds everyone together. His defensive abilities are unrivaled by most around the league, and his emerging offensive game is what separates him from other players at this stage in his career.
The big man has an opportunity to be one of the best two-way players around, but it starts with seeing as much floor time as humanly possible.
Davis' rookie season was limited to 64 games because of injuries. One year is hardly an indicator of things to come, but the worst-case scenario is that the Pelicans drafted an injury-prone guy.
If Davis can stay healthy, he's going to remind people why he was the consensus No. 1 pick in 2012. That’s the goal in New Orleans, and if he can do that, the postseason will be the next target spot for the Pelicans.
Like a number of teams out there, the New York Knicks are set to enter the fall with nagging injuries across the roster. The New York media will be sure to hit on each and every one of them, but the real concern stems from a guy who played just 29 games during the 2012-13 season.
Amar'e Stoudemire's availability is an ongoing issue. However, the bigger question is how he will fully adjust once he is healthy.
The team was 16-13 with the former All-Star in the lineup a year ago, and while he was content to come off the bench during that stretch, you have to wonder how much longer he'll accept a secondary role.
Chemistry has been a concern for a while; now there's just an injury on top of it. The Knicks have the potential to be great, but once the big man is healthy, the next step will be defining roles and building chemistry en route to the playoffs.
Ask any OKC fan: With Westbrook in the lineup, the playoffs end differently for the Thunder. That doesn't necessarily mean they meet the Miami Heat in a finals rematch; it just means that some of those close losses to the Memphis Grizzlies may have gone the other way.
Westbrook's return is going to be a storyline until he proves he's still a freak of an athlete. Without that quick first step and blinding speed in transition, his game takes a huge hit, and fans in OKC aren't ready for that day to come so soon.
At this point, have faith that the 24-year-old will return to dominance. The Thunder are looking for redemption in 2014, and Westbrook will be right there with them if all goes according to plan.
According to Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel, the Orlando Magic are going to be "overly cautious" when it comes to Glen Davis' recovery.
That's good news for the team in a number of different ways.
From a basketball standpoint, there's no need to force the big man back into action too quickly. His July 8 surgery was to replace a screw in his left foot—a foot he fractured in January.
Aside from Davis' long-term health, there's also the future of this organization. Tobias Harris proved in 2012-13 that he can do some damage when given a chance, and now he'll have the opportunity to follow up with a strong showing in training camp.
You also can't ignore the fact that barring a miracle, the Magic are headed back to the lottery. There's no good reason to force a player back just to move up one or two places from the Eastern Conference cellar.
Like the Orlando Magic, the Philadelphia 76ers are going to be looked at as tankers during the 2013-14 season.
Following an offseason that saw them trade away an All-Star point guard for a rookie center, the theme has become about the long-term vision. Nerlens Noel is recovering from a torn ACL, giving the fans and media alike plenty of time to imagine what he'll look like in an NBA game.
Even though this team looks like it's a couple of years away from competing, people should be excited to see what Noel brings to the table. His limited offensive game is going to need work, but his shot-blocking and ability to rack up steals are what earned him a spot in the lottery.
This team won't be the most entertaining group to watch at first, but give them time. The rebuild is in full session, and it all begins with the recovery of their new franchise center.
Alex Len. Marcin Gortat. Channing Frye.
Take your pick.
For the sake of long-term payoffs, we'll stick with Len. The rookie center was brought in to make Gortat expendable, but ankle surgery during the offseason has halted that plan for the time being.
Len is going to be fun to watch if he adjusts to the NBA game. He can spread the floor with his versatile skill set, and for a while, he was thought to be an option as the first overall pick.
Like many teams in this league, the Phoenix Suns are crossing their fingers hoping they didn't draft an injury-prone center. His offseason surgery was his second in a matter of months, and both procedures were done on his ankles.
Nobody is giving up hope this early in the process, but Len officially has a microscope on him when it comes to his health as an NBA big man.
The gut instinct here is to look at LaMarcus Aldridge and his ongoing issues with his hip and heart. However, his health has never hindered his production, which is why Nicolas Batum earns the nod in this category.
In 2012, GM Neil Olshey made Batum a very rich man. He signed him to a contract (originally offered by the Minnesota Timberwolves) that gave him an eight-figure salary moving forward.
The hope was that the swingman would hit the ground running following the new contract, and while that was certainly the case early, he slowed down after the All-Star break.
Batum ended the year dealing with both a wrist injury and a recurring shoulder injury. The 24-year-old has plenty of time to reach his ceiling, but the problem is we're still hearing about injuries that have plagued him since his early days in the league.
Portland doesn't need Batum to be a No. 1 option. In fact, it doesn't even need him to be a No. 2 option.
What it needs is consistency, and with Batum, that all starts with health.
Greivis Vasquez did not play for Venezuela this summer, which is good news for Sacramento Kings fans.
The 26-year-old is coming off surgery to remove bone spurs from his foot. He was acquired in the deal that sent Tyreke Evans to the New Orleans Pelicans, and more time to rest hopefully equals a quicker return to action.
Vasquez is going to round out a new frontcourt in Sacramento as the starting point guard. He'll be playing alongside shooting guard Ben McLemore and small forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute.
This group doesn't feel like a playoff squad just yet, but as long as Vasquez and crew can stay healthy, they'll make strides when it comes to team culture and identity moving forward.
The San Antonio Spurs have done a marvelous job throughout the years when it comes to grooming young talent. Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green are two players who epitomize that, and their roles are well-defined as they continue their careers with a winning organization.
But while the youth of the Spurs keeps hopes alive for the future, imminent success comes from the Big Three that started it all: Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili.
Parker is criminally underrated as a floor general, as he leads this team night in and night out. Duncan, even at 37, is going to challenge players on both sides of the floor, and Ginobili is still capable of giving bursts of energy and production off the bench.
This crew has dealt with injuries in the past, and as they continue to age, they'll likely be faced with similar challenges. But with Gregg Popovich at the helm, don't expect the stars to get worn down before the real season starts.
The Toronto Raptors are banking on the fact that Jonas Valanciunas is one of the game's next great big men. It's a good feeling to have when you're that confident in your player, but it's a nerve-racking one as well when he played in just 62 games during his rookie season.
The concern for Toronto isn't about any one particular injury; it's more about the well being of a 21-year-old center. The Raptors don't have a lot of depth at that position, which makes health an even bigger concern.
If Valanciunas should happen to miss time in 2013-14, Toronto is going to be in a tough position. Aaron Gray will go into training camp as the backup, meaning he would be next in line barring a move somewhere down the road.
There's no denying that the Raptors want to see improvement out of Valanciunas in his second season, but he'll need to stay on the floor to make that happen.
Sticking with the theme of injured centers, it's Enes Kanter's turn to step into the spotlight.
During the 2012-13 season, there was one thing everybody wanted to talk about when it came to the Utah Jazz: a stacked frontcourt. Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap were clearly running the show, but they were both expendable, as Kanter and Derrick Favors were displaying their potential.
Now, both Millsap and Jefferson are gone, which means it's time to turn that potential into production.
In the case of Kanter, he is coming off season-ending shoulder surgery. All should be well entering the new year, but the depth in the frontcourt isn't what it once was.
Fans shouldn't get too nervous about Kanter's long-term health at the moment. He's about to be thrust into a permanent starting role, and he must be able to shoulder the responsibility as a result.
We've already seen John Wall come back from injury and play at an extremely high level. He did it at the start of the 2012-13 season, and he made the Washington Wizards a completely different team in the process.
Now it's Bradley Beal's turn to do the same. He missed the last eight games of his rookie year, as well as 13 of the Wizards' final 15 outings.
Beal's ankles were problematic for the 20-year-old, and according to DeAntae Prince of Sporting News, he admits that he shouldn't have played on them during parts of the year.
Moving forward, the Wizards need to take control of the situation. Beal is a kid who wants to play basketball, and the fact is the doctors may actually know better than he does as to what he can handle.
Beal is young, so there's no reason to believe he won't bounce back. But a part of coming back is learning from the past, and he needs to think long term moving forward.