The Mavs didn't acquire Kidd -- giving up on-the-rise Devin Harris in the process -- to lose in the first round of the playoffs, which they did after the 35-year-old's late-February arrival last season. For the trade to pay dividends, Kidd needs to lead Dallas on a deep postseason run, one the Mavs feel is more possible with new coach Rick Carlisle's emphasis on opening up the offense and letting his veteran point guard create in transition.
2 of 13John Biever/SI
Rasheed Wallace | Detroit Pistons
Wallace was awful (2-for-12 for four points) in the Pistons' series-clinching loss to the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals last season, a defeat followed by team president Joe Dumars' statements suggesting the possibility of a big summer makeover. The shakeup never came, but Dumars could revisit the idea if the Pistons struggle early, and Wallace might be the prime bait because he's in the last year of his contract (worth $13 million).
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Mo Williams | Cleveland Cavaliers
The Cavs' ever-changing supporting cast now includes Williams, who was obtained from the Bucks to relieve some pressure from LeBron James on offense. The scoring point guard will be asked to do just that in Cleveland, along with initiating the offense at times so LeBron isn't burdened with doing it so often. A more diverse scoring attack, with Williams playing a central role in it, might be all that stands between the Cavs and another trip to the NBA Finals.
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Ron Artest | Houston Rockets
The Rockets obtained one of the best two-way players in the game without disrupting the core of their team. What's not to like? Well, with Artest, of course, there's always a possibility that he will be a drain on team chemistry, dominate the ball on offense and become unreliable. If Artest stays in line all season -- and the free-agent-to-be has incentive to do that -- Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming can look forward to finally advancing in the playoffs and perhaps even contending for the championship.
5 of 13John W. McDonough/SI
Carlos Boozer | Utah Jazz
This is a critical season for Boozer and the Jazz. For starters, Boozer is motivated to make up for his poor second-round series against the Lakers last season. For another, Boozer is one of several Utah players who can become a free agent after the season, meaning this could be the last chance at a title for the Boozer-Deron Williams-Andrei Kirilenko-Mehmet Okur core.
6 of 13John W. McDonough/SI
Andrew Bynum | Los Angeles Lakers
Bynum is viewed by many as the Lakers' missing piece, a player whose interior presence might have made the difference in the NBA Finals against the tougher Celtics last season had he not been sidelined with a knee injury. First things first, though, as Bynum has to prove that he's healthy again and that he can develop on-court chemistry with fellow 7-footer Pau Gasol in the Lakers' Twin Towers lineup.
7 of 13John W. McDonough/SI
Greg Oden | Portland Trail Blazers
Fair or not, the year-long delay of his rookie season has only heightened expectations for Oden, who is still getting into shape after rehab from knee surgery. The No. 1 pick in the 2007 draft is being counted on to be the defensive anchor for a young, supremely talented Blazers team that aspires to make the playoffs for the first time since 2003.
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Jermaine O'Neal | Toronto Raptors
Toronto's success could hinge on whether O'Neal regains his All-Star-type form as a skilled scorer and top shot-blocker or continues being a day-to-day proposition because of injuries. If O'Neal stays healthy, he joins with Chris Bosh to give the Raptors a terrific inside tandem. If he doesn't, and is more the player who has missed an average of 31 games the last four seasons, it's hard to see how Toronto can improve on back-to-back first-round playoff exits.
9 of 13John W. McDonough/SI
Carmelo Anthony | Denver Nuggets
Anthony has promised a "different me" this season as he tries to become a better, more vocal leader. That assertiveness is welcome because some predict that the Nuggets are primed to implode this season: Fifth-year coach George Karl could be wearing thin, Allen Iverson didn't get the contract extension he sought in the offseason, the team has lost in the first round five consecutive seasons and the offseason giveaway of Marcus Camby to the Clippers didn't sit well. Can Carmelo keep the Nuggets from unraveling?
10 of 13Greg Nelson/SI
Shaquille O'Neal | Phoenix Suns
The Diesel already has vowed revenge on the Spurs for playing Hack-a-Shaq in the playoffs last season, but it's fair to wonder whether O'Neal will be healthy enough to make San Antonio or any other Suns rival pay when the games get really meaningful. Shaq hasn't played close to a full season since 2004-05, yet the Suns are relying on the 36-year-old center to score in the post and anchor the defense as they transition to a more conventional style under new coach Terry Porter.
11 of 13David E. Klutho/SI
Elton Brand | Philadelphia 76ers
The 76ers made a surprising second-half run and reached the playoffs last season without a No. 1 star. They've added Brand to fill that role, and with the acquisition comes the expectation that Philadelphia not only will make the playoffs this season but also advance for the first time since 2003.
12 of 13John W. McDonough/SI
Monta Ellis | Golden State Warriors
Ellis' moped mishap cost him 30 games and seemed to expose friction in the Warriors' front office, which was divided over whether to suspend the star guard after he injured his ankle in the accident. If Ellis does not regain his old form when he returns, it's possible that the Warriors could move to void the six-year, $66 million contract that he signed in July.
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James Posey | New Orleans Hornets
The Hornets made a four-year, $25 million commitment to Posey in hopes that he could do for them what he did with the Celtics last season -- namely provide defense, toughness and clutch three-point shooting to a championship team. That's a big payout to a reserve swingman who turns 31 this season, but the Hornets believe they're close to a title and that Posey could be the difference-maker.
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