1. Victor Oladipo, Magic: He will have to learn a new position, but Oladipo will be given every opportunity to succeed as a point guard and turn into the leader of the Magic’s resurgence. With an aging Jameer Nelson as his backup, Oladipo should have every opportunity to lead the league in several rookie categories, including minutes.
2. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Pistons: The smooth-shooting guard has been a pleasant surprise in Detroit and don’t be surprised if he’s starter by the new year. The Pistons need offense off the bench and Caldwell-Pope has proven to be a mature player and solid draft pick.
3. Michael Carter-Williams, Sixers: The one good thing about playing for a bad team that’s completely invested in the future is loads of playing time for the younger players. Carter-Williams will play both backcourt positions and will be given plenty of opportunities to succeed under coach Brett Brown.
Worst road trips
1. San Antonio’s nine-game rodeo road trip:
The NBA’s longest trip of the season, the Spurs begin Feb. 3 in New Orleans and then go to Washington, Brooklyn, Charlotte, Detroit, Boston, Los Angeles (after the All-Star break), Portland, and Phoenix. In total, the Spurs will spend 25 days away from San Antonio, playing at home again on Feb. 26.
2. Brooklyn’s seven-gamer that starts in Chicago and ends in Milwaukee: You would think the NBA would just allow the Nets to play Chicago and Milwaukee together since they are so close, but Feb. 13 they start the trip in Chicago, then go to Utah, Golden State, Los Angeles, Portland, and Denver. They finish it in Milwaukee March 1 before playing the Bulls at home March 3. Ugh.
3. The Lakers’ zig-zag trek all over the East Coast: The Lakers remain a high-profile team, and they sometimes get difficult road trips because of national television commitments. On this trip, the Lakers start in Phoenix Jan. 15, the second game of a back-to-back, and then two nights later come to TD Garden. The trip continues in Toronto, Chicago, Miami, and Orlando, and then the Lakers travel back up to the Northeast to play the Knicks. The first game back at Staples Center is against Eastern Conference power Indiana. Good times.
Faces in new places
1. Dwight Howard, Rockets: Howard was in this category last season, hoping to lift the Lakers to the NBA title. Remember when that was actually a possibility? Now he heads to Houston, where he teams with James Harden and Jeremy Lin to perhaps push the Rockets to the top of the Western Conference. Howard is apparently 100 percent healthy and there’s no Kobe Bryant pestering him about his lack of work ethic, so maybe this will work out.
2. Paul Pierce/Kevin Garnett, Nets: It was sad to see them go but it will be rather intriguing to see whether the former Celtics have enough left to lead the Nets to prosperity. They are already talking tough and new coach Jason Kidd is going to use them carefully during the regular season to prepare for a long postseason run. It should be fun to watch.
3. Andre Iguodala, Warriors: Iguodala signed for probably more than he’s worth ($13 million per) to help Golden State become more than just a one-year wonder. He is tenacious defensively, but his offensive game has fallen off considerably over the past few years. The Warriors don’t need him to score much, but it would help if he could hit a couple of jumpers.
Potential busts with new teams
1. Andrew Bynum, Cavaliers: Bynum was in this category last year and his stint with the 76ers can best be described as a disaster. He did not play one game with the club because of bad knees. The Cavaliers are taking a chance that he can give them at least 50 games and become a presence in the paint. This has sham written all over it again.
2. Brandon Jennings, Pistons: Jennings is a fun to watch when he’s dishing assists and draining long 3-pointers. But when his shot isn’t going down, he can become a hindrance offensively. Now he comes to a place where 1) there are major expectations to make the playoffs and 2) he will be relied upon to distribute the ball and become a more mature presence. Is he capable of that? Or is he only able to play that and-1 style?
3. Al Jefferson, Bobcats: Jefferson is already out with a badly sprained ankle. Charlotte is a tough place to play for any standout because there is very little help. Jefferson took a $41 million deal over three years to be one of the team’s cornerstones — but what happens when he is the only option?
Coaches on the hot seat
1. Dwane Casey: The Raptors are going to have to make a playoff run for Casey to keep his job. The general manager who hired him is long gone, replaced by Denver’s Masai Ujiri, who is keeping a close eye on how the organization progresses. The Raptors have enough talent to make the playoffs and they will have to prove that.
2. Randy Wittman: The Wizards have given Wittman enough toys to play with to bring the organization back to respectability. This is one of the most important years in this franchise’s history. Wittman now has Marcin Gortat to pair with Nene, a healthy John Wall, and the promising Bradley Beal. If the Wizards go back in the lottery, Wittman will be looking for another gig.
3. Tyrone Corbin: Corbin has remained under the radar but the Jazz want more than finishing ninth in an eight-team playoff race. The Jazz want to take a major step this season, and if they falter, Corbin could be replaced by a coach with a higher profile.