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Basketball October, 21 2013
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The 10 Most Intriguing Questions in the NBA this Year

Much like a classic Hollywood narrative chock full of intriguing plot lines, heroic and at times loathsome protagonists, and plenty of instances when one is left with more questions than answers following the climax, the start of another NBA go around promises similar fare. The uncertainty is what makes sports so dynamic. Sure, there are certain expectations and conclusions one can draw prior to the start of the season, but in a game where millimeters matter, and six seconds can be the inciting incident for what will ultimately be an odyssey toward six championships, the minutia is half the fun. From King James to a budding prince in Lawrence, Kansas, the two superstars coming off major injuries, and a slew of new faces in strange places, these are the 10 most intriguing questions in the NBA this year.

 

Will the Miami Heat 3-peat?
It’s been eleven years since the Los Angeles Lakers completed the last successful 3-peat in the NBA. If this year’s Miami Heat make it back to the proverbial mountain top in the East, it would mark not only the first legitimate attempt in over a decade, but an unprecedented four straight returns to the Finals – a feat putting them in the pantheon of winners with the likes of the Boston Celtics of the ’60s who went 12 out of 13 straight years (and won it 11 times). As of right now, the Heat are the odds on favorite to win it all according to Vegas (13/5). With the nucleus in tact and the addition of non-vital, yet full of upside talents like Michael Beasley and Greg Oden, the Heat are expected to win it all. Only time will tell if Miami is a suitable climate for a hardware store.

Can Derrick Rose return to MVP form?

Despite being medically cleared to return for the latter portions of last season, Derrick Rose chose to sit out the entire campaign – amidst criticism from NBA pundits and home fans alike who questioned his emotional toughness. The last time the Chicago Bulls faced the conundrum of having a star on the mend was during the 1985-86 season when Michael Jordan broke his foot in the third game of the season and ended up missing 64 games in total before coming back and bowing to the Celtics in the first round despite his 63-point double overtime performance. While not as serious as an ACL injury, many felt that Jordan’s career trajectory would be impacted by the decision to come back too soon given Chicago’s realistic chances of making a run in the playoffs. What do Jordan and Rose have in common? Each was on the right side of 25 when their career was derailed  – and we all know how it turned out for His Airness.

Will a 35-year-old Kobe Bryant be the same following tearing his Achilles?

While the venomous black mamba feeds off of hyraxes, rats, mice, squirrels, bats, bushbabies and elephant shrews, LA’s version seems to exist on negativity. It keeps him young in a city where aging is akin to not only being over the hill, but actually living over it. Michael Jordan and Karl Malone were the last – and only – NBA players to win the MVP at 35 – a full two years older than the next closest age bracket of winners. No one dares tell Kobe that he’s no longer elite, that’s his bodies job. With a less-than-stellar cast around him and all the wherewithal in the world, Kobe’s going to have to get his numbers or…

Who stands to win the Andrew Wiggins sweepstakes?

Maple Jordan is at the center of a draft class/free agency sweepstakes that could potentially shape the balance of power in the NBA for years to come. In addition to bona fide stars like Kyrie Irving, Tony Parker, Dwayne Wade, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Kenneth Faried being in play, the influx of the aforementioned Wiggins, Julius Randle, Marcus Smart and Jabari Parker headline one of the deepest drafts to date. While “riggin for Wiggins” isn’t an official rallying cry thus far, expect perennial basement dwellers like Charlotte, Orlando, Phoenix, New Orleans and Sacramento hoping for “the best worst-case scenario.”

Can Steph Curry break his own three-pointers-made record?

Steph Curry had a transcendent 2012 season. He had the distinction of being one of only four players – joined by LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Kobe Bryant – who averaged at least 20 points, five assists and four rebounds per game while hitting at least 45 percent of their shots. What further magnifies those numbers is that Curry broke the single season three-pointers made record which was previously held by Ray Allen. Having averaged 7.6 3-point attempts per game last season, even a marginal improvement in his shooting percentage would suggest that Curry has the greenlight to break another record.

Is Dwight Howard the piece that shifts the balance of power in the West?

The Western Conference is as wide open as it has been in years. With injuries that will linger into the regular season affecting the Lakers Kobe Bryant and Thunder’s Russell Westbrook, father time doting on the Spurs, and Memphis still having a lot to prove, Dwight Howard’s arrival suggests that “Houston might not have a problem.” If the failed Dwight Howard experiment in Los Angeles has taught us anything, it’s that looking at things on paper never fully quantify the elements that make professional sports so exciting. James Harden is fully intrenched as the leader of that club – which Dwight knew before signing – thus there shouldn’t be a power struggle, nor any reservations about the “system” Kevin McHale plans on running.

Can Doc Rivers get the Los Angeles Clippers over the hump?

We’d be remiss not to mention the Los Angeles Clippers after dissecting just how wide open the West is. With key pieces returning in Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Jamal Crawford, DeAndre Jordan and Matt Barnes, and the signing of knockdown three-point-shooters J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley, ultimately the biggest change will come via Coach Doc River’s system upheaval. Gone are the days of “Lob City” where a Chris Paul-led team has averaged 109.7 points per 100 possessions with him on the court over the last six seasons. Instead, Doc brings with him an Eastern Conference mentality that praises and applauds team defense over Sportscenter highlights. But just when you think that perhaps Donald Sterling has figured it out by giving Vinny Del Negro his walking papers, we must be reminded that last year’s Clips actually allowed fewer points per game (94.6) than Boston (96.7) last year.

Will an aging Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett have a major impact in Brooklyn and create a “Big Four?”

Championships aren’t won on paper, but if they were, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Deron Williams and Joe Johnson would be preparing to hang a piece of calligraphy-laden parchment from the rafters at the Barclays Center. In what is the biggest shakeup in the East, a team that was ousted by a painfully undermanned Bulls squad in the first round last year adds a couple of Boston transplants to solidify an already intriguing lineup (including Brook Lopez). Add in new coach, and sure fire Hall of Famer Jason Kidd, and you’ve got a recipe for sheer delight as if you were peering at the menu of Chef César Ramirez’s Brooklyn Fare.

Is Carmelo Anthony going to opt-out with the Knicks?

The expectations in New York transcend the world of sports – entering into a pantheon of successes and failures that spill into facets of arts, theater, architecture, and business. After telling ESPN back in 2011 that it would be his “ultimate dream” to play in New York, Melo ultimately was given his bout of Inception after being shipped from Denver. With small tweaks to their 2012 squad in the form of Andrea Bargnani and Metta World Peace, the Knicks are still a middle-of-the-road team who will be a tough playoff out, but not necessarily a contender chock full of young talent. With the Knicks able to offer Anthony the most money in free agency, there’s already rumblings that another prodigal son will leave home for warmer pastures. Is a change of scenery and cast really worth taking a four-year contract worth $95,897,372 over a five-year contract worth $129,135,806?

What draft pick will have the most impact?

Needless to say, it was rather shocking when David Stern called UNLV freshman Anthony Bennett’s name first at the 2013 NBA draft. Coming off a solid inaugural campaign where he averaged 16 points a game and 8 rebounds, many speculate that it was a proverbial toss-up at the top of the board because normally top selections leak days and even weeks in advance. As part of a class that includes Victor Oladipo, Otto Porter, Cody Zeller, Alex Len, Nerlens Noel, Ben McLemore and Trey Burke, we may have to look at last year’s rookie of the year, Damian Lillard, as a source for just who will have the biggest immediate impact. Lillard, the unanimous rookie of the year, – joining the likes of Blake Griffin in 2011, David Robinson in 1990 and Ralph Sampson in 1984 – was the sixth guard in the last eight years to win the award. With news of Trey Burke’s injury, look at Victor Oladipo, Ben McLemore and Michael Carter-Williams as three guys who are going to get their numbers.

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