The contenders made bold moves over the summer, importing major stars who could play lead roles in blockbuster productions.
It's a funny thing, though. Championships can't be won without the appropriate supporting players, those hungry, humble, affordable between-the-cracks guys who can't carry a team but can keep one rolling. So, sure,
The Cleveland forward is among a group of young, emerging players on teams that are contending for a playoff spot, and more, who could play crucial roles to the outcome of their team's season. They're the wind beneath the wings, to quote noted basketball analyst
Teams like the Cavaliers get all misty-eyed over them. They've got LeBron, they've got Shaq, they've got another scorer in
James must have known what Hickson could contribute, because he all but adopted him over the summer. On the court and off, Hickson hung with LeBron. Learned from LeBron. Absorbed LeBron's LeBronness.
"I was a sponge," Hickson said.
Hickson, who averaged 4 points as a rookie last season, came off the bench for the Cavs' first six games. After a disappointing 3-3 start, he got his first starting call against New York although he had scored 5 points over those first six games.
"When I'm starting I know my minutes are going to be there," he said. "I'm not playing on eggshells. Playing with LeBron,
The trick for him will be to do that and still remain aggressive. James has already warned him about that.
"J.J.'s still learning," James said. "Sometimes he relaxes a little bit. He can never relax because he's too athletic."
Here are four more emerging players likely to play crucial roles for their teams: