The NBA is back folks, and the first game of the season is less than a week away, as the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat prepare to open the season next Tuesday.
After the most tumultuous offseason in the history of any sport in terms of player movement, we are looking at quite a different NBA than when we left it in June.
There is absolutely no way of knowing what will happen in the months to come in terms of how many teams will finish, who will be the team to beat, and who will be the NBA champion come next June.
So, in honor of the 40th anniversary of Lew Alcindor's first MVP award and first championship, here are 40 storylines to watch going into the season.
In what LeBron James did in a month and an hour, Kevin Durant did in less than 140 characters, and he alienated a lot fewer people along the way.
With a simple tweet, Durant told the world of his contract extension, thanked God, his family, and his fans, and then he got to work.
After he spent a few weeks off, he led Team USA to its first FIBA World Championship since 1994. It was in a year where most of the players who were expected to play took the summer off, and left the team with many doubts.
Durant erased all of those doubts with a clean sweep to the championship, without as much as a single scare along the way.
Durant also has the opportunity to be the first 30 ppg, 10 rpg guy since Karl Malone averaged 31 and 11 in 1989-90.
Philadelphia has seen its team led by jack-of-all-trades Andre Iguodala for the past six years, and they just drafted someone just like him.
With the pick of Ohio State stat stuffer Evan Turner, they may look to shop AI 2.0 somewhere down the line.
Turner showed off his ability to put a triple double on the board in college, along with showing a good ability to steal the ball and block the occasional shot, should his talents translate, it would make sense to look to get something out of Iguodala.
They could also look to move Iguodala down to the shooting guard position and have Turner at forward, putting two amazingly gifted basketball players on the court at the same time.
Either way, the future looks bright for Philly.
Nearly a third of the teams in the NBA have new head coaches.
Whether it is a guy with a squeaky voice in New Jersey, a stoic mustachioed man in Cleveland, or someone we have never seen man the helm of the squad in the NBA, there are a wealth of new guys manning the sidelines.
The new coaches include Vinny Del Negro for the Clippers, Larry Drew for the Hawks, Tom Thibodeau for the Bulls, Byron Scott for the Cavaliers, Avery Johnson for the Nets, Keith Smart for the Warriors, Monty Williams for the Hornets and Doug Collins for the 76ers.
Drew, Thibodeau and Williams are first-time head coaches.
It should be interesting to see the impact the new guys make.
Over the offseason there have been numerous moments in which a person involved with the NBA says something that is criticized to no end by the country.
LeBron seems to have one of those every other week, Gilbert Arenas told reporters he faked an injury, and Michael Jordan claimed that he could score 100 points in a game today.
Whether you agree with the criticism or not, there have been multiple comments that have been deemed as stupid by the media.
And all this has happened with very little input from Charles Barkley.
Quick side note, who would criticize MJ for saying what he said? The guy is the greatest of all time, he should be able to say whatever he wants in relation to basketball.
If Babe Ruth were still alive today, and said that he could go out on July 4, hit four home runs in the first half of a double-header, go to Coney Island between games and win the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest, and then come back for the night game and hit four more home runs, you let him say it. He has earned the right.
The Mavericks have won at least 50 games every year since the 1999-2000 season. Quite a streak.
They now, however, have a starting five of Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd, Caron Butler, Shawn Marion and Brendon Haywood.
Not one of those players is under 30, and Jason Kidd is 37 years old.
The NBA is a game of youth, and it is unlikely that the Mavericks can keep on winning.
It will be interesting to see how the veterans in Dallas fare.
The world's favorite new NBA owner, Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, came into 2010 looking to make a splash in this summer's free agency.
Now, months of unexciting news in New Jersey later, their biggest pickup from the offseason that was not drafted has been Jordan Farmar.
This has to greatly depress Prokhorov, who wants a winning team as soon as possible.
With a move to New York City looming, it is unlikely that the Nets sit idly by and go through another futile season.
They nearly made a deal for Carmelo Anthony, and it may not have been their last run at him.
The Sacramento Kings currently have no players on their roster over the age of 29. Two of them will turn 30 during the season.
With a super young core of Tyreke Evans, DeMarcus Cousins, Hassan Whiteside, Omri Casspi and my boy Pooh Jeter, it will be interesting to see how the Baby Kings will reign in Sacramento.
They play an exciting style of basketball and, as we have seen in the past, play in a city that can really get geared up if they have a good team to cheer for.
The Spurs have been a pillar of excellence in the West for the past two decades.
In a league where rebuilding is inevitable, they never seem to have to rebuild, but they are getting older every year.
This season, they have six players, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Matt Bonner, Richard Jefforson, Antonio McDyess and Bobby Simmons, who are 30 or older. Hell, they have two rookies, Gary Neal and Tiago Splitter, who are over 25.
Maybe the Spurs will continue to win in spite of their age, but maybe, just maybe, Father Time will finally catch up to them.
Another town, anther nickname, another police badge, and as far as Boston hopes, another ring are what is in store for Shaquille O'Neal this season.
Shaq, along with Kevin Garnett, Jermaine O'Neal, Kendrick Perkins, Glenn Davis, and newest Boston big boy, Semih Erden, will team up to form a tenacious group of green monsters.
The only question is where do they all fit into a scheme?
The biggest thing in question is whether Shaq will be beneficial to the Celtics, and as an older team that relies on a slowed-down pace, it seems that he will.
The New York Knicks walked away from the Summer of Free Agents with a pretty good consolation prize in Amar'e Stoudemire, and now it seems as if he could end up paired with Carmelo Anthony before the beginning of the 2011 season.
Aside from Stoudemire, however, there isn't much to talk about on this team.
Wilson Chandler is a solid player, Raymond Felton is pretty good, and so is Anthony Randolph and Danilo Gallinari, plus, Timofey Mozgov has a cool name, but without another star-quality player on this team, they are just another team in the East.
Carmelo would change all of that, though.
The No. 1 draft pick of 2009 got hit by the Clippers curse faster than you can say Michael Olowokandi.
He has the potential to be one of the best forwards in the league, and can make an immediate impact.
However, he is the type of player that will put his body in harm's way on any play in order to help his team.
Something good for most players, but for a big man on the Clippers who has already had one surgery on his knee, it may be a death sentence.
Hopefully all will work out well for Griffin, considering he was one of the most exciting players in the NCAA in 2008.
If LeBron James gave up in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, Hedo Turkoglu gave up after game one of the NBA season last year.
Turkoglu saw a drop in every statistical category from the 08-09 season to the 09-10 season except three-point percentage.
He and his $53 million contract were promptly sent out of town for Leandro Barbosa, a hard-working player with a pretty good upside.
The question now will be who got a better deal here, Phoenix for getting a guy who can shoot and potentially score 16 a game, or Toronto for getting his lazy bones out of Canada.
The Portland Trail Blazers missed a combined 311 games due to injury last season, yet they still won 50 games.
Their head coach even missed four games due to a ruptured Achilles suffered in a practice.
They used 16 different starting line-ups, yet they were still one of the most exciting teams in the NBA.
If they can stay healthy, and Lord knows that would take a miracle with Greg Oden on their team, they could be one of the top four teams in the league.
After a year of basketball without The Great Wall of China in the middle for Houston, we are all ready to see the big fella back.
His mixture of big man-itude and subtle finesse was always fun to watch, and plus, what guy that tall has a turnaround shot as pretty as Yao?
It will be interesting to see if he can instantly reinsert himself into the game, and if not, how long his struggles will last.
And, if he doesn't mesh with the current Rockets plan for success, he could be very easily on the move at some point in the next year.
To rebuild or not to rebuild, that is the question.
In Ohio, you will find a rather divided fan base, those who think the Cavaliers can still contend for a bottom half playoff spot, and should get the pieces necessary to do so to stick it to their former king, and those who take a more realistic stance and are looking towards a rebuilding process.
Either way, you will see the Cleveland Cavaliers in the center of a great number of trade talks in the upcoming season.
Chris Paul dialed down talks of wanting a trade after meeting with the new team management a few months ago, and right now it seems as if he is happy with the direction of the team.
All of that could change, however, if the team starts to take a nosedive and stays stagnant this year.
A long losing streak, or a rough stretch of games could quickly change the mind of the slick point guard, and he could be on the move by midseason.
There are two ways the Joe Johnson contract can go for the Hawks, he can continue to be a star player getting paid superstar dollars, or he could go downhill, leaving the Hawks handcuffed until 2016.
The nearly $20 million a year deal that Johnson got in free agency from Atlanta has, pretty much nationwide, been deemed as a horrible deal.
That is a seemingly crazy number for a 20-5-5 guy.
The fact is though, Atlanta had to give him that money in order for him to continue to be a Hawk.
What that did for the Hawks is stabilize the team over the next six years so that they can continue to make the playoffs, but it does not give them much room for improvement so they can win a championship.
Thanks in part to Scott Skiles and midseason acquisition John Salmons, the Eastern Conference was taught in the second half of last season to "Fear the Deer."
The Bucks took the second half of last season by the horns, finishing 22-9 before being ousted in seven games by the Hawks.
They had one of the loudest arenas in recent memory and thrived on it.
Will they be able to take last season's year-end run and turn it into success this year? Only time and basketball will tell.
The 2010 version of the Utah Jazz will look very different from the 2009 version.
The devastating pick-and-roll combo of Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer will now rely on Williams and Paul Millsap.
The frighteningly accurate Kyle Korver will be sorely missed, and the Jazz will have to find a way without two of their key players from a year ago.
The jury is still out on whether they can still contend for a playoff spot in the always hotly contested Western Conference.
After the offseason, many teams are left not knowing their future. From the doubt, usually comes fire sales.
Of the teams with unknown futures, the Suns have an always explosive offense, but their defense could lead to a huge downfall, the Cavs are leaning more towards a rebuilding phase, and the Raptors seem hopeless.
One of these three teams could end up hitting the eject button on big contracts, and could send players from Anderson Varejao to Jose Calderon to playoff-caliber teams in February.
Last year there was a good Rookie of the Year race; look for there to be another one this year.
Top picks Blake Griffin and John Wall are coming out of the gate as favorites, but there are quite a few wild cards that can make things interesting.
DeMarcus Cousins, Evan Turner, Derrick Favors and dark horses Ed Davis and Eric Bledsoe could give the top guys a run for their money.
We should be seeing yet another year of big impact rookies and an exciting Rookie-Sophomore Game during All-Star Weekend.
Darren Collison had a great year as Chris Paul's backup last season. He averaged 12 points and nearly six assists per game, and got the chance to start a big chunk of games with the knee injury that Paul suffered.
Now, after a multi-team trade a few months ago, Collison gets the chance to be the anchor of a Pacers team that has looked like it has been treading water since the Malice in the Palace.
Collison averaged 18 points, 9 assists and 1.5 steals in the games that he started, so it looks like the Pacers have the point guard of their future in Collison.
Livingston has made an improbable recovery from a horrendous knee injury that he suffered in early 2007 and will look to play in his first full season since then.
I still cringe just thinking about his knee folding under him as he landed after a fast break against the Bobcats, the very team that he is now playing for.
Can Livingston stay healthy enough to be the player that everyone once thought he could be? Or is the lanky guard out of Peoria, Ill., a lost cause?
The Warriors are on the verge of a new regime with a sale to Joe Lacob and Peter Guber pending approval.
The old owner Chris Cohan owned the team for 16 years and oversaw just one playoff team, and he never seemed to care about improving the team much.
Lacob and Guber can't do much worse than Cohan has done in the past decade-and-a-half, as he was one of the few owners that were anywhere near as bad as Donald Sterling.
The move should be a positive influence on the Warriors, a team that is looked upon as the fourth team in California, behind the Lakers, Clippers and Kings.
The oft injured, never playoff bound star was signed by the Pistons in the offseason, and nobody seemed to care that much.
In 30 games for the Knicks last season, McGrady averaged only 8 points 3 rebounds and 3 assists in 22 minutes a game.
He did show signs of his old self against the Thunder, a game in which he scored 26 points to turn back the clock.
It is impossible to tell if he will be able to be productive for the Pistons.
This could also be his last year in the NBA if things don't work out, as a lockout looms, and teams would be weary of signing a washed-up veteran a year removed from playing if the lockout does occur.
Hey, he could take a trip over to Europe and team up with Allen Iverson and Vince Carter to create a washed up NBA super-team in Spain or something, though.
Zach Randolph is a double-double machine. If accusations are true, he may be a weed-supplying machine as well.
In May, a car registered to Randolph was found with copious amounts of pot and guns, as Randolph is now being called a drug kingpin in Indianapolis.
He wasn't arrested, but is surely under the watchful eye of area police, and David Stern after the allegations.
If he gets hauled in for any kind of drug charges, it could be disastrous for the Grizzlies.
The Chicago Bulls barely snuck into the playoffs last season, but pushed LeBron and the Cavs to the brink of elimination in the first round.
They then went on to sign Carlos Boozer and Kyle Korver, along with defensive specialist Tom Thibodeau as their head coach and now look to make a splash in the east.
With all of the talk about the Miami Heat in the previous months, and the recent success of the Celtics and Magic, it is very possible that the Bulls are being overlooked as a championship caliber team this season.
Miami has Dwyane Wade to hold down the scoring and Chris Bosh to hold down the middle, that pretty much leaves LeBron to do whatever he wants.
He looks to be a new age Magic Johnson, who can distribute, shoot, defend, rebound, and everything in between.
A triple-double average for LeBron definitely isn't impossible, and it would certainly be impressive, but it will be a difficult thing to do.
Quietly, the Magic got better in the offseason.
To go along with the strong core of Dwight Howard, Rashad Lewis, Jameer Nelson and Vince Carter, the Magic added Chris Duhon and Quentin Richardson.
The departure of Matt Barnes hurt, but the addition of Q-Rich all but got rid of that hurt, as he is an above-average defender and three-point shooter.
They may even be better than the team that lost to the Lakers in the finals two seasons ago.
Toronto finished last year 40-42, this year, not even close.
The Raptors, with the loss of Chris Bosh goes the 20 points and 10 rebounds per game that he contributed, not to mention an athletic body in the middle to stave off points in the paint.
This season, the Raptors are going to get torched in the paint and will struggle to get rebounds, and are looking at 20 fewer wins than last year.
Hopefully the lottery is kind to them.
The troubled Washington guard is coming off a season involving gun charges and a preseason in which he faked an injury, and likely will be traded at some point in the near future.
There have been many people in the Washington front office who think starting over without the fan favorite will be a much better option than continuing on with him.
Gilbert still has a lot to offer teams as a scorer and distributor, and will probably be easily had for the low price of a draft pick and some cash, although he is no longer viable as a No. 1 option.
Many people were quick to anoint the Heat as Eastern Conference favorites as soon as the acquisition of LeBron and Bosh was complete, but there is basketball yet to be played, folks.
The Boston Celtics are the defending champions, and therefore the team to beat, but the Orlando Magic, Atlanta Hawks, and Chicago Bulls all have a realistic chance to dethrone them along with the Heat.
Either way, there is an exciting race for the Eastern crown ahead, and it will be entertaining to watch.
LeBron James' return to Cleveland will be the most memorable game of the year, barring an unfortunate injury to the once King of the Northeast.
It will be the most memorable game since the brawl at the Palace at Auburn Hills between Detroit and Indiana, only we know so beforehand.
The Cleveland fans (myself included hopefully) will be foaming at the mouth to give LeBron a piece of their mind, while welcoming Zydrunas Ilgauskas back with open arms.
It will most likely make the rest of the nation think that Cleveland fans are more angry and ungrateful than once thought, and in this case they are.
It will, however, give them one last chance to show their displeasure toward The Decision, and then hopefully move on.
It will be vile, so don't bring your kids to this game if you were thinking about it.
The second biggest story of the offseason is now bleeding over into the regular season, and will be one of the biggest throughout it until he either shuts up or gets traded.
The Knicks and Nets still have interest in him, and if they could work out a deal that they like, I'm sure the Bulls would as well.
Any midseason movement of the superstar in Denver would shake up the NBA as much as to possibly shift the balance of power from the West to the East, or at least take another step toward evening it out.
I've not really been a big fan of this argument, because, lets face it, if you're winning by 30 points, nobody has to take a game winning shot.
It has been the talk of the town, however, and one of the things that many experts say stand in the way of the Heat from dominating the NBA for the next six years and on.
If they can overcome this, I'm sure it will be a huge leap forward for the team, and the rest of the basketball world will be hard pressed to best the Heat.
For my money though, Dwyane Wade takes the shot. He is a better shooter and it is still his team. Hell, who knows, Mike Miller could take it.
Phil Jackson is the master of the three-peat and possibly the greatest coach of all time.
Kobe Bryant is in contention for a top-10 all-time spot and one of the greatest Lakers.
And they still have Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, Matt Barnes and Ron Artest. To say that they aren't favorites to win another ring is some crazy talk.
They have a bigger challenge getting there this year though, as they would have to get past the tough Western Conference yet again, which includes the upstart Thunder, and then play a much improved Eastern Conference Champion, whomever it may be.
The consensus so far is yes, a super-team will draw in more casual fans to watch the game, much like the home run race and steroids did for baseball.
However, it seems to me that it will also leave the die-hard fans of the teams that aren't super-fied feeling angry and cast aside, much like the home run race and steroids did for baseball.
This is sure to be a heated topic (no pun intended) for the whole season, and into next year as more teams strive to create their own mega-team to compete with the Miami three-headed monster.
That's a tech now Sheed.
I haven't seen the rule in effect yet, but I am already deeming it the worst rule change in NBA history.
The new technical foul rule allows referees to have complete control over the game by T-ing up any player who decides to so much as frown after a questionable call.
If this rule were in effect a decade ago, Rasheed Wallace would have been out of the league within a week.
The first time this new rule change effects the outcome of a game, people will be calling for blood, and if they don't get it, it could get ugly.
Do you see a pattern here folks, the Heat are going to be talked about, and talked about a lot.
Will they coexist? who takes the last shot? Whose team is it? Can they win a title? How many titles will they win? Can they win more than 72 games in a season?
Get ready to hear those question everywhere from your local talk radio stations to the national sports debate shows, because they're going to stick around for a while.
And really, they should be there. As upset as The Decision made me, this is truly something special happening in Miami, and whether it is good or bad is up for debate (and it will be debated as well) but it will make for something we have never seen before in the NBA.
The collective bargaining agreement ends June 30, and if nothing happens between now and next August, a lockout is to follow.
No matter what the stories are on the court this season, the potential of no basketball being played a year from now is bigger than the basketball being played now.
David Stern said on Thursday that no progress toward a new deal was made over the summer, and that he and the owners want to cut league spending on players by a third.
They want to cut $750 million-$800 million in player salary and benefits in order to be profitable.
It's gonna be a crazy year, folks, and as impossible as it sounds, this offseason was just the calm before the storm.