Ten storylines worth following as the NBA season commences:
How long will it take the Cavaliers to mesh? The Cleveland Cavaliers had the most dynamic makeover of the offseason, signing LeBron James and trading for Kevin Love. The talent is obvious, particularly with Kyrie Irving already there. But players don’t instantly learn each other’s games. The positive is James is such a connector it’s relatively easy for anyone to play off his skill set.
Are Derek Fisher and Steve Kerr ready? Fisher, with the New York Knicks, and Kerr, with the Golden State Warriors, became head coaches without previous coaching experience. This isn’t unprecedented, but it also isn’t easy. Fisher has to navigate New York’s tabloid media and Kerr inherits a team with high expectations.
Can the Wizards and Thunder overcome key injuries? Oklahoma City forward Kevin Durant has a broken foot and Washington shooting guard Bradley Beal has a broken wrist. Both are key members of their teams – Durant was last season’s NBA MVP – and both will miss more than a month of the regular season. That’s a big hit for teams expecting to make the playoffs and contend for division titles.
How much does Kobe Bryant have left? The ultra-competitive Bryant turned 36 in August. Center-forward Pau Gasol left the Los Angeles Lakers for Chicago and point guard Steve Nash looks used up. If Bryant could somehow will the Lakers into playoff contention, it would be a feat even for him.
Did Carmelo Anthony do the right thing re-signing in New York? Maybe it was Phil Jackson’s sales pitch. Maybe it was Anthony’s affinity for the Big Apple. Maybe it was the Knicks’ ability to pay him more than any other team. But Anthony turned down playing with more talent in Chicago and Houston to return to a team a long way from contention.
Are the Suns for real? Phoenix won 48 games in coach Jeff Hornacek’s first season there, just missing the playoffs. The Suns have a terrific backcourt in Goran Dragic and newly re-signed Eric Bledsoe. The elements are there for a breakthrough season, but that’s tougher to do in the Western Conference.
Is Gasol the missing piece in Chicago? The Bulls amnestied Carlos Boozer, looking to make a big splash in free agency. They missed out on Anthony, instead signing center-forward Pau Gasol. Gasol can’t supply the scoring Anthony does, but his versatility should make Bulls center Joakim Noah that much better.
Time for the Clippers to thrive? The racially-charged circumstances of Donald Sterling’s forced sale of the team could have been a huge distraction for the players. Coach Doc Rivers’ leadership got the locker room through last season. Now it’s time for Chris Paul and Blake Griffin to chase rings.
Who wins the Atlantic? The Toronto Raptors won a division title last season somewhat by default. The Nets and Knicks had injury troubles, the Celtics are re-building and the 76ers set out to lose. With Brook Lopez back, Brooklyn should give the Raptors a run this time.
Can the Spurs win another title? Yes, particularly if Kawhi Leonard’s performance in the playoffs last spring is indicative of his improvement. San Antonio needed to get more athletic to complement Tim Duncan and Tony Parker in the latter stages of their career. Leonard fills that need.