From geezer ball to tanking to David Stern’s retirement – 10 NBA story lines

rbonnell@charlotteobserver.comOctober 28, 2013 

Geezer ball: San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich is an expert at managing an aging roster through a grinding season. That means sometimes choosing rest over practice and selectively holding veterans out of regular-season games. With Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce moving to Brooklyn, new Nets coach Jason Kidd should study Pop’s methods carefully to keep that team fresh for May and June.

Tanking, anyone? Players don’t intentionally lose. But certainly management can fold for the better part of a season. The Philadelphia 76ers look horrible this preseason, and new coach Brett Brown is warning that rookie Nerlens Noel might sit out the whole season following knee surgery. The Phoenix Suns made a trade last week that dealt four veterans for a protected first-round pick. With the 2014 draft looking so attractive, this doesn’t look so good from a good-faith perspective.

Cavaliers the new Warriors? The Warriors were last season’s breakthrough team, rewarding fans that were incredibly patient through years of losing. Cleveland should be that team this season with a terrific young core of Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson and rookie Anthony Bennett, the No. 1 overall pick from Nevada-Las Vegas.

Oh, Canada … Speaking of Bennett and Thompson, did you know they’re from Ontario? So is Kansas freshman Andrew Wiggins, who is supposed to be the next LeBron. Canadian youth basketball is having a golden age, and the NBA will be one of the beneficiaries. Now if they can just fix the Raptors.

Kobe never forgets: Lakers-Rockets games figure to be can’t-miss programming after center Dwight Howard ditched L.A. to sign as a free agent with Houston. You think Kobe Bryant didn’t take that personally? He takes everything personally. He’ll no doubt find something extra for this matchup.

A new voice at the top: David Stern has been the NBA’s commissioner for about as long as anyone can remember. He’s retiring this season, turning the league over to his hand-picked successor, Adam Silver. Stern’s gravitas meant he could all but force consensus on the league’s 30 owners. Silver will be more challenged in that regard.

Will the Thunder get over the top? Remember all those Knicks teams that couldn’t get past the Bulls and Michael Jordan? The Thunder has the misfortune of playing in an era with the Spurs in the West and the Heat in the East. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are still young, but James Harden is gone and Kendrick Perkins is in decline.

The Muddle in the Middle of the East: Those last two playoff spots in the Eastern Conference look wide open. There’s little, if any, difference on paper among the Pistons, Bucks, Hawks and Wizards. And it wouldn’t be a reach if the Raptors, Bobcats and Celtics were in the mix through March.

Back on the market? LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony have out clauses in their contracts that could shift power, particularly if they switched conferences.

A more sensible Finals format: The NBA is switching back, from a 2-3-2 format in the Finals to a 2-2-1-1-1. This is fairer and makes for the same format throughout the playoffs. The original incentive for 2-3-2 in the Finals was travel concern, but that’s mitigated by charter flights for the teams.

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