By Tre’ Smith
Hip Hop Vibe Staff Writer
After an eventful offseason, the NBA tipped off Tuesday with 29 teams (I would say 30, but the Philadelphia 76ers are gleefully tanking right now) looking at playoff and championship aspirations. Here are some of the major storylines for the upcoming season:
1. The King has returned
LeBron James, after a four-year run in Miami punctuated with four trips to the NBA Finals and two rings, returned back to Cleveland in the offseason. James, a native of Akron, Ohio, spent his first seven seasons with the Cavs and is looking to bring the first title to the franchise, as well as the first championship parade in the city since 1964. He’ll have help with stalwart teammates in Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, the latter playing in Minnesota last year.
2. Superstars are returning…
We’ve been waiting for The Return for a mighty long time, and Derrick Rose seems happy to oblige this season. Rose has played a total of 10 games since tearing his ACL in the 2012 playoffs and his meniscus in late 2013. The 2011 MVP will look to guide the Chicago Bulls, who are heavy favorites to win the Eastern Conference, along with the Cavaliers.
The Los Angeles Lakers have been projected by experts to finish last in the Western Conference, but Kobe Bryant will definitely look to change minds. Bryant only played six games last season after tearing his ACL in April 2013 and suffering a knee injury eight months later, but has averaged 25 points in the team’s first two games. Unfortunately for Bryant, the Lakers lost both to the Houston Rockets and Phoenix Suns.
3. And superstars are leaving…
Indiana Pacers forward Paul George suffered a gruesome leg injury on August 1 and may miss the entire season. Los Angeles Lakers guard Steve Nash, in the twilight of a brilliant career, will miss the year after suffering a back injury. Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant will also miss some time after being diagnosed with a fractured right foot in mid-October.
4. The West will be wild…
Last year the Phoenix Suns won 48 games — and missed the playoffs by one game. With Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe and the newly acquired Isaiah Thomas, the Suns look to take their fast-breaking style to the second season. The Denver Nuggets, devastated by injuries last season, have a deep roster and could make noise. The New Orleans Pelicans could make a move into the playoffs as Anthony Davis continues to develop as one of the best big men in the NBA.
It will be difficult to bump any of last season’s eight playoff teams. The San Antonio Spurs, last year’s NBA champions, will be formidable again. The Los Angeles Clippers, Oklahoma City Thunder and Golden State Warriors figure to be the top three contenders to knock off the Spurs, with the Houston Rockets, Memphis Grizzlies, Portland Trail Blazers and Dallas Mavericks — who forced the Spurs to a seventh game in the first round — not being easy outs.
5. But the East won’t be pushovers either.
A 38-44 record, which the Atlanta Hawks had on the way to the eighth seed in the playoffs, doesn’t figure to be enough to get into the second season. In fact, the Phoenix Suns could’ve been a 3-seed in the East last season. The Bulls and Cavaliers will be the biggest contenders, but the Toronto Drakes…er, Raptors, look to build off the success of winning the Atlantic Division. The Washington Wizards were a tough out, almost knocking off the top-seed Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Although the Heat lost LeBron James, there are still two perennial All-Stars in Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade along with good role players such as Luol Deng, Norris Cole and Chris Andersen.
Of course, the Charlotte Hornets look to make more noise than just changing the name from the Bobcats. With newly required guard Lance Stephenson joining Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson, coupled with one of the best defenses in the league, the Hive could be buzzing again. Break out the Alonzo Mourning, Larry Johnson and Muggsy Bogues jerseys.
Follow Tre’ Smith on Twitter @MicrowaveNC.