1. Who has more to prove – DRose or Rondo?
DJ DUNSON: Derrick Rose has the brace off his knee, however, his ring finger is still bare. Rondo tore his ACL nearly nine months after Rose did and his game isn’t based on explosive movements. Rose’s cautious return to the court gives the impression that his ACL tear was worse than Bulls fans imagined. Maybe I’m being dramatic, but after last season’s saga, who could blame me?
JAMES CARR: Derrick Rose has much more to prove than Rajon Rondo. Rondo has a ring and was anointed the best player on the Boston Celtics by three Hall of Famers. I don't think anyone expects Rondo to produce at the same clip without those guys around anymore, as his best assets are creating plays and court vision, so ultimately Rondo needs guys to hit shots for him to be effective. Derrick Rose, however, doesn't have any silverware and most of his fans believe that if he were healthy, the Chicago Bulls could/would have taken down the Miami Heat. He watched them lose from the bench while fans waited impatiently. He's not gonna get a long leash from the fans. Even though Rose will have a better season overall than Rondo in 2013-14, Rose is the one who better produce.
J.R GAMBLE: We all missed Rajon Rondo’s grit and thug-paradise screw face, but the point guard is not a featured face of the NBA, so his return is not as anticipated. Rose was anointed the game’s best player before his knee got fouled out. Everybody and their mama’s hairdresser/pedicurist was rocking Derrick Rose jerseys after his 2010-11 MVP season.
The next Chicago dynasty was supposedly on the horizon and then all of a sudden Rose misses all of last season rehabbing and being “cautious.” It turned into a season full of drama, which caused some folks to question Rose’s commitment to the team and culminated with his brother defending his honor, but in the process dissing the entire Bull’s squad. A team that could have undoubtedly used Rose (even at 80 percent) in last year’s playoffs. Rondo is a gifted point guard, but in a historical sense, he’ll never be considered more than the third best player on his 2008 Celtics championship squad. The No. 1 story of this entire NBA season is the return of Rose. Nothing is messing with that.
2. Both the Clippers and Warriors are on the cusp on something great, at least, that’s what we are to believe. Which one of these teams is likely to reach their potential, and which one isn’t?
DUNSON: The Clippers are closer to the edge of greatness than the Golden State Warriors for a litany of reasons. They just poached the most respected active coaching mind in the league from Boston and in the process infused themselves with a clearer defensive identity. Steph Curry is great, but Chris Paul is like Peyton Manning out there. He makes the other four players around him great as well.
CARR: This will come down to whether Doc Rivers can make genuine basketball players out of DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin. Neither can consistently hit a jump shot, they’re below-average handling the ball, are turnover-prone and struggle with free-throw shooting. Of course, CP3 makes them look like geniuses anyway, but if Doc can make them legitimately smart players on the court, the LA Clippers are gonna be tough to handle. If not, I'll take the band of brothers building in Golden State. Those guys can flat-out shoot, and that is always a great foundation.
GAMBLE: Both teams are severely flawed in areas. Golden State doesn’t really D up and has no imposing inside presence. They live and die by the trey and their best player is an undersized two- guard who shoots like Wyatt Earp when he’s on, but is susceptible to the ugly streaks that plague all great gunners. Mark Jackson is doing a Kid Capri at a house party job with the Warriors. However, they aren’t on the cusp of greatness yet.
The addition of Doc Rivers will at least guarantee that if the Clippers lay another playoff egg, it won’t be because they underachieved.
3. Give me your most underrated offseason move?
DUNSON: The Hornets drugging the Philadelphia 76ers on Draft Night was the most underrated move of the offseason. By the time the effects wore off, it was August, Philadelphia didn’t have a head coach and they’d swapped Jrue Holiday for Nerlens Noel. The trio of Holiday, Eric Gordon and ‘The Brow’ was enough to attract Tyreke Evans into the fold. If the acquisition of Keith Bogans, Marshon Brooks and Kris Humphries results in the Celtics finally securing a top pick in a tank year, then we'll have to revise this answer in about six months time.
CARR: There are a lot of moves to like this year. D12 to Houston makes them an immediate contender, as does Paul Pierce and KG (and AK-47) heading to Brooklyn. But the best move was Indiana re-signing David West and Paul George. They're the only team in the East that truly threatened Miami and will need both their rebounding/enforcer and young talent in order to topple them...eventually.
GAMBLE: D12 to Houston? I’ll pass on Dwight “Super Hoe” Howard and what he brings as far as championship pedigree and leadership. Signing Tyreke Evans to a sweet $44 million offer sheet might have appeared to be a desperate move by a bad team, but if the multi-talented former Sac Town star can regain his 2009-10 form, he can be a wild card for New Orleans. He’s tall, talented, versatile and has a calm temperament. The young Pelicans also brought in Jrue Holiday, a dogged defender who can also spark it up. Eric Gordon and Anthony Davis ball out as well.
4. Is this the year when the often-repeated statement, “when the Lakers are good, the League is better,” is finally revealed as fiction?
DUNSON: The Lakers don’t have to be good. Win or lose, the Lakers are like Days of Our Lives, a non-stop soap opera. In fact, the most interesting seasons of Kobe Bryant’s career have been his most acrimonious years on subpar teams. Bryant wasting his final seasons as a crippled, vertically challenged, volume scorer on a Western Conference bottomfeeder is stranger than fiction.
CARR: That will never be disproven. The same theory applies to the
New York Yankees and Alabama football. When there's a team everyone loves to hate because of their success, ratings shoot up. Unfortunately, media coverage doesn't really change either way. Get ready for a long year of, "How To Fix The Lakers" or "Kobe Should Retire/Demand A Trade" type columns and opinion segments...and a lot of eye rolling from the couch.
GAMBLE: The NBA is always better when big market clubs like the Knicks, Lakers and Chicago are getting busy, but the NBA flourishes whether the big city slickers are popping or not. At the end of the day, the NBA is about individual stars and all-star “Big Threes.” Even if the Lakers stink and Kobe can’t last the season, fans outside of L.A. will find another superstar to embrace.
5. Has Indiana done enough in the off-season to pass the Heat?
DUNSON: It all depends on the evolution of Paul George and how Danny Granger fits in after returning to a new world where he’s been demoted to the Pacers No. 2 option. They’ll either be remembered as a gritty Pistons-type championship squad that ends a dynasty or C-Webb’s Sacramento Kings 10 years later.
CARR: No. Better hope LeBron gets hurt.
GAMBLE: Indiana had enough last season, but lost the gut check battle against a savvier, veteran-laden squad. It happens. If Lance Stephenson and Co. were a year older maybe they could have gutted out a Game 7. As for this postseason, we’ll have to wait and see what kind of physical shape Miami is in come the dog days of May.