The free agents have just about all been signed up. The NBA is down to a series of Instagram photos from moving yachts and crossed fingers from worried teams hoping their players stay safe in the summer off. There’s nothing going on, save for that clock on the wall that is ticking down to the 2013-14 season.
And it’s moving SO SLOWLY.
This is why we’ve decided to pick 26 things we’re looking forward to in 2013-14. Or, at the very least, 26 things that intrigue us as we wait out an offseason that feels like it has thousands of miles left to cross before we can get to Halloween and opening week. Because there are 26 letters in the alphabet – you guessed, NBA A-through-Z.
We continue with young point guards.
Eric Bledsoe, the Interim Franchise Player
Eric Bledsoe wasn’t acquired by the Phoenix Suns to be their franchise player. His introductory press conference was not staged as lavishly as Dwight Howard’s was in Houston, or even given the same pomp as Andrew Bynum’s was in Philadelphia last summer. Bledsoe, who started only 38 of a possible 230 career games in his first three seasons as a Los Angeles Clipper, was the most significant piece of the three-team deal between Los Angeles, Phoenix and Milwaukee, but he isn’t being heralded as the long-awaited game changer for the Suns, as they slowly rebuild after three seasons in the Lance Blanks-led wilderness.
That doesn’t mean Bledsoe isn’t going to be free from the role as the team’s franchise player. The combo guard will share the backcourt with incumbent point man Goran Dragic, but he will be asked to shape the team’s offense with penetration and scoring skills, and keep the lowly Suns at the very least competitive in games. Competitive long enough for the Suns to pile up lottery picks, utilize the cap space that new general manager Ryan MacDonough is creating, and acquire a more significant, Conference-shaking franchise player.
Russell Westbrook, the Dependable One
“Dependable” might be a curious choice of words for a player that missed out on the last nine games of his team’s 2013 playoff run, someone that is coming off of a significant meniscus tear (a scary injury that sees you back on the court quicker than ACL tear sufferers, but one that leaves you far more prone to reoccurring knee wear and tear). We use the word not because, prior to Patrick Beverley’s feint, Westbrook had not missed a single game due to injury dating back to his high school years, but because (more than ever) his Oklahoma City Thunder will be relying on Westbrook’s All-NBA-level production to chase after that elusive NBA championship. They’re going to badly depend on it, as the West gets deeper and tougher.
It’s a strange word to use for someone that is known as much for his 4-15 nights from the field as he is all-around brilliance, but this is where the Thunder are at now. James Harden and Kevin Martin are gone, with only increased usage from Westbrook and Kevin Durant to take their place (unless you think second year guard Jeremy Lamb is ready for his close up), and Oklahoma City’s chances rest on Westbrook returning to becoming a high-efficiency, high-scoring, high-energy playmaker. Coming off the first real (and major) injury of his playing career, can Westbrook handle it? Depends.
Ty Lawson, the Only One Left
On April 20, the Denver Nuggets won Game 1 of their first round series over the Golden State Warriors on an Andre Miller game-winning lay-in. Within six weeks, the team had been bounced from the playoffs, it lost its Executive of the Year-winning GM, fired its Coach of the Year-winning head coach, and a month after that the squad lost Andre Iguodala in a sign-and-trade deal with the Golden State Warriors. With no real concrete plans to rebuild from the bottom up, the Nuggets decided cling to what was left. And Ty Lawson is the most significant part of what’s left.
The team still shares some of the depth that was the hallmark of last year’s 57-win team, but with Iguodala gone, Danilo Galinari out for an extended period of time with an ACL tear, and Javale McGee hardly the go-to force on either end that his yearly eight-figure contract would suggest, it’s up to Lawson to dominate the ball and push this team right back into the playoff bracket. The 25-year old’s offseason got off to a frightening start with his domestic violence arrest, and it remains to be seen if the 5-11 Lawson has what it takes to mold the Nuggets into the fluid-yet-consistent outfit that former GM Masai Ujiri envisioned when he put it together.
John Wall, Mr. .500
One 13-week run – this is all Washington Wizards fans have going for them. The team was 5-28 when guard John Wall returned to the lineup after an extended, knee-related absence on January 12. With Wall on the active roster, the team finished the season on a 24-25 “tear,” a run strong enough to convince the team’s front office that his presence would be enough to structure a playoff-caliber team around a healthy Wall. The Wizards also responded by giving their point guard a five-year, $80 million extension some two months before his 23rd birthday. They’re all in with this roster, shooting to overtake last year’s 38-44 Milwaukee Bucks team for the final playoff spot in the East.
Though some of the older players that work around Wall could decline in 2013-14, John’s ascension could more than make up for that or any struggles from his younger cast mates. Wall drew raves last season for making significant advancements in terms of go-to moves and playmaking decisions, especially in light of a sophomore season in 2011-12 that was seen as somewhat stagnant in terms of growth. This, coupled with an offseason workout routine alongside Hall of Fame guard Gary Payton (who helped Kobe Bryant’s post moves in Kobe’s fourth season), could push Wall into All-Star territory, giving the Wizards their first participants in that game since Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler (really?) made it in 2008.
Stephen Curry, the Championship Point Guard?
It’s not a common clarion call, only fringe writers have been dropping the idea of the Golden State Warriors as possible Finals participants just two years after they were in the NBA’s lottery, but it is true that a healthy Golden State team (no small feat) does have the depth and all-around talent enough to make a four-round run work. Curry was (relative to his own past) mostly healthy throughout the 2012-13 regular season, spraining his ankle around midseason but only missing four games along the way. Still, another tweak in the postseason left him hobbling as the Warriors bowed out in the second round.
If he can sustain seven tweak-less months, and if his other oft-injured teammates (Andrew Bogut, David Lee) follow suit, this Warriors team is capable of doing some postseason damage that goes beyond what could have been dismissed as a cute novelty story last May. For a player to not only lead the NBA in three-point attempts, as Curry did last year, and make an astonishing 45 percent his looks from long range at age 24 is the stuff of potential legend. Now we just need him to be able to launch those 25-footers in late May without wincing.