Five storylines to watch as NBA training camps get underway

The Washington Post

There are still three weeks until the NBA games count in the standings, but that doesn't mean the preseason (mercifully shortened by the league) will be meaningless. Here are five things to watch out for as the NBA season gets underway:

1. The health of Thomas, Griffin and Embiid

Several injured stars — including Isaiah Thomas, Blake Griffin and Joel Embiid — have uncertain return dates. While the Cleveland Cavaliers don't need Thomas to finish at or near the top of the Eastern Conference, Griffin's and Embiid's returns could be the difference between the Los Angeles Clippers and Philadelphia 76ers making the playoffs or not.

2. Stars adjusting to new homes

The NBA saw as much movement from star players this summer as ever. That trend continued right up through the weekend, when Carmelo Anthony was finally traded away by the New York Knicks, who sent him to Oklahoma City to team up with Russell Westbrook and the other star the Thunder acquired this summer, Paul George.

With Boston acquiring Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, Chris Paul joining James Harden in Houston, the Minnesota Timberwolves getting Jimmy Butler and Paul Millsap joining the up-and-coming Denver Nuggets, the next few weeks present the first opportunities to see how they all have adapted to their new homes. The same can be said for the places those players left, with teams such as the Clippers, Knicks, Pacers and Jazz trying to get used to life without their former stars.

3. Draft lottery reform

The NBA's board of governors will meet this week, and one of the top items on the agenda is the potential passage of draft lottery reform. The measure is expected to pass; the league office, specifically NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, is fully behind it. Still, that wasn't enough to keep a different lottery reform measure from earning enough votes to pass three years ago.

This time feels different, though, and the fairly moderate structural changes (essentially flattening out the odds among the top few spots and changing the drawing from three teams to four to diminish the need to lose an extreme amount of games) should prevent the kind of late rally against the measure that happened the last time around.

4. Rookie point guards taking over

Among the top 10 picks in the 2017 NBA draft, five — Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball, De'Aaron Fox, Frank Ntilikina and Dennis Smith — are point guards. That was the most among the position since three were taken in 2011.

Fultz and Ball are guaranteed to start in Philadelphia and Los Angeles, respectively, not surprising given they were the top two picks. The other three could see limited playing time. Fox will almost certainly begin the year behind George Hill in Sacramento, Ntilikina is in a position battle with Ramon Sessions and Ron Baker in New York and while Dennis Smith is the likely starter in Dallas, he will face competition for minutes from Yogi Ferrell, Devin Harris and J.J. Barea. The preseason will give an indication of how much all three will see the floor once the regular season gets underway.

5. Coaching hot seats

Last year, remarkably, no NBA team fired its head coach, something that hadn't happened in decades. That means there are plenty of candidates for the hot seat with a new season about to begin. Fred Hoiberg in Chicago and Alvin Gentry in New Orleans are already feeling the heat, but there could be plenty more depending on the opening few weeks.

That's not to say there will be firings during the preseason. That's not how this works. But what will be worth watching is how teams with coaches in danger define what a successful season looks like. The answer to those questions will go a long way in judging which coaches stay and which are shown the door.

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