Each team's burning questions as they head to camp
Posted: Tuesday September 26, 2006 12:57PM; Updated: Monday October 2, 2006 9:22AM
A chill is in the air. The days are getting shorter. The leaves on the trees are starting to change colors. Yes, it's that time of the year again. Autumn has arrived. For NBA players, that means summer vacation is over and it's time to lace up the sneakers and begin the quest for the Larry O'Brien Trophy.
With training camps set to open next Tuesday, it's a good time to consider the major questions facing each of the NBA's 30 teams. In the next six weekdays leading up to camp, we'll take a look at a different division, starting with the Southeast, home to the current NBA champs. (Teams listed in order of last season's finish):
Miami Heat (52-30)
1. Can they avoid complacency?
After winning the NBA title in '06, it will be interesting to see if Antoine Walker, Jason Williams, Gary Payton and the rest of Pat Riley's veteran-laden crew leave their golf clubs at home when they show up in South Beach to begin the process of defending their crown. 2. Will Riley ease up?
Famous for his grueling training camps, the hard-driving coach might have to alter his approach with so many older bodies. But if he does decide to go slow, he runs the risk of encouraging that laissez-faire attitude that he so despises. 3. What kind of shape will Shaq be in?
The big guy has a recent history of coming into camp in less than optimal condition, and after winning the NBA title last summer ... Then again, he played in just 59 games last season and still got the ring, so maybe it doesn't matter.
Washington Wizards (42-40)
1. Is Jarvis Hayes back? The 6-8 swingman says he's healthy and ready to go after sitting out the final 61 games with a fractured kneecap. The Wizards desperately need him to shore up their perimeter depth, especially with Jared Jeffries moving to New York. 2. Is Andray Blatche ready? The 6-11 second-year forward showed flashes of his tremendous shooting and ball-handling skills during summer league, but it's not clear yet if he's ready for prime time. If he can emerge as a legit player and find a niche, he could be an X-factor off the bench. 3. Can the coaches instill a defensive mentality? After losing three games at the buzzer in the playoffs, the Wizards should realize they need to be able to make stops. Coach Eddie Jordan hopes free-agent signee DeShawn Stevenson and new veteran assistant Bill Berry can help bring a defensive edge, starting in training camp.
Orlando Magic (36-46)
1. Is Grant Hill finally healthy? With Stevenson having bolted to the Wizards, Orlando is hoping Hill can fill the role of starting shooting guard alongside Hedo Turkoglu. But Hill played just 21 games last season with a sports hernia, and his history of ankle problems once again make the soon-to-be 34-year-old former All-Star a major question mark. 2. Has Darko Milicic turned the corner? Once regarded as a draft bust in Detroit, the 7-foot former No. 2 overall draft pick showed signs of life after arriving in Orlando in a midseason trade. Playing 20 minutes per game, he averaged 7.6 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.07 blocks in 30 games. If he can build on it, the Magic could be one of the NBA's most improved teams in '06-07. 3. Can Dwight Howard dominate? Howard finished second in the NBA in rebounding (12.5 per game) while averaging 15.8 points last season. The third-year forward hopes to use camp to develop a more consistent low-post scoring move while also learning how to better defend centers.
Atlanta Hawks (26-56)
1. How much can Shelden Williams contribute? The Hawks used their fifth overall pick on this 6-9 Duke standout in hopes he could help shore up their paper-thin interior defense. If he can step in and contribute immediately, it would help make up for the loss of Al Harrington. 2. Have the Young Guns improved? Josh Smith averaged 15.9 points and 7.4 rebounds in the last 25 games a year ago. Marvin Williams is coming off an MVP performance at the Rocky Mountain Revue. Josh Childress has been steady. Now they need to build on their improved play and show they're ready to give Joe Johnson the help he needs. 3. Can they find a reliable point guard? The Hawks signed Speedy Claxton to a four-year $25 million deal in hopes he could fill their gaping hole at point guard, but the veteran broke his hand and will likely miss all of training camp. Tyronn Lue is a capable backup, but Claxton's absence could set them back early.
Charlotte Bobcats (26-56)
1. Are Sean May and Emeka Okafor ready? Okafor, the '05 Rookie of the Year, says he's fully recovered from the left ankle injury that kept him out of 56 games a year ago. Ditto for May, who dazzled in summer league play after missing 59 games because of an injured right knee. If they return to form, the Bobcats could boast one of the NBA's best young power forward duos. 2. How good is the 'Stache? Rookie forward Adam Morrison has that cheesy Larry Bird-like mustache, but will he resembles Larry Legend in any other way? The former Gonzaga sharpshooter led the Orlando summer league in scoring (24.6 points), but he'll need to show it against NBA competition. 3. Where's the MASH unit? Last year the Bobcats lost 257 man-games to injury, second-most to Houston. Okafor, May, Gerald Wallace and Brevin Knight all missed significant time, forcing coach Bernie Bickerstaff to use 28 different starting lineups. If they can get through camp healthy, it'll be a success.