NBA: 25 Storylines To Follow As 2013-14 Season Nears
Outlook Entering The 2013-2014 NBA Season
While it may seem to some that LeBron James and the Miami Heat just completed an epic NBA Finals win over the San Antonio Spurs, it is official that basketball is almost back. Yes, preseason play has started, and the regular season is due to begin on October 29.
Heading into the 2013-14 season, a number of teams will look vastly different both for better and worse. Throughout the summer, a number or players fought to return from injury, switched teams in free agency or were traded from places they felt comfortable in. On top of this, some teams advanced their fortunes through the NBA Draft, ensuring that the 2013-14 season will bring a plethora of top teams that have seemingly been absent in recent seasons.
The result of this is that a large portion of teams will have much more pressure than in recent years to win games, and possibly even topple the Heat to win an NBA title. Of course, this is good for the game as fans will have the pleasure of watching games with higher pace; but for the players and executives, this will mean much more pressure to step up their play from the get-go than in previous seasons.
This type of thinking will have a number of executives looking for blood before the 2013-14 season ever begins and will inevitably have a direct result on the on-court product. With this in mind, I have formed a list of the 25 NBA storylines to follow as the 2013-14 season nears.
25. Kevin Love Returns From Injury
After being limited to 18 games due to repeated injuries to his shooting hand during the 2012-13 season, Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love will attempt to play a full season. Doing so will be crucial to both his and the Timberwolves' fortunes, as both need each other to be successful. An inability to stay healthy will likely lead to Love being shipped out of Minnesota, and will likely cement a reputation for the big man as being fragile.
24. Paul George Looks To Join NBA Elite
During the 2012-13 season, Indiana Pacers forward Paul George took a huge step forward, yet remains just outside of the NBA's elite players. It will be interesting to watch and see whether George can up his regular season points total from the 17.4 per game average he had during the 2012-13 season, which will be crucial in developing his stature within the game.
23. The Race For Andrew Wiggins Begins
While most teams will enter the 2013-14 season looking to contend for a playoff spot at the very least, some teams will be already be looking towards the 2014 NBA Draft. Luckily for these teams, college prospect Andrew Wiggins has been hailed as a once-in-a-generation talent, and will have executives in Charlotte, Phoenix and Philadelphia quietly hoping for their teams to tank this season.
22. Can Stephen Curry Win A Scoring Title?
Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry has shown an innate knack to score during his four-year career, raising his average point total from 17.5 as a rookie to 22.9 in 2012-13. This total increased to 23.4 over 12 postseason games, and has increased the hype as to whether Curry can approach 30 points per game in 2013-14. If he does, he will be firmly in the race for the NBA scoring title.
21. Just How Far Can Memphis Grizzlies Go?
After making the playoffs in three consecutive seasons and advancing to the Western Conference finals last season, the Memphis Grizzlies can officially be called a legitimate playoff team. This title brings a bit of pressure though, and raises the question of how far Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, Mike Conley and company can advance in 2013-14. Based on recent successes, it would not be difficult to see the Grizzlies advance to the NBA Finals this season.
20. Carmelo Anthony Enters Contract Year
With Carmelo Anthony entering a contact year in 2013-14, there will be massive pressure on him to prove he deserves a max contract and for the New York Knicks to prove that they deserve to keep him. Anthony has already stated that he will check his options in free agency, so look for Knicks management to do all things possible to keep their star in town. Winning an NBA Championship would surely go a long way to keeping Anthony happy.
19. Denver Nuggets Play Without George Karl
After taking the Denver Nuggets to the playoffs in each of the last nine seasons but only advancing past the first round once, head coach George Karl was let go in the postseason. This move was somewhat surprising, and has officially removed the biggest rock of stability in Denver, which could throw the team into flux. Starting the season off on a roll will be a big step in showing that the organization can move on successfully without Karl.
18. Can Dwyane Wade Stay Healthy?
Over the last two seasons, Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade's health has been a major question on a night-to-night basis. This has had a huge impact on the sometimes erratic play of the team. A full offseason to recover will have Heat fans hoping that Wade will come back refreshed and approaching the form of the guy who scored 25.5 points per game in 2010-11 instead of 21.2 last year. Still, at 31-years-old and a body that is breaking down, it could yet be an adventure with Wade's health once the season begins.
17. The Mentality of Omer Asik
When the Houston Rockets signed Dwight Howard during the offseason, it seemed as if Omer Asik would be out of a job, even though the center did not play poorly in 2012-13. Asik was not happy about this decision, letting it be known publicly, and it would be hard to imagine this internal angst going away with him sitting on the bench once the season begins. This angst could potentially bring some issues to the Rockets' locker room, which could be difficult to overcome.
16. Dirk Nowitzki Enters Contract Year
While Dirk Nowitzki has been a member of the Dallas Mavericks organization for the entirety of his 15-year career, the star forward enters the 2013-14 season with one year left on his deal. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has immense respect for Nowitzki, and will likely move the star to a playoff team if things go awry in Dallas to give him one last shot at an NBA Title.
15. John Wall Looks to Play Full Season
After being somewhat limited by injuries in each of his first three seasons, Washington Wizards guard John Wall will look to play his first full season in 2013-14. Doing so will go a long way towards the Wizards finally taking a step towards playoff contention, whereas another injury-riddled season could see major changes within the locker room.
14. How Bad Will Boston Celtics Be?
After trading Jason Terry, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the Brooklyn Nets during the offseason and losing head coach Doc Rivers to the Los Angeles Clippers, there are major doubts going into the Boston Celtics' season. New head coach Brad Stevens will not have high expectations for the 2013-14 season, but with point guard Rajon Rondo on board, it stands to reason that they will not be as bad as many believe. On the flip side, Rondo could be out of town rather soon, so maybe they will be joining the Andrew Wiggins sweepstakes.
13. Old Guard In San Antonio Gears Up For One More Run
After narrowly missing out on the NBA title last season, the San Antonio Spurs will bring back the big three of Manu Ginobili, Tim Duncan and Tony Parker for what could be one last season together. Look for head coach Gregg Popovich to rest this trio during the regular season in hopes that he could win a fourth NBA Championship with the trio together.
12. Greg Oden Looks to Finally Stay On Court
Since being drafted no. 1 overall at the 2008 NBA Draft, Greg Oden has played a lowly 82 games and dealt with a massive amount of injuries. This led many people to think Oden's career was over, but the big man surprisingly signed with the Miami Heat during the summer. While he will likely not be expected to play many minutes at first, the Heat will need his presence in the interior once the playoffs roll around. If Oden is not present when that occurs, expect his career to finally come to a disappointing end.
11. Andrew Bynum Experiment In Cleveland Begins
The Cleveland Cavaliers will be looking to get another big man back on the court, but this one is center Andrew Bynum. After missing the entire 2012-13 season, few will expect much out of Bynum, but it stands to reason that he could come back as an All-Star caliber center. This was exactly what he was during the 2011-12 season with the Los Angeles Lakers, and it is clear that potential buys time. It will be worth watching if Bynum will continue buying time with his potential or come back at full strength in 2013-14.
10. Will Nerlens Noel Play In 2013-14?
Recent reports have come out that Philadelphia 76ers center Nerlens Noel could miss out on the entirety of his rookie season because of an ACL tear that occurred in March. This seems like a lengthy period to sit out even for an ACL injury, and as the season progresses, we could see a Derrick Rose-esque situation begin to formulate in Philadelphia.
9. Play of the 2013 NBA Draft Picks
The 2013 NBA Draft was widely recognized as a poor crop of youngsters, which will make their opening season exciting specifically to see if they will be as poor as advertised. High picks Anthony Bennett, Victor Oladipo and Otto Porter will be amongst many who will look to show that their draft class is better than advertised.
8. Will New Orleans Pelicans Have Breakout Season?
After acquiring star point guard Jrue Holliday to accompany an impressive haul of young players, the New Orleans Pelicans have been lauded as the potential breakout team of the 2013-14 NBA season. How Holliday meshes with Anthony Davis, Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans and company will dictate whether the Pelicans become a top team going forward.
7. Can Doc Rivers Bring Playoff Success to Clippers?
Doc Rivers was brought into Los Angeles with the sole purpose of getting Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan to win an NBA Championship. Doing so will require him to get the group away from playing the high-flying type of game that has made them so famous, and mold them into playing effective half-court basketball. This will surely be a season-long process, but fans and the media will not be looking to give this much time to wait for positive results.
6. Will Brooklyn Nets' Acquisitions Work Out?
The Brooklyn Nets acquired Jason Garnett, Jason Terry and Paul Pierce this offseason with the main goal of getting towards owner Mikhail Prokhorov's stated goal of winning an NBA Title. The organization also acquired Jason Kidd to be this group's head coach, which will result in a number of different dynamics pulling the team in a number of different directions. It will be up to Kidd and these three veteran acquisitions to get the locker room to gel together, and also to be prepared to be successful during the playoffs.
5. Dwight Howard Begins Career In Houston
After a tumultuous offseason, Dwight Howard will finally get his chance to shine on the court in late October for the Houston Rockets. The star center will look to show he is fully recovered from a back injury that hampered him in 2012-2013, and avoid the clash of heads that followed him from Orlando to Los Angeles.
4. Kobe Bryant Returns From Achillies Injury
When Kobe Bryant went down with a torn Achillies tendon during the 2013 playoffs, many people thought that the star guard's career would be over. Ever the fighter, Bryant refused to give in and looks prepared to get on the court early in the 2013-14 season. Just how effective he will be recovering from this injury at the age of 35 will go a long way towards deciding whether his career ends after the 2013-14 season and whether the Los Angeles Lakers will make the playoffs during the season.
3. Can Oklahoma City Get Over the Hump?
During the previous four seasons, the Oklahoma City Thunder have steadily progressed from a surprise contender to a team that is expected to win an NBA Title. Heading into the 2013-14 season, this will put massive pressure on star players Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to finally show that they can play a successful game when it counts most -- in the playoffs. An inability to do so could eventually result in Durant moving out of town, as new agent Jay-Z has not been shy in letting known he wants to make a big splash with his clients.
2. The Health and Performance of Derrick Rose
One of the biggest questions of the 2012-13 season was whether Chicago Bulls' Derrick Rose would return to the court from a torn ACL suffered during the previous season. Ultimately Rose did not return, leading many people to openly question his toughness and wonder whether he would ever return. Rose has returned to action during the 2013-14 preseason, but undoubtedly his performance and health throughout the regular season will be heavily scrutinized.
1. Can the Miami Heat Get the 3-Peat?
The Miami Heat, led by the big three of Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh, won a second straight NBA Championship during the 2012-13 season. This left the Heat with the opportunity of becoming the first organization to complete a three-peat since the Chicago Bulls did so. Doing so would likely ensure that LeBron James does not leave through free agency following the season and will also put the team in the conversation of the best team ever.