The 2008-2009 regular season is right at our doorsteps. A closer look at this year's contenders and pretenders gives us many interesting subplots:
Will this Be the Year Kobe Finally Sheds Shaq’s Shadow and Wins One by Himself?
Kobe is widely considered the best player in the NBA, but he still carries a chip on shoulder as the naysayers continue to say he will never win a championship without Shaq.
The Lakers' management has finally surrounded him with enough talent to win a championship. Last year, the Grizzlies all but gave away Gasol in a present wrapping to the Lakers. That, coupled with the development of Bynum and the presence of Odom, should give the Lakers one of the most dominant front court presences in the NBA this season.
To round it all up, the Lakers are also stacked in a bench that features real contributors like Luke Walton, Chris Mihn, Jordan Farmar, Vladimir Radmanovic, and defensive specialist Trevor Ariza.
Predictions: First in the Pacific, first seed in the West, NBA Champions.
BetSportsWeb.com odds 3/1
Will this Be the Year LeBron Becomes the MVP?
The king is ready for his crown, and even if the NBA title eludes him this year, an MVP award could be in his near future. At the age of 23, LeBron is already starting his sixth season in the league, and he is playing in superb form. Last year he averaged 30 points, 7.2 assists, and 7.9 rebounds per game.
The inclusion of Mo Williams should help push the Cavs' offense to a higher gear and should result in a mind blowing season for LeBron that should culminate in him lifting an MVP trophy.
Predictions: Second in the Central, fourth seed in the East, out in the second round.
BetSportsWeb.com odds 14/1
Does Shaq Still Have Anything Left in the Tank?
Shaq and Co. are aging, and showing it; this preseason has seen the Suns miss at least two of their starters every game. Last year, the Suns made a late-season gamble that brought Shaq to Phoenix in an apparent effort to beat the Spurs. Their gamble did not pay off, as they were ousted in the first round.
Shaq has put too much stress on his frame and logic dictates he will soon pay the price of the stress knees take from jumping with 320-plus pounds.
It is also unlikely this team will be any better than last year's rendition. This is a team where its super stars—with the exception of Stoudemire—are past their prime.
Predictions: Second in the Pacific, sixth seed in the West, out in the first round.
BetSportsWeb.com odds 16/1