A dozen stories to open training camps

Little has changed with the ageless Spurs since the confetti rained down on the champs, but much is now different with the rest of the NBA. So as the first handful of training camps open this week, here are a dozen storylines that will require immediate attention:

LeBron rocks, Cleveland rolls

LeBron James, 2007 (Gregory Shamus/Getty)

(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty)

Is it really as simple as putting the giant sign of LeBron James back up in downtown Cleveland and turning the clock back to the days of the Cavs as contenders for them to win it all? With Kyrie Irving‘s continued growth, his performance at the FIBA World Cup fresh in our minds, with the arrival of Kevin Love to be the third leg of the stool, it only seems a matter of time before the Cavs are on the main stage in June. Let’s remember that Irving and Love have never even been to the playoffs, let alone made a deep run. But let’s also remember that this is the Eastern Conference and that means the door is open.

Kobe vs. The World

Let’s face it. Nobody — not LeBron, not Carmelo Anthony, not Kevin Durant, not anybody — will have every step he takes on the court scrutinized and analyzed more than Kobe Bryant as he battles the calendar and what would seem to be common sense as he tries to come back from a torn Achilles tendon and a knee fracture at age 36. He’ll be determined, defiant, maybe even destructive to his own well-being. More than anything, you have to hope he can stay healthy all the way through the long grind of the season, if for no other reason than to see how he drives and browbeats a ragtag collection of post-Pau Gasol era Lakers in a quixotic quest.

Big Man in the Big Easy

They’ve changed owners, changed their team name and solidified the face of the franchise for the first time since New Orleans was last in the playoffs. Now it’s time to see if Anthony Davis can build on his big dog experience with Team USA in the World Cup and put some bite into the Pelicans. Davis averaged 20.8 points, 10 rebounds and made his first All-Star Game appearance last season. But based on the way he played in Spain, that might have only been scratching the surface. There are some ready to jump Davis over reigning MVP Durant as the next “best player in the game.” He’ll get up front support this season from Omer Asik, and if Jrue Holiday, Ryan Anderson and Tyreke Evans can stay healthy, this could be the beginning of a whole new era.

Stuck on the launch pad

Until LeBron went back home to Cleveland, it was hard to top the last two offseason jackpots hit by the Rockets — landing James Harden and Dwight Howard. But that streak hit a wall when the Rockets went all-in to bring Carmelo Anthony or Chris Bosh to Houston. It was a bold and grand gamble that required trading away Omer Asik (to the Pelicans) and Jeremy Lin (to the Lakers) to create salary cap space. It also led to allowing Chandler Parsons to become a free agent and sign with the Dallas Mavericks. Now with neither prize free agent, the Rockets are a team that won 54 games a year ago, lost in the first round of the playoffs and have the depth of a one-night pickup at a singles bar. How much can they get from Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas and Isaiah Canaan? What does Jason Terry have left? How much of the weight can Harden and Howard realistically carry?

A Golden State of mind

Following back-to-back seasons of 47 and 51 wins, two straight trips to the playoffs and growing excitement over the spark that Mark Jackson ignited under the Warriors, is it as easy as changing the head coach to take Golden State to the next level? The task belongs to Steve Kerr, making his debut on the bench after previously serving as general manager in Phoenix. While management didn’t care for Jackson’s abrasive and often divisive personality, the players believed in him. Now Kerr has to earn the same kind of trust and confidence after a summer when key piece Klay Thompson was dangled as trade bait in a bid to get Kevin Love. Thompson blitzed through any hurt feelings by being an outstanding defender and critical ingredient in the gold medal recipe by the United States at the World Cup. Is it all now water under the Golden Gate? The heat is on Kerr to produce from Day One.

Distant Thunder

Triple-doubles by Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook weren't enough for Thunder wins last season. (Photo by Richard Rowe/NBAE via Getty Images)

(Photo by Richard Rowe/NBAE)

Nobody fretted when the up-and-comers from Oklahoma City were given a lesson in crunch time play and championship level execution by the Heat in the 2012 Finals. They were young and there would be plenty more chances to take that last step and claim the Larry O’Brien Trophy. That was the assumption. That was before injuries derailed Russell Westbrook in 2013 and Serge Ibaka in 2014 and jumped the Thunder express off the track. That was before Kevin Durant had an MVP season and it still wasn’t enough to get OKC back to the big show. We’re into what should be the meatiest portion of the careers of Durant and Westbrook and the cast of contenders in the Western Conference only seems to get stronger and deeper. Then there’s the matter of Durant becoming a free agent in the summer of 2016. Suddenly there’s a sense of urgency and the clock is ticking.

Thorny Rose

We know that coach Tom Thibodeau makes no excuses and will have the Bulls ready to get up in faces and make life miserable for opponents every night. We know that Joakim Noah will throw his body frantically and recklessly all over the court to make plays, that Jimmy Butler will sink his teeth in on defense, that Taj Gibson will come off the bench with energy and that the addition of Pau Gasol will give the Chicago lineup a new look and new dimension. But we also know that if the Bulls are going to truly make a return to the level of contenders for the Eastern Conference championship, then Derrick Rose must return to his 2011 MVP level. It’s that simple.

Hissin’ Cousins

There are still issues with maturity, self-control and carrying himself like a professional and cornerstone of a team on a nightly basis. But the fact is that after four tumultuous seasons in the league, it’s time to stop denying that DeMarcus Cousins belongs among the NBA elite. He averaged 22.7 points and 11.7 rebounds last season, both numbers that were better than Anthony Davis, who was named to the Western Conference All-Star team and is recognized as on the cusp of superstardom. The Sacramento center had a productive summer at the World Cup showing that he could fit into the drive for gold and USA Basketball chairman of the board Jerry Colangelo sang his praises when it was over. There are still rough edges on the overall package. But the truth is that if the Kings franchise had made as much progress as Cousins, they wouldn’t be permanent fixtures in the draft lottery.

L.A. kings 

While the hockey team is defending its second Stanley Cup championship in three years, the would-be new royalty of West Coast basketball is still on the outside looking in at the NBA throne. In fact, the Clippers haven’t even been able to reach the Western Conference finals. While it’s been a lot of fun watching Chris Paul and Blake Griffin fill up the highlight reels, it’s time the stepchildren of Staples Center took the next step. Now that Doc Rivers has pushed and transformed DeAndre Jordan into becoming a consistent contributor, piling up a mountain of regular season wins is no longer enough. Time to make a defensive commitment to more than jumping in the passing lanes for steals.

Spurred on

San Antonio's Tim Duncan (D. Clarke Evans/NBAE)

(Photo by D. Clarke Evans/NBAE)

Since they started grabbing up this handful of five championships through an enduring run back to 1999, the only thing the Spurs haven’t done is repeat. Now with a foundation built upon senior citizens Tim Duncan and a wingman in Manu Ginobili, it might seem foolish to think it could finally happen. But it has proven foolish to write off San Antonio for nearly a decade as too old, too stale. The Spurs unleashed a fresh, exhilarating dose of team basketball last June that was a pure joy to watch. With Tony Parker running the show, Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard coming into full bloom and maestro Gregg Popovich managing all those precious minutes and pulling all the strings, only a fool would count them out.

Miami nice

After four straight seasons of living in the crosshairs as the uber-team that everybody else in the NBA hated, can the Heat re-invent themselves as a happy band of lovable overachievers and remain a playoff factor in the East? It’s certainly asking a lot of Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to get along without Ray Allen, Shane Battier, Rashard Lewis and — oh yeah — that other guy. Luol Deng wasn’t passed a baton, but an anvil that he’ll start lugging up and down the court on opening night.

New York, New York

The Knicks have spent $124 million to lock up Carmelo Anthony for the foreseeable future. OK, that’s the good news. Now all team president and basketball mystic Phil Jackson has to do is find another half dozen players to turn around a franchise where mediocrity goes to die while rookie coach Derek Fisher learns on the job. The Nets have a bonafide leader on the sidelines as Lionel Hollins moves in to replace Jason Kidd. Maybe he can re-light the fire that seems to have gone out under Deron Williams. But when you’re still counting on 38-year-old Kevin Garnett to help get you to the playoffs, you’re not going far.


  1. ajakkesiskut says:

    Thunder is too dependent on the 2. Cavs will make it to the Eastern Conference Finals.

  2. ism says:

    Time for DeMarcus BOOGIE Cousins to get the respect he earns , also from the media. It is not unlikely that he will be an even bigger success than anthony davis. Rarely does anyone seem to realize that, though.

    • Trucestiles says:

      I like your point regarding Boogie. I think he and Davis are two different type of players however. He is better on the block or even off the dribble – a center w power forward finesse. Davis is better mid-range player and far better defender. Either could be chosen over the other depending on the surrounding cast of other positions.

  3. Marco29 says:

    KG and Duncan are both 38 years old so why do you consider that the Nets are foolish to rely on KG to make the playoffs but it is brilliant for the Spurs to rely on TD to repeat? They are both great competitors and can still contribute on both ends of the floor.

    • fro says:

      simply put, the spurs do not rely on duncan. they rely on a team concept. maybe you didn’t see last season (or the previous 17). kg is in different situation and always has been. stuck in minn for so long. then part of “big 3.” now he is in NJ. if he is asked to be a team leader for experience that is one thing, but points? really? ask laker fans if they wanna depend on 36 year olds.

  4. kobeballhog says:

    This is the guarantee okc or durant will never ever win the championship as long as westbrook is there. Kobe will never ever win another ring again. A ballhog + overpaid salary will result to medoicrity. La clippers will still be in the mix. Spurs is as good as they can be. Heat will be in the playoffs. Cleveland will be the most exciting team to watch.

    • fro says:

      okc will never win a championship with kd there. i just hope he grows a backbone at some point, instead of deferring constantly to teammates and to competition. why doesn’t he ever get in westbrooks face? why does he only take what defenses give him? at some point he must take what he wants, right?

  5. wheresthabeet? says:

    You are correct. This is the meatiest season for Coach Scotty Brooks, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, and the OKC Thunder. C’mon guys, don’t let is down!!!!!!! You can do this!!!! Go Thunder!!!!!

    • #HAAAAN says:

      we all know that te lakers arent going anywhere, but never count out OKC. Durant just needs to put russell westbrook in check and take over the game. OKC has a way better chance than clippers due to their defensive presence. The clippers can put up over 100 points a night but they allow over 100 points a night also

    • theholyspectator says:

      okc will break up after this season. they not beating the spurs and going to the finals.