What's the story? Here's a Top 10 for the coming season
After a year's worth of news crammed into the past four months -- none of it welcome unless you're a fan of the Boston Celtics or the agent for Rashard Lewis -- here are the 10 story lines that are most intriguing to me as we head into the 2007-08 season. You'll notice there's nothing about my pick for the 2008 NBA champion: the San Antonio Spurs.
That's because they're so consistent. Consistent is the opposite of compelling and/or controversial. I'm pretty sure we'll see the Spurs in June. These other outcomes are far less certain, which makes them much more interesting
10. Arrests and Lawsuits
Last week brought allegations that Jason Kidd harassed and groped a woman at a Manhattan nightspot and Justin Williams sexually assaulted a woman. (According to Williams' attorney, the woman was involved in a consensual threesome with Williams and his girlfriend. Guess the girlfriend won't be getting an apologetic diamond ring.) And then Nuggets guard J.R. Smith was issued a summons on charges of assault, disturbing the peace and destruction of private property.
Even if incidents like these rarely result in convictions, they don't exactly bolster the league's image.
9. Spanish Accents
For a Houston team that hasn't moved past the first round of the playoffs since 1997 and a star tandem that hasn't moved past the first round of the playoffs since they came into the league, Scola is the single most significant addition of the offseason.
Collectively, new faces Mike James and Aaron Brooks (and new old face Steve Francis) give the Rockets an abundance of choices in the backcourt. But Scola is their only real option at power forward, where the rest of the players are either undersized or underskilled. Will he be able to hold his own against the likes of Carlos Boozer and Tim Duncan in the playoffs?
Navarro could change the course of the Memphis Grizzlies. If his buddy Pau Gasol is happier playing with his friend and Navarro can help Memphis get back to the playoffs, we probably won't hear Gasol's name pop up in trade rumors this season.
8. Dwight and the Mighty Mite
If the Orlando Magic improve it might have more to do with two players already on their roster than the big-money free-agent signing of Lewis. Dwight Howard is finally developing a true offensive game, with increased shooting range, hook shots and a couple of go-to moves. Perhaps he's done teasing us with talent and is ready to take on more responsibility.
Meanwhile, the 6-foot Jameer Nelson will be playing for the double motivation of money and honor. The body of his father, who worked on tugboats, was found in the Delaware River on Sept. 1. Authorities say his death was accidental, but Nelson and his family have their doubts.
Nelson has dedicated this season to his memory. He also will be a restricted free agent next summer if he doesn't sign a contract extension by Oct. 31. He has looked extra determined in preseason, driving into the paint at will. His pro career has been so nondescript it's easy to forget he was the 2004 Wooden Award winner in his final year at St. Joseph's. I get the feeling he'll be doing much more to keep the family name in our heads throughout this season.
7. Seattle Slew O'Lawsuits
For the SuperSonics, the drama will be more courtroom than court this season. Oklahoma City-based owner Clay Bennett is suing to get out of the final two years of the lease at Key Arena. Sonics fans have filed a class-action lawsuit against the team, claiming that language in the team's season-ticket ads was deceptive if the team's actual intent is to move.
Poor Seattle. Has any city lost so much? Boeing. Junior, A-Rod and Randy Johnson. Kurt Cobain. And the lone bright spot for the past 10 years, the Seahawks' voyage to Super Bowl XL, was tripped up by poor officiating. Losing the Sonics, the oldest of the city's major pro sports teams, would be another blow.
6. Stupid Knick Tricks
You know, this could be a recipe for a heartwarming story. Underestimated and underappreciated team overcomes troubling circumstances to win a spot in the playoffs. Except in this case the team is more overpaid than underappreciated, with a league-high payroll of some $88 million. And the circumstances include a sexual harassment case against the team's management and bizarre behavior by the point guard including his appearance on the witness stand during the sexual harassment trial. Oh, and the lawsuit won't just go away, because Isiah Thomas and Madison Square Garden are appealing the verdict that found MSG liable for $11.6 million.
If the Knicks can't make it to the playoffs this year, with the addition of Zach Randolph, we'll be wondering whether Thomas can keep his job. That is, when we're not wondering how he's kept his job for so long.
5. Sheed's Deeds
Last time we saw Rasheed Wallace in a game that mattered, he was in full meltdown mode, getting kicked out of Detroit's season-ending loss to Cleveland. That's been Wallace's undoing, his inability to put the big picture ahead of his momentary feelings of frustration.
This time it's about stepping back to observe the overall view of his career. If he can get the Pistons another championship, this group matches the Bad Boys when ranking the eras in franchise history. And Wallace becomes one of the most accomplished power forwards of his time. Only Tim Duncan could say he had more rings.
Among these Pistons, Chauncey Billups has come the closest to winning an MVP award, but this team rises and falls with Wallace. It's about his moods, his effort, his ability to keep his composure. When he has it going he can stretch defenses with his shooting, keep possessions alive with his rebounding and provide a last line of defense with his long arms and compensate for the loss of Ben Wallace.
4. Make or Break
If the Suns can't run-and-gun their way to a championship or Dirk Nowitzki can't get it done in Dallas, maybe it's time to abandon this approach, shuffle the rosters and try it another way. This will be Steve Nash's fourth year quarterbacking Amare Stoudemire and Shawn Marion in Phoenix and the fourth year of Nowitzki, Josh Howard, Jason Terry and Jerry Stackhouse. Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant won a championship in their fourth year together in Chicago. Shaq and Kobe won one in their fourth year in L.A.
There's a different sense about the two franchises. The Suns could have won a championship if a few things went their way. You get the feeling the Mavericks should have won a championship, with a two-game lead in the 2006 NBA Finals, and the best record in the league last year. Will both of these mini-eras, involving two teams unapologetic about scoring lots of points, end in futility?
3. Officials' Timeout
Just when the NBA was getting to the antidote to the Tim Donaghy scandal -- games, games and more games -- reminders kept popping up. First came the news that Donaghy would pay $30,000 as part of his plea deal, then a report that the NBA had disciplined six officials for gambling-related offenses. Apparently these were minor offenses, along the lines of being in a casino or wagering on golf games. Certainly nothing like participating in a gambling ring or hooking up with organized crime figures.
But every little tidbit can put doubt about the integrity of the game into the minds of fans. The refs haven't been catching too much abuse or snide remarks about gambling in the preseason. But just wait until the first questionable call goes against a home team during the regular season.
2. Celtic Pride
In 10 years as an NBA League Pass subscriber I've watched less than 10 minutes of the Celtics. That's mainly because of the way Tommy Heinsohn's voice hits my ear. To me it sounds like a garbage disposal when a fork drops into it.
But this year I'm going to have to check in with the Celtics on a regular basis. We all will. They matter again, thanks to the arrivals of Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. Will the collaboration with Paul Pierce work? Will they take us back to the "Schoolhouse Rock" days and have us singing "Three is a magic number"? Will they take the Celtics back to the glory days?
I can't wait to watch with my finger on the mute button.
After Kobe Bryant's smooth, no-problems-here attitude during Lakers training camp I thought he would keep his unhappiness bottled inside and it would be a non-issue this season. Whoops.
Then came Jerry Buss' candid disclosure that the Lakers would be willing to trade Bryant, which was followed by a long weekend of silence from Bryant, broken by a chippy session with reporters in the parking lot of the Lakers' practice facility.
Bryant hasn't said he does not want to be traded, the Lakers haven't said he will not be traded, so now every rumor, every item in Bryant's locker, every home-for-sale listing in Newport Beach could set off a frenzy. Quotes will be analyzed and deconstructed. Everyone in Lakerland will be on edge. This whole season will be like that episode of "Lost" when they're moving the nitroglycerin, one bobble away from an explosion. And because this story involves a trade it's not just an L.A. story. This one resonates in Chicago, Dallas or any other potential destination for Bryant.
J.A. Adande joined ESPN.com as an NBA columnist in August 2007 after 10 years with the Los Angeles Times. Click here to e-mail J.A.