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Dalionking
09-10-2008, 11:04 PM
Wednesday, September 10, 2008


How big a leap does Rodney Stuckey take in his second season? If Antonio McDyess returns to his super sub role, who takes his spot next to Rasheed Wallace in the starting lineup? How significant of a role will Kwame Brown command? Does Michael Curry handle the weight of being a head coach as unflappably as he’s handled everything to this point?

All of those start getting answered in less than three weeks now. If Tuesday night’s chill didn’t fully reinforce the notion that summer’s just about fully surrendered, then the fact that Pistons training camp is on the horizon ought to do it.

But let’s put the Pistons aside for a moment and look around the league. Here are the 10 storylines that should generate the most buzz:

1. How does Ron Artest’s addition affect Houston? When you sign on to Artest, you get the whole package – the good, the bad and the gruesome. On paper, Artest’s addition is brilliant. It gives an offense that often goes stagnant a third major threat, it lends an element of toughness to a team badly in need and it makes one of the league’s top defensive teams that much stronger. But Artest is the most volatile star in the league, more unpredictable in his unpredictability than Dennis Rodman in his heyday. It was an eminently worthwhile gamble for an organization treading water, but make no mistake – it’s a gamble that could leave them all traumatized.

2. How will the parts mesh in Philadelphia? The decision to sign Elton Brand in free agency appears a no-brainer, but it’s never that easy when you toss around the kind of money it required for the 76ers to lure Brand away from the West Coast. I’d also be a little leery about investing $80 million in a guy about to turn 30 with that body type coming off a torn Achilles tendon. Call me crazy. It sets Philly up to put a dynamic lineup on the floor, though. Brand makes Samuel Dalembert a better center because they no longer need him to be a scoring threat. He allows Thaddeus Young to bump over to small forward, where he’ll eventually overwhelm many opponents once his skills catch up to his athleticism. He moves Andre Igoudala to shooting guard – Igoudala has his own huge new contract to live up to – and Willie Green to the bench. The Sixers have the pieces in place to make the biggest one-season gain in the league.

3. How does Boston withstand the rigors of a title defense? Central to that question is this one: How can Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen muster the same intensity – the same “let’s pull together and sacrifice everything to prove all the critics wrong saying we’re not winners and we can’t sublimate our egos to a common goal” collective will – after playing with such unrelenting focus over nine months last season?

4. How does Jermaine O’Neal change Toronto? Again, on paper, this was an easy call for Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo. He had two quality point guards and needed to create a bigger role for one of them, so he swapped T.J. Ford and spare parts to land a guy who two years ago was recognized among the top handful of big men in the game and still is only 29. And even though O’Neal makes huge money – an average of $22 million left on his deal – it’s only for two more seasons. But nagging injuries have prevented O’Neal from being an impact player for long stretches of the last four seasons. Reports over the summer were glowing – then again, they were last season, too. If he’s hale, O’Neal and Chris Bosh could be the NBA’s top interior 1-2 punch.

5. How quickly can Portland come together? The Blazers went .500 in the rugged West last season and now bring on two players who could have enormous instant impact, Greg Oden and Rudy Fernandez. But Oden hasn’t been fully healthy since high school – he played half a season at Ohio State with a wrist so badly damaged he had to shoot free throws with his left hand, then missed all of last season rehabbing a knee – and there are questions about his long-term durability, as well. Fernandez has generated major buzz since the Olympics, but the transition to the NBA is usually more challenging for Europeans. There are other questions, too, including Brandon Roy’s health; the unsettled small forward position, where Martell Webster and Travis Outlaw job share; and the viability of Steve Blake as starting point guard for a contender.

6. How does Carmelo Anthony respond if it goes south in Denver? And it has an excellent chance of going south in Denver this year. Allen Iverson is in the last year of his contract. George Karl is a wild card. J.R. Smith leads the league in immaturity. And there are credible rumblings that Anthony was livid when he learned the Nuggets gave away Marcus Camby to lessen their luxury-tax burden. With the notion already out there that the Nuggets were quietly shopping Anthony this summer, a rocky start could lead Anthony to force management’s hand – as Iverson did in Philadelphia just two seasons ago.

7. How much help can Mo Williams provide LeBron James? Of all the moves GM Danny Ferry has made in his time in Cleveland, this is the one that has the most potential to fundamentally change the Cavs for the better. Williams will have to learn to pick his spots, but his scoring ability gives Cleveland its most reliable No. 2 option of the James era. It also eases some of the constant burden to both initiate the offense and finish it that falls to James.

8. How many grains of sand are left in the Phoenix hour glass? With Shaquille O’Neal and Grant Hill both 36 and Steve Nash 34, Muggsy Bogues might have trouble squeezing through what remains of the Suns’ window of opportunity. But put them together with Amare Stoudemire, Leandro Barbosa, Boris Diaw and low-risk free agent Matt Barnes and that’s a lot of firepower. Ex-Pistons assistant Terry Porter faces maybe the toughest job in the NBA this year. He’s going to emphasize defense to a team that’s been immersed in Mike D’Antoni’s high-octane offensive system the last few years and he has a delicate balancing act in managing the minutes of an aging team that doesn’t go particularly deep.

9. How much time does Jason Kidd have left to give Dallas? The Mavs paid a heavy price to acquire Kidd last February and didn’t get anywhere near the bounce they had hoped. Now they’ve brought in a new coach, ex-Pistons and Pacers coach Rick Carlisle, and cross their fingers that Kidd, 35, has enough left in his tank and, with familiarity, will click and make magic with Dirk Nowitzki and Josh Howard.

10. How close to the pre-injury Andrew Bynum will he be? And, deserving co-billing, how will Bynum and Pau Gasol finally mesh up front? Before he went down last season, Bynum – who is all of 3 months older than Greg Oden – was emerging as one of the top big men in the league, looking every bit the part of a future franchise cornerstone and perennial All-Star. He says he’s 100 percent. If that’s so, then Bynum and Gasol will be a devastating force, especially flying under Kobe Bryant’s radar.




Posted by Keith Langlois at 12:57 PM