by Larry Flynn
The 2013-14 NBA season is one filled with intrigue and subplots. Throughout the season, watch out of the following players, teams and dramas.
1. The Heat’s road to a three-peat
Only three franchises in NBA history have ever won three championships in a row: the Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers and the Chicago Bulls. Needless to say, winning a third straight championship would vault the Heat into one of the NBA’s all-time elite franchises.
The road to a third straight championship will be a difficult one for the Heat and for superstar Lebron James. Can James keep this team hungry and foster the “us against the world” mentality that has allowed this team to thrive the past two seasons? Will Dwyane Wade stay healthy? Who steps up on this aging bench? Can Greg Oden play impactful minutes?
The drama in South Beach escalates significantly if the Heat loose this year, as James’ impending free agency could mark the end of the short “big three era” in Miami.
2. Derrick Rose’s play (and health)
In a preseason game against the Indiana Pacers, Derrick Rose scored 32 points and nine assists in 31 minutes. Preseason or not, those are impressive numbers, and show that Rose is becoming more comfortable after his 527 day lapse from NBA basketball after his torn ACL in the 2012 playoffs.
But, just days before, Rose missed a game due to soreness in his left knee, the one that kept him off the court during the 2012-13 season.
NBA fans should hope that Rose can play all 82 games this season and give the Heat and other elite Eastern Conference teams a serious run in the playoffs.
3. Rookie Head Coaches
After leaving the Boston Celtics, Doc Rivers joins Chris Paul and Blake Griffin on the Los Angeles Clippers. While there is a lot of perimeter shooting and talent on this team, there still remain serious questions on the defensive end.
Rivers and his coaching staff will have to determine who on this team guards perimeter superstars like Lebron James, Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant.
Rivers’ replacement, Brad Stevens, will face a serious challenge in Boston with a rebuilt roster. As an optimistic Celtics fan, I believe there will be no issue in the relationship between Stevens and star point guard Rajon Rondo.
Rather, the trouble will be how to implement Rondo into the starting lineup once he returns from his ACL recovery. The Celtics, however, may need some luck of the Irish to field a competitive team this season, regardless of Stevens’ coaching ability and Rondo’s recovery.
There are other coaching questions around the league as well. Will Jason Kidd earn respect amongst the legends in Brooklyn? How can Larry Drew implement a cohesive offense with all the new players on the Bucks? Will Mike Budenholzer create a Spurs-like offensive system in Atlanta?
4. Which team will be the worst?
Many teams have elected to “tank” this season, meaning that they will have no legitimate chance at competing this season. The worst record in the league, a highly coveted position for many general managers looking to snag a superstar like Kansas swingman Andrew Wiggins in next summer’s draft, will likely come down to the Philadelphia 76ers, Utah Jazz and Phoenix Suns.
The Jazz, rebuilt around young big men Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter, will endure growing pains trying to implement their new starting duo to begin the season.
Further south in the desert, the Suns will likely ship off veterans Marcin Gortat and Goran Dragic before the trade deadline to acquire younger talent, leaving the talented but inexperienced Eric Bledsoe left as the only starting caliber player on this roster.
The Sixers, however, will probably finish with the worst record, as Thaddeus Young may be the only serviceable NBA player on Philadelphia’s starting lineup. That’s a recipe for disaster, or success if they end up with a star player in the 2014 NBA draft.
5. A trade deadline deal involving an elite power forward.
There are three power forwards who could find themselves in another jersey by the end of the season.
LaMarcus Aldridge may want to leave the Portland Trail Blazers in free agency in the summer of 2015, and could drop hints to the organization that he will be moving on. If the Blazers feel they cannot retain his services, they may want to trade Aldridge this season to get the largest package in return.
Al Horford could also be on the move if the Atlanta Hawks stumble this season. Instead of attempting to make the playoffs as a low seed, the Hawks could decide to blow up the roster and employ the popular “tanking” strategy to acquire a high pick in next years’ draft.
Kevin Love could, similar to Aldridge, express his dissatisfaction with the Minnesota Timberwolves and be dealt while management still has the upper hand in trade negotiations.
Look for the Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers or Washington Wizards to have a serious interest in any of these players as a co-star to play with their elite point guards.
6. The New Orleans Pelicans
The Pelicans are by far the most intriguing team coming into the season. Anthony Davis will be expected to make a significant jump in his sophomore season and show that he is a foundational player this team can build around.
But there still remains an important question in regard to his position. Davis is too lanky at this point to play center consistently, but the roster, as currently constructed, would be better suited with Davis at center alongside Ryan Anderson at the power forward position.
Even more interesting is the talented backcourt mess. Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordan, Tyreke Evans and Austin Rivers are all extremely talented, but who will start and play a bulk of the minutes? Can Evans play a small forward to somewhat solve this dilemma?
Even if Evans can, there are still legitimate concerns about how all these players will fit together on the same court.
All are ball-dominating guards who can create for themselves offensively. In order to make this experiment in the bayou work, however, these guards will have to learn to share the ball with one another and with Anthony Davis.
7. Tim Duncan, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant and Dirk Nowitzki
These five walking legends will likely be entering one of their final seasons in 2013-14. Enjoy watching bank shots from Duncan, step-backs from Pierce, shake-and-bake moves by Garnett, fade-away jumpers from Bryant and the high-arching three pointer of Nowitzki. Next thing you know, these guys will be on NBATV’s Hardwood Classics.