The NBA, A-through-Z: ‘X,’ or, ‘players entering their tenth season.’

The free agents have just about all been signed up. The NBA is down to a series of Instagram photos from moving yachts and crossed fingers from worried teams hoping their players stay safe in the summer off. There’s nothing going on, save for that clock on the wall that is ticking down to the 2013-14 season.

And it’s moving SO SLOWLY.

This is why we’ve decided to pick 26 things we’re looking forward to in 2013-14. Or, at the very least, 26 things that intrigue us as we wait out an offseason that feels like it has thousands of miles left to cross before we can get to Halloween and opening week. Because there are 26 letters in the alphabet – you guessed, NBA A-through-Z.

We continue with ‘X,’ or, ‘players entering their tenth season.’

Dwight Howard – The Superstar

Because of the quickness of his particular decision and, some would say, bravery of his choice in selecting the Houston Rockets as a free agent suitor, Howard’s reputation took in a much-needed shot in the arm in early July. Even while debilitated by back and shoulder pain last season, and working with an ever-changing array in ball-dominating cohorts in Los Angeles (under a coach that didn’t even have a training camp), Howard still received 17 votes for All-NBA First Team, even if he didn’t handle himself all that well professionally. With yet another entirely new system to adapt to in Houston, Howard will be the most ardently-followed new face in the NBA in 2013-14. We hope he’s ready for another healthy serving of external pressure.

Emeka Okafor – The Respected Veteran

Passed over, in a surprise to many that is too-often forgotten nearly a decade later, for Howard as the top overall pick in the 2004 draft, Okafor is on his third NBA team, and looking to make up for his disastrous lone playoff showing from 2011. Emeka was one of the leading lights for a Washington Wizards team that split its final 50 games after a 4-28 start to the 2012-13 season, helping anchoring one of the league’s best defenses. Okafor has remained consistent, if unspectacular over the last four seasons, but he’s also nearing 31, and the Wizards aren’t exactly a lock for the East’s playoff bracket in 2013-14.

Shaun Livingston – The Survivor

It was Livingston – not Howard, and certainly not Okafor – that became a darling of the NBA League Pass set during his brief stretches of play during his first two seasons. His size, combined with a loping handle and sound interior court vision, made him a must-watch straight out of high school. Livingston wasn’t exactly slated for stardom midway through his third season, but was expected to be a key cog in an up and coming Los Angeles Clippers team before his crippling knee injury in 2007. The Brooklyn Nets backup is now on his seventh team (not counting second stints in Charlotte and Washington), and at age 27 Livingston managed to post the highest Player Efficiency Rating of his career in 2012-13. Entering his prime, this is as good as comebacks get.

Josh Smith – The Enigma

For years, the wonder behind Josh Smith’s up and down play for the Atlanta Hawks always came down to the setting. Was his inconsistency and at-times iffy shot selection a product of only knowing one system (basically, spread out over two head coaches), one team, and one town? Or was he to remain a project-type deep into his 30s? On a different team for the first time in his career, one that is filled with players that have their own mitigating criticisms, Smith now has a chance to prove that those 20-footers were always someone else’s fault. Enjoy the ride, Detroit.

Tony Allen – The Goofball

Some four and a half years ago, Allen ranked as public enemy number one by Boston Celtics fans. Tony played a skittish brand of ball in the team’s first round win over the Chicago Bulls, reportedly fearful over retribution for a Chicago-area shooting that took place in 2005 for which Allen was around for, but not implicated in. Sent to Memphis to resurrect his career, he’s responded by turning into one of the league’s top defenders and … well, he’s still kind of a mess on offense. Still, Allen’s effusive personality and hilarious Twitter page have endeared him to local fans, and earned him a new free agent deal in 2013.

Kevin Martin – The Hired Gun

Martin’s ascension came at a time when a whole new generation of NBA fans began to pay attention to things like per-minute statistics, and overall efficiency, which helped us recognize that the man who averaged just 10.8 points per game in his second year may at some point be capable of so much more. Like, “almost two and a half times”-more, as evidenced by his 24.6 points per contest for the Sacramento Kings in 2007-08. Dealt to Houston and then Oklahoma City to help shore up their offenses in the years since, Martin has now latched on in Minnesota, re-uniting with Rick Adelman – the coach that guided him during those formative years.

Andris Biedrins – The Reclamation Project

After he nearly averaged a double-double in only 27 minutes per game at age 21 in 2007-08, leading the NBA in shooting percentage along the way, Biedrins looked like a real comer for his Golden State Warriors. He played just as well the following season, but completely lost faith in his always-awkward free throw stroke in the years since. Teams responded by fouling intentionally, and Biedrins began to play a timid style of ball, all while working on a boo-inducing six-year, $54 million contract. Traded to Utah over the summer as a draft pick-gaining asset, and less of a playing asset, Biedrins will try to re-locate the confidence that led him to become one of the NBA’s best young centers. With just 19 free throws made in 78 total tries since 2009, he has a long way to go.

Al Jefferson – The Go-To Guy

The low post demon has served as a force down low for a rebuilding Boston Celtics team, a rebuilding Minnesota Timberwolves team, and a mediocre Utah Jazz team over the last few years, always getting as many touches as he could handle with teams that were desperate for his scoring. Just 28, he’ll be asked to work in his prime for a suitably-desperate Charlotte Bobcats squad, one that finished 28th in offense last year before throwing three years and over $40 million at Big Al. One problem with that? Somehow, the Bobcats fared even worse defensively last year, ranking last in the league, and Jefferson is more than aware that he owns a pretty poor reputation as a defender.

Andre Iguodala – The Respected One

Even though Iguodala doesn’t have the offensive juice needed to lead a team deep into the playoffs (Philadelphia’s 2012 trip, over a Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah-less Bulls squad and against an ancient Boston Celtics team, doesn’t count), that doesn’t mean he isn’t one of the NBA’s most coveted all around talents. Denver badly wanted Dre before trading for him last year, and Golden State general manager Bob Myers drove himself batty attempting to clear cap space to put Iguodala on the Warriors this summer. Golden State has its offense in place, now they’re expecting the defensive-minded Iguodala to put them over the top.

Kris Humphries – The Punchline

Known mostly for his sham of a marriage to a reality television show participant, his low (or, “least”) likability, and various d-baggy exploits, Kris Humphries will attempt to extricate himself from his persona and re-establish himself as a basketball player-first with the Boston Celtics this year. At age 28, Humphries probably sees Boston as one last attempt to LOL I can’t even write this with a straight face. Sorry Boston fans, you deserve better.

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