A sign of things to come? Kobe Bryant, right, and Lebron James, left, hope to lead their teams to the NBA title this season. (Photo : Reuters)
While Lebron James and the South Beach crew are arguably favorites to repeat as champions this 2012-13 NBA season, a new West conference powerhouse in a recalibrated Lakers squad, a young and battle-tested Thunder squad in OKC and the Pacers and Celtics looming in the East make the road to the NBA Title not the simplest one.
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On the other hand, many seem to be expecting Jeremy Lin in Houston to rebuild a Rockets squad that may reach the same level of glory witnessed in the mid-90s? With all that in mind, here are some of the biggest storylines emerging as the world heads towards the NBA 2012-13 season tip-off.
1.Can the Heat Repeat?
Lebron James finally took the 800-pound gorilla off his back this June when he hoisted the Larry O' Brien trophy over his head in Miami as the Heat took down the Thunder in five games. How do you improve on that?
The answer: add the best three-point shooter to ever play the game.
The former Celtic star and future Hall of Famer Ray Allen takes his talents-and his legendary beyond-the-arc dagger-to South Beach, along with new pickup Rashard Lewis, making the Heat even more dangerous.
Last week, Lakers great Magic Johnson told Time Warner Cable Sportsnet, which broadcasts the Lakers, that he considered the Heat to be the favorites to win it all this year.
Time will tell if Magic's crystal ball is telling the truth, but it will be hard to count out the Big Three of James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, especially now with Allen in the fold.
2. Have the stars aligned in LA for another Lakers title?
What do you get when you take one of the game's all time best scorers (Kobe Bryant), add in one of the game's greatest point guards (Steve Nash) and top it with, who many experts call, the best center in the league (Dwight Howard)?
Big trouble for the West, that's for sure.
In a blockbuster summer the likes of which were not seen since 1996, when the Los Angeles Lakers lured a young Orlando Magic center named Shaquille O'Neal to sunny California, the Lakers pulled a déjà vu when they pulled the trigger on a mega-trade that landed them Howard, while reeling in Nash via free agency, putting both stars in a lineup that will include Bryant, four-time All Star Pau Gasol, and Metta World Peace.
But questions still remain as the purple-and-gold team get ready to vie for the NBA crown this season. Can the talents of these superstars mix into a championship formula? When will Dwight Howard return from his back woes? And is time winding down on Bryant's legendary career, as reports earlier this week suggested?
One thing is for sure-Lakers fans are in for one thrilling ride this season.
3. Age before Beauty-Knicks hope veteran pieces mean playoff success
Jeremy Lin may have jettisoned Broadway for the Rockets this summer, but the Knicks are hoping that age, not beauty, will lead them to the Big Dance.
Future Hall of fame point guard Jason Kidd, 39, highlights the crop of veterans the Knicks signed during the offseason, and Raymond Felton are bringing solid experience to the point guard position that the 'Bockers glaringly lacked last year when the Heat torched them in the first round of the playoffs.
The returning Marcus Camby, 38, and Kurt Thomas, 39, who were part of the last Knicks team to reach the NBA Finals in 1999, make the Knicks, on an average of the entire age's roster, the oldest team in the league, but the Knicks plan of attack seems to be gearing toward a 'win now' while they still have stars Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler and Amar'e Stoudemire under contract.
The addition of Rasheed Wallace last week, as reported by ESPN.com, gives them another older body, but even more depth off the bench.
Whether this translates to a deep playoff run-or even a championship banner, not seen in the rafters of Madison Square Garden since 1973-still remains to be seen.
4. Linsanity cleared for take off in Houston
Coming off one of the most talked-about 20-some-odd game stints in recent memory, Jeremy Lin was the toast of the Big Apple last year.
Now, one four-year, $28 million contract later, Linsanity has touched down in Houston.
And with that comes the pressures of leading a young, inexperienced squad featuring center Omer Asik, rookie Jeremy Lamb and guard Kevin Martin.
Yet with the Rockets squad's youth and athleticism, James Ermilio writes on his blog on Bleacher Report, the Rockets might just be the sleeper pick to surprise the league this season-and maybe even earn a playoff berth.
5. Will Anthony Davis win Rookie of the Year honors?
Even though the Hornets' new star rookie, and the No.1 draft pick in the 2012 NBA draft, is fighing off groin issues, Kentucky Wildcats alumni Davis, coming off a summer that landed him gold as part of Team USA's hoops squad in London, looks like the odds-on favorite to win Rookie of the Year.
However, he faces some stiff competition from a talented rookie class that will feature Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard, out of Utah's Weber State University, and the Charlotte Bobcats' small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, another Kentucky star.
The Sacramento Kings' power forward Thomas Robinson, fresh out of the University of Kansas, Dion Waiters of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Harrison Barnes from the Golden State Warrirors will also be looking to step up to the plate.
With talent like that, the road to the top rookie honor looks to be a dog fight.