Here are some things to look for in the 2016-17 NBA season:
Top story lines
Will it be that easy for the Warriors with Kevin Durant? Should reporters and fans be making their plans for Oakland in June? Durant adds to an already formidable Golden State lineup that is fuming over blowing a three-games-to-one lead against Cleveland in the Finals. Will the Warriors break their own regular-season wins record? Or will Durant’s presence bring a more difficult adjustment than anticipated?
Can Cleveland repeat? The Cavaliers stunned the NBA world by coming back to snatch the Finals from the Warriors, and essentially the same team returns for another run. Does LeBron James, who turns 32 in December, have enough left and enough help to get Cleveland back to the Finals? Or will the rest of the roster suffer from a championship hangover?
What happens in Oklahoma City? The Thunder must move on without Durant but with Victor Oladipo and a motivated supporting cast. Can Russell Westbrook ’s heroics and passion compensate for losing an MVP? Will the Thunder be the sleeper team in the Western Conference?
Faces in new places
Kevin Durant, Warriors — The 2013-14 MVP shocked people chilling on the Fourth of July by committing to Golden State, joining three other All-Stars to make up a Big Four. He has been viewed as one of the league’s good guys, but not so much anymore. He keeps talking about why he wanted out of Oklahoma City.
Al Horford, Celtics — He has blended into the Celtics’ chemistry as well as can be expected and he should be the piece that pushes Boston into Eastern Conference contention. His maturity and leadership are sorely needed.
Serge Ibaka, Magic — It’s the final year of his contract, and Ibaka wants to show that he has enough left to be an elite power forward. The Magic want him to post up more than he did in Oklahoma City, where he turned into a stretch-4.
LeBron James, Cavaliers – He proved in the NBA Finals that he is still the game’s best player. And he has even more to prove as the Cavaliers will look to repeat. LeBron is primed for a fifth MVP.
Stephen Curry, Warriors — He is a candidate for a third straight MVP, but his numbers may suffer because of the presence of Kevin Durant. He remains a pure shooter and superstar.
Russell Westbrook, Thunder – With Durant gone, Westbrook is going to put the franchise on his back and try to singlehandedly take the Thunder to prosperity. He is already a triple-double machine, so imagine him being even more motivated.
Brandon Ingram, Lakers — The forward will come off the bench, but his development will be critical to the long-term success of the organization. Ingram is skilled but needs to physically develop before he can make a major impact. It should be enjoyable to watch him play with the Lakers’ other youngsters.
Kris Dunn, Timberwolves — The Timberwolves want to give him some time before he takes the point guard helm from Ricky Rubio, but it’s going to happen. And it will be entertaining to see how Dunn meshes with the rest of Minnesota’s young core.
Buddy Hield, Pelicans — The most mature of the lottery picks, Hield has a game that should translate to the NBA smoothly. He’ll definitely get his share of shots in the Pelicans’ fast-paced offense. He may be the Rookie of the Year favorite because of his pure numbers.
Potential busts with new teams
Derrick Rose, Knicks — The Rose era in New York got off to a rocky start with his sexual assault civil trial (he was cleared of liability). Now he has to try to mesh into a team concept and become the point guard he was several years ago in Chicago. That’s a lot of pressure for a player in decline.
Dwight Howard, Hawks — For years Howard wanted to play in Atlanta, and now he needs the Hawks more than they need him. This is a team that shares the ball and values the team concept. Will Howard be all in? Or will he complain as he did at his last three stops?
Harrison Barnes, Mavericks — The question is whether he’s ready for a prominent role. Barnes was putrid in the Finals last June when the Warriors desperately needed him. He said he is ready for star responsibility, and the Mavericks hope that is the case.
Teams on the rise
Minnesota — A vogue pick to snatch a playoff spot, the Timberwolves have no excuses for not competing in the West. New coach Tom Thibodeau will get the young guys to play defense, and the Wolves keep adding young talent, drafting point guard Kris Dunn to join Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Gorgui Dieng. They are brimming with talent.
Phoenix — General manager Ryan McDonough has loaded this team with young talent, and the only issue is health. Devin Booker is an emerging superstar, and he’ll be joined by rookies Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender as well as the (finally) healthy tandem of Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight.
Denver — The Nuggets have been in rebuild mode since they traded Carmelo Anthony in 2011 but finally have an opportunity to make a run at a playoff spot with coach Mike Malone creating stability. The club has drafted quite well in recent years —
Teams on the decline
Miami — The Heat could have competed with the Cavaliers in the East this season if Chris Bosh were healthy and Dwyane Wade had returned. So now the team is in a rebuild with the much-traveled Hassan Whiteside as its centerpiece. The Heat will play hard under Erik Spoelstra but will return to mediocrity.
Washington — It seems the Wizards had their window to shine, but injuries and poor coaching led to another disappointing season and the firing of Randy Wittman. Scott Brooks takes over, but other than Bradley Beal and John Wall, there is no star power on the roster.
Coaches on the hot seat
Quin Snyder, Jazz — It’s not that Snyder could be fired during the season, but it’s about time the Jazz made the playoffs after barely missing the past two years. The additions of Joe Johnson and Boris Diaw should help, but the pressure is on Snyder to ensure that the Jazz aren’t on the playoff bubble come the last week of the season.
Alvin Gentry, Pelicans — This is Gentry’s fifth NBA head coaching job, and it seemed that after being a successful assistant with Golden State, he would keep the Pelicans relevant, but that hasn’t happened. There is pressure on Gentry to win with a healthy Anthony Davis.
Fred Hoiberg, Bulls — His first season wasn’t exactly Brad Stevens-esque, with Chicago missing the playoffs and being one of the league’s biggest disappointments. With a revamped roster with Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo, the Bulls need to make the playoffs or Hoiberg could be disposable.
Worst road trips
Brooklyn’s 15-day fling — After the All-Star break, the Nets start with a trip to Denver on Feb. 24 and Golden State the next night, followed by Sacramento, Utah, Portland, and Memphis. The trip continues to Atlanta and then concludes in Dallas. The Nets will have nearly a month (Feb. 15-March 12) between home games.
Phoenix’s Eastern road trip: Teams usually make the dreaded cross-country trips in December, January, or even February. The schedule-maker saved the Suns’ toughest road swing until late March, perhaps when they are making a playoff push. It starts March 19 at Detroit, then comes Miami, Brooklyn, Boston, Charlotte, and Atlanta. The first home game on their return is against the Clippers.
The Spurs’ rodeo trip: The yearly trip begins Feb. 6 in Memphis, then continues in Philadelphia, Detroit, New York, Indiana, and Orlando. Then comes the All-Star break, followed by games at the Lakers and Clippers. The Spurs don’t play at home from Feb. 5-28.