How do you know ...
… Andrew Bynum's return is just what the Lake Show needed?
In theory, it's a no-brainer. Gasol and the other Lakers bigs were schooled around the rim by the Celtics in the Finals; how can the presence of a second seven-footer not flip the script? Neither Pau nor Odom is physical, and now they won't have to be. The snag is Odom: He might be tired of his dual role of trade bait and scapegoat. Bynum's return can help that dicey situation, turning those potentially loud issues into mere background noise.
… Ron Artest will bring this team together and not rip it apart?
Give him a break—or at least a year. Artest's first season in a new uni is smooth. Plus, Houston is insured by the three C's: coach, contract, cast. 1) Artest had his best season in Sac-Town under Adelman; 2) he's a free agent-to-be, and this team doesn't keep knuckleheads (besides Alston); 3) Artest knows this is Yao's team. "We'll be okay if Ron goes his own way," says one Rocket. "As long as no one follows him." Okay, six months.
… James Posey can be to the Hornets what he was to the Celtics?
Hey, don't forget his ring in Miami, too. Here's the thing: Replace the gumbo with clam chowder, and Posey might not even realize he's left Boston. The Hornets are a close copy of the champs, with their lickety-split 1, deep-scoring 3, jump-shooting 4 and shot-swatting 5. There's a nice hole just waiting for a 2 like him. Clutch J's and tight D are exactly what New Orleans didn't have in its Game 7 West semis loss to the Spurs. Who's hungry?
… these guys don't have real estate agents on speed dial?
It's no secret that Boozer, whose off-season home is in Miami, would love to shorten his commute. Three other key players—Okur, Kyle Korver and Paul Millsap—can opt out. Eight in all could walk. Here's why that matters: The team has no shot if it repeats as the worst defensive FG% of any playoff team in the West. But contracts are made on offensive stats. If that's where they put their focus, EnergySolutions Arena will have neither.
… the every-other-year title cycle is over?
Can they do over the Luis Scola deal? Will 2007 first-rounder Tiago Splitter renege on his Spanish team? Any chance former D-Leaguer Ian Mahinmi gets one of those growth spurts in the skills department? Ever since TD paired with The Admiral on those first two titles, the Spurs' ring runs have been fueled by the arrival of front-line stoppers—Nazr Mohammed, Francisco Elson. Miracles aside, no one is up to that task this time.
… talk of a sunset isn't a bit premature?
Only the Big Eclipse knows for sure. There's no getting around him—literally or figuratively. If he's on your team, he is your team. So is there a run left in Shaq? The rest of the crew is as deep as ever with the drafting of dream duo C Robin Lopez and PG Goran Dragic. But GM Steve Kerr is banking on one man's word. "I told Shaq when we got him I wasn't worried about his motivation last season," he says, "just the next two. He said he'd show me." Let's see.
… that young talent + grand expectations ≠ last year's Bulls?
GM Kevin Pritchard hasn't offered half his crew for Kobe, and the Blazers didn't put McMillan on mute, as the Bulls did Scott Skiles. That's something, right? More to the point, Roy and Aldridge just won't allow a meltdown. Any dynasty talk is hasty, though. This is the NBA's second-youngest team (23.9) and the likely starters will have only 14 seasons among them. Of course, they won't be lugging the weight of MJ's banners around, so there's that.
… trading for Jason Kidd didn't set the Mavs back five years?
Five years ago, Dallas was coming off a 60-win season in which it made the conference finals; they'd gladly take a setback like that. Seriously though, the club didn't exactly mortgage its future to get Kidd. The only guy they'll miss is Devin Harris, and he's years from a peak that may not scrape where Kidd (even at 35) is today. Besides, if Kidd isn't The One, Dallas can use his roster spot and his $21M to find the answer elsewhere next year.
… someone can fill the void left by Marcus Camby
Well, there is one contender in the locker room: Chris (Birdman) Andersen. The dude never quits, as anyone who saw all those flubbed dunks during 2005's All-Star weekend knows. Yes, this is the same Andersen who got 1.8 boards and 0.8 blocks in five games for the Hornets. And, yes, Camby had 13.1 and 3.6 in 79 games. So maybe PF-to-C Nenê will rise up with Birdman to get the job done. "We need one more big man," Nenê says. Maybe not.
… these guys didn't just invest in the Baron Davis retirement fund?
Coming home will surely ratchet up the distractions, but if Davis doesn't raise the Clips, it just may hurt his local movie production business. Besides, why would he want to mail it in? There's more talent here than in Golden State, including better bigs. And a cross-arena rivalry with pal Kobe will keep the juices flowing. One wild card: Will he jibe with Dunleavy? A coach who has Davis' respect has Davis at his best. Otherwise? Davis may as well be on leave.
… Monta Ellis didn't just ruin everything?
It's bad enough Ellis slowed his own rapid rise. But if Harrington's public anger is a barometer, the 30-game punishment given Ellis for his moped mishap by team prez Robert Rowell has the whole locker room veering off course. Thing is, if the players stage a slowdown, they won't be the ones who suffer. Coach Nelson and GM Chris Mullin are in the final year of their deals; it will be easy for Rowell to ax them if the season goes sour.
… that if a Grizzly makes a noise, someone else in the league will hear it?
Memphis is tired of suffering in silence. In fact, it's tired of suffering at all. For once, the Grizz are going to dish it out. Looking to sport a claws-out, bared-fangs approach, they've welcomed D-minded assistant Kevin O'Neill, stopper Quinton Ross and Gasol, who relishes contact as much as his older bro recoils from it. Coach Iavaroni's Suns-soft style never did entertain owner Michael Heisley. And you can bet that came through loud and clear.
… Kevin McHale isn't building a bridge to nowhere?
Not nowhere, just nowhere new. For all the post-KG roster upheaval, Minny is still a lone star (Jefferson) backed by a bunch of whatever. Miller is the next best thing here—ask the Grizzlies how many wins that got them. Yes, the Wolves could have four first-round picks in '09, but that will just mean more torture. McHale has drafted fine talent before (Brandon Roy, O.J. Mayo) only to deal it—not years, but minutes—later.
… There's any reason for Kevin Martin to show up for work?
This is no sweet gig for K-Mart. Coach Theus is known for his brutal and public player evals, and here's one highlight from the end of last season: Theus suggested Ron Artest was his lone go-to guy. Artest, of course, is gone; so is Mike Bibby. That gives Martin—the team's leading scorer, by the way—lots of room to prove Theus wrong. But bruised egos don't heal so fast, even without mounting losses adding to the pain.
… OKC can make the Sonics—oops, Thunder—forget Seattle?
Selling every season ticket in, like, two minutes has to make the transplants feel welcome. It helps that they come bearing an engaging star (Durant), but think about it: Until now, OKC has been a college town, and the Thunder are as close to being a college team as an NBA crew can be. They're even paid like college kids (joking, NCAA); Chris Wilcox's expiring $6.75M deal makes him their highest-paid. This could be the start of something beautiful.