Experts Gaze into the Crystal Ball of 2008-2009

Every season has its story.
Last year, there was Kevin Garnett's trade, and Kobe Bryant's will, driving a resurgence of one of basketball's great rivalries. Other years have witnessed the rise of Michael Jordan, or the fall of Magic Johnson.

Bigwigs, coaches, players, experts, insiders ... we asked all kinds of people to stare into the crystal ball, and here are their best guesses at the story lines that will drive this NBA season.

On the cusp of the 2008-2009 season, what will be this year's great story?

David Stern, NBA Commissioner
1. The resurgence of the Eastern Conference
2. The young talent of Portland
3. The return of Andrew Bynum
4. What do Artest and Scola (off of an impressive Olympic showing) do for Houston?

Adam Silver, Deputy NBA Commissioner and Chief Operating Officer
President Obama will install a basketball court in the White House (replacing Nixon's bowling alley, Carter's tennis court, Clinton's running track and Bush's baseball diamond) and basketball will supplant ping pong as the global sport of diplomacy.

Mark Cuban Mark Cuban, Dallas Mavericks Owner
Will the NBA proactively promote itself and its teams to take marketshare away from other entertainment options?

When the economy slows, and competitors have issues, that's the time to double down and take marketshare.

David Thorpe David Thorpe, ESPN NBA Analyst
"Who's the best player in the world" used to come down to a candidate or two. Now, I can think of five to seven with a claim. This season we may get clarity on that. And, I wonder if teams will "dump salary" due to scary economic conditions. If they do, which big spenders will become instant contenders? L.A. and Boston proved last year it can happen.

Craig Smith Craig Smith, Minnesota Timberwolf
I think the trade of Artest to Houston was as big as any of last season's moves, so it'll be interesting to see if that makes things even more competitive at the top of the West. Maybe this will be the move that finally gets Houston (and T-Mac) past the First Round.

Keith Smart, Golden State Warriors Assistant Coach
One of the biggest stories of this season is going to be off the court, and that is how will the recent economic woes carry over into the NBA this season? What about season ticket holders? Those who come to a few games a year? What about corporate sponsors? There are so many people affected by this issue, and our league is not immune from any of it.

Stephen Jackson Stephen Jackson, Golden State Warrior
There'll be big talk in Houston, because Tracy McGrady has had his injuries and everyone knows about his trouble in the playoffs. There will be some clash in people's minds when he and Ron Artest work well together. And the Warriors -- we'll be there at the top of the West even without Monta Ellis for the first part of the season, and people are going to be talking about that.

Justin Wolfers Justin Wolfers, Economist
In four words: the Portland Trail Blazers. After going .500 in an Oden-less season, the Trail Blazers have a lot to look forward to in 2008-09. Alongside 7-foot Greg Oden at center, Portland will have the ability to overpower their opponents with 7-foot-1 Przybilla, 6-foot-11 Aldridge, and 6-foot-11 Frye. This combination should drastically improve Portland's defense, which ranked 21st in blocks per game and 25th in rebounds per game in 2007-08. Likewise, Portland's offense will be one to be reckoned with as Roy, Outlaw, Webster, and Aldridge (the four Trail Blazers that averaged double-digits points last season) will see more open shots with the inside-outside offense that will result from Oden drawing double-teams down low.

Jonathan Givony Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress
The big story of the 2008-2009 season will be a new focus on what's going on in European basketball, both on and off the court. Can an inexperienced teenaged American point guard like Brandon Jennings dislodge the NCAA's monopoly on domestic talent development? Will Josh Childress justify his unprecedented salary in Greece, and will his experience there be positive enough for other important NBA players to want to follow him? Will the Russian ogliarchs be able to afford the insane amount of money they spent to lure free agents from the NBA, especially in the wake of the global financial crisis and the newly weakened Euro? What happens when the results don't go the way the owners want? Will they keep writing checks?

Andy Ferguson and Ricardo Viramontes Andy Ferguson and Ricardo Viramontes, Wieden+Kennedy Creatives

  • Following a Celtics 11-0 run against the Bobcats, Kevin Garnett screams so loudly and intensely that he bursts an eardrum and loses 40% of his hearing.

  • Forty-six games into the season, people officially run out of different ways to speculate about Greg Oden looking older than his age and agree to stop talking about it. Or, Greg Oden finds a small child living in his growth plate.

  • Kobe battle-raps Shaq during halftime of NBA All-Star game. And wins! After L.A. sweeps Phoenix in the first round of the playoffs, Kobe leads off his post-game press conference by saying, "Somebody ask Shaq how that tastes."

  • Four members of the Phoenix Suns starting lineup qualify for USGA Senior Tour.

  • In true
    M.J. fashion, LeBron retires from basketball and signs a two-year contract with the N.Y. Yankees.

  • A svelte Eddy Curry stars in a series of commercials for the Mike D'Antoni Miracle Weight Loss Diet Plan.

  • The Oklahoma City Thunder reveals that its logo was actually designed by a second grader. While viewed as irresponsible, even the harshest critics are forced to admit that it's pretty good ... for a second grader.

  • Mark Cuban shocks the NBA community by not doing anything.

  • At the end of the season, Michael Beasley asks for a trade because he's "not used to staying somewhere for more than a year."

  • Dennis Rodman accuses Stephon Marbury of trying to "out-crazy" him.

David Berri David Berri, Economist, Author, Statistics Expert
The Boston Celtics are expected to make the Finals, likely against the Lakers. I think the Lakers with Andrew Bynum, though, are likely to prove better. This means that Phil Jackson is likely to win his 10th title against Red Auerbach's Celtics. To make it even more interesting, if the Lakers win the title in four or five games -- and the Lakers have home-court advantage -- Jackson will get his tenth title in Boston. Given the age of the players on the Lakers, this could be the beginning of another Jackson-led dynasty. In fact, this could be the beginning of Jackson's fourth three-peat (or first four-peat). If this is the beginning of another Laker dynasty, then Kobe Bryant is going to become part of the conversation when people discuss the greatest players ever. In my view, the numbers don't support Kobe being part of that conversation. But if he is part of another three titles, that is where he will be.

Sam Mitchell Sam Mitchell, Toronto Raptors Coach
Can anyone in the East possibly knock off the Boston Celtics?

They still have the Big Three all-stars who dominated the conference last season.

Jeffrey Ma Jeffrey Ma, Statistical Expert and Founder of Citizen Sports
Two stories will emerge out of the Northwest this season. Kevin Love, a native of Oregon, will be the Rookie of the Year and will draw comparisons to a young Elton Brand (although no one ever makes cross-racial comparisons). He will show relentlessness on the boards and a soft touch from the perimeter. The other story from the northwest will be the Portland Trail Blazers emerging as the most improved team in the NBA and advancing past the first round of the playoffs. With a strong nucleus of Roy, Aldridge and Oden the team will surprise many teams that don't come to play.

Dave Zirin Dave Zirin, Author and Journalist
The story that people see but dare not articulate about is how the economy will affect the NBA. On Monday, Stern announced that the NBA offices would be laying off 9% of their work force. He cited the crisis as the fundamental reason but the problem will run much deeper than that. To paraphrase the expression about Michigan, if the bottom line in sports catches a cold, Stern-World will get hit with influenza. First and foremost, the NBA, with its high level of casual fans, is very susceptible to fluctuations in the economy. Second, the NBA doesn't have the diverse revenue streams of baseball or certainly football. Not even close. The absence of personal cable television contracts or massive network agreements means that the NBA has always been more reliant on ticket sales and merchandise to fill its coffers. Its non-guaranteed revenue is tied to the disposable income of the typical fan. It will be interesting to see how this affects free agent positioning, the attractiveness of Europe, and the beginnings of serious saber rattling in advance of the next collective bargaining agreement.

Photos courtesy of those pictured, except the following, all via Getty Images: David Stern photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE, Adam Silver photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE, Mark Cuban photo by Noel Vasquez, Craig Smith photo by David Sherman/NBAE, Keith Smart photo by Thearon Henderson, Stephen Jackson photo by Layne Murdoch, Sam Mitchell photo by Glenn James/NBAE.