The National Basketball Association begins the 2014-15 season tonight. The reigning champion San Antonio Spurs will begin their defense of the crown against in-state rivals Dallas. New Orleans and Orlando will be playing in the same time slot to considerably less fanfare. The night will end with the Houston Rockets taking on the team formerly known as the Los Angeles Lakers. I am psyched to have the Association back, but this article isn't just about this evening. It is about what you should be watching for as an NBA fan in 2014-15. Will there be an unexpected team leap into contention like the Suns a year ago? Will one of the so-called NBA supernovas fade into darkness? Are there any players who aren't exactly main stream that are ready for primetime? I'll answer those questions and then some right now! Also, be sure to listen to our NBA Preview Podcast that comes out tomorrow. You check out our other work here.
So here are five things you should watch for in 2014-2015:
THE RAJON RONDO TRADE CARNIVAL
The Celtics are going to be brutal again this year. It is a hard thing for Bostonians to swallow but it is the truth. Danny Ainge is accumulating picks like he is hoarding canned goods for the end of days. Brad Stevens was brought in last year to build cohesion in a very young team for the future. Rajon Rondo is still the best player on the Celtics, but it seems as soon as he proves he is 100% healthy he no longer will be. Rumors of a Rondo trade have swirled for years. His lack of candor with Ray Allen drudged up the first rumors of his exit. The C's hitting of the reset button in the jettisoning of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett signaled that nobody was untouchable. If Rondo didn't tear his ACL in January 2013, there is a good chance that he would already be gone.
But where would the talented point guard go? He is in the last year of a five year extension he signed making him even more enticing to teams that normally couldn't handle his nearly $13 million salary. One of the more bantered about destinations for Rondo is division rivals New York. The Knicks could finally get out from under the Amare Stoudemire boulder, but would more than likely have to take back Gerald Wallace's rotting corpse along with Rondo. It is a deal that I personally would veto in a heartbeat, even to get one of the league's best passers, but you can't discount New York's interest in such a deal. Phil Jackson may be in charge of player selection but once James Dolan gets an idea into his head, it is hard to get away from it. The Rockets or Pistons may be players for Rondo but would more than likely want to sign him long term, especially if they are going to give up Terrence Jones (Houston) or Greg Monroe (Detroit) to do it.
The one team that would have no problem taking on Rondo as a rental, therefore I believe the place he will be traded to this year, is the Sacramento Kings. Owner Vivek Ranadive wanted to start his tenure off in Sacramento with a bang last year by acquiring Rudy Gay from Toronto. He could further show his commitment to the people of California's capital by bringing in Rondo. It would sell tickets, move some merch, and prove that the Kings are at least trying to recreate their "golden age" of the early 2000s. DeMarcus Cousins would be elated to have a pass first point guard after dealing with Isaiah Thomas. The Kings have both the picks and the young assets to go get #9. Hell, if the Kings can somehow sneak into the playoff picture in the West, they could give Rondo the max deal (or close to) that he's been craving.
THE BROW BECOMES A SUPERSTAR
When Anthony Davis was selected first overall by the then-Hornets in 2012, many believed that the league had thrown the team that they owned a bone. Davis was the Hope diamond in a draft that featured many a cubic zirconia. When healthy, he has been a game changing player on both ends of the floor. He blocks shots with great regularity and his ability to get to the rim has just increased over time. He has been on two gold medal Team USA sides (2012 Olympics, 2014 FIBA World Cup). With all these accolades and praise, Davis has yet to bring his team to the playoffs. He has not made an All-NBA team. Is this the year that Davis does both and emerges as one of the NBA's finest?
I think he has the potential to be one of the five best players in the NBA by season's end. I believe with all the roster movement in this off-season, barring injury Davis is a lock to make his first All-NBA team. The thing that'll raise his profile even more, a playoffs appearance, may be too much to ask of the big man. The Western Conference is brutally tough and if you don't have several high caliber players playing big minutes for you, wins are going to come sporadically. Davis may get his, but there are too many question marks with his supporting cast on the Pelicans. Whether it be health, inconsistency, or just plain not being any good, Davis is in a tough spot in NOLA.
That tangent doesn't answer my question though: "Will Anthony Davis become a megastar?" My vote is yes. From the way he plays to his ever so marketable brow, Davis has what it takes to be an NBA figurehead for a decade. I expect gaudy numbers from him in 2014-15 and see him as a perennial All-Star selection from now until the end of his career. He may not be making $100 million in his sleep in endorsements like LeBron or be in every single commercial during NBA games like Blake Griffin, but this is the start of the Anthony Davis era of the NBA. If he is somehow able to pull an Allen Iverson and will his bag of misfit toys to the playoffs and beyond this year, his legend will grow even more.
FIRST TO WORST FOR INDIANA
No team took more of a beating this off-season than the Indiana Pacers. They lost Paul George for the year to a gruesome injury. They lost Lance Stephenson to the Hornets. With those two subtractions, they also lost their chance at being contenders. The Pacers were the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs. This year they will be closer to the #1 pick.
This is not me saying that the loss of George and Stephenson leaves Indiana bereft of talent. Roy Hibbert was an All-Star last year and David West is one of the best power forwards in the conference. George Hill is a serviceable point guard with a clutch touch. The thing with them is that none of those three can be the focal point of the offense. Down the stretch last year, Hibbert's role on the offensive end expanded. He resulted by thoroughly wilting and having one of the worst second halves by an All-Star in NBA history. West is still a force at 34 but is already hurt. You can be the best defensive team in the league, but if you can't score points you can't win.
There is a chance that there will not be more than three Pacers that average double figures this season. That statement alone should scare Pacers fans to death. They are going to be consistently viewing some ugggggly basketball. CJ Miles taking twenty shots in a game? That's going to happen. Chris Copeland taking that final shot to win a game? Be prepared. It is hard for me to say seeing how good they were just one year ago, but mark my words: The Indiana Pacers will be the second worst team in the NBA. They won't break 20 wins unless they make a team morphing trade. I was originally going to predict that they were going to be the worst team in the NBA, but then I remembered the 76ers still exist. Picking anybody to be worse than them this year is just irresponsible.
LEBRON'S RETURN HOME WON'T HAVE A HAPPY ENDING
If you read my article about Cleveland while the Kevin Love rumors swirled, you already know my thoughts on the potential for disaster for the Cavs. Too many alphas who aren't willing to play second fiddle may mean some rough waters come playoff time for a team that every pundit seems to have winning the Eastern Conference going away.
LeBron has a much better non-Big Three cast with him in Ohio but I think the Eastern Conference has improved this year. The only team to take a major step back is Indiana, mostly because of the losses I talked about earlier. Once again, Philadelphia does not count. If LeBron had signed a multi-year deal with no out clauses in Cleveland, I'd have a different view of the future of the franchise. As it currently stands though, I believe that it is championship or bust for them. Cleveland fans are the happiest they have been in a while. Taper that enthusiasm Clevelanders, LeBron has left you before and if Kevin and Kyrie can't be Chris and Dwyane 2.0, he'll leave you again.
THE SPURS ARE GOING TO GET GOT, BUT AGE WON'T BE THE REASON.
The Spurs effective ending of the Big Three in Miami was one of the greatest things I've ever experienced watching the NBA. The complete decimation of a team that was said they would win not 1, not 2, not 3...(you get the point) brought joy to many. The Spurs keep defying the critics that say that age will catch up to them and that it is just a matter of time before they become just another mid-table team in a stacked Western Conference. The Spurs aren't winning the title again in 2014-15 but age will have nothing to do with it.
I've said in on air and in writing before that the Spurs are one of those organizations that just get it. Since the Popovich era was ushered in, they have done nothing but be relevant and competitive every year. Their hiccups, such as losing to #8 Memphis as a #1 seed in 2010-11, are surrounded by success. They'll be in the picture again this year because they take the necessary steps and make the necessary adjustments to do so. I just personally think the Western Conference is too loaded and they'll run into a hot team like Golden State or the Los Angeles Clippers who will beat them in a seven game series. They aren't getting swept out of the playoffs. They aren't running out of gas. They are just being beat by a team that is better than them come May.
Enjoy the games tonight and like I said in the opener be sure to check out of NBA Podcast posting tomorrow on Soundcloud as well as iTunes! I may also do NBA picks for tonight's action before the 8:00 starts so check those too. Welcome back NBA!!
Image Credits: NBA logo, Pacers logo (wikipedia.org); Rondo (nypost.com); Anthony Davis (themash.com); Cleveland Big 3 (mstarz.com), San Antonio Big 3 (thesanantonioriverwalk.com)