On Your Marks ...

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Let’s say you were so frustrated by the Celtics knocking the Cavaliers out of the playoffs two years ago and winning the NBA Championship that you ran off and joined the Peace Corps.

When you return to the States, ready to resume your NBA fandom, you find out that things have changed – a lot – since you’d left.

After a season in Cleveland, former Laker legend, Shaquille O’Neal – donning a bowtie – signed with the Boston Celtics. Kevin Durant became the NBA’s golden child and the Oklahoma City Thunder became the league’s trendy team. Ron Artest became a spokesman and philanthropist. Drew Gooden signed a five-year contract. Allen Iverson joined a team in Turkey. Fans now see LeBron James as a villain and Kobe Bryant as a statesman.

Yes, it’s fair to say that 2010-11 could be one of the strangest seasons in recent memory.

So as we count down the final hours of an offseason for the ages, here’s a Cavs.com primer for the coming campaign …


Change of Scenery
So that you’re not shocked to see Carlos Boozer in a Bulls uniform when you return home from the Peace Corps, some other address changes include Tracy McGrady with the Pistons and Darren Collison with the Pacers. Matt Barnes spurned Cleveland’s offer to suit up with former nemesis, Kobe Bryant. Raja Bell spurned Kobe to sign with Utah and Al Jefferson was dealt there.

Josh Childress left Greece and Hedo Turkoglu left Canada to join the Suns. Tyson Chandler was traded to Dallas, Michael Beasley to the T-Wolves and Trevor Ariza to New Orleans. David Lee headed west to Oakland and Amare Stoudemire, east to New York. LeBron and Chris Bosh bolted for South Beach.

Rudy Gay stayed in Memphis and Dirk, in Dallas.

On the Clock
Hornets point guard Chris Paul made mid-summer overtures about wanting out of the Big Easy, but that talk subsided as the regular season approached. The situation in Denver, on the other hand, only seems to get bigger by the day.

After seeing what big-name departures did to Toronto and Cleveland, the Nuggets are determined to get value back if they deal All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony – who’s refused to sign a lucrative extension to stay.

The Nuggets will likely try to avoid a year-long distraction and move the disgruntled superstar.

Early favorites to land Anthony have all sprung from the East, and his acquisition could affect the power structure of the entire Conference.

Fabulous Freshman
The league’s top rookie honors looks like a two-horse race – pitting last year’s No.1 against this year’s. Washington’s John Wall began terrorizing opponents in Summer League and hasn’t looked back, leading all rookies in preseason at 15.7 ppg. But last year’s top pick – Blake Griffin – has been unstoppable, averaging 17.3 points and 12.3 boards in six preseason contests.

Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins has been a beast this fall, averaging 14 and 8 for the young Kings. And Xavier’s Jordan Crawford, the kid who famously dunked on the erstwhile Chosen One, has been playing very well for Atlanta.

The Cavaliers – veteran-laden in the past – open the season with three rookies on the roster.

Samardo Samuels inked a deal with Cleveland after an impressive Summer League stint with Chicago. Christian Eyenga, the Cavs top pick from two summers ago, finished fifth among rookies in FG percentage during the preseason. And one of the biggest stories from Camp – Manny Harris – outdid Danny Green, earning a roster spot after finishing 9th among all NBA rookie scorers.

Getting Technical
Every year, the NBA incorporates a rule to protect the integrity of the game – or something to that effect. This season, the league is determined to curb player’s complaining about calls.

In 2010-11, refs will not tolerate players’ aggressive gestures or questioning; demonstrative disagreements; running directly at an official to complain about a call, or excessive inquiries – even in a civilized tone.

To prove its point, the NBA has doubled the fine for each technical, which now cost $2,000 each for the first five; $3,000 each for the next five; $4,000 each for the next five; and $5,000 starting at No. 16 – (plus a one-game suspension for every other technical from that point forward.)

Last season, the league collected $968,000 in technical foul fines and a one-night survey of eight preseason games last Tuesday showed a 350 percent increase in T’s. (Cavs forward J.J. Hickson has already seen the short fuse in action.)

Given the increased amount of the fines and a more watchful eye on potential offenders, the league could easily top the $2 million mark this season. No word on whether Joey Crawford gets a cut.

Grand Central
Two years ago, the Cavaliers snapped a 33-year Central Division drought – when they went on to win the division by an average of 15 games per season. If the Wine and Gold win the division this year – a tall order to be sure – they won’t run away on the competition like that again.

Slowly, the Central is building itself back up.

Brandon Jennings and Scott Skiles brought the Bucks back to relevance, winning 46 games and giving the Hawks all they could handle. They added Drew Gooden, Corey Maggette and Chris Douglas-Roberts in the offseason. Further down the shores of Lake Michigan, the Bulls are also locked and loaded – adding Carlos Boozer and Kyle Korver to an already-dangerous young nucleus.

The Pistons picked up Tracy McGrady and are still trying to pick up the pieces. And the Pacers, while preparing to reshape their roster with salary cap space next summer, picked up Darren Collison – giving them their best point guard option in over a decade. Mixed with Danny Granger and an improving Roy Hibbert, the Pacers could surprise some in the Central.

Top Men
The 2010-11 season will not only see changes on the floor, but also in the front office and along the bench. The Cavaliers, of course, are one of the teams that made wholesale leadership changes.

Chris Grant, 38, takes over for Danny Ferry, who returned to San Antonio’s front office. Grant has the task of rebuilding a team that won 127 regular season games over the past two seasons. And he’ll be doing it without Lance Blanks, who left the Cavaliers this summer to take the top job with Phoenix.

Blanks will have to deal with the departure of Amare Stoudemire, a challenge that new Nuggets GM Masai Ujiri might soon be facing. Billy King, once the top man in Philly, moves to New Jersey (for now). Former Boeing engineer, Rich Cho, takes over in Portland and one-time Spurs VP Dell Demps takes the reins in New Orleans.

In terms of the coaching carousel, eight new coaches will make their appearance, including Byron Scott.

Scott’s confidence and no-nonsense, no-excuses attitude have already taken hold in Cleveland. He’s vowed to implement the Princeton offense and an up-tempo mentality and, after a 6-2 preseason, looks like he’s gotten through to his new troops.

In Atlanta, Larry Drew takes over for Mike Woodson, one-time interim Cavs coach, Keith Smart, inherits the legendary Don Nelson’s post in Golden State and Doug Collins – still battling the effects of a concussion suffered on Memorial Day – returns to Philly as the Sixers coach.

Monty Williams will try to return New Orleans to prominence, Tom Thibodeau gets his big break in Chicago, Avery Johnson inherits a 12-win Nets club and Vinnie Del Negro moves to Tinseltown as the new Clippers head coach.