This column was originally posted in The Inkwell and on its website.
With the sports spotlight being taken by baseball and the World Series, and college and pro football in the thick of their seasons, the NBA is jumping back in the lights with the start of the basketball season underway.
This season has as many question marks with teams and players as any season in recent history. Here are the ones that everyone is thinking about and will be big puzzles to the season:
Miami Heat Three-Peat
The Miami Heat have won the last two championships and reached the finals the past three seasons. Can LeBron James reach the level of Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant and lead a team to a three-peat? Yes, of course the Heat can pull off the rare feat, but will they? Probably not.
Reaching the finals in four straight seasons and winning three championships just seems too good to be true. James will be one of the game’s best again, so he’s not a question, but the team’s health and emergence of other teams is the real obstacle. Counting out the Heat would just be irrational, but the odds are against them.
Wild, Wild West
While Eastern Conference foes such as the Indiana Pacers and the Chicago Bulls, with the return of Derrick Rose, will be contenders against the Heat, the deep Western Conference will be the one to watch. There are at least five teams — the Los Angeles Clippers, the Golden State Warriors, the San Antonio Spurs, the Houston Rockets and the Oklahoma City Thunder — who have a real chance to win a title. The Clippers brought over Doc Rivers to coach the Chris Paul to Blake Griffin combination. Andre Iguodala brings the Warriors six true scoring threats. The Spurs are still the smart, veteran team that knows how to win. Dwight Howard joins James Harden in Houston to form a dangerous one-two punch and Kevin Durant is looking to bring a championship to Oklahoma City. The deep West will be entertaining and fun to watch all season.
Another LeBron MVP?
Not only is LeBron James looking to three-peat as an NBA champion, but as an MVP as well. James has won the award four out of the last five seasons, and a fifth time would already tie him with Michael Jordan. If James is stopped this year in his quest for another MVP, who might stop him?
Let’s start with Mr. No. 2, Kevin Durant. Since coming into the league — as the No. 2 pick in the draft — Durant has played second-fiddle to James. This year, he could take the MVP from James. With Russell Westbrook out, Durant will have to carry the Thunder and be an even bigger scorer. It feels like this is his year, and let’s be honest, he could certainly get plenty of sympathy votes from voters who are sick of giving the award to James. Others who could take the MVP home are: Stephen Curry, Derrick Rose and Chris Paul.
Every year players seem to breakout. Some are out of nowhere while others are promising young stars living up to their potential. Starting with the sophomores, there are plenty of players looking to skip the dreaded “sophomore slump” and turn into growing stars.
The 2012 No. 1 pick in the draft, Anthony Davis, looks like he is becoming the star the New Orleans Hornets . . . I mean Pelicans (seriously) envisioned him to be. Even while dealing with injuries all season, Davis averaged 13.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game. Davis can be a dominant defender and a better offensive player on an improved New Orleans team.
Sophomore Andre Drummond can be another defensive star with his raw talent and increased minutes this season. The Pistons added Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith in the offseason and expect big things out of Drummond. In only 20 minutes per game at 19 years old, Drummond averaged 7.9 points, 7.6 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game. Other breakout players will be: Bradley Beal, Harrison Barnes, Jeremy Lamb and Jimmy Butler.
How far will this tanking trend go? After one of the weakest draft classes in recent memory this year, next year’s draft class is so deep that multiple teams may completely tank this season to get a prized possession in the draft. There can be some absolutely awful basketball teams this season. The Phoenix Suns just sent center Marcin Gortat to the Washington Wizards and could have up to four first-round picks next year. This is all for the chance to get Kansas freshman guard Andrew Wiggins along with other potential stars. The Suns, the Orlando Magic, the Toronto Raptors, the Philadelphia 76ers, the Sacramento Kings and the Boston Celtics will all have a chance at the No. 1 draft pick. While the Heat look to three-peat, others will tank for the future.