NBA Season Preview: 4 Teams and Players to Watch
Much like the NFL this season, it appears the NBA will be a league of a few dominant teams and many non-contenders. With the season set to tip-off this week, let’s take a look at the title contenders and the players most likely to make headlines in the 2009-10 season.
1. Los Angeles Lakers- The Lakers are the defending champs and there is no reason to believe they won’t be in contention again this year. They will benefit from an early schedule that has them playing 17 of their first 21 games at home, giving them the chance to distance themselves from the rest of the pack in the Western Conference. There are plenty of question marks with this team though, starting with the man in the middle, Andrew Bynum. Bynum has struggled to meet expectations and stay healthy in his first four seasons in the league and the Lakers will be counting on the 21 year old to have a breakout season. He showed promise in each of the last two seasons but ultimately struggled to stay healthy down the stretch missing 79 games in the two years combined. The Lakers will also have to deal with the loss of Trevor Ariza, who was an integral piece of their championship run a year ago. The team will also need players such as Jordan Farmar and Adam Morrison to contribute off the bench so veterans like Kobe Bryant, Derek Fisher and Ron Artest can stay fresh throughout the season.
2. San Antonio Spurs- No team set themselves up better this off-season for a championship run than the Spurs. It actually works in their favor that they were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs last season because it allowed Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker to get some much needed rest. The move that may put the Spurs back in the Finals was acquiring Richard Jefferson from the Bucks and giving up nothing major in return. Antonio McDyess should be a solid contributor off the bench and DeJuan Blair may have been the steal of the draft. There are questions about Blair’s long-term durability but few players were more NBA ready than the rookie from Pittsburgh. The biggest difference between this Spurs team and past ones is depth. They won’t need to burn out their big three in the regular season which should set them up nicely for a postseason run.
3. Cleveland Cavaliers- The Cavs had an interesting off-season to say the least. The addition of Shaquille O’Neal was obviously the most highly publicized move, but they also added Anthony Parker, Leon Powe and JaMario Moon. It’s very hard to predict what type of production they will get from Shaq and it will also be interesting to see how he deals with splitting playing time with another big man in Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Cleveland probably has more pressure to win than any team in the league with LeBron’s pending free agency and that will likely be a huge distraction all season.
4. Boston Celtics- If one or two things don’t go well for the Celtics this year, it could easily be the Orlando Magic that take their place as one of the two title contenders from the Eastern Conference. No one really knows just how healthy Kevin Garnett is and he will probably need to ease back into playing major minutes. The front office became unhappy with Rajon Rondo in the off-season and tried unsuccessfully to trade him. It’s hard to win in the NBA when your distributor is not happy and Rondo may be just that. Rasheed Wallace was a decent acquisition but a 35 year old power forward was probably not exactly what this team needed. Boston is really one significant injury away from being an average team in the East.
1. Kevin Durant: The third-year pro averaged over 20 points per game in both of his first two seasons in the NBA and seems poised to win his first of many scoring titles this season. He is surrounded by other talented young players like Russell Westbrook, Jeff Green and James Harden which should make the Thunder one of the most exciting teams in the league to watch. Oklahoma City may be a year or two away from being legitimate contenders, but Durant is ready to become a superstar.
2. Ron Artest- He surprised a lot of people when he decided to sign with the Lakers and will have huge expectations playing for the defending champs. Many critics believe it would have been a wiser move for the Lakers to have kept the talented and much younger Ariza, but they instead opted to sign the 10-year veteran. Artest seems to have lost a step and may not be the perimeter defender that he once was but he still brings a lot of energy and experience to an already experienced team.
3. Vince Carter- Orlando decided to roll the dice this off-season when they added Carter and lost Hedo Turkoglu to the Raptors and the move could make or break their season. Carter has been inconsistent throughout his career and has never been on a true championship contending team. After leading the Nets in scoring last season, it may be a plus that Carter won’t have to be the number one scoring option for the Magic and will have less pressure to dominate games. A re-energized Carter could mean another trip to the Finals for Orlando, but a poor season could mean an early exit from the postseason.
4. Blake Griffin- The number one overall pick in this year’s draft will have high expectations heading into his rookie campaign and should have plenty of opportunities to make an impact with the lowly Clippers. If the teams veteran players (Baron Davis, Chris Kaman, Marcus Camby) can stay healthy and their youngsters (Griffin, Eric Gordon, Al Thornton) can contribute, the other L.A. team may have a chance to sneak into the playoffs as the seven or eight seed in the West.