10 Storylines To Follow This NBA Season

As the NBA sets to tip off its new season tonight, it was only last year NBA fans were experiencing an existential crisis (just ask NHL fans how they feel right now) without a season to look forward to due to a labour dispute.

Fortunately, part of the season was salvaged, and despite most players being out of shape (due to a lack of a proper pre-season) and the momentum from the amazing 2010-11 season up in smoke, the league managed to regain its top spot in the pro sports universe thanks in large parts to the Miami-OKC final, the Olympics, the Lakers going to level 6 of the Kobe System by adding Nash and Howard in the offseason, and, of course, Linsanity.

At this stage most of us have completed our fantasy drafts, read the season previews and predictions and listened to all of the podcasts but there are many stories and questions still being tossed around the CAVE water cooler for the 2012-13 NBA season that will continue to be intriguing topics throughout the season. What follows are 10 of those stories and questions:

1. Down With the King: David Stern to Retire in 2014

Commissioner Stern recently announced he’s stepping down in early 2014. While the Sternbot has often been blamed for making the league less fun, more corporate and being overtly controlling – and there will indeed be many players and fans who will rejoice over his departure – you can’t deny his central role in the growth and success of the NBA since the late 80s.

To paraphrase a t-shirt Lebron once infamously wore, check Stern’s stats since he stepped into the Don Dada shoes: 7 additional franchises, 30-fold increase in league revenue, built the global NBA brand with broadcasts in 215 countries and territories, and launched the WNBA and D-League.

Stern has been a divise figure for most of his career but his effect on the league has been immense and as far as the bottom line, very positive. You can’t have someone with that influence walk away and not expect there to be some concern with the future of the league.

2. Is the Miami dynasty for real?

What scenario faces the Heat as they enter the 2012-13 season?

They added Rashard Lewis and Jesus Shuttlesworth, which will help spread the Heat’s offense and allow Lebron to move into the post more often, and because of Lebron’s size, athleticism and playmaking abilities this will add another dimension to the Heat’s offense which opposing teams will struggle with.

As well, Wade and Bosh will be returning from their injuries. They have the experience of one championship underneath their belt, and the pressure on the Big 3 to produce “not one, not two, not three…” championships has been slightly lifted. Lebron is still only getting better. Everything seems to be in the Heat’s favor to repeat as champs this season.

The Heat are not without their issues though.

Last time I checked Lewis and Allen weren’t centers, which still leaves the Heat with the same gaping hole in the middle that they had last year, something opponents will continue to expose. Will Wade and Bosh stay healthy? Having won the chip, will the motivation be there for Lebron, Bosh and Wade, who has two now, to repeat? Lebron’s stamina is also a concern after having played all the way into June and then spending his summer on the USA squad at the Olympics.

While there’s no doubt the Heat sit on the throne right now, they need to either win it all or at least return to the Finals to begin cementing their dynasty status in earnest.

3. So, what about them Lakers?

What is there to say about the current incarnation of the Lakers that hasn’t already been covered ad nauseam? They should gel pretty quickly and they’ll be a joy to watch. Howard and Nash are two of the best at their respective positions. Anything less than a Finals appearance – against the Heat likely – should be considered a failure.

I know their bench is weaker than Steph Curry’s right ankle; that Nash did not win his MVPs on the strength of his matador defense; and that Mike Brown might be one of the worst coaching fits for these Lakers. It doesn’t matter (that much), the Lakers will be nice and Laker nation will remain the envy of the rest of the league as usual.

4. Anthony Davis (and His Ridiculous Unibrow)

You’ll be hard pressed to find someone who does not like this kid. He has everything going for him to be one of those special players who will define his generation. After leading Kentucky to national championship and then a summer of rubbing elbows with the best of the best of his peers at the London Olympics, he is so ahead of the game compared to other rooks and should not have too much trouble acclimatizing himself to playing in the L.

His one major weakness being a lack of a polished offensive game with solid go-to moves, but that will come with experience and time, and in Davis’ case that should be sooner than later.

The ‘Brow will make the Hornets a relevant franchise again and have the good folks of N’awlins dancing in the streets soon enough.

5. Will Linsanity take off in Houston?

Along with the Lakers signing of Howard and Nash, there was arguably no bigger offseason story than the Knicks failure to resign the feel-good story of the year, Jeremy Lin.

Fortunately, Lin managed to land a fat contract and starting gig with the rebuilding Houston Rockets.

The Harvard wonder has a tough season ahead of him though: he will have to balance the weight of being the current face of the franchise and continuing to convert his many doubters into believers.

For Lin fans the day of reckoning is December 17 when Lin makes his first official return to Madison Square Garden. Can we expect a furious offensive assault like the one he dropped on Kobe and the Lakers last season? Or will he be the post-Linsanity player that many of his critics believe is a more accurate depiction of his ability?

The Lin mythology will either continue writing itself this season or come to an anti-climatic end.

6.  The Battle of the Boroughs: Knicks v. Nets

If you haven’t heard, the Brooklyn Nets are the new sexy in town. That town being New York, New York. Gotham’s finest, aka the Knicks, have not exactly lived up to that billing for much of the new century. With the loss of fan darling Lin, a seemingly broken Stoudemire, and coming off yet another season of false hopes and disarray, the Knicks should really only go up from here.

It’ll be tough though when Prokhorov and his Scrooge-McDuck-size bank account, front man Jay-Z and a motivated Deron make enough noise across the Williamsburg bridge to make some New Yorkers switch alliances to the black and white.

With apologies to the Clippers, the Knicks-Nets is the only relevant cross-town rivalry this season. Round 1 is set for November 1st at the newly-built Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

7. Time to Step Up: Grizzlies/Clippers/Nuggets/T-Wolves

Times were so good when you were the new hotshot team on the rise, gaining fans with every SportsCenter highlight and making us gush at the thought of your seemingly limitless potential. Then you start making the playoffs and soon enough it becomes an expectation. Once those first-round exits start piling up though, the fickleness of sports fans often turns its ugly head. Questions of your legitimacy abound and if you don’t quickly break through to the next level you soon become dust in the wind.

This is the scenario facing a bunch of former young and exciting teams that are now entering the now-or-never phase of their development. They may be a bit too young still, bogged down by untimely injuries to key players or missing a piece or two, but nevertheless they have the requisite talent and composition to sit at the big boys table.

The Grizzlies, Clippers, Nuggets and Timberwolves are all teams on the cusp of taking the leap to the elite level. But to establish themselves among the NBA elite they need to separate themselves from the pack by going deep into the playoffs. Which is easier said than done, especially when you have the Lakers and Thunder in your conference.

While the urgency on some of these teams may vary, they all carry the same heavy weight of expectation that plagues every successful up-and-coming team. It will be interesting to see the directions of the above teams this season as a trade or coach firing is never too far away when you need to please an expectant fanbase.

(I would have included the Bulls in this conversation but I consider them already an elite team. When Rose is healthy, that is. Because Rose’s recovery from knee surgery may keep him out for all or most of the regular season and since the Bulls are so heavily dependant on him, this year might be a write-off for the Bulls.)

8. How good will the Raps be?

Yes, I used the word “good” in the same sentence as the Raptors, and surprisingly it’s not about how I feel after I delete my PVR recording of a Raps game when they start falling apart in the third quarter.

The product that will step onto the Air Canada Centre hardwood this year is seemingly better than last year’s. Kyle Lowry is one of the most underrated pointguards in the NBA, Jonas Valanciunas will finally show us why Colangelo made him the fifth overall pick in last year’s draft and Bargs will…well, he’ll still be Bargs which means he’ll likely be good for a soft 15 points and 5 rebounds per contest.

Playoffs may be wishful thinking but at least the current Raps roster should give Toronto fans something to be hopeful about. Considering the franchise’s recent years of futility and irrelevance, hope is as good of a compliment as any for the Raptors.

9. And don’t forget about OKC!

The harsh reality of being a small market team smacked the Thunder in the face when they recently traded the reigning Sixth Man of The Year and one of the franchise cornerstones, James Harden, to the Houston Rockets.

OKC couldn’t afford to keep a player of Harden’s caliber, especially with all of the other mouths they have to feed. They managed to at least get a volume scorer back in Kevin Martin and a promising rookie in Jeremy Lamb. Martin is a far drop-off from Harden though and Lamb is not likely going to be a producer right away. As far as this year the Thunder seem to have taken a big step back.

Kevin Durant is still the-best-or-second-best player in the league and on his strength alone the Thunder will continue building on their exponential success over the past few years. Key starters Westbrook and Ibaka, along with Durant, will only get better. The Thunder clearly have enough talent – and we may also be overstating Harden’s impact – to monopolize the Ws in the West this season but losing Harden was a difficult and unexpected loss to many observers and only time will truly tell how his departure will affect OKC.

10. How Beastly Will Josh Smith’s Fantasy Production Be This Year?

For someone with career game averages of 15.1 points, 7.9 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 2.2 blocks and 1.3 steals, it’s frightening that many people expect him to only get better.

Needless to say, Smith’s reputation as a statistical beast is well-known in fantasy circles and all signs point to this year being one of his best ever.

It’s a contract year. He’s just entering the first year of his prime. Joe Johnson and his soulless body have left Georgia and J-Smoove is now undeniably the main attraction in the ATL.

If you don’t have him on your fantasy team this season, be scared.

Written by CAVE contributor Johan Blaze.

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