It's been 118 days since the Miami Heat defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder in the 2012 NBA Finals. There are still 13 days left until the new season tips off in Cleveland, Miami and Los Angeles. Who's counting? We are, clearly.
As the NBA enters its 67th season in less than two weeks -- and as we relaunch The Point Forward -- here's a look at 67 reasons to watch in 2012-13, in case a LeBron James title defense, a potential battle between the Thunder and the Los Angeles Lakers for Western Conference supremacy and the New York Knicks giving Rasheed Wallace a training camp shot weren't enough for you. (A hat tip to veteran NBA writer Steve Aschburner for the inspiration.)
1. Steve Nash’s triumphant return to the playoffs after his final two seasons in Phoenix ended in the lottery. A summer full of viral videos has been an unexpected treat, but it is way past time to bring back the bloody postseason battles. Ring chasing -- with the Lakers, no less! -- has never been this dignified.
2. A schedule without caveats or asterisks, and another year removed from the toxicity of the NBA’s lockout.
3. Especially the elimination of that back-to-back-to-back balderdash.
4. The Stan Van Gundy rumor mill. It won’t take much to propel every hot (or even lukewarm?) seat into a link to Van Gundy, and rightfully so. The former Magic coach is one of the best in the business, and though he was done in by the Machiavellian turn of the Dwight Howard trade saga, hopefully he’ll find his way back into the league in short order.
5. The NBA comeback of Andrei Kirilenko, patron saint of the box score 5x5.
6. Rick Carlisle’s proactive rotation. While many coaches wait for circumstance and performance to dictate their lineup decisions, Carlisle actively investigates every reasonable possibility. Open-mindedness and curiosity have rendered the “defined role” obsolete in Dallas, and vaulted the Mavericks into an elite class when it comes to managing on-court configurations and in-season adjustment.
7. Grant Hill, 40, still playing important rotation minutes for a not-quite title contender. Consider: Fellow Clippers forward Blake Griffin, reigning king of dunks, celebrated his second birthday just two weeks before Hill soared to throw down his famous one-handed alley-oop in the 1991 NCAA title game.
8. Russell Westbrook’s bursts of unbridled brilliance.
9. Tony Allen’s ill-conceived and utterly captivating efforts to be an isolation scorer.
10. Up-to-the-second updates from a nation of talented beat writers, and a basketball blogosphere that’s more dedicated, diverse and detail-oriented than ever. So it’s been said, many times and many ways: There’s never been a better time to be a basketball fan.
11. The guaranteed circus that will follow every public punishment for flopping under the league's new guidelines. Teammates, opposing players, coaches, executives, columnists and, of course, the guilty party, all armed with new angles for arguments. Call this a guilty pleasure.
12. Anything and everything involving the Denver Nuggets. A dynamic roster and addictive style of play has the potential to turn every regular-season Nuggets game into a must-watch affair. Coach George Karl will again have his team running and winning this season, but with deeper ranks and more talent than before.
13. Speaking of George Karl, at least 82 sets of pregame and postgame comments from one of the league’s most quotable coaches, in which the JaVale McGee enigma will surely serve as an ideal muse, oh, a dozen times.
14. Charles. (Plus Ernie, C-Webb and Kenny, sort of.) Definitely not Shaq.
15. Al Jefferson’s re-imagining of the traditional hook shot. The Utah Jazz center violates just about every fundamental of post-up play in his execution of the hook, but his contorting form makes for an oddly efficient -- and utterly fascinating -- source of offense.
16. The assortment of unibrow-inspired fanfare in New Orleans. These are exciting times to be a Hornets fan, or an enthusiast of unorthodox facial hair.
17. Anthony Davis, fully extended, blocking a shot that no one in the arena, besides himself, thought possible. Then: the look of disbelief on his victim’s face and the subsequent glee from the Hornets' bench. Finally: Monty Williams looking on, arms folded, doing his best to pretend he has seen it happen 100 times before.
18. Enes Kanter vignettes blossoming into full meme territory.
19. Watching James Harden, known for his smooth drives to the hoop, and the Thunder, known for their uniform discretion, navigate the unavoidable stress and uncertainty that comes with max-ish contract-extension talks. General manager Sam Presti, to this point, has kept everyone important in the fold and satisfied. Why should we believe this will ultimately be any different?
20. A Warriors roster that actually makes sense. After years of trudging through seasons with ill-conceived plans and misfit components, Golden State finally has a team with a cogent composition of skills and plenty of room to grow.
21. The development (or lack thereof) of Vinny Del Negro’s offense. The presence of Chris Paul alone affords the Clippers with an incredible margin for error, but the simplicity of Del Negro’s system tested the limits of that buffer. Can a new season introduce a little imagination?
22. Golden State's Klay Thompson sparking the “Would he be the No. 2 pick if the 2011 class were re-drafted?” discussion sooner rather than later. San Antonio's Kawhi Leonard just plugging along, not worrying about any of that.
23. A Dwight Howard with nothing left to demand from anyone besides himself.
24. Sacramento Kings fans continuing to outshine and outclass the franchise’s ownership no matter how ugly, convoluted or petty things get. Keep up the beautiful dream, even with the Maloofs cashing Sleep Train checks. The loyalty to the game serves as the perfect "ball above all" reminder for hoop heads worldwide.
25. Jason Kidd doing everything in his power to avoid attempting layups.
29. An engaged Deron Williams. It’s hard to put too much blame on Williams for sleepwalking through a season and change for the listless Nets, but a franchise reboot and roster renovation should have the 28-year-old point guard back to playing at an elite level.
30. Lamar Odom’s comeback try. At this point, one can only hope that a return to his Los Angeles comfort zone can reset Odom’s course -- even if the early evidence points to a summer of being a bit too comfortable.
31. Push coming to shove for Raymond Felton, whose disastrous 2011-12 season rewrote his reputation in an ugly manner. Over the summer, a slimmed-down and newly married Felton had his dream job gift-wrapped to him. The Knicks even went the extra mile, forsaking Jeremy Lin, his top competition for the starting job. Improved conditioning and tough talk about chips and shoulders filled the summer headlines. Felton’s fork in the road is clear: Restore his good name or face a whole new round of even tougher questions.
32. The most media-savvy generation of players yet. Michael Jordan may be an everlasting influence on the game, but his public-relations legacy has gone by the wayside. Today’s up-and-coming stars are full of life and personality, and far bolder in their engagement with the basketball-loving public.
33. Doc Rivers, with the game on the line and a clipboard in his hands. One of the league’s most charismatic coaches has become quite the X-and-O savant for Boston, and never is that more apparent than in end-game situations.
34. Whatever’s next for Paul George. The career of Indiana’s rangy swingman could go in any number of conceivable directions, and this coming season -- George’s third -- could have a considerable bearing on his development.
36. Derrick Rose’s return. We can’t yet circle a specific date on the calendar. With any luck, the 2011 MVP will complete his comeback from knee surgery at the United Center, where 20,000-plus sets of eyes will water simultaneously like the world’s most elaborate automatic sprinkler system.
37. Witnessing Basketball Twitter go Defcon when Bill Simmons debuts on NBA Countdown.
38. Mike Dunlap’s flirtations with the idea of a full-court press. There won’t be all that many reasons to tune in to watch the Bobcats this season, but Charlotte’s new coach has his team working through an anachronistic pressing scheme that could prove to be a must-see NBA experiment.
40. Josh Smith’s response to the allure of the three-point line. The Atlanta forward's relationship with jump shooting is the NBA equivalent of the infamous “Marshmallow Test.” Will the talented forward succumb to the bait placed directly in front of him, or will he opt for the delayed gratification of long-term efficiency?
41. Josh Smith’s response to the allure of July 2013’s free-agency period. Hold on tight.
42. The New York media launching into a little Shumpsanity when Iman Shumpert’s return from knee surgery is imminent. The rare Knicks talent who deserves more attention.
43. Having Joe Johnson return to his natural state of working off the ball. Years before "Iso Joe," Johnson played brilliantly off of Steve Nash as a member of the Seven Seconds Or Less Suns. Now he’ll have a similar opportunity with Deron Williams in Brooklyn, and will hopefully put his days as a primary shot creator in Atlanta behind him.
44. A better look at Suns center Marcin Gortat. Over the last few years, we’ve seen Gortat’s support system stripped down. First, he was traded from Orlando’s beneficial four-out, one-in offensive system. Then this past summer, the playmaker who set him up with easy baskets was dealt to the Lakers. The variables are being controlled, and at long last, we may have a fairly isolated look at what Gortat is capable of.
45. Kevin Durant, subtly supplementing his defensive skills. Incremental improvements don’t have much sex appeal, but each little step brings Durant that much closer to the pinnacle of his profession.
46. And whatever new scoring trick Kevin Durant has conjured up this time. Those never get old.
47. Rich Cho's and Rob Hennigan’s two-man race to the very bottom of the Southeast Division. For all of the “Oklahoma City Model” bragging rights.
48. The meeting of Greg Monroe's versatility and Andre Drummond's one-dimensionality on offense. The Pistons’ frontcourt of the future could prove to be a terrific juxtaposition of expansion and restraint; Monroe has evolved into a player capable of doing it all -- screening, posting up, passing from the high post, spotting up for jumpers, rolling to the rim -- but Drummond begins his pro career as a finisher and little else. If he continues to play within himself and allows Monroe to do the heavy lifting (and likewise, if Monroe carries the offensive burden and allows the 19-year-old to develop slowly), then the two could prove to be quite compatible.
49. Ray Allen’s return to Boston’s TD Garden on Jan. 27. Decried by some as a traitor, replaced by the more than capable Jason Terry/Courtney Lee duo, and force-fed a diet of wide-open jumpers thanks to LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, Allen’s revenge quest will not be lacking motivation, stakes or opportunity.
51. Rick Adelman’s beautiful, Princeton-style offense, loaded with capable passers. Ricky Rubio’s return would be cause for a celebration in itself, but the additions of Andrei Kirilenko, Brandon Roy and Alexey Shved give Minnesota unequaled potential in terms of their collaborative playmaking.
52. Brandon Roy. Watching him struggle with knee injuries can be painful; not being able to watch him at all, knowing that he was at stuck at home processing the interruption of his All-Star arc, was worse.
53. The Jeff Green reclamation project. Boston’s $36-million-dollar man isn’t just making his comeback after a heart-related scare kept him off the court for the entire 2011-2012 season, but also re-establishing himself in the face of considerable criticism. There’s ample reason to believe that Green isn’t as good as his reputation suggests, but a fresh start in Boston could help him generate a little momentum.
54. More of the same for the re-signed Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett -- which, remarkably, means likely repeat performances from the anchors of the league’s best offense (San Antonio) and defense (Boston) of a season ago.
55. One member of Houston’s rookie flotilla emerging into something special. Just don’t ask us to predict which one.
56. The Lakers’ unbelievable pairing of the league’s top pick-and-roll practitioner and most dominant finisher. Somehow, Kobe Bryant is almost an afterthought.
57. A full season of the actualized Miami Heat. LeBron James and company spent the better part of two years trying to feel out their roster compatibilities, but coach Erik Spoelstra’s positional reconstruction has finally given the Heat their own unique sense of order. Whether James is a small forward or a power forward is now irrelevant; by dispensing with traditional conceptions of position, the Heat have found a way to surround their best players with an optimal amount of speed and long-range shooting -- a doomsday scenario for the rest of the league.
58. In a similar vein, Year One of a LeBron James free from all conceivable burdens. The most overworked superstar of the modern era, James seems to only know the pedal to the metal. How fast and far will he go without any excess baggage and distractions?
59. The ever-present possibility that LeBron might decide to hurdle someone again.
60. The musical chairs of the Milwaukee Bucks’ frontcourt. With Ersan Ilyasova, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, John Henson, Samuel Dalembert, Drew Gooden, Larry Sanders, Ekpe Udoh, and Joel Przybilla all vying for the same minutes, coach Scott Skiles will undoubtedly opt to shuffle his rotation on a whim.
61. Al Harrington, now given the opportunity to hunt shots without apology as a member of the Orlando Magic. We’ve seen how many attempts Harrington is capable of putting up in a normal context, but how shot-happy might he become on a team so miserable that it has no real need for his offensive inhibitions?
62. Bradley Beal’s early opportunities. John Wall’s knee injury has put the Wizards in a tough spot, but necessity could thrust the No. 3 pick into a more pivotal offensive role. If Wall’s absence doubles as an opportunity for Beal to showcase some potential as a supplementary ball-handler (a la Eric Gordon), then this unfortunate break could bear a bit of a silver lining.
63. The rotation-caliber players who have yet to be discovered. Forget the stupor of Linsanity; who’s the next Gary Neal?
64. The intricate choreography of Carmelo Anthony’s pre-shot isolation routine. Melo’s series of pump fakes and jab steps can border on comical if his defender doesn’t bite on them early, but you have to admire Anthony’s persistence, if not his halt to his team’s offensive rhythm.
65. After nearly a half-decade in limbo, a Portland Trail Blazers season that opens without mention of those five horrible words: “When Greg Oden gets back…” His washout stands as an NBA tragedy, but if ever there was a time for team, player and fan base to move on, this was it.