The new NBA season begins with a little controversy, a few coaches feeling the early heat and a ton of dark-horse candidates. Our experts weigh in on five topics concerning the upcoming season.
Click here for Part 2 of our expert roundup.
1. How will the controversy over the new ball play out?
Scoop Jackson: The Players Association will file a grievance with the league, and an agreement will be made. The design stays the same, but next year the ball will be leather instead of microfiber composite.
Chris Sheridan: I'd say the controversy has already come and gone. The new ball is here to stay because David Stern wants it to be here to stay, and anything anybody else says does not matter. It's David's league, and if he says this slippery-when-wet, squishy-when-dry monstrosity is here to stay, then that's the law.
John Hollinger: There will be lots of commentary and discussion on this early in the season, and then it will slowly die down and fade into irrelevance as the season wears on.
Jon Barry: The ball is here to stay, so guys will learn to use it.
Jim O'Brien: The controversy will end quickly. The same ball is being used by both teams every night out. The players in the NBA are the best in the world and will adapt to whatever ball is being used.
David Thorpe: What ball controversy? In the preseason, Mike Bibby shot 58.8 percent, Manu Ginobili shot 50 percent, MoPete 48 percent, Josh Howard 44 percent, all from 3. Were they using last year's ball? Shaq made 51 percent of his free throws. The Nuggets averaged 115 ppg, and shot 38 percent from 3 as a team. The good shooters will make lots of shots, the bad shooters won't.
Marc Stein: If the league won't consider switching back, I don't know that we can still call this a controversy. Even the players seem resigned to the fact that we're stuck with the microfiber, judging by the decreased volume on complaints lately. But I'm still fuming. There was a mystique unique to the NBA with the leather ball. Who was clamoring for a new one besides PETA?
Chris Broussard: The controversy will fade away. It's more of an issue for the longtime vets than for the young players, since the youngsters played with synthetic balls just a few years ago in high school and college.
Tim Legler: The new ball will eventually be embraced by the players as they get over the notion of "change." I actually think the new ball has a great feel. The whole idea that the majority of players hate the ball is actually misguided.
2. Will Kevin Garnett and/or Allen Iverson get traded?
Broussard: KG will not be traded because (1) he will not demand it and (2) the Wolves believe Randy Foye will eventually emerge as the second star the team needs. Because of A.I's unique style of play, age and salary, he's hard to move, so he'll probably finish the season in Philly.
Stein: I honestly can't see either one being traded before the February deadline. Nothing significant can happen on the Iverson front until the Sixers are sold, and it's tough to imagine new owners wanting to buy the Sixers without Iverson or trading him away in their first big move. As for Garnett, rumblings persist that this is Kevin McHale's final season running the Wolves' front office. If that's true, do you really think he wants trading KG to be his farewell move?
Jackson: One will be. And I think maybe Kevin. The L.A. thing is too big to ignore. Don't ask me how it's going to happen, but I still think he'll be in a Lakers uniform sooner than later.
Sheridan: With Iverson I'd have to say no, at least until the team gets sold. With KG making $21 million, it'd be tough to find a salary match even if he asked out. The Nets could offer Richard Jefferson, Jason Collins and one or two No. 1 picks, which might be the best Minnesota could get from an Eastern team.
Barry: Neither will be moved. Teams are reluctant to move franchise players and these teams would sink to the bottom of the league if they lost either one.
Hollinger: Garnett won't get traded until after the season if my spies in Minnesota are correct, because he's too much of a creature of habit to uproot himself midstream. Iverson will be traded if and only if the Sixers' sale is completed and the new owner decides against paying a luxury tax.
O'Brien: Neither player will get traded. Garnett is still one of the five best in the game and another team would have to give up so much that it would be too risky as Garnett gets older. Iverson is a gigantic risk because of his salary and at some point, all those times he crashed to the floor is going to take a toll.
Thorpe: As long as the Wolves stay in the playoff hunt, which they should all season, KG will be happy. But the Sixers look cooked, which means Iverson is capable of being moved at any time. Would he be able to sell some tickets for the Hawks? Yes!
Legler: Iverson will get traded before the deadline. The Sixers are one of the three worst teams in the East and did absolutely nothing to upgrade their roster in the offseason. For once, even Iverson's greatness can't sell out the Wachovia Center. His frustration will boil over and he will finally ask to be shipped to a contender.
3. Which coach is in the most trouble?
Jackson: Glenn Rivers. And it's not his fault. (Ainge never should have traded Antoine Walker a second time.) Too much tradition in Boston for the team to become irrelevant.
Sheridan: Dwane Casey in Minnesota, with Randy Wittman waiting in the wings (sort of like Bob Hill in Seattle last year), and Jeff Van Gundy in Houston, where the blame for an empty arena and a boring product rests on his shoulders.
Barry: Isiah Thomas is under the gun and the Knicks will be mediocre enough for him to stick around for the entire year.
Hollinger: Bob Hill in Seattle. They already have new ownership and the team president just resigned; it's only a matter of time before the rest of the dominoes fall. A slow start probably seals his fate.
Thorpe: At least Sam Mitchell is being given a chance by his new GM in Toronto, as he clearly struggled the last two years. His roster this year should win, and fairly often. The urgency to "win now" was felt in the preseason, which they did, but now the pressure doubles, and Mitchell has not been good under pressure. Unless they get off to a roaring start, he could be gone within 30 games.
Stein: You could argue that every coach in the Atlantic Division except New Jersey's Lawrence Frank is on the hot seat. But Minnesota's Dwane Casey has it even worse because the speculation about Randy Wittman replacing him is already in circulation, ever since Wittman returned to the organization.
Broussard: The Knicks will win 36 or 37 games and put up a decent fight for the eighth and final playoff spot, which might be enough for Isiah to keep his job. But with my new colleague Kiki being free, there could be a clamor for him to return to New York.
O'Brien: Half the league's coaches are constantly in trouble as a rule. In both the East and the West there are about six teams that feel they can get the eighth playoff spot and every one of those teams is going to be wrong except one in each conference. All of these coaches might have security issues.
Legler: Isiah Thomas is on the hottest seat in the NBA.
4. What's your take on minimizing the use of sweat bands, tights, and so on?
Barry: Who cares? This isn't a fashion show -- play some basketball.
Hollinger: Getting players to dress nice and look neat isn't going to change any of the off-court issues that cut to the real heart of the declining player-fan relationship.
Broussard: Let the players have their personal flavor and style. The league loves Michael, but remember that Michael wore his wrist band on his forearm. And Kobe has been wearing one on his bicep. What's next, banning cornrows? This is much ado about nothing.
Thorpe: My dictionary defines "uniform" as follows:
1. identical or consistent, as from example to example, place to place, or moment to moment.
2. without variations in detail
That the NBA is requiring players to dress in a "uniform" manner seems to make sense, given the definition. As long as the uniforms don't restrict players from running, jumping, shooting, defending, passing, dunking and dribbling, I'm good.
Jackson: S.O.S. -- anything to keep it un-urban.
Stein: Too frivolous for me to spend too much time on. If a guy was prepared to accept how bad he looked playing in tights, I'd say it's his prerogative.
5. Which dark-horse team is everyone else ignoring?
Sheridan: Well, since I'm the only one here at ESPN who picked the Pistons to go to the Finals, I'd have to say it's them. Look, the Ben Wallace defection will hurt them at some point in the playoffs, but he hurt them plenty all by himself last season with his free-throw shooting.
Barry: The Utah Jazz -- if they can stay healthy. Tremendous front line with Carlos Boozer, Andrei Kirilenko and Mehmet Okur. Steady at the point. Need some perimeter shooting but they have the most underrated coach in the game.
O'Brien: I think the Houston Rockets are going to be very, very good. They will almost be the caliber of the Spurs and the Mavs. They are putting together a good group and it is not out of the realm of possibility that they could be in the Finals.
Thorpe: People are sleeping on the Sacramento Kings. They were a dangerous team once Ron Artest arrived last year, and should be even better this year. Eric Musselman will get this team more organized offensively, and they'll defend better too.
Stein: You could legitimately call Detroit a dark horse given how rarely the Pistons are mentioned as a title contender these days. In the East, get hot in May and you only need to be "on" for a series or two to get to the Finals.
Broussard: Utah. If healthy, Utah is going to be nice. Jerry Sloan loves how second-year point guard Deron Williams has been playing, and the front line of Mehmet Okur, Carlos Boozer and Andrei Kirilenko is one of the best around.
Hollinger: Boston. They have a great chance at winning a weak Atlantic Division that everybody has already handed to the Nets. Much depends on the young talent, obviously, but this team could be quite good.
Jackson: A lot of people don't think the Denver Nuggets will even make the playoffs. I think they will be a totally different team mentally than they were last year. And another team to watch on the creep: the Timberwolves.
Legler: The Houston Rockets have enough talent to get to the NBA Finals. They were devastated by injuries last season and it is imperative that Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming play 75-80 games together. The additions of Shane Battier and Bonzi Wells give T-Mac and Yao the support they need on both ends.