The NBA: Ten Stories Heading Into Training Camp

He's BACK!
After missing 18 months, D-Rose will finally be back on the court
(Image from: Washington Post)
The three months without any NBA games have ended. Basketball is back and here to stay until June. Training camps for some teams (Bulls, Rockets, Pacers) have started already due to preseason games slated overseas. All other teams will hold their practices by October 1. So, while the NBA goes through exhibition games and twice a day practices (and video gamers play NBA2K14), how about we look into some topics before the season starts?

Blooming Rose
In less than a month (Oct 29 to be exact), the NBA will begin its regular season with a game between the Chicago Bulls and the defending champions, Miami Heat. The 2011 MVP is finally back after 18 months away from professional basketball. Derrick Rose will play his first real game on the road versus the champs but his actual first taste of competitive ball will be on October 5 vs the Indiana Pacers. D-Rose said that he feels better and stronger after his ACL injury and most importantly, he feels that he is the best player in the NBA. The Bulls will definitely be contenders if Rose is in top form. During 2011 and 2012, the Bulls ended with the best record in the East when Rose was healthy.

Ready to Launch
The biggest fish of the 2013 free agency class was Dwight Howard. His addition to the Houston Rockets plus James Harden, Jeremy Lin and Chandler Parsons have made the Rockets an instant contender in the West. Dwight said that he feels healthier already and wants to be Defensive Player of the Year again. The growth in Harden's game makes his pairing with Howard the most lethal big and small combination in the league. Even Jeremy Lin promises of a better season coming from himself. The Rockets have nowhere to go but up. Can they finish with the best record in the West? How about the NBA?

New York's Finest
Both the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets made the playoffs last season. For this season, both teams will probably play games in May as well. The difference this year though, the Nets appear to have the better team than the Knicks. The arrivals of Garnett, Pierce, Terry and Kirilenko have made the Nets serious challengers to Miami. Meanwhile, the Knicks added Metta World Peace and Andrea Bargnani who could contribute but they wont put the Knicks over the top. There will also be added animosity between the Knicks and Nets due to the history of KG and PP coming from the Celtics. Those guys hate the Knicks.
Heck, the verbal sparring already started last month.

Tanking for Wiggins
The 2014 draft class is projected to be very deep and quite talented. Andrew Wiggins (Kansas) is projected to be the first pick but that could change with guys like Julius Randle (Kentucky), Jabari Parker (Duke), Marcus Smart (Oklahoma State) and Aaron Gordon (Arizona) just to name a few. At least five NBA teams have given up this season before the opening tip in hopes of corraling the first pick or at least a high draft pick. The Sixers appear to be in the pole position after they traded Jrue Holiday for rookie Nerlens Noel who is out with an injured knee. Noel is not expected to play maybe until next year. The Magic, Jazz, Suns and Celtics are also among those in prime positions to tank.

Decision or Indecision
If the 2014 rookie class is something to look forward to, then the possible 2014 free agents are 100x better. The free agents could be led by LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki and Tony Parker. Those guys would be in most people's top-tier. The next level is not that bad at all: Jamal Crawford, Paul Pierce, Kenneth Faried, Luol Deng, Rudy Gay and a lot more. Can you imagine Kobe and Melo playing together? How about Wade going to Chicago to play with Rose? Maybe Kobe leaving the Lakers or Dirk getting out of Dallas? So many possibilities!

Global Games
Every so often, a former NBA player goes to the Philippines to play as an import for the PBA. Recently, retired NBA stars and some current stars have travelled to RP to play in glorified pick-up games. This year it will be different because actual NBA teams (Pacers and Rockets) will play in the Philippines for a preseason game on October 10 at the Mall of Asia arena. There will be enough big names (Paul George, Hibbert, Harden, Howard, Lin) to headline the exhibition game plus some legends will visit as well. Clyde "the Glide" Drexler and Robert "Big Shot Bob" Horry are among the NBA ambassadors who will join the teams. I feel so depressed that I cannot watch the game live or see the media events especially since Drexler and Horry were among my favorite players.

A lot of stars are recovering from major injuries. Their absence will dictate if their team can make the playoffs or not. One such star is Kobe Bryant of the Lakers. His Achilles injury typically takes 6-9 months of rehab. Bryant is unsure of his return date although he feels good. This being Kobe, maybe he plays by opening night but the safe bet is that he comes back much later like around December which marks 8 months after his injury. Another injured star is Russell Westbrook whose return date is also uncertain. His meniscus injury is less severe than Kobe's so Westbrook is most likely to play earlier than Kobe. If the opposite happens, the Thunder will be in deep trouble.

New Teams, New Faces
Andre Iguodala, Monta Ellis, Josh Smith, Brandon Jennings and Al Jefferson were among the big names of last summer's free agency. All of them have new addresses for this season. Only Iguodala joined a team that was already successful and playoff-bound without him. The others joined new teams that all missed the playoffs last season. Who will have the best season or worst season with their new teams? Will Iggy make the Warriors a lot better? Can Josh and Jennings coexist in Detroit? Is Monta willing to share shots with Dirk? We shall see.

Dark Horses
In earlier posts, I wrote about the CavaliersWizardsBlazers and Pelicans possibly making the playoffs in their respective conferences. All of them missed the playoffs last season and they upgraded their rosters significantly to give themselves a realistic shot of reaching the postseason. The Cavs and Wizards are relying on health (i.e. no injuries) while the Blazers and Pelicans hope their new players contribute. The Wizards already have some bad luck on their side with Omeka Okafor and Chris Singleton already injured long term even before the start of training camp.

If Miami wins a 3rd straight title, LeBron James will most likely stay in South Florida which means that Bosh and Wade will probably stay put as well. Now, can that work with the Heat's salary cap? Yes, if they agree to much lower salaries than other teams will be willing to pay them separately. So, can the Heat 3-Peat?

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