|What kind of season is LeBron about to gift us? (Getty Images)|
Maybe more than any other sport, the NBA feeds on stories. On angles. There's so much to discuss, to debate, to break down, to yell about. There are so many polarizing players, polarizing teams, polarizing situations that keep fans completely enthralled.
Storylines about specific players and their legacies, angles on superteams and their place in the league, discussions about who's best, who's overrated and who's climbing the ladder. The NBA truly is fascinating. Not to say the NFL or MLB doesn't have compelling storylines. Just not the plethora the NBA has.
The NBA has become an incredible product, built around an awesome game, terrific talent on the floor and a whole lot to talk about.
We're setting up for probably the single most interesting NBA season in 20 years. Which means there are lots and lots of story lines.
So here are 25 big ones:
1. Dwight Howard and Kobe. The Lakers are probably the NBA storyline this season, but that's obvious. It's more about what's inside of the Lakers -- how the relationships work, how the team jells, how the roster plays together, how the chemistry fits. And that all starts with Howard and Kobe.
The team is very clearly Kobe's. He's pretty much like Charlton Heston right now: From my cold, dead hands. Howard might genuinely be the best player on the roster, but Kobe isn't giving anything up. Don't misunderstand: Kobe's mission is to win. And it's not that Kobe wants to win on his terms. He's just convinced that winning happens through him first.
Will there be a battle in the Lakers' locker room for control of the team? Howard not only isn't the alpha on this team, he must fit in with two other very talented players as well. How will he respond to being a defensive pawn, a player that's only the floor to do a job and not to carry the load? Will he accept being the best defensive bit player in history?
And will Kobe throw him a bone? Can the two get along? If things go south, if there's a five-game skid, will the finger-pointing begin? Where does Mike Brown fit in?
I'm telling you, you can't talk enough about this Lakers team.
2. Steve Nash and Pau Gasol. Like I said, you can't talk enough about this Lakers team. The Kobe-Howard situation is the most intriguing inner-Laker story, but the possibilities of Nash and Gasol are fascinating. And terrifying for the rest of the league.
Is Pau Gasol the best player that Nash has ever run the pick-and-roll with? Amar'e Stoudemire was very good, but did he have the overall, complete game like Gasol does? Can't you just picture a little Nash-Gasol screen-and-roll with Howard on the weak side waiting? All while Kobe mutters F-bombs under his breath?
It's going to be amazing.
3. Chris Paul's quiet impending free agency. Nobody wants to talk about it, but Chris Paul is going to be an unrestricted free agent after the season and it's no guarantee he's set on staying with the Clippers. The team made a solid leap last season by advancing to the second round of the playoffs. And while Lob City is a joy, the Clippers' style of play really don't actually suit Paul.
He's not a fly-up-the-floor-and-throw-oops-all-the-time point guard. He wants to grind possessions, slow things down and run sensible sets. He doesn't want to freelance and fly around like Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan seem to prefer. Griffin's not a viable pick-and-pop option and, stylistically, Paul and Griffin might not fit as well as you might think. Griffin is a pounder, a brutal, overpowering force. Not a technically gifted big like Paul probably meshes with best.
So with free agency a season away, will the Clipper vision satisfy Paul enough to stay? Will he be evaluating this season to make that long-term choice? And if the Clippers get the sense it's not working, if they are struggling at the deadline, could CP3 be on the block again?
4. The rebirth of the Warriors? It has been kind of a strange process to restore the Warriors. Scrambled trades, weird signings and a philosophical overhaul. But in the end, they're close to getting what they've been working for. They have a roster that should potentially compete for a playoff spot.
There are a ton of variables there like if Stephen Curry's ankle holds up, if Andrew Bogut is healthy and if Klay Thompson really is the player we think he is. But for the most part, the Warriors appear to be on the road to relevance again.
6. Miami's title defense. Not one, not two, not three, not four... Does that run continue this season? The Heat put one away already, and now LeBron can begin on making us all looking like idiots for making fun of him.
7. Harden in Houston. It was probably the biggest NBA trade of the season, and it happened before the season even started. More stunning than the Howard trade, more unexpected. It doesn't have the same ripple effect because the Rockets aren't all of a sudden a contender and the Thunder irrelevant. Still, it brought the NBA to its knees for a weekend.
Can Harden handle the alpha role? Will he regret turning down OKC's money when he's getting bracketed and double-teamed with only Omer Asik and Chandler Parsons to pass to instead of Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant? Can he lead the league in scoring? Will he be an All-Star? How does he fit with Jeremy Lin?
The Rockets might not have made a significant leap this season, but they certainly are now one of the most interesting teams to follow.
8. How good is Anthony Davis? Most of us pretend smart people have him locked in as the Rookie of the Year. But is he such a Duncan-esque difference maker that he reverses New Orleans' course in only a season? We know he's going to impact the game defensively, but what about offensively? What will his numbers look like this season -- 12-10-3?
For such a sure-thing pick as Davis, it seems a lot of us don't really know what to expect from him.
9. Hello, Brooklyn. Not only have the Nets overhauled the franchise with a new city, a new building, new uniforms, colors and branding, but they've actually got a roster that appears ready to do something other than lose 50 games. Deron Williams has real teammates now, real players to count on, pass to and work with.
The jury is out on if they're a top-four seed or simply first-round fodder for Miami or Boston, but that's what we'll have to wait and find out about.
10. The reinvention of Melo. Carmelo Anthony claims he's going to work to fit more, play more efficiently and restore himself as one of the league's elite players. He wants to play more power forward and show off some versatility.
There's no denying Melo's offensive talent. He's probably the most gifted overall offensive player in the game. Inside, out, strength, finesse -- he has it all. But is he in the Durant-LeBron mold of being able to champion a roster and carry them to a higher place? Is he a darkhorse MVP candidate? Or will it be more of the same? Nice numbers but something to be desired, namely in the win-loss column?
11. When does Derrick Rose return, and can the Bulls survive? There's no real timetable yet for Rose, but the Bulls' season comes down to two big questions: 1) Can they survive long enough until Rose comes back and, 2) How will he be when he does?
The answers to those will determine whether it's another disappointment in Chicago or if they're poised to return as one of the Eastern elite.
12. Is Kyrie Irving about to become a superstar? I think so, and I'm excited to watch him. But does that mean he can carry the Cavs?
14. Are the Nuggets really going to contend? It feels like too many people are jumping on the Denver bandwagon. They're reaching that point of darkhorse saturation, where they go from trendy underdog pick to overrated reach. The Grizzlies were a pretty chic pick last season, but injuries and disappointing performances killed that. Will the same happen to Denver?
15. Lob City, part two. Regardless of if they're a true contender, there will be dunking.
16. Phoenix, post-Nash. I don't know if it's going to be sad or exciting. I lean toward the former.
17. The Zombie Spurs. Keep closing their window and saying this is the year. They'll just continue to win 50 games, finish in the top four and compete for a title. Go ahead. Say they're too old and it's almost over. It might make them win 37 games in a row.
18. Is it coming to an end for the Mavs? Injuries to Dirk Nowitzki and Chris Kaman already have them starting Eddy Curry. That seems like a bad sign. They scrambled to put together a viable roster after missing out on Deron Williams in free agency. And while Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson's work was admirable, will it a) get them into the postseason and, b) have them compete past the opening round?
19. Can the Wolves keep their heads above water? What appeared to be a promising breakout season for the fun-loving Wolves just a few weeks ago already is taking on water. Ricky Rubio isn't set to return until December at the earliest, and Kevin Love could be out for two months. Unless Derrick Williams can live up to his No. 2 pick status, the Wolves might be in a hole too deep to dig out of when their horses return.
20. Linsanity. What's a shame about Lin's upcoming season is he already has doubters and a substantial number of people rooting for him to fail. He never asked for the hype, never asked for the scrutiny. It was the Knicks who decided to let him walk. And while he's probably overpaid and there are some waiting to pounce on his first poor game, the reality is the guy proved he can play.
Is he good enough to make a big difference in Houston? Who knows? But he has help now. While Lin might not put up insane numbers, all the Rockets need is steady point-guard play to validate their choice.
21. Another final run for Boston. Ubuntu might be on life support, but the Celtics have recovered and likely strengthened their side. The additions of Jeff Green, Jason Terry, Courtney Lee and rookie Jared Sullinger have injected new life into Boston. And while Paul Pierce and Garnett are a year older, there's a new energy coming out of Boston about the Celtics.
Do they have one more run in them? If they meet the Heat again, do they have enough to overcome LeBron? They're putting a lot of eggs in the Jeff Green basket. If he lives up to the hope that they have, Boston might just have something brewing.
22. Are the Pacers truly contenders? Nobody wants to really talk about them, but they've improved a team that was up 2-1 on Miami before completely falling apart while simultaneously helping to kick off LeBron's kill-everything-in-the-world run. They're good. How good though?
23. Damien Lillard. The buzz is buzzing about Lillard, who is drawing comparisons to Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose and other big scoring point guards. He's got people wondering if he's Anthony Davis' competition for Rookie of the Year. He's got people wondering if a terrible Blazers roster can make a run at eighth in the West. Basically, he's got people losing their common sense and minds right now.
Which means he's going to be really fun to watch.
24. What do you make of the Thunder now? They might have downgraded and damaged their title chances, but the team still has Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka. While losing Harden appears devastating, it's not like the Thunder replaced him with Damien Wilkins. Kevin Martin is no slouch. He's certainly different than Harden stylistically, and the Thunder will have some new integrating to do. But the team should still be a legit contender this season.
Maybe they aren't a favorite anymore and maybe they have a slimmer margin for error, but don't write off Oklahoma City. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are far too good to do that.
25. LeBron. What kind of season is he about to have? Is this the beginning of his run at establishing a kind of greatness that we haven't seen since Jordan? Is he about to begin a reign over the league? Is he satisfied from the title and about to battle complacency? Or is he only more motivated than ever to taste the feeling of victory again?
There's no question that LeBron is on a path to legendary status, but it's a matter of how far that bar rises. He went to a scary level in the postseason by breaking Indiana's back, cutting Boston's knees and then hammering Oklahoma City with a Magic 2.0 impression. What's next for LeBron? Even if you hate the NBA and think the other 24 reasons on this list are worthless, LeBron makes the 2012-13 season worth watching.