The Starting Five: This week’s hot topics in the NBA

While we’re still not sure if Andrew Bynum is bowl eligible, let’s tip off 2014 with the New Year’s edition of The Starting Five.

LeBron James and the Miami Heat will continue to hog the NBA spotlight as the calendar turns to 2014.  

That’s easy. We should spend the next year watching the same guy and team we were watching in 2013.

Take a bow, LeBron James and the Miami Heat.

Although the Indiana Pacers certainly look prepared to take a big swing at the two-time defending champions, Miami (win or lose) will provide the most compelling story moving through the rest of this season and the playoffs.

As LeBron continues becoming incredibly efficient to the point of being taken for granted, the sharpies of broadcasting eventually will resume their proclamations relative to his place in basketball history.

So, that will be interesting.

But once we’ve reconciled the Heat’s bid for a three-peat, the most entertaining aspect of LeBron’s 2014 should quickly erupt. Right, that’s the potential for him to bail on another team.

He could derail this speculation pretty quickly, of course, but any decision to limit his time in the anticipated spotlight would signal even more emotional growth than we’ve seen the last two years.

It wouldn’t be as interesting, but would be pretty cool.

Minnesota’s Kevin Love and Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant top the list of Kevins to keep an eye on.

That would be the Kevins.

Let’s begin with Durant, who still hates not being a champion and must work without Russell Westbrook (again) for the next few weeks while putting the Oklahoma City Thunder in solid, pre-playoff position. Can he become greater enough to win the Western Conference and take down LeBron or the Pacers?

Our next Kevin is Love, the current efficiency leader among NBA players and a statistical superstar still trying to haul the Minnesota Timberwolves into the playoffs. Having been given one less contractual year than they could have bestowed upon their franchise player, the T-wolves (it often is suggested) could be dealing with someone eventually looking to leave. With all of the presumed suitors, will Minnesota blink?

Up next is Kevin McHale, whose task is finding a way to make James Harden actually guard someone … at least in the fourth quarter.

Our final Kevin is Garnett, who (as the bad-will ambassador of the temporarily dysfunctional Brooklyn Nets) offers the potential for some truly spectacular post-game sound bites. 

Given the direction of the Lakers’ season, a new address for Pau Gasol could make a lot of sense.

As superstar recording artist and roasted chicken entrepreneur Kenny Rogers once told us, you got to know when to fold ’em.

And as the Los Angeles Lakers are figuring out, injuries and other pesky issues have turned this season into a relative nightmare.

So, with the Black Mamba back in street clothes and Pau Gasol unable to drag the leftovers anywhere near the playoffs, the Lakers (still staring down the gun barrel of luxury-tax recidivism) reportedly are looking to deal Gasol.

And what is the rumored return? Well, as we’ve pointed out before, Gasol’s expiring contract and remaining low-post skill are unable to produce a yield of young talent.

With saving money allegedly in mind, the Lakers are said to be ready to send Gasol to the Cleveland Cavaliers in exchange for old buddy Andrew Bynum. Once Bynum is on their books, he (in media-prescribed theory) would be waived before the remainder of his contract becomes guaranteed next month.

In addition to the financial savings, the Lakers without Gasol and Kobe Bryant for a couple of months or more certainly could become bad enough to qualify for a really high selection in the 2014 draft bonanza.

Maybe they’ll be able to line Kobe up next to Julius Randle.

The return to health of Andre Iguodala could be the spark that ignites Golden State’s rise in the Western Conference standings.

Well, the Golden State Warriors already have begun to smolder, with six consecutive victories entering the new calendar year.

This rally, which has occurred since the return from injury of swingman Andre Iguodala, isn’t exactly a coincidence.

Now seeded seventh in the Western Conference, the Warriors have climbed to fourth in league rankings for defensive efficiency. Iguodala’s ability to defend multiple positions at a high level certainly has abetted this rise.

What he also provides is another playmaker for a team that has been riding Steph Curry in this category. Part of Golden State’s inability to replicate the vast promise established last season was the loss of bench stars Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry.

With Jack on the floor, Curry could be shifted to score off the ball more often. Jack could facilitate for the Warriors when Steph needed a break.

Iguodala provides that option now.

But his return also enables coach Mark Jackson to move second-year forward Harrison Barnes into the role of off-the-bench offensive weapon. This should help mitigate the loss of Landry in part of that capacity.

Although this fire-catching will receive an immediate test from the visiting Miami Heat, the Warriors already have had nine games against the top five teams in their own conference.

Eric Bledsoe’s big payday is coming; will the Phoenix Suns be the ones signing the checks?

We’re not referring to the Suns’ decision to acquire Eric Bledsoe.

Jared Dudley wasn’t that popular.

The question that accompanied the Suns into this season was the team’s decision to wait and see just how good Bledsoe really is before committing big money to keep him.

So, now that he and Goran Dragic are running the Suns into playoff contention, Bledsoe should command a really terrific payday next summer. And general manager Ryan McDonough this week declared the team will match “any reasonable offer” made to their restricted free agent point guard.

But while the Suns might have been able to rehire Bledsoe for more reasonable money than his market will yield in July, they were wise to wait for proof of his value with starter’s minutes.

Remember, they do have that aforementioned ability to match and (by the rules of free agency) retain the capacity to make a more attractive offer. The Suns also have financial flexibility, so spending big to keep Bledsoe won’t kill them.

We also should point out that Bledsoe was fine with waiting, and probably would have turned down any offer that — back when the season began — seemed reasonable.