With the NBA season fast approaching there are a few storylines that should capture the interest of basketball fans this year. During a busy NBA offseason, a lot of pieces moved through free agency, trade, or just general reshuffling of coaches and players. A lot of teams got better over the summer, which leaves basketball fans licking their chops as the NBA is as balanced a league as I can remember it being in a long time. Here are some of my favorite story lines for the coming season:
WE THREE KINGS?
LeBron and company are poised for a three-peat, and early on it is difficult to imagine that many teams are going to be able to take them down. The heat looked at their squad and realized that there were only two glaring weaknesses: lack of depth and consistency on the bench, and lack of a significant presence on the interior.
How did Pat Riley and crew address this? They brought in the estranged forward Michael Beasley to help with scoring off the bench, and went grave robbing to dig up the career of Greg Oden. Both Oden and Beasley have had issues that in one way or another derailed careers that were both filled with tremendous promise and upside, as both players were top-2 draft picks in their selective drafts.
A ROSE IS A ROSE
Derrick Rose made us all wait a painfully long year for his return from injury, but he's back now, and apparently better than ever. Rose is 100% physically and mentally entering his 6th year in the league and has evidently increased his vertical by five inches through the magic of rehab and modern medicine.
Adding Rose back to a team that won its first round playoff series despite his absence creates a genuine threat to dethrone the Heat as Eastern conference champs. The Bulls have top-flight defensive presences in Joakim Noah and Luol Deng that can contain the electricity of LeBron and Wade as much as any team in the league.
Rose is going to remind people what he can do pretty quickly, and his return could mean a special season for Chicago.
NEW KIDDS ON THE BLOCK
Head coach Jason Kiddhow weird does that sound? The Nets wasted no time flexing their checkbook this offseason, acquiring proven veterans Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Jason Terry, as well as coach Kidd.
The Nets are in win right-freaking-now mode and if their gamble doesn't pay off this year then they could be looking at a tumultuous offseason where heads will roll.
Tough first season for a rookie head coach.
RISING IN THE EAST
The Cleveland Cavaliers and Washington Wizards are both going to make the playoffs this year, go ahead and quote me on that, and I wouldn't be surprised if one or both finds itself in a 4 or 5 seed, AND wins its first round series.
Personally I am really excited to see the Wiz and Cavs in action this year, as both are just oozing with young talent and both used the draft to sure up some holes.
Otto Porter was an absolutely terrific pick for the Wizards at 3rd overall, as he was by far the most versatile and well-rounded player in the draft. When he is healthy, he will be a great compliment to Washington's studly young backcourt, as Bradley Beal and John Wall are sure to both take great strides in their development, and from all reports I have heard, Wall, like Rose, is all there physically and mentally and has grown and matured into the leader this team needs for a playoff birth. A hungry is a very, very scary concept.
As far as the Cavs go, I thought that team was a few healthy pieces short of the playoffs last year. They picked up Anthony Bennett with the first overall pick, who though he doesn't necessarily fit exactly where the Cavs need him to right now, is an explosive, polished scorer who will contribute on both ends right away, as he is also a tenacious rebounder on both ends.
Staying on the Cavs, Kyrie Irving is going to take full advantage of the sidelined Russell Westbrook and come out blazing hot. He is already one of the top players in the league and I think that this year he will end up as the number three point guard in the league, behind only Chris Paul and Rose. Irving is the truth and with him at the helm look out for this young, dangerous team in the east.
THE DOC IS IN
If the Clippers are ever going to win an NBA title, ever, then it will have to be soon. They have the best point guard in the game in Paul and two of the most explosive big men in the game in the and the not time travelling DeAndre Jordan. Their bench is solid with the playmaking Jamaal Crawford and lights out energy guy JJ Reddick.
If the Clips win though, it will be directly because of new head coach Doc Rivers, who came from Boston in the offseason to try to win a ring with Paul. Rivers is one of the best coaches in the NBA over the past decade and is one of the main reasons the Celtics were able to right the ship when they brought in Ray Allen and Garnett years ago.
Nobody is saying too much about LA's best team so far, but Rivers and Paul might just make people start talking.
The picture out west is a little unsettled right now because two of the West's biggest stars are sidelined with injury. Westbrook is expected to miss somewhere around a month while he recovers from his meniscus injury suffered against Houston in last season's playoffs, and Kobe will be sidelined for as long as he lets the doctors keep him out with a torn Achilles tendon.
The Lakers aren't as much of a factor to start the season, especially without Kobe and the departed Dwight Howard. The Thunder, however, may suffer early Westbrook-less woes without their superstar point guard and drop three or four more games than they should. That may not sound like much but those three or four games could mean the difference between a 2 seed and a 5 seed in the West.
Kevin Durant and company are going to have to step up big time to steady the ship until Westbrook is able to return.
READY FOR LAUNCH
Fans in the city of Houston may finally have something to get genuinely excited for after the Texans/Schaub disaster and the bottom-scraping Astros using this season to let their squad ferment.
The merging of James Harden and Dwight Howard has the potential to be the second coming of Shaq and Kobe. Harden proved last season that he is a legit top-10 player in the league (as a Thunder fan this is hard for me to talk about) and he was just recently voted as the top shooting guard in the league by the GMs. He is a guy who just knows how to play basketball and beats you with his versatility more so than with one electric trait or skill.
Combining Harden's natural playmaking ability with the raw, freak athleticism of the league's best center could be the recipe for a one-two punch more devastating than any of the three-headed monsters that have begun trending as the winning formula in the shadow of the Miami Heat.
It may take a good portion of the year to get everything figured out, but Houston is going to figure things out this season and by the time the playoffs roll around they will be a terrifying monster that nobody will want to play. I won't pick them to win it all this season, but I wouldn't be surprised.