NBA season has started
While the NBA season kicked off Tuesday with a not-so-glamorous matchup of the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Washington Wizards, the league remains dominated by superstar-laden teams. In the off-season, fans saw the rapid player movement many expected after the lockout-shortened off-season of last year. As a result, almost all of the title contenders reshaped their cores to keep up in the talent arms race.
Starting in the Western Conference, the Los Angeles Lakers upgraded their point guard posse by adding two-time MVP Steve Nash in a trade with the Phoenix Suns to replace Ramon Sessions. The team also traded with the Orlando Magic for Dwight Howard, the unquestionably best center in the league, and gave up temperamental and injury-prone center Andrew Bynum to the Philadelphia 76ers. While on paper this team looks unstoppable, it has had issues meshing the talent between its aging superstars and new offensive scheme.
The Oklahoma City Thunder, which lost to the Miami Heat in the championship last year, focused more on setting itself up for the future by trading James Harden to the Houston Rockets for Kevin Martin, picking first-round choice Jeremy Lamb, and making two future first-round draft picks. With current superstars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook on the Thunder, Harden went from being the third-best player on his own team to the unquestioned star of the Rockets, which also signed point guard Jeremy Lin, who inspired last year’s Linsanity, from the New York Knicks.
The other Los Angeles team, the Clippers, focused on adding veteran talent to their young superstar core of forward Blake Griffin, point guard Chris Paul, and center DeAndre Jordan. By adding Lamar Odom and Jamal Crawford, the team improved its depth to complement its high-flying offense.
Out in Denver, the Nuggets also added talent in the form of all-star forward Andre Iguodala as part of the multiteam Bynum trade. Iguodala is added to the young core of center JaVale McGee and point guard Ty Lawson. Coach George Karl has always been about pushing the ball on offense and encouraging aggressive hard-nosed defense, and now he finally has the players in place to make it work.
In the Eastern Conference, the defending champion Miami Heat continued to add pieces around its core of perennial all-stars LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh. Future hall-of-fame sharpshooter Ray Allen moved from the Boston Celtics to the Heat, giving Miami the corner jump-shooting threat. This, along with gaining Rashard Lewis, further intensified the team's rivalry with the Celtics.
The Celtics, after losing Allen, added Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo through the draft and jump shooter Jason Terry from the Dallas Mavericks through free agency. Boston is currently in the process of redefining its team as aging stars Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett decline and point guard Rajon Rondo enters his prime. The Celtics are getting a big boost from players returning from injuries as forward Jeff Green and guard Avery Bradley are coming back from last year's season-ending injuries.
The Nets made the move from New Jersey to Brooklyn during the off-season and look to be a much better team this year. All-star point guard Deron Williams chose to resign during the off-season after the team traded for star guard Joe Johnson from the Atlanta Hawks. Center Brook Lopez is also returning from the broken foot and twisted ankle he suffered last season and will combine with forward Gerald Wallace to create Brooklyn’s core.
The 76ers destroyed their core from last year, but are still in line for a playoff spot. After trading Iguodala, losing Elton Brand to the Mavericks, and failing to resign point guard Lou Williams and letting him go to the Hawks, the 76ers appear to be in trouble. Not all is lost, however, as they added Bynum from the Lakers and shooting guard Jason Richardson from the Magic. Also, the 76ers' new young core of guards, Jrue Holliday and Evan Turner, have had another year to mature.
This NBA season will likely be shaped by the flurry of off-season trades to try to dethrone the Heat. The key will be to see which teams can mesh their new identities and talent into a single power, and which ones fail to come together.