The 2013-14 NBA season tips off with the Orlando Magic at the Indiana Pacers tonight. What have been the biggest offseason story lines?

Heat ThreePeat?

Coming off back-to-back titles, the Miami Heat have their sights on becoming the first team to win three consecutive Championships since the 2000-2002 Los Angeles Lakers. With the ‘Big 3’ of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, the experience of Ray Allen and the power of Greg Oden, under much-improved head coach Erik Spoelstra, the pieces are in place. However, there are potential stumbling blocks. Several teams around them have strengthened. Much has been rumoured around ‘King’ James’ free agency in 2014. Owner Micky Arison may offload some of his expensive, ageing players to shift costs over to younger projects. Whether this uncertainty will harm the Heat’s chances this year (or the next six years) remains to be seen.

 

 

Ready for Liftoff

The Houston Rockets landed three-time defensive player of the year, Dwight Howard, in the offseason after an unsettled year in LA. Ranking third-last in the league last season in opponent’s points-per-game, having ‘Superman’ at centre with the proven offence of James Harden, Jeremy Lin and Chandler Parsons is exactly what Space City needed to challenge for the top.

New-Look Nets

Jason Kidd played point guard for the New York Knicks last year. This year, he has bought out Jay-Z’s stake in the Brooklyn Nets. What’s more, he will be coaching them. With the help of Russian billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov, they caught Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett from the Boston Celtics to accompany the already-threatening Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez. Getting one of the best starting lineups on paper to gel will be Kidd’s primary objective. Should that be met, Brooklyn will have something big.

Mamba Drama

The Lakers will begin a season without Kobe Bryant for the first time in seven years. The 15-time All-Star ruptured his Achilles back in April and, at 35 years of age, his recovery time is not what it used to be. The Black Mamba’s return is scheduled for the Christmas Day showdown with the Heat, as suggested by his ‘1225’ Twitter avatar. Pau Gasol and Steve Nash will carry the purple-and-gold for the time being. Until then, the Lakers have much to consider. Kobe’s contract is in its final year. Big names – LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony – have been rumoured to enter 2014 free agency. Will they let go of their future Hall-of-Fame talisman? One thing is for sure, number 24 will not go down easily.

The Return

Sit up, Bulls fans, D-Rose is back. A surgically-repaired left knee and 18 months later, Derrick Rose will take to the court again as Chicago play in Miami tonight at midnight UK time. An unbeaten preseason has been promising. The 2010-11 MVP looks to be playing like his old self again. He claims his vertical jump is better than pre-injury, sounding a lot like Michael Jordan’s famously-faxed “I’m back” in 1995, before the Bulls went on to win three straight titles.

From Butler to Beantown

After six years in the coaching job at Butler University, Brad Stevens made the step up to the NBA with his arrival at the Celtics. As one of the youngest head coaches with one of the smallest schools, he had orchestrated a 25-game winning streak in the 2009-10 season which ended with a narrow loss to Duke in the NCAA National Championship Game. His popularity rose; he received a call from Barack Obama and appeared on the David Letterman Show. Coming straight from the college ranks into a franchise as famous as Boston’s, and having to fill the shoes of a legend, there is a clear belief that Stevens can handle the pressure. A lot will rest upon how he will build the team: around Rajon Rondo, the remaining star from the Boston exodus, or his youngsters including Avery Bradley, Jared Sullinger and new recruit Kelly Olynyk.

Just What the Doctor Ordered

The appointment of Doc Rivers sends a message out to the Laker side of LA: the Clippers have had enough of being in their shadow. He even had a say in the Lakers’ Championship banners being taken down in the Staples Center – an arena shared by both the Lakers and the Clippers – when they play. Following victory with the Celtics in 2008, Rivers moved west in search of new challenges and has inherited a gifted squad. Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan are forces to be reckoned with offensively (with crazy dunks and alley-oops, there’s a reason why they call it ‘Lob City’). The defensive-minded coach will provide the much-needed management of his men guarding downcourt. His presence alone has evidently fuelled his men to do better than their premature postseason exits in the past few seasons.

 

First Look at the Rooks

Rookies to look out for:

Victor Oladipo, Orlando Magic

Nerlens Noel, Philadelphia 76ers

CJ McCollum, Portland Trail Blazers

 

OMG LOL NBA

Weird and wacky stories from the offseason:

– New uniform designs

– More sleeved jerseys

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– New York Knicks orange alternate

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– Lakers black ‘Hollywood Nights’

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– San Antonio Spurs camouflage

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– Inaugural season of the New Orleans Pelicans (formerly Hornets)

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– Iman Shumpert haircut: the Shump flat-top is gone

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– Rumours that a Heat-Nets game will see the players wear jerseys with their nicknames on the back

– Allen Iverson has finally retired. Here’s one of his best recorded moments:

 

John Mastrini

@honzamastrini

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