Finally, training camp is upon us. While the rest of us countdown the days to the season opener, players in camps everywhere will be savoring their time fighting for an NBA roster spot.
There are plenty of good roster battles to watch, but it's important to note that the Milwaukee Bucks, Brooklyn Nets, Dallas Mavericks, Portland Trail Blazers, Washington Wizards and Phoenix Suns all have 15 guaranteed contracts. Unless a training camp invite plays out of his mind, those teams are most likely locked and loaded, as you can only carry a maximum of 15 players into the season.
For teams with a little less certainty and fewer guaranteed deals, training camp is the time to start making some hard decisions.
Guaranteed Contracts: 12 fully guaranteed, Two partially guaranteed, Six non-guaranteed
Key Battle: Toure' Murry vs Cole Aldrich
The New York Knicks are a pretty deep team, but the last three roster spots are still in question.
Assuming that partially guaranteed players C.J. Leslie and Jeremy Tyler are healthy and mature enough to have success in training camp, the Knicks will have six non-guaranteed training camp invites fighting for one final roster spot.
Although players like Ike Diogu, Josh Powell and Chris Douglas-Roberts have NBA experience (and Chris Smith has his brother), the last spot will likely go to Cole Aldrich or Toure' Murry. Of course, it is possible the Knicks leave the 15th spot open (as many teams do) for flexibility purposes.
Teams usually opt for size in these situations, and that helps Aldrich's case. The fourth-year center from Kansas has bounced around the league quite a bit, but he's a true center that blocks shots and hits the boards.
Don't sleep on Murry in this race, though. He's a 6'5" versatile combo guard that went undrafted out of Wichita State and spent time in the D-League last year. After a nice performance with the Knicks during summer league, Murry's ability to guard multiple positions on the wing and play with a steady hand might win over Mike Woodson, who has praised Murry quite a bit in the past.
Prediction: Murry wins the 15th roster spot.
Guaranteed Contracts: 11 fully guaranteed, One partially guaranteed, Six non-guaranteed
Key Battle: Dexter Pittman vs D.J. White vs Dahntay Jones vs Mike James
With only 11 players on fully guaranteed deals, the Chicago Bulls should have one of the most intriguing training camps of any NBA team.
Second-round draft choice Erik Murphy should make the roster as a stretch big man in the mold of Matt Bonner, so that puts the count at 12.
That leaves two or possibly three spots for Dexter Pittman, D.J. White, Dahntay Jones and Mike James to fight over.
When a team goes veteran heavy on invites like the Bulls did, the intentions are typically more serious than a team just trying to get an extended look at a young prospect.
The Bulls still don't know how Derrick Rose will hold up to start the season, so James might be the favorite of the group as an emergency point guard behind Marquis Teague and Kirk Hinrich. That said, the Bulls also really need a backup big man with size, and Dexter Pittman has plenty of that. White is a big body, but he doesn't have the height to play center.
At this point, Murphy, Pittman and James are probably the favorites for roster spots, in that order.
If the Bulls do decide to keep a 15th man, however, Dahntay Jones would seem to fit in really well. Jones has been a feisty defender for many years, and he shares the Duke connection with Mike Dunleavy, Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer.
Prediction: Murphy, Pittman and James make the roster to fill 14 spots. Jones joins the team at some point during the season.
Guaranteed Contracts: 12 fully guaranteed, Two partially guaranteed, Three non-guaranteed
Key Battle: Ryan Gomes vs Diante Garrett vs Daniel Orton
Diante Garrett was probably on the outside looking in before Russell Westbrook's knee surgery, but now it's hard to imagine the Thunder going into the start of the season with only Reggie Jackson and Derek Fisher at point guard. Now there's a butterfly effect on the rest of the roster.
With Hasheem Thabeet as the 13th man due to his large ($500,000) partially guaranteed deal and even larger body, the battle for the final two roster spots will likely come down to Gomes, Garrett and Orton.
We'll assume Garrett, a big point guard who played last season with the Phoenix Suns and the D-League, makes the team because of Westbrook's injury. Two months of the season is a long time to wait, and depending on Derek Fisher to play a substantial role at this point of his career is awfully dangerous.
That leaves Oklahoma City with a tough decision for that 15th spot. Ryan Gomes is on a partially guaranteed deal, while Daniel Orton is not. Although the guarantee amount is tiny ($25,000), the Thunder probably have to go with need over potential.
Orton would be the fourth-string center behind Kendrick Perkins, Hasheem Thabeet and Steven Adams if he made the team, while Gomes could share backup wing duties with Jeremy Lamb.
Prediction: Garrett and Gomes make the roster. Daniel Orton gets released.
Guaranteed Contracts: 11 fully guaranteed, Two partially guaranteed, Six non-guaranteed
Key Battle: Marcus Landry vs Darius Johnson-Odom vs Xavier Henry vs Ryan Kelly
The fun thing about Mike D'Antoni's offensive system is that it can produce gems out of nowhere. We know about Jeremy Lin, but D'Antoni has made a habit of turning shooting big men and plenty of point guards into productive players.
With that in mind, the Lakers should hold on to sharpshooting big man and second-round pick Ryan Kelly to boost the roster count up to 12. Kelly requires some patience since he's suffering through a foot injury, but he was unquestionably one of the best shooters from this year's draft.
Shawne Williams is another frontcourt option who can step back and knock down the three, and his previous experience with D'Antoni in New York and partially guaranteed contract should help him make the team.
Now we're at 13. Elias Harris and his high skill level impressed at summer league, and like Williams, he also has a partial guarantee on his deal for $100,000. Let's bring it to 14.
That potentially leaves one spot on the roster for the rest of the camp invites. Of the group, Marcus Landry, Darius Johnson-Odom and Xavier Henry seem to fit the wing need the Lakers have apparently identified.
Henry, a lottery pick in 2010, has the biggest name. Johnson-Odom is by far the best athlete. It might be Landry, however, who has the leg up on the competition for the last roster spot. Landry played under D'Antoni in New York, was the team's best player at summer league and has transformed himself into a dangerous three-point shooter.
Henry and Johnson-Odom have their appeal, but they aren't shooters. Landry feels like more of a D'Antoni guy.
Prediction: Kelly, Williams, Landry and Harris make the roster. If the Lakers only want 14 players instead of 15, Harris gets released.
Guaranteed Contracts: 12 fully guaranteed, Four partially guaranteed, Three non-guaranteed
Key Battle: Ronnie Brewer vs Reggie Williams vs Robert Covington
The Houston Rockets are an interesting situation. Teams usually don't guarantee money for more players than they carry, but the Rockets have 16 contracts that are at least partially guaranteed going into camp.
With non-guaranteed but incredibly useful players like Greg Smith and Patrick Beverley having roster spots almost certainly locked up, that would leave Ronnie Brewer, Reggie Williams and Robert Covington fighting for the 15th spot.
Let's look at the money. Williams has a whopping $474,000 guaranteed, Covington has $150,000 guaranteed and Brewer has $100,000 guaranteed. That would certainly seem to set the order for who has the best chance at making the roster, but that won't be the only factor.
Williams is a career 37.1 percent three-point shooter, but he's shot around 30 percent his last two seasons and has developed a reputation as a player who tends to do his own thing offensively.
Covington was signed way back in July after going undrafted, and he's a capable three-point shooter who can stretch the floor as a forward.
As we found out in New York, Brewer isn't the guy you want for floor spacing. Still, he's a smart cutter and very good defender that could cool off a star for a few minutes a night.
The Rockets aren't afraid to spend money on insurance in case of a training camp or preseason injury, but if everything stays as is, Williams would really have to slip up to lose his spot because of that large guarantee.
Prediction: Reggie Williams stays on as the 15th man.
Guaranteed Contracts: 13 fully guaranteed, Seven non-guaranteed
Key Battle: Michael Beasley vs Jarvis Varnado vs Roger Mason Jr.
The Miami Heat can add up to two players from their training camp squad, but it might make more sense to go with 14 to start the season.
Because the Heat can attract the best retired players and talent overseas in China at the halfway point of the season, it might make sense to leave a spot open for now and retain flexibility.
That might lead to Michael Beasley, Jarvis Varnado and Roger Mason Jr. all battling it out for the last roster spot.
Beasley and Mason Jr. are on the opposite ends of professionalism. Mason Jr. has long played a role in the player's union, losing out to Chris Paul this season for the position of union president. Those guys tend to stick around for a while.
Mason Jr. would sure seem to fit the Heat's group of veteran three-point shooters, as the nine-year pro hit 41.5 percent from behind the arc last year.
Beasley will get a shot to rediscover the success he had in Miami as a rookie, and as a 14th or 15th man, he might be worth the risk to see if he can pull it all together. Championship teams and locker rooms can afford taking a risk here or there.
Speaking of risks, the signing of Greg Oden and emergence of Chris Andersen last year probably means Jarvis Varnado is expendable as a fourth-string center. At least he got a ring last year.
Prediction: Miami decides to keep 15 players on the roster and retains Beasley and Mason Jr. while letting Varnado go.