The NBA preseason is more of a minefield than a proving ground.
With five starting jobs and, at most, 15 roster spots up for grabs, the fewer questions a team has to answer at this time of the year, the better.
But that potential for disaster looms large in each step of the process.
A misstep here or a nasty spill there and poof—championship bubbles are burst in an instant.
Injury-caused question marks aren't the only ones at play here, but they could prove to be the most damaging. After all, the non-health-related problems were to be expected—that is, any of the point guards clamoring for a starting spot have yet to separate themselves from the competition.
The importance of this position cannot be overstated. This player is the extension of his coach on the hardwood; this is the man responsible for putting his teammates into the best possible positions for success.
Needless to say, there is something very unsettling about the NBA's most uncertain point guard situations heading into the 2013-14 regular season.
Imagine how much differently Brad Stevens' venture into the ranks of NBA head coaches would be if he had a healthy Rajon Rondo in his rotation.
The 27-year-old Rondo is far and away the best player on the rebuilding Celtics' roster. A two-time assists champ and four-time All-Star, he's mastered the art of raising the level of play of those around him.
Taking Rondo's place, at least for the time being, is 22-year-old Avery Bradley. A dogged defender still finding his niche at the opposite end, he's searching for a path to success without his former running mate.
Bradley isn't Rondo. The former Texas Longhorn said so himself, via Jay King of the Republican. "Rondo's one of a kind, so I'm not going to go out there and play the way I play," said Bradley. "That's the key for me because I'm not going to make all the plays he's going to make."
Bradley doesn't need to be Rondo, but he must do a better job of aligning his stat sheet closer with Rondo's. Bradley has never averaged more than 2.1 assists per game (Rondo's career average is 8.3) and only once shot above 41 percent from the field, a mark Rondo has never fallen beneath in his seven NBA seasons.
The first four games of Boston's preseason highlights just how much more work needs to be done. Bradley's averaging just 2.7 assists against 2.3 turnovers. Unless Stevens plans on handing the keys to undrafted rookie Phil Pressey, Bradley will have to continue doing his best Rondo impression.
Without having the necessary tools for the job, that leaves just one question for Celtics fans: Should you pre-order an Andrew Wiggins jersey in the home whites or opt for the road greens?
Money can't buy happiness, and it certainly can't guarantee health.
That's a lesson Brooklyn Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov has been forced to learn.
Deron Williams, the leading man on Prokhorov's (nearly) $200 million roster, will be starting this season the same way he started 2012-13—mired in questions about his ailing ankle.
Slowed by both an ankle sprain and a bone bruise suffered during an offseason workout in Utah, Williams has yet to suit up for the revamped Nets. Per Mike Mazzeo of ESPN New York, Nets coach Jason Kidd has yet to close the door on Williams possibly missing the start of the regular season:
This is going to be a question that we're probably going to have to deal with every day until he does get the green light to go. But we're not rushing him. So if we have to start the season with him still trying to get better, I think we all feel comfortable, but we would feel a little bit more comfortable if he was starting.
If the Nets don't have a healthy Williams out of the gate, I can think of (nearly) 200 million reasons to start worrying. He struggled finding his footing early last season and limped into the All-Star break with very uncharacteristic averages: 16.7 points and a 41.3 field-goal percentage.
Despite the team's dramatic overhaul this summer, the point guard position remains wafer thin behind Williams. Journeyman Shaun Livingston and sophomore Tyshawn Taylor hold the second and third spots, respectively, in Kidd's rotation.
I won't bore you with lengthy scouting reports on the pair, but here's the CliffsNotes version: should not be starting for an NBA team.
The Nets have to exercise patience with Williams—a repeat of last season's first half would be disastrous—but Kidd's patience will be tried each time he looks at his starting five sans Williams.
Love them or hate them, the Houston Rockets are championship contenders.
For as high as the Rockets' ceiling rises, though, there are some major questions surrounding this team. Incredibly, finding a home for disgruntled double-double machine Omer Asik seems to be the least of Houston's worries.
Only three of Kevin McHale's five starting spots are set in stone. None of those three is the critical lead guard position, where Patrick Beverley and Jeremy Lin are using this preseason to battle for playing time.
McHale has done all he can not to tip his hand, and it's entirely possible the coach has yet to make up his mind. He said he plans to rotate the two in his preseason starting lineup, via Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle, giving each equal opportunity to state his case.
Both have produced double-digit scoring efforts out of the opening group, and each has a double-digit outing off the bench.
Lin's better at creating offense both for himself and his teammates, but Beverley may be the better choice as a starter. He's the best three-point shooter of the pair (37.5 percent to Lin's 33.9 last season), and a hard-nosed defender. His playmaking limitations are masked by the presences of Harden (5.8 assists in 2012-13) and Chandler Parsons (3.5).
Conversely, Lin's best days came when he was the featured part of an offense. His Linsanity days in 2011-12 for the New York Knicks (24.6 points and 9.2 assists over a 10-game stretch) came when both Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire were limited by injuries.
But perhaps the most fascinating part of this debate is that Houston's championship window will remain open no matter which player McHale tabs for the job. With Harden, Howard and Parsons doing the heavy lifting, Beverley or Lin will be merely complementary pieces.
The Los Angeles Lakers don't need the start of the regular season to raise red flags in their backcourt.
Alongside Bryant's massive void is a host of question marks at the point guard position.
The first player to be put under the microscope is Steve Nash. The former two-time MVP added a dubious distinction to his rich basketball resume over the summer as Juwan Howard's retirement officially made Nash the oldest player in the league.
Aging brings a host of health challenges along with it. After missing 32 games during his Lakes debut last season, he's already missed one of the team's first four preseason games. Even when he's played, he's looked like a shadow of his former self: 1.3 points on 25.0 percent shooting from the field in 17.3 minutes per game.
Coach Mike D'Antoni told ESPN Los Angeles' Dave McMenamin that he expects these issues to continue "off and on all year" and that the Lakers need to do what they can "to take care of him."
If Nash isn't healthy, his minutes will fall on veterans Steve Blake and Jordan Farmar.
Blake battled his own injury demons last season (29 games missed) and has typically left a larger mark as a shooter (career 38.9 three-point percentage) than as a setup man (3.9 assists per game). Farmar is making his NBA return after spending last season in the Turkish Basketball League.
Expectations weren't too high to begin with for the Lakers, but they'll start to spiral if Nash continues to show his age.
With All-Star running mate Russell Westbrook sidelined for the first four to six weeks of the regular season by a second knee surgery, Durant's Oklahoma City Thunder will struggle to hold a top-two spot in the suddenly crowded Western Conference.
In order to retain their prominent perch out West, the Thunder will be leaning heavily on third-year guard Reggie Jackson. The Boston College product was gearing up for a James Harden-esque run as the Thunder's sixth man, but now he'll be forced to lead the offense in Westbrook's absence.
He's one of the few players in this league who can come close to matching Westbrook's explosiveness, but there's more to this role than simply building a highlight reel.
Jackson was thrust into action last season when Westbrook first injured the knee in Oklahoma City's second playoff game. Jackson started the final nine games of the Thunder's postseason run, but the small sample size produced inconclusive results: 15.3 points and 3.7 assists per game.
He won't be left on an offensive island. Durant was already fine-tuning his distributing skills last season (career-high 4.6 assists per game) and figured to take on a bigger offensive role even alongside a healthy Westbrook.
But a pass-happy Durant isn't what Oklahoma City needs. Expanding his game is one thing, but limiting a transcendent scorer (career 26.6 points per game, seventh-highest in league history) is hardly ideal.
Derek Fisher gives coach Scott Brooks another option to put out on the floor. But the 39-year-old has lost whatever athleticism he once had, meaning it's sink-or-swim time for Jackson.
Swim and he's the new face of Oklahoma City's three-headed attack. Sink and Durant's longing for the days of being second best.
You'd be hard-pressed to find many teams more worth your TV time than the Orlando Magic.
Coach Jacque Vaughn's youthful roster boasts explosiveness and entertainment in bunches. With rising stars aplenty (Nikola Vucevic, Tobias Harris, Maurice Harkless to name a few), Orlando promises to make NBA League Pass a worthwhile investment.
But it's that concentration of youth that leads to some puzzling backcourt questions.
They revolve largely around Victor Oladipo, the No. 2 pick in June's draft, and the effect he'll have on veterans Jameer Nelson and Arron Afflalo.
After three years of seasoning at Indiana, Oladipo emerged as what Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle called a "can't-miss type of guy," via Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel. High in both character and talent, Oladipo is the kind of player coaches struggle to keep off the floor.
And herein lies the dilemma for Vaughn and his staff.
With veteran starters returning at both guard positions, the challenge has been finding a permanent home for Oladipo. That's led him somewhere on the floor he'd never previously been: the point guard spot.
The experiment started at the Orlando Summer League and has continued into the preseason.
Unlike my point guard days, he's got a lot more skill and athleticism than I had. I'd much rather have the talents he has and we'll work to get to the nuances he needs to be an elite guard in this league.
That's good news for Magic fans, but it's something entirely different for Nelson. The 31-year-old is entering the final guaranteed year of his contract and figures to face a dramatic change (either trade or reduced workload) before season's end.
New season, same story.
The Sacramento Kings, for about the billionth year in a row, have a glut of point guards. Some names are respectable, others mildly enticing, but none figures to lead this franchise back to the postseason.
In one corner, Sacramento has new point man Greivis Vasquez. Brought in by way of polarizing swing man Tyreke Evans' offseason exit, the fourth-year pro is fresh off the best performance of his career.
Vasquez started 78 games for the New Orleans Pelicans last season, setting career marks nearly across the board. His 9.0 assists per game were third-highest in the league, and his 2.85 assist-to-turnover ratio ranked in the top 10.
But his scoring ability is still a work in progress (career 9.0 points per game on .429/.325/.806 shooting). He's also not the fleetest of foot nor the most agile, leaving him somewhere between mediocre and atrocious at the defensive end.
Next up is Isaiah Thomas. Mr. Irrelevant from the 2011 draft, he's maintained relevance despite challenges for the lead guard spot in each of his first two seasons.
He's already withstood threats from Jimmer Fredette, Aaron Brooks and Toney Douglas so far. He's not the prolific passer that Vasquez is (career 4.0 assists against 1.7 turnovers per game), but he holds an advantage in quickness and shooting (career .443/.367/.862).
If anyone thought he'd cede the position to his new teammate, they couldn't have been more wrong. "At the end of the day, this a competition and I am going for that starting spot because I do feel like I’m a starting point guard in this league," he told Hoopsworld's Alex Kennedy.
Of course, the Kings would never settle for just a two-man race. Fredette is still part of the equation, and rookie Ray McCallum has impressed through two preseason games (8.5 points and 4.5 assists per game).
Quantity over quality seems to be Sacramento's mantra.
I feel the need to advise anyone with a squeamish stomach to look away at this point.
There are point guard issues, there are floor general problems, and then there's whatever you'd like to call what is happening with the Utah Jazz.
I wish the only cause for concern in Utah was Trey Burke's struggles at the Orlando Summer League (8.8 points on 24.1/5.3 percent shooting). Those were written off as rookie jitters, the same way his preseason production was viewed (7.0 points on 30.0 percent shooting from the field).
Amid those worries, at least the fanbase still had hope. Jazz fans could remain optimistic that the talent that propelled Burke to the No. 9 pick of the 2013 draft would return.
That form could still be on its way back, but not before he'll sit for an estimated three to six weeks while recovering from a fractured index finger, via Steve Luhm of the Salt Lake Tribune.
In the meantime, Jazz fans will have to confront the absence of hope. Or, in basketball terms, a prolonged run with John Lucas III at the head of the offense. The 30-year-old journeyman is the only other player with a guaranteed contract in Tyrone Corbin's point guard rotation. In other words, an anticipated long season in Utah just got a whole lot longer.
Lucas isn't a waste of roster space, but he's best in limited doses. He's never averaged more than 15 minutes per game or shot above 40 percent from the field.
After fully embracing a youth movement this summer—namely letting Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap walk to free up Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter—the Jazz need someone capable of elevating the play of his teammates. They need someone willing to share the offensive load; Lucas has three assists in 47 preseason minutes.
Burke can't get back on the hardwood soon enough.