30 teams face pre-camp questions
Key to Lakers' title repeat hopes: Can Kobe Bryant and Ron Artest co-exist?
Will the presence of Shaq in Cleveland get in LeBron James' way to the hoop?
How will big offseason signings change Boston, Dallas, Orlando, San Antonio?
LOS ANGELES -- As they watched Vitali Klitschko pummel Chris Arreola from a pair of ringside seats Saturday night, Kobe Bryant and Ron Artest were all smiles. Lakers fans will undoubtedly be happy if that scene is repeated this time next year.
As he begins his 14th season with the Lakers, Bryant is once again the key piece in L.A.'s championship puzzle. But it's Artest who has the potential to complete that puzzle -- or turn it upside down. On paper, Artest represents a significant upgrade to the departed Trevor Ariza, but Ariza was an ideal role player while Artest has always gravitated towards the spotlight. Can Artest and Bryant (along with Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom) find a way to co-exist in Los Angeles?
Here are some other questions teams are facing as they open training camp.
Question: How will the Cavs integrate Shaquille O'Neal into the offense?
You can't pick up an article about the Cavs without reading a quote from LeBron James about how thrilled he is to finally have a low post presence. But O'Neal's 7-1, 325 pound frame often found its way in the path of Steve Nash in Phoenix -- can coach Mike Brown devise an offense that keeps O'Neal out of James' path? Remember, Brown lost offensive mastermind John Kuester and did not replace him on the bench.
Question: Will Vince Carter be able to fill Hedo Turkoglu's sneakers?
Carter is a better scorer than Turkoglu and is nearly his equal in fourth-quarter production (4.7 points per game for Carter, 5.3 for Turkoglu). He's also one of the best pick-and-roll players in the league. But Carter doesn't have Turkoglu's passing skills or the size to create mismatches at small forward.
Question: Is Kevin Garnett healthy?
All eyes will be on KG's balky knee. The Celtics say Garnett is healthy after missing the last 25 games of the regular season and the entire playoffs with a knee sprain; they will need him to be 100 percent if they plan on making another run at an NBA title.
Question: Is Brook Lopez ready for a bigger role?
To compensate for the loss of Carter, Nets coach Lawrence Frank plans to expand Lopez's role in the offense this season. After averaging 13 points per game as a rookie, Lopez will be given plenty of opportunities to inflate that number. Can he handle it?
Question: How will Eddie Jordan utilize Elton Brand?
As big an issue as the point guard situation is (Lou Williams or ... Lou Williams?), the Sixers' success this season could hinge on Jordan's ability to successfully integrate Brand into the offense. At his best, Brand can be a 20-10 threat and a weapon in the open floor. At his worst, Brand could stagnate the Sixers offense.
Question: Can Kuester earn the players' respect?
We've seen it before -- a rookie coach comes in and is immediately run over in the locker room. But Kuester has a long track record as an assistant and familiarity with Pistons veterans Tayshaun Prince, Rip Hamilton and Ben Wallace from his days working under Larry Brown. He will get a fair shot.
Question: How small will Brandon Jennings' learning curve be?
The Bucks have myriad issues -- Andrew Bogut's health, Michael Redd's happiness -- but Jennings can mask some of them with a strong rookie campaign. A gifted playmaker, Jennings ability to learn and execute the Milwaukee offense quickly will be a good barometer for the Bucks' success.
Question: Is Jamal Crawford the answer at point guard?
The Hawks thought they were set at point guard -- that was until the Cavaliers used Mike Bibby for a turnstile in the conference semifinals. Crawford isn't much of a defender either but he is an explosive scorer who gives Atlanta another dangerous perimeter threat. But can he be a playmaker?
Question: Which Jermaine O'Neal will show up in camp?
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra recently commented that O'Neal looks "like the guy I remembered with the Pacers, but stronger." He had better. Dwyane Wade had one of his most durable seasons last year; to have another one like it he needs some help offensively and O'Neal is the most likely candidate. When healthy and motivated, O'Neal is an overpowering center with diverse skills. When not, he is little more than a mediocre jump shooter.
Question: Can Luol Deng compensate for the loss of Ben Gordon?
Gordon's explosive scoring and clutch shooting won't be missed as much if Deng returns to form. After missing the last 22 games of the regular season with a stress fracture Deng is healthy and will need to be the 18.8 point/7.1 rebound player he was in '06-'07 for the Bulls to be successful.
Question: Is Tyson Chandler healthy?
Chandler played only 45 games last season while battling an arthritic ankle the required surgery in the offseason. He also had his troublesome left toe operated on. If healthy, Chandler is a strong rebounder who plays the pick-and-roll as well as any big man in the league. If not, Charlotte gave Emeka Okafor away for nothing.
Question: How quickly (if at all) will the Andrea Bargnani-Chris Bosh-Hedo Turkoglu front line gel?
Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo went all in this summer when he locked up Bargnani with a five-year, $50 million deal and Turkoglu with a five-year, $57 million contract. Now all they have to do is play well enough together to convince Bosh to remain in Toronto long term.
Question: How healthy is Mike Dunleavy?
Dunleavy was limited to only 18 games last season with a knee injury, which effectively crippled the Pacers' season. A sprain on his troublesome right knee will keep him out of the season opener. But the Pacers need to get him back in the lineup quickly.
Question: Who is going to help Chris Duhon?
Adding another point guard seemed to be a foregone conclusion after Duhon faded badly down the stretch last season. But the Knicks struck out with Ramon Sessions and Ricky Rubio and now it appears Duhon will once again get the lions share of the minutes. Identifying a quality backup has to be the Knicks top priority.
Question: Can Gilbert Arenas and Flip Saunders get on the same page?
With Arenas out of the lineup for most of last season, the Wizards plummeted to the bottom of the conference standings. Now that he's back healthy, Washington is expected to contend for one of the top-four seeds. Saunders is used to handling superstars (Garnett, Chauncey Billups, Rasheed Wallace); now he must find a way to maximize Arenas' offensive skills.
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