Basketball is a team sport, but individual players are the ones who capture the attention and imaginations of NBA fans everywhere. If each season is a soap opera — and the last one certainly was — these 10 players will be providing the most drama, excitement and riveting storylines for the next six months.
Blake Griffin, PF, Los Angeles Clippers
The most explosive dunker to enter the NBA since Dwight Howard, Griffin won the league's rookie of the year award in a landslide. What will he do for an encore with Chris Paul and Chauncey Billups tossing him alley oops? Lob City, baby!
Rajon Rondo, PG, Boston Celtics
When Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen carried the Celtics to a title in 2008, Rondo was just a second-year point guard along for the ride. Since then, as the Big Three have aged, he's emerged as Boston's best player and driving force. Banged up in a playoff series loss to Miami last summer and reportedly dangled as trade bait for Chris Paul, he's the Celts' best hope of hanging with the Heat and Bulls in the East.
Carmelo Anthony, SF, New York Knicks
He got what he wanted last season, a trade to the Big Apple, but his reputation was damaged in the process -- first because of his dragged-out departure from Denver, then because he didn't make the Knicks any better. Now, with Amar'e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler as teammates, it will be up to 'Melo to prove he's a true superstar rather than just a gifted scorer. The Madison Square Garden spotlight is on him; will he shine or be exposed?
Dwight Howard, C, Orlando Magic
Where's Dwight going? Where's Dwight going? Where's Dwight going? The question may become as repetitive and annoying as the ones surrounding LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony the past two seasons. But there's a reason fans care where Howard will end up, most likely in a trade from Orlando well before he becomes a free agent next summer. He's the best center in the league by a wide margin and a franchise-changer. And at 26, he's just entering his prime.
Chris Paul, PG, Los Angeles Clippers
The Chris Paul trade will go down in history as an NBA fiasco, with commissioner David Stern vetoing a deal that would have sent him to the Lakers before nixing and later approving a trade to the Clippers. The result may be an unprecedented shift in LA hoops, with Paul and Blake Griffin leading a young and exciting team while Kobe Bryant tries to keep the aging Lakers on top.
Kevin Durant, SF, Oklahoma City Thunder
No player may have helped his brand during the lockout more than Durant, who showed his love for the game by playing all over the country in pickup and exhibition games. But it's Durant's lack of concern for marketability, exhibited by his willingness to stay in the league's smallest city, that makes him so appealing. The NBA's two-time defending scoring champ is just 23 and seems poised to lift the young, talented Thunder into title contention for years to come.
Derrick Rose, PG, Chicago Bulls
Rookie of the Year at 20, All-Star at 21. MVP at 22. That's a pretty good start to an NBA career for Rose, a rare basketball prodigy who has lived up to all of the hype -- and then some. In a league of inflated egos, he comes across as humble, team-oriented and determined to improve. After leading the Bulls to the NBA's best record while becoming the youngest MVP in league history, he was frustrated in a playoff series loss to the Heat. Expect him to come back stronger than ever.
Dirk Nowitzki, PF, Dallas Mavericks
Nowitzki has long been one of the most extraordinary players in NBA history. A 7-footer with unorthodox moves and a deadly shot, he was downgraded for years as a soft European who couldn't lead a team to a title. That all changed last summer when Dirk willed the Mavericks to the championship, besting Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant and LeBron James along the way. He's now on top of the NBA universe. But without critics to prove wrong, will his competitive fire remain the same?
Kobe Bryant, SG, Los Angeles Lakers
For three years, Kobe Bryant had it all. He was the league's MVP in 2008, a champion and Finals MVP in 2009 and 2010. The past year, however, has been about loss. Knee problems have dampened his explosiveness. The Lakers were swept out of the playoffs by Dallas. His wife filed for divorce. He tore a wrist ligament in the first preseason game. And now Bryant enters his 16th NBA season seeking a sixth title, but he'll have to do it without coach Phil Jackson or Lamar Odom, traded to the Mavs. Can he beat the odds? You know no one will try harder.
LeBron James, SF, Miami Heat
Fine, you're sick of him. Sick of all the hype, all the attention being paid to a player who's never won an NBA title. You have a point. But there's no doubt that LeBron, thanks to his personal and professional failings as well as his triumphs, is the NBA's most compelling character. Will he win a third MVP? Will Year 2 of the Superfriends experiment result in league domination and a Heat title? Or will it be another tumultuous season ending in spectacular failure? Admit it: You'll be watching.