Finally back in business! The 2014-15 NBA season is finally back after yet another long, long summer without competitive NBA basketball. While we had preseason ball on which we could reflect, it really just isn't the same. To that end, the wait is over! As usual, this season is bound to be full of unusual twists, and that's even more so given that the new commissioner, Adam Silver, will be experimenting different things throughout the year. We saw the beginning of this last week when the Nets took on the Celtics in a 44-minute game. While we can't predict everything, here are around 14-15 reasons why you should watch this upcoming season:
1. The Return (all of them):
Derrick Rose, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Bradley Beal, Rajon Rondo (technically), and Danilo Gallinari have all been the focus of the injury bug in the last 12-24 months. Most of these guys will be ready to go when the season starts, but a few, like Durant and Beal, will miss some game action. It's fairly obvious that the NBA is better with these players actually playing, so the overall level of play should ameliorate with these guys back on the floor. In the Eastern Conference, particularly, it'll be great to have two All-Star point guards return. With the Eastern Conference being relatively weak (a little stronger this year, though), getting two All-Stars always helps.
While his level of play may never reach pre-injury status, Kobe Bryant's impact to the Los Angeles Lakers franchise is forever understated. If anything, watching Kobe Bryant inch towards the all-time missed shots record (he's 99 bricks away) will be humorous. With Kevin Durant missing time, watching what the Thunder do without him should be almost as interesting as watching him play with them. When he returns is when the real fun starts, however.
2. LeBron James (and "Home")
Yeah, this one is kind of obvious. While Kevin Durant is catching up, LeBron James is still the best player in the world. That's saying something, given the fact that his defense has regressed in the last year. You've probably heard a million times that James took his talents back home this summer, so that's not the important part. The biggest piece in Cleveland isn't actually James this year. It's not even Kyrie Irving nor Kevin Love. The biggest piece will be Dion Waiters, or whoever can fill the role of the fourth scorer. As big as the "Big Three" was in their four straight Finals appearances in Miami, they wouldn't have made it that far if not for having another player step up. LeBron James is always a huge factor, but he won't be the key to Cleveland's success.
3. Relevant Dallas Mavericks
Last year, the Dallas Mavericks finally fought their way back semi-relevancy last season as they pushed the eventual champions, the San Antonio Spurs, to seven games in the first round. The addition of Monta Ellis turned out to be huge, and it paid dividends with their progress. Add Chandler Parsons and Tyson Chandler to that mix, along with a pair of veteran point guards in Jameer Nelson and Raymond Felton, and you have a team that's arguably as good as their 2011 title team. They have the depth, and now they have the size, so watch out for them in the West. Chandler Parsons is due to have a major breakout year.
4. Anthony Davis. Yeah, that's it.
Anthony Davis established himself as the third-best fantasy basketball player last season with his outrageously beautiful stat lines. Guess what! He's even better now. With his teammates finally healthy (Eric Gordon, Jrue Holiday, and Ryan Anderson are all good to go) and a real center to back him up in the paint, Anthony Davis is due for a second breakout year in a row. He's going to continue to score, rebound, and block the ball, but his passing instincts have finally adjusted with his larger body, and his range has extended. Don't be surprised to see Davis lead his Pelicans to a surprise playoff berth if all things go well.
5. Gregg Popovich sideline interviews
Does this even need a description? They're glorious.
Seriously, though, the Spurs are set to attempt a repeat. As much as they defy the logic of aging, at one point, they're gonna start to slow down. Since they defy critics who say that every year, I'm gonna say it: the Spurs will run out of gas this season. The only reason I'm saying that is because I want it not to be true. They do that every year. Basically, expect the Spurs to reach the Finals again. Unless they actually do run out of gas . . . Let me stop now.
No matter how well the team performs, the color scheme and the court design in Charlotte is enough to make me happy. Add on the fact that Charlotte will actually be good this season makes it even better. They snuck into the playoffs last season, getting swept by the Miami Heat with Al Jefferson hobbled by a foot injury. While Gerald Henderson was solid, the Hornets could use better perimeter play on offense with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist lacking on that end (THIS is the year he fixes his jumper. They swear. Again.). Therefore, they went out and signed Lance Stephenson, the leader in triple-doubles last season. He really could have a great impact on the team this year along with his backcourt mate, Kemba Walker, who just received an extension on his contract. Regardless, this team will be fun.
7. Bounce Brothers
Andrew Wiggins was spurned this summer, but looking at what's best for his career path, that might have been good for him. Now, he'll be catching lobs from Ricky Rubio on a regular basis (at least for the rest of this season, given Rubio's contract uncertainty). The Minnesota Timberwolves will be bad. Maybe they might surprise us with a few wins, but they won't be winning a ton. That said, they, like the Hornets, will be so much fun. Thaddeus Young, Zach LaVine, Anthony Bennett, and Andrew Wiggins will all be catching lobs this year. In fact, I think the entire Minnesota playbook is just halfcourt lob sets. So. Much. Fun.
8. Denver Nuggets and the Trade Block
If the Nuggets had the health that they do now with the roster they had last season, they arguably could have been in the running for that last seed in the playoffs. Having a great offseason, the Nuggets are a little too deep now. That used to be a selling point with George Karl's teams, but now, as a team on the outside looking in to the playoffs, they have a ton of trade targets on their team. Arron Afflalo, Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, and Javale McGee are all pieces who likely would be more useful in other locales.
9. #9 and Boston
Rajon Rondo, just 5 weeks removed from a surgery estimated to have a recovery time of anywhere from 6-10 weeks, could play in his team's season opener against the Brooklyn Nets. Currently, he's a "nap-time decision," but it really looks like he'll be in the lineup. While this means no Marcus Smart starting at point guard, I still think the two of them along with Avery Bradley, can exist together in a three-guard lineup. As much as everyone thinks that Smart=no Rondo, the league is trending towards lineups with two floor generals. If either Rondo or Smart can knock down open shots consistently, there should be no problem. Westbrook and Reggie Jackson did it last spring.
10. The Downfall of the Pacers
Paul George could very well end up playing this season. At the point when he could return, though, it may be too late. Already hit by the injury bug, the Indiana Pacers already lost a ton of talent in the offseason with the losses of Lance Stephenson to Charlotte and Paul George to that incident with Team USA. Roy Hibbert is now their #1 option on offense. Need I say any more? I head Jahlil Okafor will be really good this season for Duke. Maybe the Pacers will be bad enough to grab him.
11. That Really Big Tank
Oh, what was that about Jahlil Okafor? The Philadelphia 76ers will probably be worst, so the Pacers can give up that dream (partially kidding). They want ALL the picks. In all seriousness, they have a solid core coming up with twin towers Nerlens Noel (who's ready to play now) and Joel Embiid, Michael Carter-Williams, and Dario Saric coming around next year. Eventually, this team will be really good. In the meantime, though, they're really bad.
12. Ramifications of the new TV deal
Players are about to get seriously paid. Seriously. With that in mind, players from the 2011 Draft will likely look like bargain deals when the new TV deal hits in two summers. Will players set to hit free agency this summer take one-year deals to cash in a summer later or will they play it safe and take the money they're guaranteed now? An interesting story line to watch as the year progresses.
13. Adam Silver's Experiments
It's been less than a year since Silver has been in office as the NBA's commissioner, but he's already garnered a ton of popularity with the way he's handled the Isaiah Austin and Donald Sterling situations along with his willingness to try new things. To this end, he will continue his trend of experimenting, and as mentioned earlier, he's already started. Hopefully this leads to the end of sleeved jerseys.
14. So Far Gone
Drake, the rapper well associated with Houston, has a mixtape with this title. Ironically, Houston also is so far gone. They looked poised to catapult to the top of the Western Conference when faced with the possibility of grabbing Chris Bosh while keeping Chandler Parsons, but they lost both. At this time, they've tumbled to the bottom of the playoff picture, not really improving in any real way. Their frontcourt depth is thin, and they've lost key bench contributors. The only bright side is that Dwight Howard is finally healthy.
BONUS: 15. Life without LeBron James
Chris Bosh is going to have a monster year. While Dwyane Wade is definitely not playing in all 82 games this season, he'll have a big impact in the games that he does play. This Miami team looks like a middle of the pack team in the Eastern Conference, but they still have the last few prime years of Chris Bosh to cling to. Heat fans should cherish this. Sooner or later, the Heat will need to make moves to survive post-Bosh and Wade.
There's so much more to key in on this season, but not enough space to write about it. I guess you'll just have to tune in to see! Here's to a great season ahead of us.