The NBA is drawing closer. Opening night is now only 25 days away and with teams already fully locked into training camp mode, the anticipation around the league is starting to build. Laker fans have seen their new additions turn up to camp in great shape, sporting their new purple and gold gear while they speak of their excitement to play for such a decorated franchise and compete for a championship on a team packed full of all-stars.
Seeing a shot of Dwight Howard and Steve Nash pretending to complete an alley-oop play or hearing of Howard throwing down everything in practice is enough to get any Laker fan’s heart racing. In fact, why not have a little fun and increase the excitement even more? Bet on LA Lakers – they could win big this season.
But at this time of year, it’s almost like being a kid at Christmas, with the tree being brought into the house and the dust being blown off the boxes of decorations. It’s an exciting time. Except for the date we’re all focussing on right now isn’t December 25, it’s October 30.
That’s when the NBA is officially back. Pre-season games start tomorrow with the Boston Celtics taking part in the Europe Live tour – and the Lakers finally get back on the court on Sunday in Fresno – but the real games start on the 30th.
Of course, the team we all want to see is the Lakers. But, there’s also a lot of other great stories and teams to watch as the 2012-13 season gets underway. Here’s my Top 5.
5. Boston Celtics
The Lakers’ nemesis takes on Turkish team Fenerbahce Ulker on Friday to kick off the pre-season. For me, the Celtics are an interesting team to watch this season – if you can stand that horrible green uniform, that is.
Why? They took the Miami Heat to seven games last post season and nearly made it back to the NBA Finals. They made it tough on Miami and a huge reason for this was due to Rajon Rondo‘s inspired play.
Can Rondo come back this year and continue to lead the team the way he did in the Eastern Conference Finals? Can he continue to hit from long range and therefore make him pretty much unguardable? Can he be an MVP candidate?
The Celtics lost Ray Allen to the Heat but they responded by picking up Jason Terry and Courtney Lee. They instantly replaced Allen’s shooting and scoring by signing Terry and Lee will give them a great on-ball defender. They also have Jeff Green returning, so watch out for the Celtics in the East.
4. Brooklyn Nets
A new era has begun in Brooklyn. Jay-Z christened the arena in style and has the black and white snapbacks flying off the shelves. Along with their billionaire Russian owner Mikhail Prokhorov, they’re doing a great job of rebranding the Nets and making it a franchise that players want to play for – remember that Dwight guy?
The Nets didn’t rest on their laurels at any point this off-season, making moves both during and after the Dwightmare. They didn’t allow the failed Howard trade to stop them getting better and they improved their roster.
They brought back Gerald Wallace and traded for all-star Joe Johnson. Those two players have a lot of dollars tied up in them, so it’s somewhat of a risk, but their salaries are basically like loose change to the Russian.
Brooklyn also managed to retain the services of Kris Humphries – who has become a double-double machine in recent years – and they inked Brook Lopez to a new contract after their moved on from dealing with Orlando.
I think it will be interesting to see how the (literally) new look Nets play and compete with the Knicks for the best team in New York.
3. Denver Nuggets
The Nuggets did an amazing job this off-season by jumping in on the Dwight trade and picking up Andre Iguodala.
Iggy is still only 28-years-old and is a guy who can do pretty much everything on the court. He’s an underrated passer and a very good defender. He’ll fit in perfectly with George Karl‘s system. We saw first hand in the playoffs that the Nuggets love to run; Andre will fit in just fine there with the athleticism that he has.
Denver already had a deep team, but now they’re even better. Yes, they lost Arron Afflalo, who is also an underrated player, but Iguodala is an All-Star and just a better player overall.
The Nuggets will also have Wilson Chandler returning to the team, so they could be a problem in the West. They took the Lakers to seven games last post season, remember.
2. Minnesota Timberwolves
The Timberwolves looked like they were heading to the playoffs last season until Ricky Rubio got hurt versus our very own Lakers and this year they’ll have an improved roster, at least on paper.
Not only did Kevin Love get a load of experience while playing for Team USA in London, but they also added the Russian duo of Andrei Kirilenko and Alexey Shved. Brandon Roy will also be making his return to the league with the T-Wolves this year.
You know what you’re going to get from AK47: he’s a guy who doesn’t care about stats and just plays to win. He had some very good days in Utah and is especially good on the defensive side of the floor, where he uses his length to his advantage.
Shved and Roy bring mystery, though. While he was very impressive during the Olympics, Shved has yet to actually play in an NBA game. Then there’s Roy. While he’s meant to be looking good, how long will those knees hold up? Will his minutes be limited? Will he make it through the season?
Either way, the Timberwolves will be must see TV, especially once Rubio is fully healed and back out there on the floor.
1. Philadelphia 76ers
The number one team to watch for me – apart from the Lakers, of course – will have to be the Sixers. I’m probably slightly biased as they have a former Laker in Andrew Bynum, but I think they will be much improved across the board and therefore fun to watch.
They’ll have a full training camp with Doug Collins, something they didn’t get last season due to the lockout, and the additions of Jason Richardson and Nick Young should bring more scoring and space the floor for ex-Laker Bynum.
For me, Drew is always going to be an interesting player to watch, though I’m glad I no longer have to worry about those knees of his.
Once he gets back out on the floor (yes, he’s currently out of action due to a bone bruise…) I want to see how Bynum handles being “the man” in Philly. It’s apparently what he wanted, but you don’t always want what you wished for once you get it.
Pau Gasol – who knows all too well the strains of being a center piece – spoke about this the other day:
“It’s hard to know until you actually go through it,” Gasol said after the Lakers’ first practice of training camp. “He’ll go through it, but especially if he has such little time to prepare before the season, it’s going to be a little harder. … It’s a long year. Let’s see if his body holds up and see if he’s able to play through a whole year. That’ll be important. It was important last year for him to do that. But now with a different role with much more pounding, it’s going to be different.”
While Bynum struggled to deal with double teams last season – and that was on a team with both Kobe Bryant AND Gasol also drawing the attention from the defense – it was the first time Bynum really had the defensive focus on him as he was getting more shots and had an increased role in the offense.
With more experience under his belt, he will hopefully flourish in Philly. Despite his sometimes strange personality – both on-and-off the court – I have nothing against Bynum. He came to the Lakers as a 17-year-old and became one of the best players of his draft class and a top two center in the league, all the while playing in Los Angeles.
Can Bynum take on a bigger role? Can he deal with the double and triple teams? Can he stay healthy? Can he lead the Sixers to a high seed in the East? We’ll have to see; and that’s why the Sixers will be a great team to follow now.
Whatever happens this year though, this season is going to be a fun one, that’s for sure.