Nary an NBA team has lost a ballgame in months, so optimism pervades the opening of every preseason training camp. Except, of course, in Minnesota.
The teams now have approximately five weeks to shape their rosters, develop strategies and discover unexpected strengths and weaknesses before the real fun begins.
Until then, every team in the league must confront, and try to answer, significant questions of various magnitudes.
ATLANTA: Can rookie coach Larry Drew convince, entice or compel “Iso” Joe Johnson to operate within a true team-oriented concept? How much playing time and how many shots per game will it take for Jamal Crawford to be a happy camper?
BOSTON: Even with the aid of a walker, can the Big Load cross the paint from side to side within three seconds? Can Delonte West achieve and maintain sufficient mental stability to replace Tony Allen as a defensive stopper?
CHARLOTTE: How good can this team be if Stephen Jackson is its on-court leader? Would combining the respective talents of Kwame Brown, Nazr Mohammed and DeSagana Diop produce the merest imitation of a legitimate NBA center?
CHICAGO: Can the undersized Carlos Boozer provide the inside scoring threat the Bulls have lacked for so long? How much defense can Tom Thibodeau get his team of mostly defenseless players to play?
CLEVELAND: Is Antawn Jamison capable of stepping up and leading the Cavs to solid mediocrity? Can the franchise survive being so casually dissed by LeBron?
DALLAS: Has Jason Kidd lost still another step? Was the late-season spark provided by Rodrigue Beaubois just a flash in the pan?
DENVER: Why haven’t the Nuggets already pulled the trigger on the (or any) prospective deal that would send Carmelo Anthony out of town? Don’t the amateurs in the front office understand that while they believe ‘Melo to have the same status as Kobe, LBJ and D-Wade, he’s only a second-tier all-star? Or are they simply afraid to utter the verboten word “rebuilding” in public?
DETROIT: Can Ben Gordon somehow revert to his previous dynamic point-making and thereby save the Pistons from being one of the most boring teams in the league?
GOLDEN STATE: Will the long overdue departure of Nellie mean the Warriors will cease being the NBA’s most underachieving club? Can Keith Smart convince his charges defense is not just something other teams play?
HOUSTON: The answer to every question can only be answered by the health, endurance and intensity of Yao Ming. If indeed he will be limited to 24 minutes per game, can he be enough of a factor for the Rockets’ season to get off the ground?
INDIANA: Can the youthful exuberance and untapped talents of Darren Collison revive Mike Dunleavy and put some oomph into the Pacers’ offense? Even if Tyler Hansbrough recovers his health, is he a good enough player to make a discernible difference?
L.A. CLIPPERS: Will Baron Davis ever emerge from suspended animation? Will Blake Griffin survive the Clipper Curse and become the franchise’s savior?
L.A. LAKERS: Is this the season when Andrew Bynum finally lives up to his potential? With Bynum out for the early part of the season and with the ancient Theo Ratliff being the only experienced center on the bench, how long before Pau Gasol begins to wear down?
MEMPHIS: Can O.J. Mayo and Rudy Gay possibly cut down on the large number of ill-advised shots they so blithely launch game after game? Will Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph ever play acceptable defense?
MIAMI: How long will LBJ’s monstrous ego accept playing second fiddle to the only proven winner on the team, Dwyane Wade? How long before Pat Riley displaces Erik Spoelstra on the command seat?
MILWAUKEE: Will Andrew Bogut ever be physically sound? Will Brandon Jennings ever be as good as he already thinks he is?
MINNESOTA: Is this the season when Michael Beasley decides to be a grown-up? Can Darko Milicic find off-court contentment, as well as on-court happiness, fulfillment and consistency with a team that has publicly announced such low expectations?
NEW JERSEY: Unless the rumored deal for Carmelo Anthony goes down in a hurry, how will Devin Harris react to being an unwanted stepson? How long before Avery Johnson’s shrill confrontations completely alienate his players?
NEW ORLEANS: Since Trevor Ariza is the only meaningful improvement over last season’s squad, how can CP3 keep his chops up when the losing become monotonous?
NEW YORK: Can Amar’e Stoudemire be an impact player without Steve Nash feeding him cookies? Can Stoudemire accomplish more than David Lee did?
OKLAHOMA CITY: How long before Serge Ikaba develops into the much-needed force in the middle that will truly boost the Thunder into championship contention? Will each and every opponent try to control Kevin Durant by approximating the in-his-grill defense that Ron Artest was so successful doing in the playoffs?
ORLANDO: During the offseason, was there a hoop available off-stage where Dwight Howard could develop his interior moves and learn to shoot a jumper when he wasn’t on camera? When is this young man going to stop basking in the almost universal media praise and spend the necessary time and energy working to refine his crude skills?
PHILADELPHIA: How much will quarter-horses like Spencer Hawes and Elton Brand impinge on the swift progress of Thoroughbreds like Louis Williams, Andre Iguodala and Thaddeus Young? When will Marreese Speights start to take his chosen profession seriously?
PHOENIX: Can Hedo Turkoglu keep up with Steve Nash? How much will Hakim Warrick enjoy and profit by playing the free-wheeling offensive game plan that so totally suits his skill set?
PORTLAND: Is the perennially injured Greg Oden the real deal or just another overrated stiff whose bad wheels are a convenient excuse for his disappointing play thus far in his career? How far can Brandon Roy’s all-around skills carry this team?
SACRAMENTO: Who’s the go-to scorer here? Tyreke Evans can’t shoot. Omri Casspi is too soft. Both Jason Thompson and Carl Landry have limited range. Beno Udrih has limited abilities. Perhaps Samuel Dalembert’s offense can be retooled.
SAN ANTONIO: Can Pop squeeze another fruitful season out of Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili? When will Tony Parker be dealt and the offense turned over to George Hill? Will the real Richard Jefferson stand up? Or has he already sat down?
TORONTO: Who will emerge as a bright light on this dull team? Julian Wright? Amir Johnson? Leandro Barbosa? The most likely answer is “nobody.”
UTAH: What makes Jerry Sloan believe he can turn Al Jefferson into a complete ballplayer?
WASHINGTON: Can Gilbert Arenas play with the heart and savvy necessary for the Wizards to work a miracle? After playing in only 47 games over the past three seasons, can Arenas keep all of his body parts functional? And how can he be convinced to share the ball with blue-chip rookie John Wall?