NBA Impact Players
Many consider James to be the MVP favorite after he carried the Cavs to the NBA Finals last season. The fifth-year veteran will have to play to that standard because Cleveland didn't upgrade the roster in the offseason.
His struggles during the Mavs' first-round playoff loss to the Warriors took some of the luster off his becoming the first European-born player to win the MVP award. One scout said of the 7-foot forward, "I bet he's going to come back with a vengeance this year."
Whether the Lakers deal Bryant before the Feb. 21 trade deadline will be the biggest story of the first half of the season. If a disgruntled Kobe stays with the Lakers, one scout said he "wouldn't be surprised if Kobe's thinking that he'll just go after the scoring title and see if he can score 80 some nights."
Although he was denied a third consecutive MVP award, the 33-year-old point guard showed little sign of slowing down last season. He shot a career-high 53.2 percent from the field -- his third straight season above 50 percent -- and averaged a personal-best and league-leading 11.6 assists.
The ultimate example of making an impact? How about this: Since Duncan's arrival in 1997, the Spurs have the best winning percentage in major professional sports (.709, 559-229). Behind Duncan, the Spurs have won four of the last nine championships.
Garnett might have his best chance to reach his first NBA Finals after switching to the Eastern Conference. He has averaged at least 20 points, 10 rebounds and four assists in each of the last nine seasons.
Wade missed the first two weeks of the regular season in his recovery from offseason knee and shoulder surgeries. Having extra rest -- the Heat lost in the first round of the playoffs last season, and Wade didn't play with Team USA during the summer -- could pay off over the course of this season.
After grinding it out under coach Jeff Van Gundy for four seasons, how will Yao adjust to Rick Adelman's more open offense? The Rockets surely would like to get that answer via a full season from Yao, who played only 48 games last season and 57 in 2005-06.
Now two years removed from major knee surgery, Stoudemire, a first-team All-NBA selection last year, could be better than ever in his sixth season. While Stoudemire is working to expand his offensive game, what the Suns really need from him is to become a better and more consistent defender.
There's never a dull moment with the outspoken Arenas, who is coming back from knee surgery and has vowed to opt out of his contract after the season. Arenas can score with the best of them -- he has recorded three consecutive 2,000-point seasons -- but the Wizards need more from him as a leader and defender.
The overlooked star in the LeBron-Carmelo-Wade '03 draft class, all Bosh did last season was average 22.6 points and 10.7 rebounds and lead the Raptors to the first division title in their 12-year history. No wonder his preseason knee injury was such cause for concern in Toronto.
The next step for Howard is to add to his offensive repertoire, which he showed glimpses of doing during the preseason. With Rashard Lewis complementing him from the perimeter, Howard has a chance to lead Orlando to a winning record for the first time in his four seasons.
Another year, another attempt by McGrady to win a playoff series. This could be the season, considering the Rockets were one of the few upper-echelon teams in the West that appeared to improve in the offseason.
Like Steve Nash, Kidd isn't slowing down in the latter part of his career. The 34-year-old point guard had a career-high 12 triple-doubles in 2006-07 and joined Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson as the only players to average at least 13 points, eight rebounds and nine assists in a season.
A 15-game suspension for his role in a fight with the Knicks overshadowed a prolific season for Anthony, who finished second in the league in scoring at 28.9 points a game. With Anthony and Allen Iverson together for a full season, the Nuggets are hoping to win a playoff series for the first time since 1994.
At 35, can the 14-time All-Star hold up for another deep playoff run? He's gone from 73 to 59 to 40 games played in three seasons in Miami, and last season he averaged a career-low 28.4 minutes. Shaq does seem motivated: He said his legacy won't be complete without at least one more championship to go with the three he won with the Lakers and one he bagged with the Heat in 2006.
Nobody was more electrifying in last season's playoffs than Davis, who averaged 25.3 points on 51.3 percent in 11 games. As always, the question with the explosive point guard is about his health. Since playing in every game his first three seasons, Davis has missed an average of 26 games his last five seasons.
Only Kevin Garnett and Dwight Howard finished with more double-doubles last season than Boozer, who had 53 while averaging 20.9 points and 11.7 rebounds in 74 games. Boozer made his first All-Star team as well, a far cry from his early days in Utah when the injury-plagued power forward was criticized by owner Larry Miller and heard his name in trade rumors.
As he showed in winning the NBA Finals MVP, Parker has become increasingly difficult to defend because of his improved perimeter shot. Last season the speedy point guard joined Steve Nash as the only guards to shoot at least 50 percent from the field -- this from a player who made 41.9 percent his first season in the league. Just 25, Parker already has won three titles and appeared in 100 playoff games.
The four-time All-Star went public with a trade request before training camp, but the Suns would have an extremely hard time replacing his production. The Matrix ranked in the top 35 last season in scoring, rebounding, field goal percentage, blocks and steals.
After two frustrating seasons with a young, rebuilding team, Pierce should be rejuvenated playing with Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. With a big season, Pierce could move into fourth on the Celtics' all-time scoring list, behind No. 1 John Havlicek, Larry Bird and Robert Parish.
Brand is expected to miss at least half the season after rupturing his Achilles tendon during an offseason workout. When healthy, Brand has proved consistent in his myriad contributions, averaging at least 20 points, nine rebounds and two blocks in each of the last five seasons.
Iverson entered the season with the third-highest career scoring average in NBA history (27.9), trailing only Michael Jordan (30.12) and Wilt Chamberlain ( 30.07).
Billups took care of some business in the offseason by signing a five-year, $60 million contract. Now for the unfinished business: He'd like to atone for uncharacteristically uneven play in the Pistons' conference finals loss to the Cavaliers.
Like many of his teammates, Paul suffered through an injury-riddled 2006-07 season. If the third-year point guard can stay healthy, he's a threat to play before his home fans at the 2008 All-Star Game in New Orleans.