5 NBA stories to follow in 2014

5 NBA stories to follow in 2014


1. LeBron James and the potential free-agent class of 2014

Miami Heat forward LeBron James will lead the summer of 2014's star-filled group of free agents if he opts out of his contract as expected. Among the other notable names expected to join James: New York's Carmelo Anthony; Miami's Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh; Sacramento's Rudy Gay; Memphis' Zach Randolph; Dallas' Dirk Nowitzki, Chicago's Luol Deng; Indiana's Danny Granger; Brooklyn's Paul Pierce and the Los Angeles Lakers' Pau Gasol. Kobe Bryant is off the market after agreeing to a two-year, $48.5 million extension with the Lakers, but this summer's free-agent period won't lack for intrigue.

2. What will the NBA see from Kobe Bryant when he returns?

Bryant is projected to be out until around February with a knee fracture. He's said he isn't considering sitting the rest of the season. He was slowly regaining his old form after returning from his Achilles tendon injury prior to his latest injury. If Bryant lacks his usual explosion, how will he adapt his game? As a team, the Lakers have struggled this season, both with him and without. Can his return help them make a push for the Western Conference's last playoff berth? Or are the Lakers destined for the draft lottery?

3. Who will land the No. 1 pick in the 2014 NBA draft?

The 2014 NBA draft will be the most heralded since LeBron James led the class of 2003. Duke's Jabari Parker, Kansas' Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid, Kentucky's Julius Randle, Australia's Dante Exum and Oklahoma State's Marcus Smart are all top pick candidates. The team that ends up with the No. 1 pick will be elated, but also faces major pressure not to make a mistake. Of course, given the depth of this draft, the same could be said about the teams that end up with the second and third picks.

4. Will the Heat win a three-peat?

The Heat could become the first team to go to four straight NBA Finals since the Boston Celtics from 1984-87. The Lakers were the last NBA team to win three straight championships from 2000-02. But in order to return to the Finals, Miami will likely have to face the big and talented Indiana Pacers again in the Eastern Conference Finals. Miami is hopeful that injured center Greg Oden could add some needed size in the postseason.

5. The TBD returns of point guards

Injured Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose has not ruled out a return for the postseason after his second knee surgery. It's up to Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo to decide when he's ready to come back from his knee injury, a source has said. Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook is slated to return from his third knee surgery since May after the All-Star break. Lakers point guard Steve Nash's injured back is expected to be re-evaluated in two to three weeks. Nash turns 40 on Feb. 7. The injuries, along with that of Bryant, have put a dent in the NBA's star power.