The NBA's 64th season tips off Tuesday night. Who are the players and what are the stories that will shape the next eight months? SI.com's Ian Thomsen offers a sneak peek ...
The Arms Race ContinuesWith five leading contenders -- the Lakers, Celtics, Cavaliers, Spurs and Magic -- well into the luxury tax already, each will continue to seek the ultimate advantage by trying to pick up additional talent during the season, whether by trades or contract buyouts.
The Weak Grow WeakerNon-contenders will seek to improve their cap flexibility or simply slash payroll by continuing to feed talent to the contenders.
The Pressure Will Grow On David Stern And Billy HunterAs the divide grows between the rich markets and the poor, the two negotiators must work toward a reinvention of the collective bargaining agreement in hopes of avoiding a lockout in 2011-12.
Which Free Agent Will Be The First To Jump?(A) Will LeBron James or Dwyane Wade tip his hand? (B) Will Joe Johnson or Chris Bosh declare an intention to leave during the season? (C) Or will the mystery of the 2010 free-agent class go without resolution throughout the season, creating ever more speculation about the summer ahead? The answer will likely be (C).
Teams Will Be More CarefulIn anticipation of a new CBA that will bring shorter and cheaper contracts, more teams will be conservative in offering max money over the year ahead -- while a few others will exploit that hesitancy by offering big money in hopes of stealing a talent off the market.
The Tempo Continues To QuickenBecause that will be the best antidote to beat the dominant hybrid defenses that marry man-to-man and zone principles in the half court.
MVP: LeBron James, CavaliersAs with Michael Jordan, it will be hard for anyone else to separate James from this award in the years to come.
Rookie of the Year: Blake Griffin, ClippersHe'll face a run from Warriors guard Stephen Curry, but Griffin will prevail while helping the Clippers double their win total from last season.
Coach of the Year: Flip Saunders, WizardsHe'll make everyone look better this year in Washington.
Defensive Player of the Year: Dwight Howard, MagicHis stats (blocks and boards) will be overwhelming, helping him to stiff-arm a challenge from Kevin Garnett.
Most Improved Player: Derrick Rose, BullsThis year the best rookie becomes one of the league's best point guards.
Sixth Man Award: Manu Ginobili, SpursHe sets the standard as a future Hall of Famer coming off the bench.
Executive of the Year: Ernie Grunfeld, WizardsComing off a 63-loss season, he rejected a fire sale while hiring Saunders and acquiring Mike Miller and Randy Foye to fill out a talented roster.
Second TeamG Chris Paul, HornetsG Deron Williams, JazzFDirk Nowitzki, MavericksFTim Duncan, SpursCShaquille O'Neal, Cavaliers
Third TeamG Gilbert Arenas, WizardsG Brandon Roy, Trail BlazersF Paul Pierce, CelticsF Pau Gasol, LakersC Al Jefferson, Timberwolves
Mike Brown, Cavaliers coachHe rates among the league's most impressive young coaches, yet Brown must win a championship this season amid the pressure of LeBron's pending free agency.
Stan Van Gundy, Magic coachThough other contenders have also improved, he'll be expected to build on last season's trip to the Finals while incorporating new personalities and styles of play.
Gilbert Arenas, WizardsHe'll be expected to play at a high level coming off two years of injuries. As with every NBA star, it's a small price to pay for all of that money.
Bryan Colangelo, Raptors presidentCan he re-sign Chris Bosh? Should he trade him?
Ron Artest, LakersCan a newcomer be expected to improve the reigning champion? But that much is expected of Artest -- a flattering demand for sure.
Shaquille O'Neal, CavaliersIf the Cavs don't win, he'll get much of the blame. But he likes it this way.
Greg Oden, Trail BlazersIn an NBA world built virtually on perception and opinion, Year 2 will be crucial for the former No. 1 pick.
Carlos Boozer, JazzHe needs a full year of health to raise his stock as a free agent next summer -- if not for the trade market in February.
Byron Scott, Hornets coachIn the final season of his contract, he is being asked to return New Orleans to its standing of two years ago. (He was a lame duck at that time, too.)
Steve Kerr, Suns presidentShould he re-sign Amar'e Stoudemire? Or move everybody and start anew?
Tracy McGrady, RocketsHe is hungry to prove his athleticism is back following two knee surgeries over the past two years.
Allen Iverson, GrizzliesHe has been handed an opportunity to show leadership for a young team with zero expectations. Amid skepticism from many around the league that he won't help Memphis improve, Iverson can overcome the stigma of last season at Detroit.
Chris Kaman, ClippersIf the skilled center shows he's healthy, the Clippers would like to move his contract.
Yi Jianlian, NetsRebuilding teams may be willing to gamble on his talent while benefiting from his draw from the Chinese market.
Andres Nocioni, KingsHis contract isn't attractive, but he'd provide toughness and shooting to a contender.
Tracy McGrady, RocketsHe could help a playoff contender on a second-half run. So could Bucks guard Michael Redd.
Carlos Boozer, JazzHis track record with injuries is so-so and he'll be looking for big money next summer, but he provides All-NBA numbers.
Andrei Kirilenko, JazzHe could supply frontcourt glue to a contender that lacks chemistry.
Andray Blatche, WizardsThis young, long talent has some value and a reasonable three-year contract worth $10 million.
Josh Smith, HawksHe's only 22 with five years of NBA experience, and the potential to be an All-NBA defender.
In general terms, the Warriors need more defense and the Bucks need more offense. Now let's go deeper ...
C: The Pistons need a low-post scorer and shot-blocker here.PF: The Bulls need to find a scorer here to complement Derrick Rose.SF: The Hornets need outside shooting in place of Peja Stojakovic, who has been slowed by back problems.SG: The Timberwolves need a big-time scorer on the wing.PG: The 76ers need to find a replacement for Andre Miller's floor leadership.
All of these newcomers should help:
Ron Artest:What did the Lakers lack? Toughness.
Richard Jefferson: He should be a perfect fit at both ends of the floor for the Spurs.
Vince Carter: A scorer and playmaker who raises the Magic's talent level.
Rasheed Wallace: He strengthens the Celtics in a number of areas, starting with defense.
Hedo Turkoglu: He'll create mismatches and provide a second ball-handler to Toronto.
Mike Miller and Randy Foye: The acquisition of these two solidifies the Wizards' rise back into contention.
Stephen Curry: The No. 7 pick in the draft will score a lot of points in Don Nelson's offense.
Tyreke Evans: The finesse Kings began to transform the franchise by using the No. 4 pick on a tough point guard with the potential to physically dominate the opposition.
Some around the league are questioning these newcomers:
Shaquille O'Neal: Will he slow the tempo and clog the lane for LeBron? I think he'll ultimately do far more good than harm to Cleveland.
Ben Gordon: Will he coexist with Richard Hamilton? The important thing to remember here is that the Pistons are just beginning to reinvent their roster, with more moves to come that will change team chemistry.
Emeka Okafor/Tyson Chandler: The trade that sent Okafor from Charlotte to New Orleans will provide an opportunity to study the merits of each big man in a new setting.
Shawn Marion: After his numbers dropped the last year and a half with Miami and Toronto, Marion has a chance to restore his value while being reunited with Jason Kidd in Dallas.
Andre Miller: Brandon Roy needs the ball as much as Miller. It will be interesting to see how two smart players work this one out together in Portland.
Marquis Daniels: The Celtics need him to help at the point, but the 6-6 Daniels has missed 141 games in six seasons. Will he stay healthy?
Courtney Lee: Now that the Nets are counting on him for big minutes at shooting guard, can he become his generation's Raja Bell?
Scott Skiles: Michael Redd is surrounded by a bunch of hustling defenders. Can an NBA team earn respect without scoring?
Jonny Flynn,Ramon Sessions and Ricky Rubio: How will the first two progress in Minnesota? Will they be overshadowed by Rubio at Barcelona?
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