Camp NBA: Teams open new season with plenty to prove
POSTED: Oct 1, 2012 2:17 PM ET
Miami's Big Three -- LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh -- are back and ready to defend.
HOUSTON — Give them a week and they'll be complaining about the rigors of two-a-day practices and the nuisance of having to prepare for a bunch of preseason games that don't even count.
But the truth is that less than 10 months after the lockout-induced season-on-the-fly, even the most grizzled of NBA veterans are admitting that having a full training camp is just what the doctor ordered.
Whether it's a 36-year-old Kevin Garnett coming back to Boston for an 18th NBA season or 19-year-old Anthony Davis embarking on his first in New Orleans, there are plenty of major themes to keep an eye on as camps begin:
Camp Once More With Feeling -- Miami Heat: It's likely wishful thinking for the rest of the league to hope that LeBron James suffers through a severe case of fatigue after playing virtually nonstop from the playoffs and through the summer with his participation in the Olympics. If anything, James is apt to feel unburdened now that he's gotten over the championship hump. Architect Pat Riley has said that a mistake he made after the Heat won their first title in 2006 was to come back for a defense with an almost identical lineup. This time the additions of Rashard Lewis and Ray Allen inject the defending champs with new blood, a new look and new energy as they return for an encore performance.
Camp Carry Me Back -- L.A. Lakers: After consecutive seasons of not even sniffing the NBA Finals, Kobe Bryant gets the help he needed in the surprising offseason additions of Dwight Howard and Steve Nash. However, before everyone skips over the next eight months and goes straight to the Kobe-LeBron NBA Finals mega-showdown in June, there is the matter of whether the surgically repaired back of Howard and the chronically ailing back of the 38-year-old Nash can hold up over the long haul. The last time the Lakers hastily constructed an All-Star lineup, one that included Karl Malone and Gary Payton in 2004, they never developed a cohesiveness and lost in The Finals to the Pistons. As if he weren't already under the gun of perpetually inflated expectations in Lakerland, it's rings or bust for coach Mike Brown.
Camp Arthritis -- Boston Celtics: Paul Pierce said he knew the Celtics were still in the business of chasing championships when they went out and signed 35-year-old free-agent Jason Terry to replace Ray Allen in the backcourt. Sure, Pierce will be 35 by opening night and Garnett is 36, but there's nothing old and gray about Rajon Rondo's game and Boston still came closer than anybody to taking down the Heat last spring. As long as there's enough Ben-Gay in the locker room and careful managing of minutes over the long regular season, there's probably no reason not to expect another snarling run-in between Boston and Miami in the playoffs.
Camp It's Easy To be Hard(en) -- Oklahoma City Thunder: Whether he comes to agreement on a contract extension this fall or waits to become a free agent next summer, James Harden is going to eventually be sitting comfortably on a big pile of money. But if he chooses to play out the string and leaves an open link in the tight chain of the Thunder, how will he and his close-knit family group in OKC deal with a season-long barrage of questions? Does it become a distraction or even a rift? When Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and their Thunder friends finally met their match against the Heat in the Finals, the general assumption was that it was simply one more step up the ladder of the learning process toward a championship. But that was before Howard and Nash united in the reloading of the Lakers and drastically altered the landscape of the Western Conference. There is no line of succession in the NBA, only opportunity gone by.
Camp Bling -- Brooklyn Nets: They are hardly the athletic descendants of Pee Wee, Campy, Duke, Jackie and the Boys of Summer. But when Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Brook Lopez and teammates take the court at the new Barclays Center, they'll be bringing a major league identity back to Brooklyn for the first time in more than a half-century, something that could upset the balance of power in New York. Everything from the deep pockets of Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov to the cachet of minority owner Jay-Z says the Nets are ready to step up into the big time. Now all that's left is for coach Avery Johnson to get his team to prove it.
Camp Fork In The Road -- Memphis Grizzlies: A year ago it seemed that everyone was predicting the Grizzlies to be the next big thing. They were coming off an upset of San Antonio and a stirring seven-game battle with OKC in the 2011 playoffs. Then along came the Clippers and an unceremonious first-round loss last spring. Can Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol get back to being the most rugged 1-2 low-post punch in the game? Can Rudy Gay take the next step down the All-Star path? Can point guard Mike Conley take the offense by the horns? The challenge now is for the Grizzlies to leave behind all the confusion about their lineup and their style of play to stake their claim as a legitimate upper echelon team in a Western Conference that just keeps getting tougher.
Camp Reset -- Philadephia 76ers: You have to admire the Sixers for not being satisfied with the status quo. It would have been easy enough to come off a second-round playoff appearance and claim to be making slow and steady progress. But for all that good work done by coach Doug Collins in coaxing the most out of his roster, the Sixers faced the reality that they simply weren't good enough to hang with the big dogs. Thus, Andrew Bynum is now in the middle of their lineup with something to prove. There is still a considerable gap between the Sixers and the Eastern elites, but assuming that Bynum can stay healthy and signs a new deal to stay, Philly now can realistically talk about moving up.
Camp Resurrection -- New Orleans Hornets: Who would have thought barely a year after complaining about the Chris Paul trade that was canceled by commissioner David Stern that there would be dancing on Bourbon Street over the future of basketball in New Orleans? With the drafting of Anthony Davis, the re-signing of Eric Gordon, the contract extension for coach Monty Williams and the lease extension to keep the team in town through 2024, the Hornets are opening a training camp when the future is all of a sudden blindingly bright.
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