Whenever the lockout ends – whether it's next week or next month – NBA teams know this much: They're not going to have much time to prepare for their shortened season. That could give some teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder, Dallas Mavericks, Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls an advantage because their rosters are already largely built.
Not every team is as fortunate as the Thunder, who already have 14 players under contract and just one free agent: guard Daequan Cook(notes). Their coach (Scott Brooks) has been with them for more than two seasons, so they likely won't have many system changes. When the players have gathered during the lockout for informal workouts, they ran the team's plays. Whenever the season begins, they likely shouldn't have a tough transition.
“We have experience with each other, and bonding together is really going to help us,” Durant said. “We’re kind of having a training camp with all these workout sessions. …We’ve been doing a lot of things we do in games with the pickup games.
"It was very helpful for us. I don’t think we are going to take a step back."
Not everyone is as fortunate as the Thunder. The Celtics return their core – veterans Rajon Rondo(notes), Paul Pierce(notes), Ray Allen(notes) and Kevin Garnett(notes) and coach Doc Rivers – but have just two other players under contract: Jermaine O’Neal(notes) and unproven guard Avery Bradley(notes). The team has eight free agents, including forwards Jeff Green(notes) and Glen Davis(notes). Boston also has a pair of rookies who could compete for roster spots.
In past years, the Celtics players usually started working out together at the team's practice facility a month before training camp. That wasn't possible this season because of the lockout – though not everyone views it as a negative.
“It might help us,” Rondo said. “Fresher legs. Not as much wear and tear without [a normal] training camp.”
Once the free-agent market opens, Celtics general manager Danny Ainge could try to re-sign Green and Davis. He also has to fill other roster spots.
"Guys have to come mentally and physically prepared whenever we start,” Rondo said.
The Nuggets also will have significant work to do to build their roster. Free agents Wilson Chandler(notes), Kenyon Martin(notes) and J.R. Smith(notes) have all signed contracts to play in China and can’t return to the NBA until March. Denver's biggest free agent, center Nene, turned down a contract extension offer prior to the lockout.
The Nuggets also swung a deal on draft night to acquire point guard Andre Miller(notes), in addition to selecting a pair of rookies (forward Kenneth Faried(notes) and swingman Jordan Hamilton(notes)), who could make an impact in their first season. Miller, Arron Afflalo(notes), Faried and Hamilton have had a chance to play together in pickup games this summer at UCLA.
“It is going to be real challenging for everybody getting used to new guys again,” Nuggets center Chris Andersen(notes) said. “In training camp, the summer really is when you play with the other guys and get a feel for them, work out with them and then jump into the season. It’s going to be tough to try to get a rhythm. It’s going to take a little bit longer.”
Anderson said he spoke recently with Nene and asked him about his free-agent plans.
"He said he didn’t know yet until they start talking, but it seemed like he wants to stay,” Anderson said.
The Los Angeles Lakers, Detroit Pistons, Minnesota Timberwolves, Toronto Raptors, Houston Rockets and Warriors also have the challenge of entering the season with a new coach. And the Warriors' new coach, Mark Jackson, has no previous coaching experience.
Jackson met with Monta Ellis(notes), Stephen Curry(notes), Dorell Wright(notes) and David Lee(notes) before the lockout to emphasize the Warriors will have a heavy defensive focus. Several of the team's players also met in Las Vegas during the summer to scrimmage and participate in drills. With little knowledge of Jackson’s philosophy or plays, the workouts were general.
"You can work on basic basketball principles, the pick-and-roll, communicating while we are playing pickup and learning everyone’s personalities,” Curry said. “But that is probably the only thing we got out of it. If you don’t know exactly what coach Jackson wants to do offensively or defensively, it’s hard to implement something.”
Jackson and his veteran coaching staff have worked on plays at the Warriors’ practice facility and decided how they want to structure practices. Warriors owner Joseph Lacob believes Jackson's coaching staff, which includes highly respected assistant Michael Malone, will help Jackson overcome his learning curve.
“It’s hard when you don’t have players to prepare entirely,” Lacob said. “But they are doing a ton of preparation. I’m very pleased.
"They’re developing all the plays and were here for hours the other day going through all the plays."
If and when the lockout ends, new Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman will have to make do with an abbreviated training camp and preseason to work with the young roster he inherited. Among the issues the T'wolves will need to sort out: They have two key players playing the same forward position (Michael Beasley(notes) and rookie Derrick Williams(notes)) and a rookie point guard (Ricky Rubio(notes)).
“We need time on the floor, especially out there with Derrick and Ricky and really all the guys,” T'wolves forward Kevin Love(notes) said. “We’ve really blown up our team the last couple of years. We all need to get out there and keep working together. I’m the longest-tenured Minnesota player and I’ve only been there three years.”
With the NBA's summer league and rookie transition program canceled, first-year players could be forced to jump directly into the season without much preparation.
“It’s going to be a big challenge,” Warriors rookie guard Klay Thompson(notes) said. “But a lot of these rookies have been playing a lot of basketball, too. I think the ones that will excel are the ones that did right during the lockout, stayed in shape and really listened to the vets.”
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