Posted Aug 5 2010 10:50AM
It should be an interesting season. No, it will be an interesting season. After a furious free agency period, and a series of player trades, and the potential of a long labor negotiation ahead, how could it not?
Well, upon closer inspection, a handful of players will be on the spot in 2010-11, for various reasons. Either they hold the key to their team's fortunes, or need an image makeover in the worst way, or circumstances could spell the end for them with their current team. Let's call their situations "intriguing." Yeah, that about describes it correctly.
Therefore, here are the 15 most intriguing players for the upcoming season.
15. Zach Randolph, Grizzlies. What a switch: Z-Bo made headlines for all the right reasons, for the most part last season. He was a double-double machine for the Grizzlies in what was arguably his most impressive stretch as a pro, confirming him as one of the top power forwards in the game. Of course, nobody ever questioned his game. Issue now is whether Randolph, a free agent next summer, has distanced himself enough from his shaky past to warrant a big-money extension. And whether the Grizz, after stretching their wallet for Rudy Gay, have what it takes to give him one.
14. Kevin Love, Timberwolves. Is he a role player, or is he a potential star? The Wolves need to find out, now that Al Jefferson is gone and the demand for a low-post player is high. He knows all the tricks of the game, and is better skilled than most think, but not particularly strong or athletic. Love does own what it takes to be the face of the franchise, given his charm.
13. Chris Paul, Hornets. Antsy and restless, Paul wants to play for a winner, but is stuck on a club where the distance between him and his next-best teammate is massive. Hornets would be better off without him only if they could swing equal value in trade, given they already have Darren Collison, intriguing backup point guard. Paul will play for his third coach in seven months and seems wary of the new regime change. Don't be surprised if he pouts his way through the season if things go sour.
12. Tony Parker, Spurs. This could be his final season in San Antonio, which would signal the end of the fabulous Manu Ginobili-Tim Duncan-Parker era. He's entering last year of his contract, which makes him trade bait, especially since the Spurs have his replacement, George Hill, who's much younger and cheaper. Most likely, San Antonio will make one last run and wait 'till next summer to take action on Parker, one way or another.
11. Blake Griffin, Clippers. Finally done with the Clipper Curse (hopefully) and ready to go after a one-year delay caused by knee surgery. The former No. 1 pick has the attitude, body and skills to become a star. If he wins the Rookie of the Year trophy it would make him the league's feel-good story. He still seems genuinely happy to play for the Clippers, which is admirable, given what happened to him.
10. Andrew Bynum, Lakers. The big man is looking to rebound from yet another significant leg surgery. At this point, it's fair to wonder if he'll ever stay completely healthy or reach potential. The Lakers must be concerned about his mental health as well; will Bynum always think he's an accident waiting to happen? If fully recovered, he could be the X-factor between the Lakers and a third straight title.
9. Josh Childress, Suns. He became a trivia question after he bolted Atlanta in a huff and played overseas for a few years, and upon return to the States, discovered that his Afro was no longer in style. "Chills" has the quirkiest jumper this side of Ronnie Brewer, but it works somehow. He thrives in the up-tempo, which makes him attractive to Steve Nash and the Suns. He could easily be named to the All-Surprise Team.
8. Corey Maggette, Bucks. He always stays in great shape, owns some mad skills, but for whatever reason has never been his team's best player or a favorite among his coaches. The nay-sayers accuse him of slowing down the tempo and taking a few possessions off, along with being selfish. None of that will fly with coach Scott Skiles, who's unafraid to confront a player when necessary. He can be a big plus for the Bucks if he accepts his role, hustles on defense and gets to the free-throw line often.
7. DeMarcus Cousins, Kings. He drew rave reviews for summer-league play and on-court demeanor. The latter is what made him a draft risk. The No. 5 pick could be a monster if he keeps his head straight. That's a big if, admittedly, until he proves otherwise. He has soft hands, good feel for the game, and size is exactly what Tyreke Evans and the Kings need to take the next step.
6. Joe Johnson, Hawks. Is the answer to the question: Who copped the biggest contract of the free agent summer? Solid pro, proven scorer and under-rated defender. Also very boring; doesn't fill the seats and hasn't made his team better in the playoffs. He dribbles too darn much. Don't forget how he burned bridges with fans during postseason ouster, which will not be forgotten if he or the Hawks start slowly.
5. Yao Ming, Rockets. China's most famous export has been in the league eight years, but only twice has played a full 82 games. He missed all last season with a bum foot and almost half of the previous year. Now at age 30, you wonder what's left and when the next injury is coming. Also on the last year of his deal, so much is riding on his health and impact this season. Rockets can be a decent team if he's on an All-Star level. If he returns to form, he would create open looks for Trevor Ariza and Kevin Martin.
4. J.J. Redick, Magic. He looked like he was back in a Duke uniform during the Eastern Conference finals, when he put a scare into the Celtics. That was enough for the Magic to match his free agent offer this summer and retain him. Suddenly, Redick is being penciled in to shove Vince Carter aside in the starting lineup, though admittedly that's not so tough to do anymore. The sharpshooter has the full confidence of coach Stan Van Gundy. He's embarked on a fitness regiment and looks leaner and quicker, with improved ability to score off the dribble. He's not great defensively, but not as bad as his rep, either. Could potentially be the difference if it comes down to Orlando vs. Miami.
3. Gilbert Arenas, Wizards. Is contrite and remorseful, quite a change from the immediate aftermath of Gungate. Hopefully for the Wizards' sake, this results in a better ballplayer. Agent Zero finds himself in the starting lineup on almost everyone's All-Overpaid Team, and his lead contract is the only reason he's still in Washington. He still owns the skills to be his team's best player, however, even with rookie John Wall. The Wiz would love for him to play his way into trade bait by February.
2. Greg Oden, Blazers. The former No. 1 overall pick is making a comeback from injury, which makes him feel like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. For someone who played only one year of college ball, and a scattered amount of NBA ball, Oden is sorely lacking in skill development, at least offensively. The Blazers will take rebounding and shot blocking for now, but with his contract up for extension soon, he must give the franchise a good reason to pay him big bucks. At this point will never catch Kevin Durant, the player the Blazers should've drafted, in hindsight.
1. LeBron James, Heat. The self-proclaimed 'King" is everybody's favorite punch bag now. The prime-time TV show was a mistake, but folks really dislike him for dumping Cleveland, the city of broken dreams. Had LeBron dumped New York, for example, nobody would hold a grudge except New Yorkers. He can't win in Miami, even if he does win championship, because critics will snort and say he rode D-Wade's coattails. It would probably be best for him to lie low, given his PR stumbles of late, but is that possible when the world will watch every dribble the Heat will take this season?
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