Why watch the NBA this season? We have our (63) reasons
Greg Oden vs. veteran Cs and Derrick Rose vs. veteran PGs will be fun matchups
The Kobe/LeBron debate will keep ticking -- and so will Jerry Sloan in Utah
More can't-misses: TNT's studio show, crazy halftime acts and unique NBA styles
The NBA's 63rd season begins Tuesday night with three tasty hors d'oeuvres, so it seems appropriate to offer 63 reasons to watch as 2008-09 plays out. Fortunately, for both writer and readers, this isn't the league's 163rd year:
1. Greg Oden vs. Shaquille O'Neal. And Oden vs. Dwight Howard. And Oden vs. Yao Ming. And Oden vs. Andrew Bynum. Not since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar arrived to jostle with the likes of Wilt Chamberlain, Willis Reed, Nate Thurmond and Wes Unseld have we eagerly anticipated so many potential clashes of titans.
2. Derrick Rose vs. Jason Kidd. And Rose vs. Steve Nash. And Rose vs. Chris Paul. And Rose vs. Baron Davis. Experience means so much at point guard, but Chicago believes it has a budding superstar, playmaker and leader in the No. 1 pick from June.
3. The New Orleans Hornets, sneaking up on no one.
4. Seeing Boston's Kevin Garnett play a season -- shoot, seeing Garnett play a game -- with the immense satisfaction and inner calm that comes from finally winning an NBA title. For a lot of critics, greatness is a binary system: Won a championship vs. zero championships.
5. Seeing Garnett navigate a season without the white-hot intensity and crazed desperation that propelled him through his first 13 seasons. Suddenly not having to win it all might disorient Garnett, like a bounty hunter waking up in a world without bad guys.
6. Vinny Del Negro and Michael Curry, two former NBA role players turned first-time head coaches, facing the rare and similar situations of managing teams with actual talent. Usually, newbies get stuck with rotten rosters, but the Bulls and the Pistons, respectively, face big (and probably bloated) expectations. Seems like a deal-with-the-devil sort of thing; Del Negro and Curry get quicker starts but possibly shorter honeymoons.
7. Shaq, in decline, may get rightful calls that didn't go his way in his younger, invulnerable "Superman'' days. Dislodging a defender, for instance, always is supposed to be a foul, even if the defender -- such as Shaq -- is too massive to dislodge. It would be nice if there weren't two rule books, one for the big fella and one for everyone else, as O'Neal winds down.
8. Catching Grant Hill for at least one more season. We got cheated in the middle of this class act's career, so every game he plays now (diminished or not) is a gift.
9. Allen Iverson's steady evolution into an elder statesman or an NBA graybeard, just by sticking around. As the Nuggets' irrepressible scorer -- arguably, the greatest pound-for-pound player in league history -- gets further from his "dangerous" days and closer to the retirement stage, the sense here is that he's becoming more accepted and appreciated by fans nationwide.
10. Kevin Durant, shrugging past the sophomore slump.
11. Seattle starting fresh, becoming to the NBA what Los Angeles is to the NFL: a city that seems to be doing fine without a franchise. The Sonics' move to Oklahoma City stripped more luster from the league than the league stripped from Seattle.
12. 'Squatch sightings. The Sonics' hairy mascot was the NBA's best (sorry, Gorilla) but now has gone the way of his Bigfooted inspiration. Speaking of which ...
13. Hair. From Ben Wallace's to Joakim Noah's to Anderson Varejao's to Etan Thomas' to whatever it is that Fabricio Oberto and Sasha Vujacic have got going on. Oh, and we almost forgot Bulls assistant coach Del Harris, who has the best hair in the league.
14. Beards. From Brian Skinner's honey-dipped King Tut model to Baron Davis' Grover Washington Jr. tribute, with Spurs coach Gregg Popovich recently recalling commissioner David Stern's lockout facial hair. Pau Gasol gets special mention for scraggliness, although no one can match the braided, Jesse Ventura-style chin whiskers of Chicago's Drew Gooden.
15. One-point-three billion people in China who actually do care, thanks to the Houston center.
16. Kevin Love's full-court outlet passes, an asset over which the Minnesota personnel staff has beaten drums since acquiring the former UCLA big guy on draft night. It's a little like raving about a pitcher's pickoff move -- something that might be showcased, what, once every two or three games? It's all the stuff in between Love's alleged awe-inspiring heaves downcourt that will make or break him as an NBA rookie.
17. The best studio show in TV sports. TNT's crew of Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Ernie Johnson is so good that, if you DVR the network's telecasts, you're tempted to fast-forward through the games just for halftimes and postgames. When these guys are working, everyone else might as well have gone fishin'.
18. The neat, stand-until-the-good-guys-score tradition of Oklahoma City fans in the moments after tip-off at the Ford Center. Please, no pilfering in more established NBA arenas.
19. Dwyane Wade, healthy.
20. Rasheed Wallace, irate.
21. Nash using the court and the backboard the way Steve Mizerak used his cue and the cushions to turn basketball into life-sized, hardwood billiards. The Phoenix point guard deludes every one of us who is too short, too slow and too below-the-rim to know true hoops success.
22. Bill Walton's extravagant exaggerations, enthusiastic embellishments and excited embroiderings as the most hyperbolic of our TV analysts.
23. Team rivalries, including all three showcased on opening night: Celtics-Cavaliers, the "now" showdown in the East, followed by Lakers-Trail Blazers, the "next" matchup in the West. In between, there's Bulls-Bucks -- with Scott Skiles taking over 90 miles north, the NBA Central could become sports' new Black-and-Blue Division.
24. Clippers-76ers, too, thanks to the Elton Brand-Baron Davis baton handoff or switcheroo, depending on your point of view. Brand was supposed to entice, then team with Davis in a Western Conference push, but chose instead to join Andre Miller and Andre Iguodala in a Celtics three-dux.
25. Suns-Mavericks. As in, whose window is closing faster?
26. The image of Kevin Harlan, TNT play-by-play announcer, rising from his sideline seat and climbing onto the broadcast table in front of him while making one of his trademark, off-the-wall, "No regard for human life!'' calls.
27. The array of interesting personalities working each NBA game as referees. The recent Tim Donaghy-inspired Pedowitz report urged the league to foster more openness between its refs and the media, all in the interest of transparency. So maybe the public finally will get to know some of these guys, beyond Dick Bavetta's jogging regimen, Joey Crawford's umpiring kin and Bob Delaney's Donnie Brasco background. (We won't be holding our breath for the NBA to abide by this suggestion.)
28. Jermaine O'Neal, possibly reborn in Toronto. Either that, or never heard from again.
29. For those few who haven't already clicked to this.
30. And then this.
31. The Pat Riley Watch. The more success Erik Spoelstra has in his first head-coaching job, the greater speculation will be that Riley -- the team president who stepped down as coach, then stepped back in as coach, then stepped down while handpicking Spoelstra the way he once handpicked Stan Van Gundy -- might be tempted to step back in again. We can't really have seen the last of Riles stylin' on NBA sidelines, can we?