Hi folks! The 2013-14 NBA season is finally upon us. I hope you are as excited as I am. As with any new season, there are a good many storylines around the league worth paying attention to.
Here are my top 10 things to look forward to this season in the NBA.
10. Golden State Warriors
Last season, the Golden State Warriors surprised most NBA fans by posting 47 wins and winning a first round playoff series. A lot of this had to do with the spectacular shooting of fan favorite Stephan Curry, although much credit should also go to a job well done by first year coach Mark Jackson and a balanced roster that included the menacing front court of David Lee and Andrew Bogut along with veteran utility guard Jarrett Jack. This season, all eyes will be on the Warriors from the start so they won't be sneaking up on anyone. Curry, Bogut, and Lee are all back, but Jack has been replaced by the more defensively minded Andre Iguodala. Fans around the league will be interested to see how Golden State will respond to the tinkering as they adjust to playing with a target on their back from the opening horn.
9. San Antonio Spurs
I feel like I've been saying this for the past 10 years, but I can’t help but wonder if this is the season that San Antonio finally slows down. The perennial powerhouse Spurs made the finals last season with only swashbuckler Manu Ginobili looking his age. In fact, Tony Parker might have had his best overall season and the stoic all time great Tim Duncan was as steady as ever. Add in rising star Kawhi Leonard along with the best coach in the NBA and all eyes should be on the Spurs again this season. Hell, San Antonio will be worth watching for Gregg Popivich’s in-game interviews alone.
8. Big Trades and Trade Rumors
Blockbuster trades are a big part of the NBA landscape – a fact that really lends itself well to our current internet culture. Teams have just wrapped up the preseason so I would not expect any major trades to happen anytime soon, but I also have no doubt that the front offices around the league are already talking to each other. As the season picks up momentum, you can expect the trade rumors to do the same. Last year, the new collective bargaining agreement seemed to have had a reductive affect on trades, so it will be interesting to see how it plays out this year as teams are presumably more used to the current contract realities. I expect the trade rumor industry to be in full swing by Christmas in preparation for the February trade deadline. Maybe there will be a blockbuster and maybe there won’t, but there will for sure be trades and I for one will be watching.
7. Cleveland Cavaliers
Last season, the Cleveland Cavaliers were a fan favorite despite winning only 24 games. If my previous sentence is even true, it’s entirely due to the popularity of first time all-star Kyrie Irving. The electrifying Irving was a number one overall draft pick in 2011 and so far, he has not been a disappointment. This season, Cleveland has brought back coach Mike Brown – no doubt in hopes of recreating the success he had during the Lebron James era. Also new to this version of the Cavaliers are controversial number one draft pick Anthony Bennett, talented but frustrating center Andrew Bynum, and the previously mentioned Jarrett Jack. All this combined with a hard working Anderson Verajao and an improving Tristan Thompson should be enough to propel Cleveland into the playoffs. Cleveland may not have yet risen to the point of non-stop national television coverage, so be sure to go see them when they come to your town. I have my tickets already. Do you?
6. Greg Oden
In the 2007 NBA draft, the Portland Trailblazers selected Greg Oden with the number one overall pick and passed on perennial all star Kevin Durant to do so. The crazy thing is that this was not necessarily a bad decision. Oden’s career at Ohio State was the stuff of legend and he came out of college looking like a full sized NBA center ready to immediately contribute at a high level. Instead, the injuries began immediately. Oden missed his whole rookie season with a blown out knee and it hasn’t really ever gotten any better. Last week, the promising big man saw his first action on an NBA court since December of 2009 as a member of the World Champion Miami Heat. Oden couldn’t have imagined himself in a better situation. If his knees fail him once again, Miami will simply roll on without him and he will drift into the background knowing he gave it his best shot. If, somehow, his knees hold up, he will be exactly the one thing Miami has been missing – a big bruising full sized center. Good luck Greg, we’ll be watching.
Everyone loves a good lottery right? Well, maybe fans of competitive basketball shouldn’t as the current system for determining the NBA draft order might actually encourage teams to lose on purpose. At the very least, it appears to encourage some teams to not bother trying to win. For those unfamiliar with the system, here’s how it works: all the teams that do not make the playoffs are awarded ping pong balls for the top three picks. The more losses a team has, the more chances it has of winning. Because of this, teams that start the season with no real chance of making the playoffs will sometimes game plan for increased losses and financial flexibility. Unfortunately, this is often rewarded as good long term strategy. Although this is by no means a new phenomenon, it seems to be more prevalent this year due to the almost universal belief that the 2014 NBA draft is going to be an especially good one. The top prize appears to be University of Kansas Freshman Andrew Wiggins and already teams such as Phoenix, Orlando, Charlotte, and Philadelphia appear to be jockeying for position. Several other teams such as Utah and Boston may join the race for the bottom if their respective seasons get off to an especially slow start. Gentlemen, stop your engines.
4. Kevin Love
Coming into last season, Kevin Love was a two time all-star and celebrated member of the US Men’s Olympic gold medal basketball team. He was the primary star on a Timberwolves team that, despite too many years of terrible basketball, appeared to be poised for their first winning season in a long time. Kevin Love was on top of the world. And then he broke his hand. With an odd injury credited to knuckle pushups gone wrong, Kevin Love suddenly found himself riding a rocky path of injuries and unflattering speculation. Added to this was an apparent rift with then GM David Kahn fueled in part by comments Love made to a national basketball reporter over dinner. Although he did return from this injury, last year’s version of Kevin Love never really looked comfortable on the basketball court and eventually, he ended his campaign entirely after re-injuring the hand during a January game. This season Love is hoping for a return to his 2011-12 form when he was one of the best players in the league. He has sure looked the part this preseason. As an unapologetic Timberwolves fanatic, I know I will be rooting for him.
3. Houston Rockets
The Houston Rockets made the biggest splash in this off-season’s free agency pool when they signed center Dwight Howard to a four year $88 million contract. Howard was a bit of a disappointment in Los Angeles, but the thought of a healthy and engaged Howard playing alongside the league’s best shooting guard James Harden has opposing GM’s worried. Or at least it should. This dynamic duo, flanked by a second defensive tower in Omar Asik, enigmatic point guard Jeremy Lin, and break out candidate Chandler Parsons should be good and could be championship contending good. This whole thing could also go the other way. If Howard struggles and Lin’s erratic play continues, this team could quickly turn back into the one man show it became far too often last season. At the very least, they will be interesting and NBA fans, and GM’s, will be watching.
2. Derrick Rose
Last season Derrick Rose was the biggest non-story of the season. He didn’t play a game. The dynamic Rose won the MVP award for the 2010-11 season only to tear his ACL in the playoffs the following year. Last season, there was much speculation regarding Rose’s potential return, but it simply never happened. Rose sat on the sidelines as his Chicago Bulls seemingly overachieved in the playoffs despite his absence. This season begins with the Bulls mostly intact and Rose apparently healthy. How healthy remains to be seen, but all indications are that he should be essentially back to his MVP caliber self. Sports fans tend to have short memories, so having Rose gone for an entire year has left many of us unsure of what to expect. I know what I am expecting: the Bulls will have an all-star point guard and the league will have another top flight player on display. Welcome back Derrick, we missed you.
1. LeBron James
Let me start with this. “The Decision,” in which James arrogantly proclaimed his intention to leave Cleveland and join the Miami Heat, was a terrible choice. James has been rightfully ridiculed by fans for this and still seems to have as many people rooting against him as for him. Personally, I believe he has paid his dues but even more importantly, the man is a joy to watch play basketball. Michael Jordan is widely considered to be the greatest basketball player in NBA history and so far, in my opinion, that designation is safe. Still, with four NBA regular season MVPs and two NBA Finals MVPs behind him, the 28-year-old James sure seems to be in the process of making a good case for himself. Jordan famously won six championships and I’m not sure how many more James will need to win to gain the near unanimous status as greatest player ever, but I do know that each year he seems to pull a few more votes his way. Maybe James will never get there or maybe he will, but another season like the last one can only help. Either way, basketball fans around the world will have quite a show to watch regardless if they are rooting for him to fail or succeed. I’m just looking forward to watching him play my favorite sport.
Jeremy Mork is a father, husband, beer snob, social worker, and sometimes wanna be drifter living in Minneapolis. His hobbies include basketball, music, cooking, and daydreaming about travel. He is highly conflicted about the oxford comma. In the interest of full disclosure, it should be known that Jeremy is a die hard Timberwolves fan, but he promises to be mostly objective. He can also be found on Twitter at @AverageJer.