2012-13 NBA Season Storylines To Watch

With the NBA kicking of this week, it’s the perfect time to take a look at all the key storylines fans will be following this season.

Buckle up, because it looks to be one heck of a season.

No Fuel For LeBron’s Haters
LeBron James was cast as a villain for the majority of the past two NBA seasons after his bold and cocky “Decision” to take his talents to South Beach. However, after winning an NBA Championship and putting on one of the more incredible individual performances in recent memory during the playoffs last spring, it appears the stink from two summers ago is finally off LeBron. He is only 27-years-old and it’s clear he still hasn’t reached his peak as a player. Now what can the haters cling to? Lame jokes about his receding hairline? Here’s to hoping to basketball fans have finally moved past his bad decisions two summers ago and they start to enjoy one of the better talents the game of basketball has ever witnessed.

Ray Allen Against The Celtics
Wow, things got nasty between Ray Allen and the Boston Celtics in a hurry. Within weeks of Allen bolting Beantown for South Beach, the haters came out of the woodwork in a hurry. Kevin Garnett claimed to no longer have Ray Allen’s phone number. Doc Rivers lamented to the Boston media how hurt he was by Allen’s decision. And Celtics fans? Look for them to be loud and passionate in booing Allen when he returns to Boston on January 27, 2013.

Allen, who normally doesn’t talk with the media about drama, gave interviews to a couple Miami outlets this month to clear the air and share his side of the story.

Personally, I find it entertaining how much drama a role player who will only get 20-25 minutes per game is generating.

Will There Be Drama In Los Angeles?
On paper, the Los Angeles Lakers should roll to the NBA Finals. However, as the old adage goes, there’s a reason why they play the games. It will be interesting to see how the egos of Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant mesh. Plus, Steve Nash has been winning the battle against Father Time thanks to the amazing work the Phoenix Suns’ training staff has done with his body. It will be interesting to see how the grizzled vet handles the rigors of an 82-game schedule without the safety blanket of the Suns training staff and with Steve Blake being his backup.

How Will Pacers Handle Expectations?
So far, not so good. Real games haven’t even started and already Danny Granger is complaining about his knee. It was looked at by doctors and they assume he can play through some pain, but Granger is complaining about not being able to gut it out. I’m planning on writing a story this week about how the Pacers are dealing with the burden of expectations after talking with the players and Frank Vogul when they are in Toronto on Wednesday. Stay tuned to Sportsnet for that column later this week.

The Brooklyn Nets Will Fail To Meet Expectations
Speaking of failing to meet expectations, look for the Brooklyn Nets to give the New York tabloids plenty of fodder this season as they will struggle to become one of the elite teams in their own division, let alone the Eastern Conference. Sure, the roster looks splashy with names like Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, and Brook Lopez, but who on that roster is known for playing gritty defence? Look for the Nets to get killed off dribble penetration and for their bigs to get posterized on a regular basis. If this Nets team doesn’t figure out a way to play effective defence their season will be a resounding disappointment.

Are The Spurs Too Old?
Last season one of the more comical moments came when Gregg Popovich gave Tim Duncan the night off and the box score said it was because Duncan was old. While funny, the reality is Duncan has played 1,111 regular season NBA games and 190 playoff games. The treads on the tires has to be running pretty low at this point. Throw in the fact the rest of their core – Tony Parker (958) and Manu Ginobili (803) – have played a combined 1,761 games in the NBA on top of busy summers playing for their national teams. It will be interesting to see what Popovich can do to ensure his veteran team is fresh for a deep run in the playoffs. But, if last season is any indication, it just means the team’s younger players will get extended minutes during the regular season to help with their development.

Is The Jeremy Lin Fairy Tale Over?
Jeremy Lin became an instant internet and global hit within the matter of weeks and the New York Knicks weren’t sure he could sustain that so they let him sign with the Houston Rockets this summer. Through his first six preseason games Lin has averaged 30.2 minutes per game but he is shooting 13-46 (28%) from the field. Yuck. Hopefully it’s just a matter of rust and once the games start to count he is able to elevate his game.

Can Chicago Stay Afloat Until Rose Returns?
Derrick Rose is scheduled to return from offseason knee surgery in February, but it’s likely the Bulls season could be toast by then. The Bulls are using a backcourt rotation of Kirk Hinrich, Marco Bellinelli, Nate Robinson, Jimmy Butler and Rip Hamilton. Yuck. In my humble opinion, that’s the worst backcourt in the NBA, and the team will struggle mightily until Rose returns.

Lucas Finds An Unlikely Fit

John Lucas III doesn’t look the part of a third-stringer.

The diminutive point guard carries himself with pride and purpose, and talks excitedly about what he and the rest of the Toronto Raptors feel that they can accomplish this season.

“I came here because I see this as a place where I can contribute by helping some of the young guys and doing my part to keep things going in the right direction,” says Lucas. “We know that we can be a playoff team.”

Lucas’ current standing as a third-on-the-depth-chart floor general on the Raptors says less about his own abilities and more about the newfound depth that the club’s off-season additions have afforded them at the position. Kyle Lowry came over from the Rockets via trade in what was the team’s biggest move of the summer. With Jose Calderon already in tow, Lucas knew where he stood when he signed with Toronto in late July.

However, the soon-to-be-30-year-old doesn’t sound like a guy disappointed with his lot in life.

“I love it here,” Lucas says emphatically. ”I’ve been telling all my friends back home that Toronto is a mix of San Francisco and New York combined. […] It’s very liberal, very free-spirited – like San Fran, but then there’s the hustle and the go-go-go lifestyle, like New York. […] Plus, I’ve already gotten to know the team a bit and it’s a great group of guys here.”

For Raptors fans, it’s refreshing to hear from a player who is not only proud to play in Toronto, but carries high expectations and believes in the organization’s prospects.

In some ways, it shouldn’t be surprising considering the parallels between the player and his new team. For one thing, they are both underdogs – Lucas is a scrappy 5’11 ball handler (if Lowry is the bulldog among Toronto point guards, Lucas is more the chihuahua) who went undrafted despite leading Oklahoma State to the Final Four and has toiled in the CBA and NBDL. The Raptors, meanwhile, have been outside the playoff picture for five years and are never mentioned as players for marquee free agents.

For another thing, they both enter this season having made some strides in the previous campaign. In 2011-12, Lucas struggled to simply find a spot on the Chicago Bulls’ roster, getting cut and re-signed on two separate occasions during the season. He ultimately found a permanent role in the aftermath of Derrick Rose’s groin injury and thrived, pouring in 25 points off the bench against Miami and helping the Bulls to an 8-4 record in the absence of their star (he didn’t fare quite so well in a disappointing playoff run).

For the Raptors, the gains were more modest. Under new head coach Dwane Casey, the club’s increased commitment to defence helped them to a one-win improvement in spite of playing 16 fewer games.

In spite of his current third-string status, Lucas can still be expected to carry a significant role within Casey’s system. He brings energy, character and intangibles, all of which fit within the club’s new culture. On top of that, he brings the type of reliable jumper (50% shooting and 13.7 points per game through three pre-season games) that the team so desperately needs in light of last year’s bottom third league finish in scoring average and field goal and three-point percentage.

For a second straight season, Lucas’ big opportunity may come from unfortunate circumstances surrounding a teammate. While an injury is always possible, a likely scenario also exists in a move involving Calderon. Long-standing trade talk concerning the Spanish veteran got even louder this summer, to the point where GM Bryan Colangelo publicly acknowledged it, admitting that ”you have to look at Jose’s [expiring] contract as something that would be a vehicle to accomplish [a deal]”.

Regardless of how things play out, Lucas with be ready to seize any opportunity as it presents itself.

Injuries Continue To Take Their Toll

This NBA playoffs have been littered with injuries, and they’re not just minor ones. These injuries are, or could be, career ending injuries that top players have endured.

Last year’s playoffs did not see the amount of injuries, severe or not, that we are seeing this year. Some analysts are questioning the shortened season that combated the late start to the season, in December, due to the lock out. The back-to-back games with little time to rest could be the reason why we are seeing players suffering from major injuries, not only in the playoffs, but throughout the rest of the season as well.

During the playoffs alone we’ve seen Derrick Rose go out with a torn ACL, which means last years MVP will be out for up to 10 months. During the same day we saw Iman Shumpert go out for an ACL injury as well, so the struggling Knicks lost a second guard for the remainder of the season.

The Knicks are hoping that Jeremy Lin will be ready to play in Game 5, but they risk him injuring himself even further with the increased intensity that these games are bringing.

Later in the first round, we have now seen Joakim Noah sprain his ankle, and insists he’s day-to-day, but when you watch the replays, Noah is likely to be out for at least a few more games. If he does attempt to play, his minutes should be very limited to prevent further aggravation to the ankle.

Then in Game 4 as the Miami Heat were expecting to sweep away the New York Knicks, the Knicks lose their third point guard, Baron Davis, as he’s stretchered off the court with a dislocated right patella, and will be out for at least a couple of months.

The 2011-2012 season was already shortened to 66 games from its normal 82 to help with the limited time in the rest of the season. However, without having a proper off season for teams to practice, the back to back-to-back games, and increased travel, in some cases, has proven to be a strain on the players bodies. Without the proper rest that explosive players need, many of the top flight players within the league have been out, at some point or another, this year.

Rose, a player who missed only about five games in his career prior to this season, has been out 27 games in the regular season due to injury, and is now out for almost a whole season with a torn ACL. Doug Collins, coach of the Philadelphia 76ers, commented on Rose’s injury in an interview, stating “that thing [a torn ACL], took my career.”

Collins was injured during the 1978-79 season with the 76ers, and then missed a year recovering from his knee injury. He only played 12 games the next season before deciding to end his career. It was Collins who was the first on the court after Rose planted his feet from a jump and fell to the ground with no contact. Collins knew immediately what had happened and said in an interview that he “felt sick.”

It seems like our stars of the game need an extended off season to be able to recuperate from the strenuous season they just played. Hopefully with all the advancements in medicine, players like Rose, will be able to make a full recovery and have many years ahead of them in their NBA careers.