NBA preview: Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and other key questions

No one knows when exactly Kobe Bryant will return to the Lakers, but it won't likely be for Tuesday's season opener against the Clippers.
(Kevin Lee / Getty Images)

An NBA season isn’t just a story that writes itself. It’s also kind enough to touch on every genre.

There’s the fantasy of LeBron James and what he might do with the ball, the romance of Dwight Howard and the Houston Rockets. There’s the mystery of what goes on in the head of JaVale McGee.

There’s the Western (Conference), the league’s better half.

There’s the horror of the Philadelphia 76ers, who might not be able to beat La Salle. The thriller of a draft lottery that will decide who gets Andrew Wiggins and the history of the Lakers and Boston Celtics, who don’t have much of a present.

Here’s a look at what the future might hold when it comes to the top story lines of the 2013-14 season:

1. When will Kobe Bryant make his season debut?


It would be great fun for Bryant to appear unannounced in uniform for the Lakers’ first big game of the season.

Given that the opener Tuesday against the Clippers qualifies, don’t count on it. A more likely return date for the superstar sidelined since April by a torn Achilles’ tendon would be the Lakers’ home game on Christmas Day against the Heat. Not that playing against LeBron James would provide extra motivation or anything.

2. Will the returns of Derrick Rose and Danny Granger affect James’ chances of winning a third consecutive title?

That’s like asking if Dr. No and Mr. Big might complicate a James Bond mission if the villains were both allowed to wreak havoc in the same movie.

Rose is a singular talent, but Granger’s impending return makes Indiana a more complete team than Chicago with Rose. The Pacers will have four players in Granger, Paul George, Roy Hibbert and David West who pose a bigger threat to the Heat than any four counterparts the Bulls can put on the court.

3. Why are Doc Rivers, Dave Joerger and Brian Shaw already set up for disappointment?

Because the coaches they are replacing went a combined 169-77 last season before losing their jobs. Denver’s George Karl compiled the best home record in the NBA, the Clippers’ Vinny Del Negro set a single-season franchise record with 56 victories and Memphis’ Lionel Hollins took the Grizzlies to the Western Conference finals.

Rivers faces the most pressure among the trio of replacements because of his championship pedigree. Anything less than a trip to the conference finals will be considered a flop for the Clippers.

4. Which L.A. team won’t be left hanging its head over Bannergate?

Depends on how you look at it. The beauty of being the Lakers in an arena you share with the Clippers is that there’s nothing that needs covering up.

The Clippers will surely win the season series in the Hallway Rivalry, but the only way they won’t have to pretend to ignore all those Lakers championship banners inside Staples Center again next season will be if they can hoist one of their own.

5. Which will get Andrew Bynum into trouble first in Cleveland, his knees or his mouth?

The knees would be a slight favorite in Las Vegas as a prop bet.

The 7-footer, famous for saying things such as “closeout games are kinda easy,” is required to speak with the media only once a week while he recovers from the arthritis in his knees that kept him from playing last season. That means fewer chances for silly proclamations.

Bynum didn’t play in any exhibition games and there remains no timetable for his return.

6. Is this going to be it for Dirk Nowitzki’s time in Dallas?

Nowitzki’s future hinges mostly on his knee and how much of a shark Mark Cuban wants to be with his finances.

Nowitzki is coming off his least productive season since he was a rookie, largely because of knee swelling that limited him to 53 games. He recently turned 35 and will make $22.7 million this season.

None of those things falls into the “pro” column when debating the merits of keeping the 7-footer beyond this summer, when his contract expires.

7. If Houston fails to win big with Howard, how long will it be before he starts plotting his next move?

The unofficial over-under is 20 months from now. His honeymoon with the Rockets is probably good for at least one year, even if the team fails to make a deep playoff run.

However, if Houston is still middling by the end of the 2014-15 season, get ready for the league’s most fickle player to consider a trade demand even before he can terminate his contract the following summer. Remember, it’s all about him.

8. Who will win the race to draft Wiggins, a.k.a. the franchise savior?

If Nick Gilbert and his bow tie show up again at the draft lottery, Cleveland might somehow end up with the Kansas phenom even if the Cavaliers don’t have any pingpong balls in the hopper.

Cleveland has emerged with the top pick in two of the three years the teenage son of owner Dan Gilbert has represented the team. With the Cavaliers expected to contend for the playoffs this season, more likely Wiggins destinations include Boston, Philadelphia, Orlando, Utah and Sacramento.

9. Did Miami actually get older with the retirement of Juwan Howard and the arrival of Greg Oden?

Not technically, though Oden’s listed age of 25 couldn’t be more suspicious if he’d been born in the Dominican Republic.

The bigger issue confronting the weathered 7-footer is the knees that have prevented him from playing in an NBA game for nearly four years. He’s already been outfitted with a brace for his left knee after experiencing swelling in the preseason.

Heat fans would be smart to brace for the worst.

10. How much fun will the New York media have with Metta World Peace?

Plenty. He’s already quizzed reporters during media day (while admitting he’d rather be in bed) and tweeted his support for Tyler Hansbrough after the Toronto forward comically apologized to World Peace for daring to glare in his direction.

What’s next, an appearance in a movie alongside Screech from “Saved by the Bell”?

Well, yes.

Twitter: @latbbolch