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Biggest Storylines to Watch Before 2013-14 NBA Training Camp Begins

Daniel O'BrienFeatured ColumnistSeptember 9, 2013

Biggest Storylines to Watch Before 2013-14 NBA Training Camp Begins

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    There is no shortage of compelling storylines in the NBA as the 2013-14 season approaches.

    A blockbuster trade in the Eastern Conference and a Texas-sized free-agent pickup in the Western Conference have reshaped the race for the league crown. How will the relocated stars adjust to their new clubs?

    Speaking of stars, several big names are set to return from injuries at various times throughout the year. None are more important than Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose, who is all set to come back on opening night, and Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, who will join the fray later on.

    What other can't-miss narratives are dominating the Association as training camp nears?

    Find out as we break down the biggest storylines in the NBA.

Super Sophomores in the Making

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    A large handful of 2012-13 rookie standouts are primed to become super sophomore stars.

    Portland Trail Blazers point guard and NBA Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard leads a packed backcourt of potential stars, as Washington Wizards 2-guard Bradley Beal and Cleveland Cavaliers wing Dion Waiters are scorers who can light it up.

    Lillard's smooth, poised game is on a fast track to stardom, and Beal and Waiters are exciting sidekicks to John Wall and Kyrie Irving, respectively.

    In the post, a trio of a different type looks to go from "good rebounders" to "stars." New Orleans Pelicans power forward Anthony Davis will build on a solid rookie season (13.5 PPG, 8.2 RPG), Andre Drummond will expand his role and widen his path of destruction, and Jonas Valanciunas will remind us why he was a top-five pick in 2011.

    Meanwhile, Golden State Warriors forward Harrison Barnes will try to duplicate his 2013 playoffs brilliance.

    Each of these players competes with a composure beyond his years, and that will lead to a bumper crop of super sophomores and playoff debuts.

Who Will Gain Early Upper Hand in Battle for New York?

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    It has been an eventful offseason in the New York basketball world, and in a few short weeks, the players will be able to do more than just talk about the rekindled rivalry.

    After the Brooklyn Nets' blockbuster trade landed Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, things heated up as the Nets and New York Knicks traded barbs, and the NBA mandated a meeting between Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov and Knicks owner James Dolan to keep things civil.

    Both teams are talking big, and each fanbase can brag all it wants. That's fine; it helps add tension to the crosstown conflict. But we can't wait to see these teams actually hit the hardwood in training camp and back it up.

    Garnett, Pierce and Jason Terry are sensational pickups. Can they quickly mesh with Deron Williams and Brook Lopez en route to a title run? Can brand-new head coach Jason Kidd make it work?

    The Knicks made some moves of their own, acquiring Andrea Bargnani and Metta World Peace, among others. The newcomers will help Carmelo Anthony try to keep the orange and blue atop the Atlantic Division.

    Who will win the head-to-head meetings? Who will have the better record? We'll soon get a feel for how good these two clubs are.

League Must Rejuvenate Off-Court Image After Rough Offseason

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    The NBA has constantly battled to maintain a clean image, and that struggle became a little more difficult this summer due to a slew of disconcerting incidents and revelations:

    • Houston Rockets forward Terrence Jones was arrested after allegedly stomping on a man outside a bar in Portland, Ore., according to KATU.com.
    • Former Phoenix Suns forward Michael Beasley was arrested after police stopped him for a traffic violation and found marijuana in his car, according to Scottsdale, Ariz., police reports. He has since been released by the Suns.
    • Denver Nuggets guard Ty Lawson was arrested for physical harassment and criminal mischief in a domestic dispute, according to ABC 7 News in Denver.
    • Former Los Angeles Clippers forward Lamar Odom was arrested on DUI charges, according to TMZ. Subsequent reports revealed the extreme nature of the star's sad addiction to crack cocaine.
    • Boston Celtics forward Jared Sullinger was arrested in relation to a domestic incident with his girlfriend, according to myfoxboston.com.
    • New York Knicks guard J.R. Smith was suspended five games for violating the NBA's drug policy, according to Frank Isola of the New York Daily News.

    While the NBA can't expect everyone to stay out of trouble, it's alarming that so many high-profile players are involved or allegedly involved in counterproductive off-court incidents.

    The league must work even harder to protect its image, and each team must deal with its players' transgressions.

    Commissioner David Stern has done loads of work in the latter years of his tenure to clean up the game, but this string of recent events shows that many players may still take their NBA membership for granted.

Can the Revamped Cleveland Cavaliers Live Up to Expectations ?

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    Countless fans and media are willing to put the re-shaped Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2014 playoffs.

    Let's just see how they do in the first few practices and preseason games.

    Newcomers include high-profile pickups like free agent Andrew Bynum and top draft choice Anthony Bennett, and they also include role players such as Jarrett Jack, Earl Clark, Carrick Felix and Sergey Karasev.

    That's a lot of pieces to plug into an already young lineup with new (old) head coach Mike Brown in town.

    In the early going, watch Bennett's effectiveness at small forward and see if Jack is as effective here as he was with the Golden State Warriors. Most importantly, see if Bynum is anywhere near his old self as he returns to NBA action for the first time since spring 2012.

    The retooled roster is a promising one surrounding Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters. If the key ingredients can stay healthy, the playoffs are definitely attainable.

The Return (Finally)

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    Even though Chicago Bulls superstar Derrick Rose has had plenty of time to rehab his ACL, fans and media still want to see how he looks when competition tips off.

    If he's back to his otherworldly self, we'll know within the first couple preseason games.

    He's been gone so long (99 games to be exact), we've almost forgotten how ridiculously good he is. As a shooter, passer and ultra-athletic slasher, Rose is one of the league's most dangerous weapons. Chicago's championship hopes hinge on his overall effectiveness.

    Rose's 2012 injury was gut-wrenching, and his year-long hiatus from the game made things especially painful for Bulls fans. Therefore, there will be an added amount of scrutiny and anticipation as training camp opens up.

    With the 2010-11 NBA MVP back in the mix, Tom Thibodeau's crew is undoubtedly a threat to the Miami Heat. Keep an eye on Rose's first couple weeks of training camp to see how well he re-acclimates to full-bore NBA work.

The Return: Kobe Bryant Edition

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    With Dwight Howard out the door and playoff prospects looking grim, the Los Angeles Lakers and their fanbase would love nothing more than an inspiring, win-producing comeback from Kobe Bryant.

    His Achilles injury put a somber punctuation mark on the end of the club's 2012-13 season, but an early return could provide a huge jolt to the team. On August 16, Bryant told Jimmy Kimmel that his rehab is ahead of schedule and he can't wait to pursue another ring.

    Kobe's presence on the court isn't just good for the purple and gold. It's good for the whole league and anyone who appreciates basketball at its finest. He owns a skill set, competitive fire and pedigree that makes his teammates better and often brings out the best in his opponents.

    The Western Conference is going to be highly entertaining in 2013-14, but it's that much more interesting when Bryant's a part of it. Let's see how his preseason workouts go and how soon he can return.

Will Doc's Arrival Be Enough to Get LA Clippers over the Hump?

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    Doc Rivers switched coasts, but the expectations for him are the same: raise a banner.

    The former Boston Celtics skipper is now at the helm of one of the most talented teams in the NBA. The Los Angeles Clippers have the league's best point guard and a great mix of athleticism, shooters, veterans and youth.

    Rivers will aim to bolster the squad's defense, improve the offensive balance and efficiency and give the group the killer instinct it needs to go deeper in the playoffs.

    The last time Rivers coached a new set of stars (2007-08), he won an NBA title. It's a lot of pressure to ask for similar results during his first year in L.A., but the Clippers have the tools to complete the task.

    Their march toward franchise history starts in October.

Will Dwyane Wade's Knee Hold Up for a Three-Peat?

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    The Miami Heat are not overwhelming favorites to break the wins record and crush all competition en route to a third straight championship, but they are nonetheless favored to win it all.

    If everyone can stay healthy.

    The major health focus of the team the past couple years has been Dwyane Wade, and the eight-time All-Star approaches training camp trying to rejuvenate his knee.

    According to Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel, Wade underwent OssaTron shockwave treatment this summer to remedy tendinitis and bone bruises. As of mid-August, he was "feeling a lot better" but still needed to work on strengthening the knee in preparation for training camp.

    Wade was noticeably less explosive and productive because of his knee during the 2013 playoffs, and if his joint worsens any more, Miami's three-peat aspirations could be in serious jeopardy.

    It's a situation that everyone on South Beach will monitor closely this autumn.

How Soon Can the Houston Rockets Jell?

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    For every NBA superteam, expectations are high from day one, and that's certainly the case for the Houston Rockets.

    James Harden and Dwight Howard form one of the most potent tandems in the Association, and the supporting cast around them is no joke.

    Houston is already being projected as an upper-echelon Western Conference crew. Kevin McHale's team is included among the title contenders and considered a talent-rich bunch.

    However, high-profile names joining forces doesn't always result in a first-year championship. The 2003-04 and 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers, along with the 2010-11 Miami Heat, are prime examples that it takes time to cultivate a true winner.

    Will Howard find an optimal place in the Rockets offense, and can he and Harden collaborate? How will McHale keep everyone else involved now that there are two mega-stars in the lineup?

    The Rockets might be extremely dangerous, but there's a distinct difference between "extremely dangerous" and "champions."

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