Led by Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, Boston recorded the biggest one-season improvement in NBA history ( 42 games) last year en route to the franchise's 17th championship. Now it seeks to become the first Celtics club to repeat as champs since the Bill Russell era (1968 and '69). The good news for Boston is that most of the pieces are back, with the notable exception of small forward James Posey. But will the Big Three be as hungry now that they have those long-sought rings?
2 of 10John W. McDonough/SI
Greg Oden's debut
After missing all of last season with a knee injury, Blazers center Greg Oden finally gets a chance to live up to the hype. The No. 1 pick in the 2007 draft could prove to be a major piece for an up-and-coming Portland team that has its sights set on the playoffs. Oden also is eligible to win Rookie of the Year, joining Michael Beasley, Derrick Rose and O.J. Mayo, among others, in what looks to be a compelling race.
3 of 10AP, Damian Strohmeyer/SI, Greg Nelson/SI (2)
Effect of economic downturn
The struggling U.S. economy threatens to bring less revenue from ticket sales and merchandising as sports fans tighten their belts. The problem could be felt most acutely in struggling smaller markets such as Memphis, Indianapolis, Milwaukee and Sacramento. More than ever, the NBA is going to need stars like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul to keep the game afloat while the economy recovers.
4 of 10Greg Nelson/SI
Ron Artest's impact in Houston
Frustrated by another first-round playoff ouster, the Rockets took a bold gamble by acquiring mercurial forward Ron Artest in a trade with the Kings. Can the two-time All-Star join with Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming to make the Rockets a championship contender? Or will Artest's history of off-court problems lead to distraction and another aborted title mission in Houston? Of course, even a controversy-free season from Artest might not help much if Yao and T-Mac can't stay healthy for a full season.
5 of 10Peter Read Miller/SI
Andrew Bynum's return
The Lakers sorely missed the presence of injured center Andrew Bynum in last season's Finals loss to the Celtics. The talented 7-footer is back on the court and has declared himself fully recovered from the knee injury that derailed his 2007-08 season. If Bynum can stay healthy and pick up where he left off as one of the game's blossoming young big men, he just might prove to be the missing piece that puts Kobe Bryant & Co. over the top this time around.
6 of 10Lou Capozzola/SI, AP, Icon SMI
Old faces in new places
Baron Davis returned home to Hollywood. Elton Brand fled to Philly. Jermaine O'Neal got a fresh start in Toronto. Those were just some of the big-name players who changed uniforms in the offseason. It will be interesting to see if Brand and O'Neal can regain their All-Star form and turn their teams into legitimate contenders in the East. Davis, meanwhile, will be out to lead his hometown Clippers back to the West playoffs after a two-year absence.
7 of 10John Biever/SI
LeBron James' future
He can't become a free agent until 2010, but it's never too early to start dreaming. The Nets and a handful of other teams already have begun making moves and clearing cap space in hopes of landing the Cavaliers' superstar. James says he's happy to be in Cleveland for now, but has not ruled out anything. Expect to hear a lot of stories and rumors about LeBron's future as he goes about trying to lead the Cavs to the title -- and maybe beat out the likes of Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul and Dwight Howard for his first MVP award.
8 of 10John W. McDonough/SI
Big names on the block
Allen Iverson. Shawn Marion. Vince Carter. Lamar Odom. Josh Howard. Kirk Hinrich. Mike Bibby. Those are some of the big-name players who could be available before the February trade deadline. Even if this year's deadline run-up doesn't match last season's frenzy (Pau Gasol, Shaquille O'Neal and Jason Kidd were among those traded), it could have an effect on the title race as contending teams try to beef up for the stretch drive.
9 of 10Mike Stobe/Getty Images, Lou Capozzola/SI
The state of the Knicks
Seeking to restore the luster to a once-proud franchise, the Knicks brought in longtime executive Donny Walsh and veteran coach Mike D'Antoni to clean up the mess left behind by the Isiah Thomas regime. The Walsh/D'Antoni pairing has promised a change in culture and a more entertaining style of play, but a roster clogged with mismatched parts and bad contracts figures to make for a slow turnaround. Meanwhile, the Stephon Marbury saga hangs over the team like a black cloud. How long will New York fans stay patient?
10 of 10Greg Nelson/SI
The NBA in OKC
After two years of legal wrangling in Seattle, owner Clay Bennett finally got his wish and relocated the franchise to Oklahoma City. With last season's Rookie of the Year, Kevin Durant, and several other young talents, the Thunder have a bright future. But it will be interesting to see if Oklahoma City embraces a rebuilding team the same way it did the more competitive New Orleans Hornets a few years ago during their temporary relocation to OKC because of Hurricane Katrina.
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