On The Spot: Western Conference
The Mavs have given Harris a five-year, $42 million contract and the full-time starting point guard job for the first time in his career. While Dallas loves the speedy fourth-year player's defense and ability to get into the lane, Harris needs to round out his game by improving his perimeter jumper.
The Nuggets are proceeding cautiously with the $93 million power forward, who is recovering from his second microfracture knee surgery. But if the up-tempo Nuggets have designs on winning when the game slows down in the playoffs -- they've endured four consecutive first-round exits -- they will need Martin's toughness and defensive acumen.
Ellis had a scary start to his season when he sprained his neck in training camp (the injury was not considered serious). This is a big year for the NBA's reigning Most Improved Player, an impending free agent who faded last season in the playoffs and faces a lot of competition for playing time in the Warriors' backcourt.
After clashing with Jeff Van Gundy and playing only 28 regular-season games last season before being banished for the playoffs, Wells is reunited with Rick Adelman, the coach under whom he thrived in Sacramento in 2005-06. If Wells can put together a consistent, trouble-free season as a complementary scorer, he'd boost the Rockets' championship hopes and put himself in line to cash in as a free agent next summer.
Coming off a down season on the heels of signing a $52 million contract extension, Kaman's attempt to rediscover his 2005-06 form has become even more critical for the Clippers now that star power forward Elton Brand is out for at least half the season with an Achilles tendon injury.
As you might have heard, Kobe Bryant, in a tirade caught on videotape, lashed out at the Lakers for their unwillingness to include the young center in a potential trade for Jason Kidd last season. Bynum, who turns 20 on Oct. 27, will be under pressure to accelerate his development in his third season.
Darko Milicic |
Is the 7-footer ready to put it together in his fifth season? The Grizzlies are banking on it after signing him to a three-year deal, reportedly worth $21 million.
Jefferson, already a savvy lost-post scorer at age 22, is clearly the most coveted of the five players the Wolves acquired in the Kevin Garnett trade. The final scorecard in the Garnett deal will depend a great deal on Jefferson's performance.
The Hornets contended for a playoff spot last season despite an onslaught of injured players, including Stojakovic, who played only 13 games before undergoing back surgery. That marked the third consecutive season Stojakovic missed significant time with injury. The Hornets, 25th in points and 26th in shooting last season, need the 30-year-old Stojakovic to provide some outside scoring punch.
The focus naturally will be on the Matrix after he went public with his trade request before training camp.
Zach Randolph's departure leaves a glaring need for post offense, a hole the Blazers are hoping Aldridge can fill after he came on to average 14 points on 53.4 percent shooting in the second half of his rookie season.
Dogged by trade rumors and maligned for his defense, Bibby is one of several Kings veterans with an uncertain future in Sacramento. On top of that, he shot a career-worst 40.4 percent last season and now must adjust to new coach Reggie Theus' system.
With the Spurs, you essentially know what to expect from core veterans such as Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Bruce Bowen. But there's a sense that Parker, 25, even with all he's accomplished, still hasn't reached his peak yet. To stave off their West rivals, the Spurs need Parker to keep ascending.
With Rashard Lewis and Ray Allen having departed, the stage is set for Durant to develop into the Sonics' top scoring option as a rookie. How Durant handles himself defensively against the NBA's parade of high-scoring shooting guards also bears watching.
He's cleared the air with coach Jerry Sloan since requesting a trade, but their relationship will be scrutinized like never before during the season.<br><br>Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.