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As camps open in the coming days, which two teams in the West will you be keeping an eye on and why?
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Steve Aschburner: The Lakers and Wolves. The first one is for obvious reasons, given the circus atmosphere and presumed culture change that will accompany LeBron James' arrival. The second is more personal, given my time logged in Minnesota and Chicago, and my familiarity with the Timberwolves' people, history and tribulations. Or would that now be Thibs-ulations? Jimmy Butler needs his best year from his best self, team-wise, while seeding aside his Summer of '19 focus. Grabbing at the reigns of leadership isn't the same as actually leading with what a team needs.
Shaun Powell: The Lakers and Wolves. Naturally, there's a LeBron James-created buzz that begins the moment he appears in uniform on Monday for media day. How he bonds with the Lakers' young core and their interesting mix of vets on one-year deals will dictate the Lakers' success in the short-term. As for the Wolves, this team is nuts right now, with Jimmy Butler calling a meeting before camp and Karl-Anthony Towns refusing (so far) to sign a contract extension. Where's the love?
John Schuhmann: The Lakers and Timberwolves. In L.A., there's intrigue in how this is going to work with LeBron James and a very different kind of supporting cast than he had in Cleveland. There are questions in regard to both how they're going to play (especially offensively) and what their rotation will look like (is James going to play some center?). In Minnesota, it's about the future of Jimmy Butler, who can become a free agent next summer and who clearly isn't 100 percent happy with how things have gone since he was traded to the Wolves 15 months ago. This is one of the most talented teams in the league, but it hasn't made the most of its talent (mostly because of the defensive end of the floor). If Butler tells Tom Thibodeau that he's not going to stick around, trade season is starting early, with one of the league's best two-way players on the market.
Sekou Smith: The Lakers and Rockets will be hard to ignore. They're both chasing the Warriors in the race to the top in the conference and the league. The Rockets start just behind the Warriors after earning the top spot in the regular season a year ago. Carmelo Anthony's addition gives Mike D'Antoni an intriguing option as a third option alongside reigning Kia MVP James Harden and star guard Chris Paul. I don't know if they can get on that horse they rode to the best record in the league last season this time around. They couldn't escape the Warriors win Game 7 of the conference finals at home, so the expectations can't get any higher in Houston. The Lakers are always grabbing headlines, even when they were struggling. With LeBron James in town, the spotlight will be white hot from the first whistle of training camp until his first season in L.A. ends. Where it ends, of course, will be the most interesting story to watch all season. I can't wait to see what kind of rotations forms around him.