Inside the NBA | Players to watch in new season
Published: Thursday, October 4, 2012
Updated: Thursday, October 4, 2012 07:10
With most NBA teams’ training camps starting up this week, the basketball season will be upon us soon. As squads start coming together, the Daily looks at a few players that have big years ahead of them and could play heavily in deciding how this season turns out:
Andrew Bynum, Philadelphia 76ers
Not satisfied with playing second-fiddle to Kobe Bryant for the foreseeable future, Bynum finally gets his wish: a fresh start with the Philadelphia 76ers. The addition of Bynum changes the team’s dynamic drastically. Previously a young team playing tough defense to get out on the break, the 76ers will need to get away from their fast breaks if they want to play through Bynum. Because he is arguably the best post-up center in the league, the 76ers have to get him the touches around the rim to keep him happy. The transition to a more half-court oriented offense will pose problems for opposing teams in the Eastern Conference, as most of the top teams are looking to play small ball.
By moving East, Bynum not only becomes the best center in the conference, but he also becomes the biggest mismatch against most teams unwilling to play a true center. Changing the identity of the team will not be easy, but the responsibility and the opportunity to leave his mark on the league are what Bynum wanted all along. But with his character called into question multiple times last season, it will be interesting to see how he handles all of this responsibility.
James Harden, Oklahoma City Thunder
Alongside Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka, Harden was able to help lead the young Thunder to the NBA Finals this past season, only to lose to the Miami Heat. This will no doubt fuel their motivation for the coming season, but the difference between Harden and the other three Thunder players mentioned above is their contracts. Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka have guaranteed big-money contracts, whereas Harden will be playing his final year of his rookie deal.
That is no slight to Harden, a rising star in his own right — he just came to the team one season too late. Harden deserves to get a max-contract, but whether he gets it from the Thunder or another team is yet to be seen. The Harden contract debate also has huge implications for small-market teams. General Manager Sam Presti has laid an excellent blueprint for teams to collapse and rebuild through the draft in the hopes of avoiding luxury tax penalties, and has been rewarded with a wealth of young stars.
But now their rookie contracts are ending, and all of the Thunder’s picks have been hits. So the Thunder are faced with the tough decision of potentially keeping all of their picks and paying the luxury tax, which can be deadly for small-market teams, or let go of one of their stars — in this case, Harden.
Deron Williams, Brooklyn Nets
Williams has never been on a team with a winning culture. He started in Utah, where an early-round loss to the Lakers was the norm, and moved on to New Jersey, long time Eastern-Conference bottom-feeders. But with owners Mikhail Prokhorov and Jay-Z willing to spend the big bucks, Williams’ patience and resolve have been rewarded with a move to a flashy new stadium in the Mecca of street-ball and a skilled roster.
This will be arguably the most talented team Williams has been on, and it is time for him to step up as the leader. He has a starting five built perfectly for him: a great second-option on the wing, an excellent perimeter defender, a tenacious rebounder and a 7-foot low post threat.
For once in his career, he will have nothing to complain about. He will be looked to as the leader in Brooklyn, and how he guides that team will dictate the pecking order in the Eastern Conference.
Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves
With a shooting touch to go along with his relentless rebounding ability, Love has cemented himself as the best power forward in the game last season. Over the summer, he rightfully complained about the lack of talent around him and has had his wishes fulfilled. Though they didn’t make any flashy moves this offseason, the Timberwolves have built themselves a solid roster. The team’s success, though, relies on Ricky Rubio’s health. Last season with Rubio, the Timberwolves were a fringe playoff team, but without him, they were just another lottery-bound team that didn’t even have a draft pick from which to benefit.
Rubio will still be recovering from a torn ACL until December or so, and it will be up to Love to carry the team until then. A good start from the Timberwolves will be extremely important if they want to make the playoffs in a competitive Western Conference. Having Love lead the team is already a step in the right direction, but now he must take that next step without Rubio.
Eric Gordon, New Orleans Hornets
The centerpiece in the Chris Paul trade of a year ago, Gordon has missed a lot of time due to injuries — or in an effort to tank the season to gain lottery picks to attract a rich owner to buy the team, you decide. But because of his potential, he was rewarded with a max-contract in New Orleans. Gordon’s value comes with the fact that he is an absolute scoring machine at the 2-guard position and is still under 24.