There has fortunately been no lockout this year, meaning the NBA season tips off on October 30, almost a full two months ahead of last year's Christmas Day start. So what are the big talking points you need to be aware of?
LA Lakers 'dream team' go for glory
No doubt about it, the LA Lakers mean business. Prior to last season, all the talk was of whether they were even the best team in LA, let alone the West, or talk of the Championship, owing to the Clippers big moves - especially the controversial Chris Paul deal. The Lakers retained their bragging rights, finishing above their rivals, but were shown in the play-offs just how far off they were from being the successful team they so recently were. They were beaten 4-1 in the series with the Thunder, who themselves went onto be defeated by the same margin in the finals by Miami Heat. So to address their shortcomings, the Lakers went big. Real big. They signed the NBA's most in-demand player, blue-chip center Dwight Howard. Losing Andrew Bynum they considered was a price worth paying (more later) especially considering their acquisition of veteran All Star Steve Nash. Do the Lakers have the best starting five in the NBA, with Bryant, Gasol, Howard, Nash, and World Peace? Time will tell, but it is certainly the most exciting on paper, and while this season promises to be quite a ride, and will rest on their inevitable play-off games next Spring. One thing is for certain, and that is the Lakers mean business.
'King' LeBron faces an even tougher challenge, or does he?
They say climbing the mountain is tough, but staying there is even tougher. That is a line which applies to LeBron James and the Miami Heat this season, you might think. LeBron James is basketball's biggest star, and for those who weren't aware, up until last season he had never won basketball's biggest prize, the NBA Championship. In June he changed all that, with a series of incredible performances, and silenced his critics. This season the renewed challenge of the Lakers makes the Heat's challenge of retaining their title all the more tougher. However there are things working in their favour. The acquisition of Ray Allen from Boston Celtics is a significant move, and the injury still keeping Derrick Rose on the Chicago Bulls sidelines will help Heat aim for the number one spot in the East. Yet now the Heat are, even more so, up there to be shot at, an even bigger scalp, as last year the Mavericks found out. Doing it all again will be every bit as difficult when it goes down to the clutch for James, although there is the potential for him to play more freely and get even better boosted by the confidence of being a champion.
How good is Anthony Davis?
Anthony Davis was the only player in the USA's Olympic 'dream team' who had never played in the NBA before. A rising star in College Basketball, he was drafted by the off-season's lottery winners the New Orleans Hornets as the number one pick. Hope for Davis are high from an individual standpoint, he certainly didn't look out place in London, and 22 points in his opening pre-season match, (OK it was against the Bobcats) certainly bodes well. This year will all be about adjustment for Davis, as the Hornets are a low-ranking team; they qualified for the draft lottery owing to their poor record last season. Even lifting them to become a .500 team will be a challenge, play-off talk would be too fanciful, but if he can start to fulfil his potential, the first step in rebuilding the ailing New Orleans franchise will be complete. See our Hornets season preview for more.
The battle for New York supremacy
This one may take place away from the top of the rankings in the East, but it promises to be one of the most fascinating rivalries this season; The New York Knicks and the Brooklyn Nets. Rebranded via an unlikely combination of a rich Russian owner and shareholder and rapper Jay Z, the historic decision was implemented over the summer to change the New Jersey Nets to the Brooklyn Nets. The aim was to try to grab the attention of an edgier, 'street' market, where their new stadium in Brooklyn was based. So far it is so good, as the big challenge to hang onto star man Deron Williams was achieved. They may have missed out on Dwight Howard, but many believe they are better than New York's flagship team, the Knicks. The Knicks have the oldest squad in the NBA, and so far have not been able to get star men Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony playing well together. A playoff place should be achievable, but it could be the upstarts from Brooklyn who make more of an impact this season.
Jeremy Lin and Andrew Bynum - The 'forgotten men'
So from discussing the Knicks, we move seamlessly onto the man they were unable to hang onto; Jeremy Lin. Lin became an overnight sensation last year, going from sleeping on a pal's couch, to becoming the most talked about star in the NBA, inspiring the Knicks to a series of memorable wins, including a career high 38 points in an incredible victory over the Lakers. That was February, and by play-off time, injury had ruined his season, and the Knicks' chances of really making a statement. Remarkably they failed to offer Lin the long-term contract he wanted, and moved to the Houston Rockets. Can he recapture the magic there, or will he go down as one of the most memorable 'flash in the pans' in sports history? That is the challenge for Lin, but helping the Rockets gain a top eight spot and qualify for the play-offs, is even greater.
And onto Andrew Bynum, how will he react from being discarded from the LA Lakers? Bynum began last season as one of the Lakers' 'big three' along with Kobe and Gasol, but after being dominated in an early match-up with the Magic by Howard, whispers began that he and not the older Gasol would be the one to make way. It became clear that the trio were not clicking, especially in the play-offs against the Nuggets, and after he was disciplined for off-court issues including not joining team huddles and playing his music too loudly, it became clear that Bynum was not helping the team as it had been envisioned. So they took the plunge in a mammoth trade for Howard which saw Bynum wind up in Philadelphia with the 76ers. He is 25 and still has the potential to continue to be a star, and is with a very competitive team, as the Heat found out last year. It could be good for him, if he reacts in the right way. He needs to be determined to prove a point, rather than mope around at being cut by the Lakers, although an early injury which could rule him out of the season opener is hardly the ideal start.
What are you most looking forward to about the NBA season?
image: © Keith Allison