Top 9 Most Interesting Training Camps
NBA Training camps opened up for good yesterday, which means its time to start paying attention to basketball again. Here’s a quick rundown of the 9 most interesting training camps to check out this preseason:
1. Philadelphia 76ers
By taking advantage of Orlando’s Dwightmare, Philly was finally able to clear Andre Igoudala’s contract—something they’d been trying to do for almost 2 years—in exchange for the top offensive center in the game, Andrew Bynum. In doing so, the 76ers became a dark horse finals contender, but it remains to be seen how well Bynum will fit in with coach Doug Collins’ scheme. Collins rewards hustle, defense and ball movement, and Bynum has never seemed particularly interested in doing any of these tasks. If Collins can whip him into shape this preseason, it could set the table for a fantastic season in Philadelphia.
2. Los Angeles Lakers
No surprise here. After Howard practically fell into their laps this summer, the Lakers appear to have 4 of the top 20 players in the entire league, along with a Ron Artest who is apparently in the best shape of his life. On paper, they appear to match up favorably against every other team in the NBA; the only possible weakness I can see is containing guard penetration, but Howard has spent his career in Orlando making up for that weakness. Expectations have not been this high in LA since the purple and gold trotted out 4 future hall of famers in 2004 with Kobe, Shaq, Gary Payton and Karl Malone. And as we all remember, that team cruised to an NBA champio…
Oh, that’s right. They got crushed by a less talented Pistons team in the finals. Let’s just say there’s some added pressure on Mike Brown heading into this season.
3. Miami Heat
…But no one knows pressure like America’s team, the Miami Heat. There’s almost no way Lebron and co. can face as much preseason scrutiny as they have the past 2 years, but they will not exactly be flying under the radar, especially with the addition of Ray Allen, which has clearly rubbed some people in Boston the wrong way. Other then that, however, Miami is dealing with a bit of a foreign concept to them: continuity. Plus, with the Lakers’ big splash this offseason, much of the media scrutiny will be out west. But the Heat are still the Heat, and the target on their back is bigger then ever with a championship under their belts, so the intrigue remains.
4. Brooklyn Nets
Perhaps no team in the league east of LA improved themselves this offseason as much as Prokhorov’s comrades in Brooklyn ($300 million helps). Billy King saved his job—and reputation—by convincing Deron Williams to stick around, and in doing so formed one of the top backcourts in the league with Joe Johnson in the fold. They overpaid Kris Humphries and possibly Brook Lopez also, but when your owner makes videos like this, it doesn’t really matter. Avery Johnson is certainly a players coach, and he will have his work cut out for him early on in making sure all his new pieces fit together. Like Philly, the Nets have a ton of “ifs,” but also the potential to make a deep postseason run in their first year in Brooklyn. Training camp may go a long way in determining how much of this potential becomes reality.
5. New York Knicks
Just across town, a nice rivalry is developing between the Knicks and Nets, and it can be felt all the way from the players to the owners. Carmelo is eager to prove he’s the best player on either team, Amare wants to show he can step up and help lead a team and James Dolan is tired of being embarrassed—although he may have gotten himself off to a bad start in that department by going after Rasheed Wallace. All this adds up to what could potentially be a very tense training camp if things do not start off on the right foot. The Knicks-Nets rivalry will be an interesting one to follow all year; Prokhorov wants the Nets to be New York’s team, and Dolan and co were clearly feeling the heat (or I guess I should say feeling the Nets) last year. Just how it will all play out this year remains to be seen, but it will likely be fun to watch.
6. New Orleans Hornets
Anthony Davis is the most hyped up rookie since Lebron James. Not much more to say here. Davis gained invaluable experience on Team USA this summer, and will look to turn that into an unlikely leadership role in his first season with the Hornets. It remains to be seen how Eric Gordon will react to Davis and, more directly, Austin Rivers. Gordon, one of the most talented 2-guards in the league, is by all accounts a good guy off the court who has trouble deferring to others on the court. Davis will probably make most of his early impact on the defensive end, but Rivers has shown no ability to impact a game without dominating the ball, so he could struggle alongside Gordon. Monty Williams and his staff will need to figure out these issues early, or it could lead to a long season for the young Hornets.
7. Minnesota Timberwolves
Anytime your team’s best players—and one of the top 15-20 talents in the entire league—proclaims your upcoming season as playoffs or bust for a team that won less then 40% of its games, you’re probably going to want to go ahead and make some moves. And David Kahn did just that, throwing money at as many athletic wings as he could. Nic Batum remained in Portland, but the Wolves brought Andrei Kirilenko into the fold after his very successful summer in London, along with Chase Budinger and Brandon Roy. Derrick Williams is still here too—remember him? They won’t all see playing time, but if one can emerge in the early going, Love and Ricky Rubio seem ready to make the leap. The Wolves have 13 guys who will expect to contribute this year, but that’s simply not possible. An exciting and energetic training camp should clear up this mess.
8. Los Angeles Clippers
LA’s other team may not see much of the media spotlight early on, but they are dealing with a concept almost entirely new to the organization as a whole: expectations. Blake Griffin in entering his third healthy season—a time when many “elite” players make a leap, so we will likely see if Griffin really is in that category alongside teammate Chris Paul, or if he’s simply a glorified dunk contest participant. In addition, last season the Clippers topped a winning percentage of .600 for the first time in team history, which goes back to 1970. Couple that with the first round upset of Memphis, and the pressure mounts for another improved season in 2012-13. It is also a big year for Paul—with so many young talented point guards across the league (see intriguing team #9 below), CP3 is no doubt eager to prove there is still a gap between him and all those other guys. Also, Lamar Odom’s here now, and interesting things always seem to happen when he is around.
9. Boston Celtics
Saved possibly the most interesting for last. Danny Ainge and crew seem to have put together a roster full of guys with a chip on their shoulder, mostly as a result of the playoff loss (and game 6 collapse) against Miami. Kevin Garnett is as fired up as he’s ever been heading into a season (see link above), with Paul Pierce right behind him. The Jason Terry/Courtney Lee combo are eager to prove Boston made the right choice going with them over Ray Allen. Even Doc Rivers seems to enjoy his guys targeting the Heat from the outset. Then there’s Rajon Rondo. It remains to be seen how much more he can improve with such an awful jump shot, but he may not have to; when he plays at his highest level Rondo is almost unstoppable. Add all these factors together, and I expect the normally slow-starting Celtics to come out hot and energized right out of the gates. The tone should be set in training camp.