Last week, the article “10 Things to Watch for (Already) in the 2015-16 NBA Season” got a head start on some of the biggest uncertainties facing teams and players in the upcoming season. The questions sparked discussion, which prompted another rundown of things to think about at the start of August.
Which player will make the strongest return from injury?
From MVPs to champions to All-Stars, the upcoming season will mark the return of power talent to the NBA. The spotlight will be on Kobe Bryant once he suits up again for the Los Angeles Lakers. His impact and how it changes the struggles of the team will be a top storyline. The Oklahoma City Thunder will get former MVP Kevin Durant back on the court, Chris Bosh will play once again for the Miami HEAT and Paul George will be with the Indiana Pacers from the start of training camp after making a late-season comeback. While those players are going back to familiar situations, Wesley Matthews will be playing for a new team when he returns from an Achilles injury. Feeling disrespected by a lack of interest in free agency from his former team, the Portland Trail Blazers, a healthy Matthews could have a chip on his shoulder playing for the Dallas Mavericks.
Will the Spurs win it all?
The San Antonio Spurs are annual championship contenders. Re-signing Tim Duncan, Kawhi Leonard, Manu Ginobili and Danny Green kept them on track as a Western Conference powerhouse. Winning the LaMarcus Aldridge free agency battle could put them back on top. With a daunting combination of future Hall of Fame veteran talent and younger star power, the Spurs are built to have the current generation teach the future as they play together and look to take the West (and the title) back from the Golden State Warriors.
Will Kevin Durant finish next season on the Thunder?
This is a question that will come up month after month until the trade deadline. As one of the best players in the league facing free agency, the topic of Kevin Durant’s future in Oklahoma City is unavoidable. Last season, Thunder general manager Sam Presti deemed the notion of trading Durant as “ludicrous.” But while wanting to keep an MVP talent on the team has its obvious upside, there is also the business side of the game that could make moving him in return for an enticing package something to consider, especially if Durant doesn’t give a guarantee that he will re-sign with the Thunder.
Who will fall out of the playoff hunt?
Last season, teams were hit with major injuries that took them out of the playoff hunt. The absence of stars such as Kevin Durant, Paul George and Chris Bosh impacted postseason matchups by taking their teams out of the equation. There are only eight spots open in each conference, and for each team that gets healthy and returns to the playoffs, another will fall out. In the East, this puts pressure on the Boston Celtics and Brooklyn Nets, who claimed the seventh and eighth seeds last season. If the race is as close in the West this season as it was last, the Dallas Mavericks and New Orleans Pelicans will have to improve upon to keep pace and lock in a spot.
Will Deron Williams redeem himself in Dallas?
Deron Williams’ tenure with the Brooklyn Nets was forgettable. He is looking to leave those years behind him after reaching a buyout and joining his hometown Dallas Mavericks. Once an All-Star point guard, he averaged 13.0 points, 6.6 assists and 3.5 rebounds last season. Will Williams thrive in a new environment, or will his underperforming woes continue in the Western Conference?
Which international player will make a splash in the NBA?
The first round of the 2015 Draft introduced several international rookies to the NBA. These players come to the league with years of professional overseas experience. They already have faced tough competition and are ready to take on what the NBA has to offer. So who will make his presence known the most? Will it be Kristaps Porzingis from Latvia, Mario Hezonja from Croatia, or Emmanuel Mudiay who played last season in China?
Which new coach will make immediate mark?
There is a divide in first-year coaches next season. Some are going to established contenders, others will be trying to get their team to the playoffs. Alvin Gentry is not only coaching a team that made the playoffs last season, he is also coaching one of the best players in the NBA. Next season he will look to elevate Anthony Davis’ game even more with the New Orleans Pelicans.
After years of speculation, Billy Donovan made the jump from the NCAA to the NBA. The championship-winning college coach will be welcomed to the league with the star power of Durant and Russell Westbrook on his roster.
Fred Hoiberg also left college basketball to take the helm of the Chicago Bulls. They have been a playoff team, despite serious injuries, and when healthy he could be coaching them deep into the postseason.
Scott Skiles is entering a different situation with the Orlando Magic. The young team is looking to take the next step, and he will be tasked with growing them into a playoff contender. Mike Malone joins the Denver Nuggets next season after finding some surprising success with the Sacramento Kings. Will he have a positive impact on his new team as well?
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