82 Things to Watch For This NBA Season (Pt. 1)

It's baaack.

It's been three and a half months since black sheep of the Buss family presented Kobe and the Lakers with the Larry O'Brien trophy in Orlando.

As of last week, that officially became known as "last season" as teams all around the league opened training camp and preseason NBA basketball got under way.

Unlike last summer when basketball fans had the Olympics to serve as an awesome little bridge between NBA seasons, there was no meaningful hoops to watch this offseason. Instead, diehard NBA fans had to focus on the off-the-court aspect of the game to get their fix while most of the players got some well deserved R&R.

Luckily, there were plenty of off-the-court aspects to speak of this summer to keep the NBA fresh on our minds.

There was the Ricky Rubio saga. There was the lockout of the referees. There was the free agency period, and what a hectic few months that was.

Remember during the NBA season last year when all of the focus was on the free agent class of 2010? Well, somewhere between the "Will LeBron play for the Knicks?" articles that were written, the media forgot to tell us that the summer of 2009 was going to be one of the busiest free agency periods of all-time.

Well, free agency is over now, basketball is beginning, and it's time to sort it all out.

Today, I kick off my four-part NBA season preview "82 Things to Watch For This NBA Season," which will appear right here at Sports Central every Monday between now and the start of the NBA Season on October 27th.

In the preview, I'll make some bold predictions and break down where every team stands heading into the upcoming NBA season.

But first, today in part one we'll start the countdown with a much-needed recap of who went where this offseason, and what it could potentially mean for their new teams.

Let the preview begin...

82. Shaquille O'Neal, Cleveland Cavaliers

In an offseason that featured dozens of transactions, none made bigger waves than Shaq teaming up with LeBron in Cleveland. LeBron now has a legit number two playing alongside of him, even if Shaq is well past his prime.

Shaq may have the championship experience that Cleveland lacks, but he doesn't come without baggage. He can't stay out of the spotlight for more than a few weeks at a time (i.e. his show "Shaq Vs."). Will Shaq be able to accept his role as the definite second fiddle to LeBron?

My guess is "no", and I'll even take it a step further and make my first bold prediction of the countdown. Shaq will put LeBron in an uncomfortable position the week before Christmas, when, in an interview to promote the Cavs/Lakers game on Christmas Day, Shaq will say that LeBron is the best player he's ever played with (which also counts as his annual insult to Kobe Bryant), and LeBron will have to tip-toe around calling himself better than Kobe in an attempt to be politically correct.

Then in March, right around when Shaq comes back from another one of his annual traditions, a "spring break" of sorts where he nurses various injuries, he'll complain about not getting enough touches and have the Cavs good and divided heading into the Playoffs.

I don't know what Shaq is calling himself yet now that he's in Cleveland, but I'm going with "The Big Predictable" until he proves me otherwise.

81. Ron Artest, Los Angeles Lakers

As a Laker fan, let me just come out and say I am not happy with the Artest/Ariza swap. Trevor Ariza knew his role, accepted it, and fit like a glove in the system the Lakers run.

Now the Lakers bring in the most volatile player in the NBA, that's a slight upgrade talent-wise at best over Ariza, into a media market that's going to poke the bear for as long as it takes to make Artest say or do something crazy, and expect it to work out.

Best case scenario is that Artest is so focused on winning his first title that he behaves himself through June and helps the Lakers win another title, then self-destructs and wastes four of the five years that the Lakers signed him to.

Worst case scenario is that he self destructs by New Year's Day. Either way, the window is extremely small on maximizing Ron Artest in L.A., and it's a guarantee that it doesn't end well.

80. Trevor Ariza, Houston Rockets

Speaking of Ariza, what the hell was he thinking? He left the defending champs, his hometown team, and the first team to give him a real opportunity to be a star in the NBA to go to Houston ... for the same amount of money!

Now Yao's out, Tracy McGrady's out, and all the sudden, Houston looks like a 20-win team. Enjoy the lottery selection show for the next few years, Trevor. It'll be the only time we'll see you on national TV in May for the foreseeable future.

That's what you get for letting your agent do all the talking in negotiations.

79. Richard Jefferson, San Antonio Spurs
78. Antonio McDyess, San Antonio Spurs

As usual, I love what the Spurs did with these moves. They took a player in Jefferson who underachieved last season because he was asked to do too much in Milwaukee, brought him in as the fourth option, and gave up next to nothing to get him.

Then they added one of the true pure rebounders in the game in McDyess to help Duncan burden some of the load inside.

The Spurs sent a clear message to their fans this offseason: we're a milking every last season we can get from Tim Duncan. They could have waited around for Manu Ginobili's contract to expire and triad to be a player in free agency in 2010, but decided that it was silly to waste one of the precious few seasons the greatest power forward of all-time has left of his prime, and went all in with Jefferson and McDyess.

If they mesh well, if they stay healthy, and if they get a favorable draw in the playoffs, the Spurs are a real threat to win the West. That's a lot of "ifs" needed for San Antonio to win the title, but if they didn't make any moves this offseason, there was only one "if" concerning their 2010 title hopes: if hell freezes over.

77. Ben Gordon, Detroit Pistons
76. Charlie Villanueva, Detroit Pistons
75. Ben Wallace, Detroit Pistons

Ladies and gentlemen, meet your new-look Pistons!

A quick recap of the last 12 months in Detroit: Joe Dumars traded Chauncey Billups, one of the best leaders and winners in the game today, for Allen Iverson, the exact opposite of the Billups description, and it blew up in his face.

Then, when the clock struck midnight for free agency to begin, Dumars gave out $94 million and tied up salary cap space for the next five seasons on two players (Gordon and Villanueva) that will never be all-stars.

Oh, and the economy sucks extra bad in Detroit, so he brought Ben Wallace back to sell tickets because his near $100 million investments in Gordon and Villanueva weren't cutting it.

The sad part is, the East is so weak that the Pistons will probably squeak in the playoffs, and somehow Dumars will come out of this smelling like roses.

74. Allen Iverson, Memphis Grizzlies

If you have a chance, do yourself a favor and read Scoop Jackson's interview with Iverson that he did last week. It's long, but fascinating.

Not only does Iverson refer to himself literally dozens of times in the third person, but he actually tries to convince Scoop (or maybe himself?) that Memphis is where he wants to be.

Right. You stayed on the market months longer than every other player, took a 75% decrease in pay and landed with a team that's never won anything and this is where you want to play?

73. Zach Randolph, Memphis Grizzlies

But at least A.I. is surrounded by positive people. I have two thoughts on Memphis heading into the 2009-10 season.

First, has there ever been as big a discrepancy between how good a team is on a video game and how good they are in real life? I mean think about it. Iverson, Randolph, Rudy Gay, O.J. Mayo, Hasheem Thabeet. Those guys are all going to be solid players on NBA 2K10, but it'd be a miracle if this is a 30-win team.

And secondly, how is Memphis going to handle the entourage situation this season? You've got Iverson, Randolph, and Mayo, who I would assume all travel 20 deep at all times. Are they going to assign each entourage a corner of the court so as not to cause ruckus by interacting with one another? Are they going to group them together and sit them across from the main sideline camera to make it look like there are more people going to Grizzlies games this year? These are thing I need to know.

72. Vince Carter, Orlando Magic
71. Hedo Turkoglu, Toronto Raptors
70. Andre Miller, Portland Trail Blazers

I group these three players together, in that order, because they directly influenced the destination of one another.

When Vince was traded to Orlando, there was no way they were going to re-sign Turkoglu. When Turkoglu backed out on Portland at the 11th hour to play in Toronto, it left Portland with the cap space to sign Miller.

I actually like all three acquisitions for their respective teams. Orlando, like San Antonio, made a big "win now" gamble with Carter. With his salary, the team has little to no flexibility for the near future, but they have a very solid core in place. Adding Carter and a healthy Jameer Nelson to a team that already made the NBA Finals makes this team very dangerous on paper, and in my opinion, an elite team.

Toronto, by adding Turkoglu, made one last ditch effort to keep Chris Bosh this offseason by proving to him that they are committed to winning. It might not be enough to keep him away from a big market next summer, but at least they're trying.

And Portland, by adding Miller, can ease the load off Brandon Roy throughout the regular season. Roy needed to have the ball on every possession for the Blazers to have any success on offense last season. In Miller, the Blazers have a legit playmaker who can distribute the ball to the other players and allow Roy to still do what he does playing off the ball.

Usually a domino effect like this has a negative effect on either the teams involved, the players involved, or both. This could be the first example of a win-win-win-win-win-win situation in NBA history.

70. Rasheed Wallace, Boston Celtics

Basically, just re-read the Ron Artest portion. 'Sheed has worn out his welcome everywhere he's gone, but the fact is when he wants to play, he's a great player.

He'll buy into the intensity and team concept that Boston has going on for right now, but if the C's don't win immediately, expect to see a lot of three-point-line-to-three-point-line play from him as 'Sheed collects a check for the final year of his two-year contract.

69. Tyson Chandler, Charlotte Bobcats
68. Emeka Okafor, New Orleans Hornets

This is one of the more bizarre one-for-one deals in recent memory. I'm not sure who even benefits from this situation.

New Orleans was trying so hard to unload Chandler last season for financial reasons, but instead took on more money to acquire Okafor.

Charlotte finally sniffed the postseason for the first time in team history last year, then traded away one of its key pieces for a player that clearly is cloaked in red flags in Chandler. I mean, if he's healthy, why would New Orleans be so eager to trade him?

It doesn't make much sense now, but we'll let it play out first. Maybe I'm wrong and I don't know as much about these players as I think, but I just don't get why this trade happened. We'll see.

67. Shawn Marion, Dallas Mavericks
66. Drew Gooden, Dallas Mavericks

Mark Cuban at his best here. What's more important, a big name or a good fit? 90% of GMs around the league would go with the player that's a good fit. Cuban, as you would expect, went with the big name in Shawn Marion.

I'm not sure that he's a total mistake, Marion definitely has carved out a niche in the league as a good defender and someone who can hurt you in transition, but isn't that what Josh Howard is for?

Meanwhile, the Mavs didn't address their main issue, an inside presence. They tried to add Marcin Gortat, but when Orlando matched their offer, they went the curious route by bringing in another undersized big man to fill the Brandon Bass role in Drew Gooden.

Didn't they pay attention to the last two seasons when that didn't work?

65. Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers

Not technically a free agent or trade acquisition, but a big pick up nonetheless for the Little Brother of L.A. hoops.

I'm not sure which way I'm leaning on this one. On the one hand, expectations are always high for a number one pick. On the other hand, he's going to the Clippers where expectations couldn't be any lower.

Like last year, the Clips look good on paper, and if Griffin turns out to be the real deal they could have a nice little inside-out game with he and Baron Davis.

But like every year, they are the Clippers, they'll find a way to screw this up. Stay tuned.

64. Darko Milicic, New York Knicks

Let's throw him on this list just for kicks. It should be fun to watch him huff and puff his way up and down the floor in Mike D'Antoni's run-and-gun style of play.

It'll be a good experience for Darko, one that he should be able to call back on two years from now when he's back playing in Europe.

Be sure to check back at Sports Central next Monday when Scott Shepherd continues his countdown of the 82 "Things to Watch For This Season" with his bold predictions for the end of season awards.

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