Forget L.A and Miami, NBA season still an exciting one to watch

Barring injuries, it's a foregone conclusion among most NBA experts that L.A. and Miami are the clear front-runners for the ring. But even with the last chapter almost written, this promises to be an even more exciting NBA season than the last. Why you ask? Read my nine burning NBA questions — and here's the kicker: They have little to do with L.A. or Miami.

1. Did the Oklahoma City Thunder trade away their NBA title hopes before the season even started?

The Thunder's deal to send James Harden to the Rockets on Saturday night is going to be, arguably, the most discussed trade of the season if the Thunder struggle in his absence. He started in just seven games during his three seasons with OKC, but he shined coming off the bench and offered offensive and defensive relief for the Thunder's dynamic duo of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

2. Is Jeremy Lin"sanity" a temporary or permanent condition?

The Houston Rockets could be the cure for Linsanity, which is bad news for Lin fans. Last season, Lin shook up the NBA nation when he sparked a 6-0 win streak for the listless New York Knicks in place of injured point guard Baron Davis. Turnovers have been an issue for Lin in the preseason, but Harden's presence should take some pressure off Lin.

3. Is the Eastern Conference's Atlantic Division the best entertainment in the NBA?

Expect some primetime competition among the Boston Celtics, New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets, Philadelphia 76ers and Toronto Raptors. Forget Kobe and LeBron. How about Carmelo and KG? This is by far the most loaded division in the NBA.

4. Will Andrew Bynum emerge as the NBA's best center this season?

This is always a laughable debate considering there are probably just three or four true centers in the league anyway. It's no secret Bynum felt a cold draft in L.A. even after helping the Lakers to two NBA titles with the help of Kobe and Gasol. Now we'll see if he's got what it takes to hoist a team on his painful knees.

5. Are the Knicks too old to be contenders?

Jason Kidd is 39 years old. Rasheed Wallace and Marcus Camby are 38, and New York's Big Three — Anthony (28), Amar'e Stoudemire (29) and Tyson Chandler (30) — aren't spring chickens either. Boston has proven you can get to the promised land even with a little weathering, but the key here will be if the Knicks have endurance and sustainability.

6. Who owns the bragging rights in L.A. and NYC?

Before we can call the Lakers the best team in the NBA, we need to see if they're the best team in their own city first. It's a point guard's league right now, and the Clippers have an edge in that fight with Chris Paul. New York, arguably the basketball Mecca, will compete for bragging rights for the court — literally. Jay-Z's Barclays Center will attempt to rival the historic Madison Square Garden.

7. Will the Orlando Magic become the Eastern Conference's Denver Nuggets?

ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy gave the Magic a shot at a playoff spot with the return of a core group of veterans and the addition of the experienced Al Harrington and Arron Afflalo. Folks laugh, but the Magic could have some fight in them yet.

8. Can the New Orleans Hornets become the Eastern Conference's Thunder?

Multiple high draft picks? Check. Small-market team looking for a breakthrough? Check. But that's where the similarities stop. The duo of No. 1 pick Anthony Davis and No. 10 pick Austin Rivers looks good on paper, but we'll have to see if these two actually mesh once Rivers' ankle heals.

9. Will Doc Rivers be the true MVP of the season?

Boston loaded up its aging roster with young talent and according to multiple NBA experts has a legit chance of upsetting Miami for the Eastern Conference title. Should that happen, there's no doubt that Rivers should be the Most Valuable Person in the NBA.

sjowens@orlandosentinel.com

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