With the baseball season recently concluded, and hockey locked out, sports fans may increasingly be turning to basketball this season.
The current crop of fans could be joined by a brand new audience that would boost the profile of basketball in this country, and fill the hole left in the hearts of Canadians by the on-going NHL lockout.
A whole NBA season stretches out before us, full of possibilities, hopes and potential. Every team is given a blank slate to work with, and with 82 games of jostling and at least 16 more to crown a champion, there will be plenty of on-court action to enjoy.
Toronto may finally have a playoff team to root for.
The back court is among the strongest in the league with Jose Calderon and Kyle Lowry splitting minutes, Landry Fields will fill it up from the wing and the Raptors have a dynamic pick-and-roll option with Jonas Valanciunas who will start at centre from day one.
DeMar DeRozan will look to stay aggressive and Andrea Bargnani will be great if he stays healthy, so the seventh or eithth seed in the East isn’t out of the question.
If the Raptors get there, their likely opponents would be a Miami team that has retooled and added to their strengths.
In their championship run last season, the Heat proved they didn’t need a physical inside presence to win, and they were at their best when Dwyane Wade and LeBron James penetrate from the perimeter and kick the ball out to shooters.
This strategy will be reinforced by the Heat’s signing of Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis and they’ll be favourites to repeat.
Though they fell just short last season, the Oklahoma City Thunder didn’t stand pat with the young core that brought them to the NBA Finals.
The Rockets and Thunder recently agreed to a deal where, among other pieces, the Rockets get James Harden while Kevin Martin and rookie Jeremy Lamb go to OKC.
The Thunder will still be the top team in the West during the regular season thanks to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, but watch out for the new-look Lakers.
By adding Steve Nash and Dwight Howard, Los Angeles is again among the title favourites. Kobe Bryant has said it’s the best collection of talent he’s ever played with, and he and Pau Gasol should thrive with Nash spacing the floor and Howard helping on defence.
The Lakers went 0-8 in the preseason and it’ll take them time to gel, but if they stay healthy they could top the Thunder in the playoffs.
Behind those three teams everybody’s talking about are the two teams that always seem to get discounted until playoff time.
The Boston Celtics won’t miss Ray Allen too much with Courtney Lee and Jason Terry shooting, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce will continue to lead, Jeff Green is back and better than ever after heart surgery, and Rajon Rondo could be the best point guard in the league.
Plus, the Spurs are the Spurs, and they prove doubters wrong year after year.
Beyond those contenders the Bulls could be good if Rose comes back anywhere near his MVP form, the Clippers and Knicks have plenty of weapons but will need to play consistent defence, the Nuggets, Pacers and Grizzlies are clawing at the leaders.
The season tips off with the Heat hosting Boston in Miami as the Celtics stare across at Ray Allen dressed in an enemy uniform and the rest of the squad receiving their championship rings.
Following that Eastern Conference clash, the Lakers host the Dallas Mavericks in Los Angeles in an exciting NBA tip-off night that is just a prelude of the season to come.