Training camp storylines to watch
Ben Golliver already examined the position battles and lineup decisions to watch in training camps around the NBA. Here, let's do a quick survey of some of the most intriguing storylines from camps:
• Doc Rivers and the long road ahead. The Clippers paid a high price -- $21 million over three years and a first-round draft pick -- to hire Rivers as their coach, largely in the hope that he could get the most out of a talented roster while helping develop the team's young, hyper-athletic big men. That work began in earnest months ago, but training camp is a prime opportunity for Rivers to set his standards for the season and lay the groundwork for his team's defensive execution.
Rivers is already employing very different motivational tactics as he tailors his approach to each player. On the one hand, much-maligned center DeAndre Jordan -- who was held to just 24.5 minutes per game last season and pulled from crucial situations by Vinny Del Negro -- gets his ego stroked (via Arash Markazi of ESPN.com):
“I think he’s huge for us. I think he will be consistent,” Rivers said. “I’m looking at DeAndre Jordan as an all-defensive player. I think he should be on the all-defensive team. I think he should be a candidate to win the defensive player of the year award. It’s going to require consistency for him to do that. We need him to be the captain of our defense. I’m putting a lot on his plate. All the other stuff will take care of itself.”
Chris Paul, on the other hand, was reminded by Rivers of all that he has yet to accomplish (via Marc Spears of Yahoo! Sports):
"As professional athletes, you always want someone to push you and motivate you," Paul said. "The first meeting I had with Doc, he pretty much told me I wasn't anything. He told me I hadn't done anything in this league, and he was right. You don't always want somebody that's going to tell you what you want to hear."
Rivers has a knack for pushing the right buttons, but what remains to be seen is how he goes about reshaping the Clippers' defense and bringing the essential personnel up to speed. Jordan might have the physical tools to be a great defender, but there's an incredible divide between those raw capabilities and their actualized defensive form. Getting the likes of Jordan and power forward Blake Griffin to become more solid defensively is one of Rivers' biggest challenges.
• Derrick Rose's transition. While a patient rehabilitation has set up Rose for a full return to the court, the Bulls are taking a procedural approach to his reintegration. There's an understandably deliberate process in place -- one that will gear up both Rose and the Bulls gradually over the next few weeks, as he earns frequent reps with Chicago's first unit and acclimates himself to an altered supporting cast.
For the moment, that process manifests with planned, periodic days off, just to make sure that no element of Rose's return is in any way forced. Coach Tom Thibodeau elaborates (via K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune):
"We said we’d take it step-by-step," Thibodeau said. "[Rose] has practiced very well. The next step is to see where he is in a game. We’re trying to get it as close to a gamelike condition as we can. He has handled that part. But there’s nothing like a game.
"The preseason games will be the next step. And of course there’s a different level when we get to the regular season. But he has prepared himself well."
Having been medically cleared and participated in rigorous workouts, all that really remains for Rose are those next two gradations -- the training wheels of exhibition play followed by legitimate regular-season basketball. All accounts of his movement and performance in practice point to his being ready to move on to game action, but we can fully expect a Rose-centric preseason if only because of the anticipation for his return.
• A fresh start in Brooklyn. The Nets have some measure of continuity in returning the likes of Deron Williams, Brook Lopez, Joe Johnson, Andray Blatche and Reggie Evans, but this is largely a new roster led by a first-time coach and a new staff. Any shift of that kind would bring about a great deal of strategic adjustment, but the Nets offer an even more unusual case in going from fairly basic systems to what is likely a more dynamic approach.
In adding Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Andrei Kirilenko and Jason Terry, Brooklyn has overhauled its ability to execute. A wider variety of players can initiate offense, the regular rotation will be stocked with more reliable scorers and the defensive personnel has been upgraded significantly. There are a lot of pieces for coach Jason Kidd to toggle, and how he goes about managing those options has a significant bearing on Brooklyn's season. No contending hopeful has more to accomplish this preseason in terms of fundamental operations.
• Tyreke Evans, reserve. One of the more substantive announcements from Media Day came from Pelicans coach Monty Williams, who said he plans bring Evans off the bench this season, as has been rumored since his signing. But speculation continues about what exactly that might mean for Evans in practical basketball terms. A slot in the starting five would likely have translated to a fairly conventional role on the wing, but in bringing Evans off the bench Williams has an opportunity to use his versatile new addition in more varied capacities. He could spell Jrue Holiday as a primary ball-handler, fill in for Eric Gordon as a slashing guard or simply better balance out the second unit with his scoring while nominally playing the part of a small forward.
The options are many for Williams and Evans, provided that there's a mutual understanding of what this kind of adjustment can offer all parties involved. So far, so good, but it's one thing for Evans to agree to this arrangement in theory and another entirely for him to play out the season as such in good spirits.
• Absentee stars. Rajon Rondo likely won't be ready for the start of the season. Kobe Bryant has no timetable for his return. Russell Westbrook is now expected to miss the first month of the season. Andrew Bynum remains more of a concept than a player. But the Celtics, Lakers, Thunder and Cavaliers, respectively, will all go through camp as best they can while attempting whatever adjustments are necessary. The costs there are twofold: Not only will all four teams miss the production of those star players for however long they're sidelined, but they'll also have to set the foundation of their seasons without a critical component. That can be managed, but the reintegration of such a prominent player can be an understated challenge.
• Sacramento's fresh start and scrambled depth chart. With changes in ownership, management and coaching, the Kings have pulled off as close to a top-down reboot as an NBA franchise can manage. But Sacramento's roster remains a stew of talent with no discernible order. DeMarcus Cousins might be the only player on the roster who can be penciled in as a starter, leaving the recently hired Mike Malone to forge his rotation from scratch. Should the pass-first Greivis Vasquez -- who was acquired in a sign-and-trade for Evans -- start at the point over the more scoring-capable Isaiah Thomas? What's the best way to balance the wing rotation between Marcus Thornton, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, John Salmons and rookie Ben McLemore? How should Carl Landry, Patrick Patterson, Jason Thompson and Chuck Hayes be assigned minutes to best complement Cousins? Minutes and starting spots are up for grabs nearly across the board.
• The Lakers' contrast in expectations. As Bryant tells it, the Lakers still have championship aspirations. He shouldn't be expected to say anything less; there are seemingly no conditions under which Bryant would admit preseason defeat, least of all when he needs to retain full mental engagement as to best rehabilitate from a torn Achilles tendon.
That stance, however, does run contrary to common logic and positions us all for a long season of L.A.'s trying to "prove the doubters wrong." There's no trope in professional sports more stale than the athlete who feels as though he's been slighted, and in the juxtaposition of Bryant's expectations and more grounded public projections, we can already see that formula taking shape. Power to players like Bryant maintaining that their team is better than it's been given credit -- I just hope that a weird, interesting Lakers team doesn't drudge through some wearying, year-long narrative for validation.
• Miami's reclamation projects. The two-time defending champs have two talented, minimum-salary players in camp, each looking to work from the ground up. By the nature of their reputations, both figure to be chronicled consistently. For center Greg Oden, 25, that means periodic updates on his health and availability, though coach Erik Spoelstra was quick to deflect any expectation whatsoever for the No. 1 pick in 2007 (via Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald):
“There is no timetable,” coach Erik Spoelstra said when asked when [Oden] might play in a game. “If it happens in two months, if it happens in three months, who knows? We’re going in with an open mind. No expectations.”
"We'll see how [Beasley] fits in, and I don't have that answer right now. I don't have specific expectations for him on the court. I'm curious to see how it's going to work out."The status of both players bears following, but Beasley's case is certainly more camp-relevant. While Oden has a guaranteed contract for the season, Beasley's deal with the Heat could be nixed at any time -- a fair stipulation after the volume-shooting forward wore out his welcome in each of his last two NBA stops. The Heat have the potential to make good use of Beasley's skills if he can embrace being a role player.