With the NBA season right around the corner, let’s take a look at ten of the biggest story lines for this season.
Will The Los Angeles Lakers Repeat As Champs?
Kobe Bryant got his ring without Shaq, and Phil Jackson got his 10th overall ring. Now that they are satisfied, are they hungry enough to do it again? The Lakers were the last team to ever repeat, when they defended their title in 2002, so history is not on their side.
Unlike most teams following a championship, the Lakers were able to keep their core intact, re-signing key cogs in Lamar Odom and Shannon Brown. They arguably made a solid upgrade in signing Ron Artest and severing ties with Trevor Ariza. Artest is a career 39.9 percent three-point shooter, and is one of the NBA's most feared defensive players.
His off-court antics however, speak another story. Phil Jackson was able to make a winner out of Dennis Rodman, so who says he can’t do the same here?
Age will be a concern (Bryant is 31 and starting PG Derek Fisher is 35), but they have valuable bench players in Odom, Jordan Farmar, and Luke Walton. Simply put, the Lakers are the team to beat in 2009-2010.
Is Shaq The Answer In Cleveland?
The Cavs' roller coaster 2008-2009 season that was supposed to end with an NBA Finals appearance—and possibly a championship—was derailed thanks to Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic. It clearly showed Cleveland’s need for a big man down low, but instead of going young in the draft, the Cavs are going for the "win now" approach. It’s no surprise this is being done in an effort to keep LeBron beyond this season, but at 37, what does Shaq have left?
Cleveland’s offense is a lot slower than the one Shaq dealt with in Phoenix, and when the Cavs have to go small (Lebron at the 4 and either Anderson Varejo or Zydrunas Ilgauskas at the 5), this will allow Shaq some breathing room. Having “Z” coming off the bench for 15 minutes a game will also keep Shaq’s legs fresh, because no matter what the Cavs do in the regular season, it’s NBA Finals or bust for this squad.
Look for Shaq to contribute heavily to the team, as he is willing to be the second banana to LeBron. If he can stay fresh and healthy, the Cavaliers should have no issues this season.
Which Rookie Will Make The Biggest Impact This Season?
This isn’t about who is going to be the Rookie Of The Year, but who is going to make an immediate impact this season to his team. Let’s face it, they’ll probably be ROY as well.
Former Pittsburgh F DeJuan Blair was one of the top 15 prospects in the 2009 draft but, due to some knee issues, fell all the way to the San Antonio Spurs at No. 37. For a team that is realizing its need to get younger (Tim Duncan is 33 and 12 years in, Bruce Bowen retired at 37), this was a humongous opportunity to grab someone who will come in and make an impact down low.
Best Free Agent Pick-up
Free agency is always a crapshoot, and with the way the NBA can spend money, it is a big risk. This year, teams made some smarter plays, but a few teams took the risk of getting a big name—especially at the risk of the 2010 free agency period (discussed later).
Boston is old, with Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce all 32 and older. So they bring in 35-year-old Rasheed Wallace with a three-year deal. Not exactly the younger move most teams make, but the Celtics are not like most teams. Rajon Rondo, Glen Davis, and Kendrick Perkins are all under 25 and contribute to the team.
Bringing in Wallace was designed to help Garnett, who battled injury issues last season. He is a fiery, passionate player—much like Garnett—and will pick up where Davis struggled down low. A rotation of the three, combined with Perkins and Shelden Williams at center, will allow the Celtics to be healthy and perform efficiently throughout the season.
Which Team Will Make The Biggest Turnaround In 2009-2010?
The Washington Wizards spent a bunch of money in 2008-2009, only to see it blow up in their face. Gilbert Arenas, serial smack-talker and leader of Washington, barely played last season. He’s back this year with high expectations.
The team also brought in Mike Miller and Randy Foye through trades, and hired Flip Saunders as the new head coach. Most of the players who missed time with injuries last season should return and contribute.
Washington is still a ways off from an NBA championship, no matter what Arenas says. But there is no doubt this team should make a huge leap from their 19-win campaign last season.
Is The West Still The Dominant Conference?
That was the record of the Phoenix Suns, who missed the playoffs last season being in the Western Conference. Had they played in the East, that 46-36 would have netted them the fifth spot, behind all the divisional champions. While the East may have the winningest team in Cleveland, their record is skewed due to the number of bad teams. Are we still that way?
Sadly, yes. Outside of top teams such as Cleveland, Boston, and Orlando, nine times out of 10 the West will crush the East when they match up. The East will be better this season against each other—and could have all eight playoff teams at .500 or better—but outside of the three teams, the East is still the inferior conference.
Who’s Winning the Eastern Conference?
Orlando, Boston, and Cleveland all made moves this summer in an attempt to one-up each other and get back to the NBA Finals. All three teams made significant upgrades, but in the end, it’s Cleveland’s year once again. While they don’t possess the number of weapons Boston had, the signing of Shaq will neutralize Dwight Howard in Orlando, and their youth and speed would knock out Boston.
Cleveland wins the Eastern Conference in 2009-2010.
Who’s Winning the Western Conference?
As was stated at the top of the article, the Lakers are the team to beat. Their biggest enemy is themselves and, as long as they keep from imploding, they should find little reason not to get back to the NBA Finals.
Denver will pose a challenge, as will the rejuvenated San Antonio, but the Lakers bring back all the weapons from their title run—and Ron-Ron as well.
Los Angeles takes the Western Conference in 2009-2010.
Who’s the NBA Champion?
Cleveland vs. Los Angeles, the match-up we expected to see last season, will come to pass. Both teams bring a number of weapons to the table, but the experience of Los Angeles should win out. Cleveland made it to the NBA Finals a few years ago but were mercifully destroyed by San Antonio. While they made some moves to make another run, Phil Jackson knows what's needed to win another title, and the city of Los Angeles celebrates another win.
Los Angeles Lakers, your 2009-2010 NBA champions.
Who Is Most Likely To Jump Ship After This Season?
It’s no lie that the 2010 free agency period is expected to be one of the biggest events the NBA has ahead. Big names like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and others headline what is going to be an elite spending spree among teams. But who on the list of many is most likely destined for a new locale?
Chris Bosh is currently with the Toronto Raptors, but his desire to return stateside is well-known. Despite Toronto’s best efforts to upgrade this offseason (adding Hedo Turkoglu, DeMar DeRozan, Marco Belinelli, and Rasho Nesterovic), they are still a one-man show, and won’t turn many heads in the East. This will upset Bosh, who at 25, still has plenty of years left in him. Teams like the Miami Heat (looking to add a front-court dimension and re-sign Wade) or the Knicks (as a combination with possibly LeBron, they have the money), and others will look to bring this down low dominator to their squad.
Ten questions, but a whole lot more as the season plays out.