Sunday 21 January 2018 / 03:29 PM

Six storylines to follow this season

Bust out those basketball jerseys and prepare to showcase your hairy armpits to the neighborhood – the 2014-15 NBA season gets underway today!

While the next eight months is sure to be filled with countless dramas and stories yet to unfold, there are already quite a few intriguing narratives worth biting our teeth into prior to this year’s opening tip-off.

Rage Against the Machine

Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs have a system that works. Since taking over as head coach in 1996, Popovich has won five NBA titles and holds the record for coaching the most consecutive winning seasons (17).

In general, players bow to the powers that be in Spurs land, knowing if they stick around long enough they’re bound to wind up getting fitted for a ring.

Kawhi Leonard, it seems, didn’t get the memo. He’s not content to be a small cog in the big machine, instead wanting a monster extension worth monster money.

Thus far management is not interesting in giving in to the whims of last year’s Finals MVP. That’s not how they do business.

If they don’t get a deal done soon, Leonard will qualify to be a restricted free agent next summer – but either way he’ll be an integral part of a Spurs team looking to win their first back-to-back championships.

Give it up for the old guy

Kobe Bryant is entering his 19th NBA season with both his body and team on the decline. There will never be another Kobe Bryant but we’ve got to wonder if he’s still got it in him to perform like an All-Star and stay healthy for the entire season.

Only time will tell, of course, so we’ll have to wait and see if Kobe can still be Kobe at 36, or if injuries will force this legend to hang up his sneakers and leave the court for good.

Lakers teammate Steve Nash has already announced that he won’t be playing this season, so it could truly be a time for a changing of the guard in LA should Bryant’s body let him down.

The King has returned to his castle

I’m not even sure why I’m wasting ink here to talk about LeBron James and his return to the Cavaliers.

Everybody and their grandmother already knows that there’s something big brewing in Cleveland.

Will the ‘Big 3’ experiment work as well for the Cavs as it did for the Heat?


A photo posted by Cleveland Cavaliers (@cavs) on

Wait…not that big three.

And yup – I’m going to hell.

With the pressure off, how will the Heat fare?

For the first time in a long time, Miami enters the season without the expectations that it’s Finals or bust.

They still boast a playoff roster with Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade on deck, but it will be interesting to see how Bosh performs as the team’s #1 guy and whether or not young up-and-coming players like Norris Cole are ready to put on their big boy shoes and be leaders instead of role players.

Either way, the Heat have still got a loyal following in Miami:

And if your eyes are dry after that one you might want to go see a cardiologist.

Can Westbrook hold the fort down for the first quarter of the season?

Losing Kevin Durant for at the very least the first full month of the season is a huge blow to the OKC Thunder, but it isn’t as though their championship caliber roster begins and ends with #35.

It will be up to Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka to lead the team while Durant cheers on his mates from the bench, and they are more than capable of chalking up enough wins to keep the Thunder towards the top of the Northwest division.

The real question concerning Oklahoma City is not how healthy they are to start the season, but how healthy they’ll wind up by the end.

For two seasons straight the Thunder saw their title hopes dashed in part due to injuries – it would be nice to see whether or not they can get it done at 100 per cent.

Oh, and for the time being let’s shelve the rumors that Durant might pull a LeBron and head “home” to Washington. He’ll be sporting a Thunder jersey for this season and that’s all that matters for the time being.

A lost season or big opportunity?

An apropos musical theme for the 2014-15 Indiana Pacers might very well be Bob Dylan’s The Times They are a Changin’.

With Lance Stephenson lacing up for the Charlotte Bobcats and perennial superstar Paul George out with a broken leg, it’s hard to imagine that the Pacers are a legitimate Finals contender in a much-improved Eastern Conference.

Last year it looked to be a two-team race in the East between the Pacers and the Heat, but this time around a bevy of teams could go all the way. The Cavs have reloaded and the Wizards, Bulls, Raptors and even Nets have all transformed from mediocre to dangerous.

Indiana President Larry Bird is optimistic that someone will step up and produce, but isn’t it his job to be optimistic?

“We got some guys we think are going to step up and play well,” Bird said Saturday. “I thought George Hill was excellent during training camp; he’s gotten a lot better. I’m just amazed by how much better he has got,” the former Celtics legend said.

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Michael Airhart

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