Barnes Burner: Three stories to watch entering 2013-14 NBA season


By Nate Barnes | Sports Editor

The 2013-2014 NBA season officially opened Tuesday night, although many in Pittsburgh were unaware. LeBron James and the Miami Heat re-asserted their dominance after winning last season’s NBA Finals while ruining Derrick Rose’s return to the Chicago Bulls, and the Los Angeles Lakers’ band of cast-offs spoiled Doc Rivers’ debut as head coach of the Los Angeles Clippers.

For those who intend to pay attention this NBA season amid the media clamor of Pitt hoops, Pitt football, Penguins hockey and Steelers ineptitude, here are a few storylines ranging from the obvious and obscure to one with a hometown connection.

Can anyone knock off the Miami Heat?

The first half of this question essentially makes the second half irrelevant. As many analysts say, the Heat are the best team in the league and will be until another team proves otherwise.

Miami begins the year in the hunt to become the first team to “three-peat” since the 2000-2002 Lakers dynasty spearheaded by Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. The Lakers that won back-to-back championships in 2009-2010 are the only squad that had the opportunity until now.

As far as rosters go, Miami returns not only its “big three” of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, but also most of the key role players from the last two years, including Mario Chalmers, Shane Battier, Udonis Haslem and all-time 3-point leader Ray Allen.

The only loss of marginal size was Mike Miller, who was let go via the NBA’s amnesty clause, creating cap space for general manager Pat Riley to bring in 2007 No. 1 overall pick Greg Oden and 2008 No. 2 choice Michael Beasley. Although they were both labeled busts early in their careers, a winning atmosphere and the coaching of Erik Spoelstra might coax some productions out of the two.

But not that the Heat need it — they still have a player building a resumé as one of the best to ever play. Any reason to expect the Heat not to make a run at the three-peat falls short at the feet of four-time MVP LeBron James.

What team makes a surprise playoff run?

For the last two seasons, the Minnesota Timberwolves have been a team many people, myself included, expected to make a run at the playoffs. But injuries have derailed the team’s chances the past two seasons, as well.

For the sake of originality — though people should pay attention to Minnesota — look to the team closest to the Pittsburgh area as one to surprise many around the league: the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Last season’s Cavs team showed promise of what the near future holds as Kyrie Irving announced himself to the world while Dion Waiters paired with him in the backcourt to draw Rookie of the Year consideration.

Now, the additions of No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett, star center Andrew Bynum, Jarrett Jack and Earl Clark to the existing core of Irving, Waiters, Tristan Thompson and Anderson Varejao make this squad not just a bona fide playoff contender but one that could make noise if it reaches the postseason. 

Cleveland has perimeter, frontcourt depth and a player rising to become the league’s best at the point guard position in Irving. The only question with this Cavs team is that of health: Bynum missed the entire 2012-2013 season, and both Irving and Waiters missed time last season.

What will Steven Adams’ rookie year entail?

The former Pitt Panther fell into possibly the best situation a rookie could — he was chosen No. 12 overall by the Oklahoma City Thunder. Adams enters a team with an established hierarchy in Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook (currently out with an injury, but should return soon) and Serge Ibaka.

Basically, Adams has all the time he needs to develop as an option to start at center in the future. But don’t tell Adams that.

The “Kiwi Phenom” turned heads in preseason action, when he averaged 7.8 points, 8 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game. His biggest performance came Oct. 17 against the New Orleans Pelicans, when he posted 10 points, 15 rebounds and a block.

For Adams to stay on the floor this season as the likely backup to starter Kendrick Perkins, he must find an answer to what plagued him during his time in a Pitt uniform: foul trouble. Adams fouled out of two of the seven preseason games and committed nearly four personal fouls per game.

Adams has already made more progress than I and many others expected, as he starts the season with the Thunder and not in the D-league. The opportunity is even there for Adams to earn the starting job if his level of play from the preseason transitions into the regular season, let alone improves. 

Not to mention, it appears Perkins gets worse and worse as each year passes, which also makes the two years remaining on his deal unbearable. If Adams takes the necessary strides this season to inspire confidence in coach Scott Brooks and the Thunder front office, Perkins could be dealt next offseason as an expiring contract to a team looking to rebuild.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Write to Nate at [email protected].