Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

As NBA Season Starts, Eight Key Questions

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

As NBA Season Starts, Eight Key Questions

Article excerpt

It took the better part of a decade, but the NBA - finally - is past Michael Jordan. One generation of stars, including Kevin Garnett, Allen Iverson, and Vince Carter, came and went without making anyone forget Air Jordan during the 1990s. Every year, the question persisted: When will the NBA rebound?

Last season, it did. The playoffs delivered a slew of scintillating series packed with Game 7 thrillers, back-and-forth match-ups, and the style points crucial to capturing casual sports fans. With a new season tipping off Oct. 31, the Monitor asks eight questions about the months ahead.

1) Is a new golden era upon us?

It's easy to dismiss the NBA as a league far removed from the glory days of Larry, Magic, and Michael, not to mention Sir Charles and Hakeem the Dream. Pro hoops briefly devolved into selfish scoring displays of "SportsCenter" highlight reels. No more. The faces of the NBA are young, talented, and indisputably dedicated to teamwork and winning. Thanks to the troika of the 2003 draft - Cleveland's LeBron James, Denver's Carmelo Anthony, and 2006 NBA Finals hero Dwyane Wade of Miami - pro hoops is must-see TV again.

Wade, star of the championship-winning Miami Heat, is making Spike Lee-directed Converse spots while James and Anthony scoop up celebrity cachet. But you can't become the face of the league until you actually win championships, cautions Kenny Smith, a TNT analyst and former NBA player. "LeBron last year took steps, and Carmelo this year will start to do that," he says.

2) Will the Knicks show a knack for improvement?

Madison Square Garden proved so toxic last season it should have been condemned. The Knicks' ballyhooed hiring of head coach Larry Brown left the franchise in tatters, replete with a wave of player injuries, front office and locker-room spats, and yet another change in head coaches. Brown is out, left to squabble with the Knicks over a contract settlement. His replacement, GM Isiah Thomas, has been given a win-or-else mandate by team management. Ominously, the Knicks caved to the Celtics in the preseason. Coming off a 23-59 season, New York didn't make any major player moves this off- season. Thomas could be unemployed by spring.

3) Can the Heat repeat?

Wade is a young superstar with limitless energy, but what about the rest of the cast, including the not-so-spry Shaquille O'Neal? Other key players (Alonzo Mourning, Gary Payton) are also on the downside of their careers. "Miami is the best team in the [Eastern Conference], but they're dealing with age and with everyone gunning for them," says Greg Anthony of ESPN.

4) Is the ball in for a fall?

A new official game ball, manufactured by Spalding, debuts this season, though early reviews have been spotty. O'Neal recently compared it to a driveway relic from a toy store, but NBA observers say the carping will cease early on. …

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