Storylines to watch in 2012-13 (cont.)
Brotherly love for Bynum: Here's the part we've all glossed over about the so-called "Dwight Howard trade": It may wind up being more about Andrew Bynum than anyone else. If the former Lakers center manages to click with coach Doug Collins, and if Howard's surgically repaired back happens to hinder him throughout the season, then the Sixers -- who were already on the rise after upsetting Chicago in the first round last season and falling to Boston in seven games in the second round -- could be the ones emerging here.
Even with Iguodala's departure, perimeter scorers will surround Bynum in newcomers Nick Young, Dorell Wright and Jason Richardson. Bynum, a potential 2013 free agent who has already talked up the possibility of staying long term with the Sixers, finally will be featured offensively after so many years playing in the shadows of Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, but it's on him to make the most of it.
The growth of guards Evan Turner and Jrue Holiday will be vital and potentially potent, and the combination of Bynum and free-agent signee Kwame Brown down low should help counter the absence of Iguodala on that end. Plenty to see here indeed.
The "We Believe If ..." Warriors: It's not quite as catchy as the "We Believe" version that had a magical run in 2007, but Golden State's roster overhaul -- which looks promising on paper and has created buzz about a potential playoff berth -- will only have a shot at working this season IF ... new center Andrew Bogut returns to form after fracturing his left ankle in late January and having it surgically repaired in late April ... IF Stephen Curry manages to bring an end to his chronic ankle problems and get his promising career back on track ... IF second-year coach Mark Jackson can convince his group to follow Bogut's lead en route to major defensive improvement ... IF second-year shooting guard Klay Thompson keeps shining like he did after Monta Ellis was traded for Bogut in mid-March. You get the idea.
Urgency in Milwaukee: The Bucks' Ellis-Brandon Jennings backcourt combo will be a League Pass must as well -- especially considering the backdrop of Jennings' contract situation. The fourth-year point guard let it be known back in February that he had his eye on bigger markets, but he said recently that he was hoping to secure an extension before the Oct. 31 deadline (he'll be a restricted free agent next summer if no deal is reached). Ellis, a potential 2013 free agent himself, has plenty left to prove to his new fans after his late-season struggles.
No one is avoiding the pressure cooker in Milwaukee, where general manager John Hammond and coach Scott Skiles are entering the final years of their deals and owner Herb Kohl is letting them all squirm for now. A 31-35, ninth-place finish in the East wasn't good enough for Kohl last season, but Jennings said they can do better.
"To be honest, I think everybody is" feeling pressure, Jennings told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel last month. "We're all on the bubble right now because we need to win.
"There's going to be a lot of pressure on all of us, not just the coaching staff or the GM. We all know this could be it so we need to turn it around right now."
Derrick Rose's return: The sight of Rose's breaking down in tears at a recent Adidas event after watching a video about his comeback from an ACL tear was -- in addition to marketing gold -- the latest proof that he's as genuine and passionate about the game as they come. So just in case the first few months aren't as enticing as expected, Rose's return is a gem of a subplot to look forward to in the latter half of the season. Rose isn't expected back from ACL surgery until the February All-Star break at the earliest. But the former MVP could single-handedly shake up the playoffs if he regains his form in time.
The not-so-terrible T'wolves: Ricky Rubio is no Rose, but his return from a torn ACL and LCL will be crucial to Minnesota's chances of ending an eight-year playoff drought. They were in the postseason mix last season at 21-20 before Rubio's injury triggered a 5-20 finish. Rubio, who had surgery in March, recently told the Spanish publication Sport.ES that he could return as soon as December. Kevin Love will have to do the heavy lifting until he's back, but he'll have more help after the additions of Brandon Roy, Andrei Kirilenko and Chase Budinger, among others. Roy will be an interesting story in his own right, the three-time All-Star back after retiring last December because of knee problems.
The Kings with no castle: The saga in Sacramento will be a topic for another day, but here's the relatively brief update: It's been one relocation rumor after another since the Maloof family that owns the team backed out of a downtown arena deal with the city and arena development company AEG. That's what happens when an NBA team is stuck playing in a 24-year-old arena, which was built on the cheap to begin with.
Business aside, there is some basketball worth watching in Sacramento this season because of the presence of two fascinating young stars: enigmatic center DeMarcus Cousins and (insert position if you know it here) Tyreke Evans. Cousins is the best center in the game not named Dwight Howard or Andrew Bynum, and it's entirely possible that the gap between him and them closes significantly this season. And for all the talk of his rough start with the U.S. select team during the summer, there's simply no way that spending substantial time on the court with future Hall of Famers can hurt a young man's game.
As for Evans, the former Rookie of the Year is entering a contract year without clarity on two key fronts: what position he plays and whether this is his team anymore. Cousins has clearly emerged as the organization's centerpiece, but that doesn't mean Evans can't help secure his own future with a much-improved year. The push to make him a point guard ended last season and won't be revived now with Isaiah Thomas, Aaron Brooks and Jimmer Fredette all on board. Speaking of Fredette, the former BYU dynamo who mostly struggled as a rookie is looking like the odd man out at the moment and those rumblings about a possible trade could grow louder in the coming months.