CBSSports.com Senior Writer

NBA heat (not just that kind) at temps unseen since M.J.

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At a time when the NFL season is capturing the nation's consciousness and baseball pennant races are heating up, the opening of NBA training camps typically generates as much intrigue as a family of crickets tweeting –- or NBA players tweeting about another "great workout" or "lunch with the fellas."

Not this year. Not in an NBA that has been changed dramatically by a summer of player movement that continues to swirl into autumn.

The Heat's Big 3 -- and other movement around the league -- has reinvigorated interest in the NBA. (Getty Images)  
The Heat's Big 3 -- and other movement around the league -- has reinvigorated interest in the NBA. (Getty Images)  
Look no farther than Denver, where Carmelo Anthony said all the right things at media day Monday even while talks to finalize his divorce from the Nuggets progressed. Look to Portland, where Rudy Fernandez openly petitioned to be allowed to return to Europe, saying his days in the NBA are over. (At least until he's traded to a city with direct flights to Barcelona, anyway.)

Look at your television screen, where those three rascals in Miami who upset the league's balance of power appeared Monday in full uniform with defiant attitudes, vowing to prove their doubters wrong.

The NBA never will be the same after the Summer of LeBron, which gave us so much more to contemplate than the wanderlust of one player.

The free-agent bonanza of 2010 resulted in more summer season-ticket sales than at any time in NBA history. You don't have to like the decision by James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to join forces in South Beach to recognize that it was a transformative moment like no other the league has experienced.

The result –- and the domino effect that has been felt from Los Angeles to Chicago to New York -– is that the NBA never has been this consistently in the news or on the American sports consciousness at any time in the post-Michael Jordan era.

It was summed up rather nicely Monday in a tweet from the Wall Street Journal: "I never thought I'd live in a world where, 'Melo shows up for media day' is newsworthy.'"

Welcome to the NBA beat, Wall Street Journal!

The buzz isn't limited to Miami, and it isn't limited to the big markets. But much to David Stern's presumed delight, the major cities that generate the best TV ratings and most media coverage are filled with NBA chatter in a way that they haven't been in years.

With a young, athletic roster that's under the cap and built around superstar Amar'e Stoudemire, the Knicks are relevant again. (Not taking over the back pages from the Yankees yet, but it's a start.) Across the Hudson, the Nets are on the verge of making Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokorov's dream of challenging Madison Square Garden for basketball supremacy a reality with their efforts to pry Anthony from Denver.

The Celtics are still the Celtics, plus Shaq. The Lakers are still the Lakers, with Kobe Bryant hungrier than ever to answer the challenge set forth by the Heat. Orlando? The Magic have a new arena, a familiar looking roster, and a Stan Van Gundy-sized chip on their shoulders.

What the Midwest lost when LeBron left Cleveland, it gained in Chicago. The Bulls didn't get LeBron or Wade, but should be a top five team in the East with Carlos Boozer joining Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Luol Deng. (Let's not forget that coaches get to be free agents, too, and the Bulls have the LeBron-stopper, Tom Thibodeau.)

To be thorough, the hopes of small markets everywhere are riding on Kevin Durant's capable shoulders in Oklahoma City. The Thunder challenged the Lakers in the playoffs this past spring, and that was before Durant established himself as worthy of the kind off adulation and stardom that so far has been reserved for the likes of Kobe and LeBron. Funny, the most gifted young superstar in the league had to leave Oklahoma City to get the recognition he deserves. But he didn’t have to go to New York or Miami; only Istanbul, where he led Team USA to the gold medal.

And just so you know, we don't age-discriminate here. The Spurs (who aren't as old as everyone likes to say, anyway) still have their Big Three intact for one more title run.

What does it all mean? It means the NBA has created more interest off the court in the past three months than at almost any time on the court since Jordan made his last championship-winning shot against the Jazz. And despite what you'll see, read and hear over the next 29 days, it's not just about those who’ve taken their talents to South Beach.

What happens in 29 days? The defending-champion Lakers host the Rockets, and the Trail Blazers host the Suns, of course. Where will I be on Oct. 26? Guilty as charged: Heat vs. Celtics in Boston.


Before joining CBSSports.com, Ken Berger covered the NBA for Newsday. The Long Island, N.Y., native has also worked for the Associated Press and can be seen on SportsNet New York. Catch Ken every Saturday, when he hosts Eye on Basketball from 6-8 p.m. ET on cbssportsradio.com
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