FROM HARDWARE TO MILESTONES, BREAKOUT PLAYERS TO ENDANGERED COACHES, THE CAPTIVATING TO THE BORING, HERE'S WHAT TO WATCH FOR (OR NOT) THIS SEASON
With top rival Kevin Durant out early, James will become the fourth player to win it at least five times.
Rookie of the Year
The 19-year-old forward will be an immediate focal point for Jason Kidd's scoring-starved Bucks.
Sixth Man Award
Last season's runner-up is a tenacious defender and an improved scorer for Chicago's deep frontcourt.
Coach of the Year
Golden State's rookie boss will leave his mark by taking the offense from adequate to exceptional.
Most Improved Player
The strong, sure-handed second-year center will emerge as OKC shifts away from Kendrick Perkins.
Defensive Player of the Year
The reigning winner is the QB of a Bulls D that is always stingy under Tom Thibodeau.
Players who have won Rookie of the Year after not debuting the year they were drafted. 76ers power forward Nerlens Noel, the sixth pick in 2013, who missed last season after left-ACL surgery, will attempt to join Blake Griffin (the '11 winner), David Robinson (1990), Larry Bird ('80) and Jerry Lucas ('64).
COACHES ON THE HOT SEAT
With MVP Kevin Durant only two years from free agency, Brooks faces pressure to get Oklahoma City to the Finals for the second time since being hired in 2008.
In year four since the Chris Paul trade, New Orleans (82--148 in the last three seasons under Williams) has the talent to contend for a playoff berth.
Even after the loss of Chandler Parsons, Houston will expect the fourth-year coach with two top 10 stars to do better than last season's first-round exit.
YEARS SINCE THE WIZARDS WON 50 GAMES. ODDSMAKERS SEE WASHINGTON THREATENING THAT NUMBER AFTER WINNING 44 LAST SEASON.
THE MOST GAMES PLAYED WITH THE 76ERS BY ANY MEMBER OF THE CURRENT ROSTER. PHILLY'S LONGEST-TENURED PLAYERS JOINED IN 2012--13.
After solid second-year progress, the 22-year-old from Lithuania will play a bigger role on both ends.
The post--Kevin Love roster is stocked with athletes for the passing wizard to find on the run.
Already an excellent offensive rebounder, the burly third-year big man shows shooting promise.
More minutes at the two after Arron Afflalo's exit will increase the combo guard's comfort level.
Games played by Charlie Villanueva without a postseason appearance, the longest active streak and fifth longest in history. At week's end the nine-year vet was competing for a roster spot with the Mavericks, who have made the playoffs in 13 of 14 seasons.
THE SPURS' WINNING PERCENTAGE SINCE TIM DUNCAN ARRIVED IN 1997--98. SAN ANTONIO'S RECORD OVER THE LAST 17 SEASONS (950--396) IS THE BEST IN THE FOUR MAJOR NORTH AMERICAN PRO SPORTS.
Points Kobe Bryant (31,700) needs to move past Michael Jordan (32,292) for third on the alltime list. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387) and Karl Malone (36,928) lead the way.
BEST OF THE BEST
Where does Kobe rank in the pantheon of shooting guards? SI writers and editors tackled that question and more of the NBA's hottest debates in Basketball's Greatest, out this week from Sports Illustrated Books.
FOUR TEAMS THAT WILL BE AGGRESSIVE IN HUNTING TRADES
New czar Stan Van Gundy will look to balance a roster rich with big men but short on quality perimeter players.
Sacramento will do whatever it takes to halt an eight-year playoff drought, the second-longest current streak, behind Minnesota's 10.
Phil Jackson has expiring contracts, a few marketable young wings and a strong desire to pair Carmelo Anthony with a star.
GM Ryan McDonough can dangle his stockpile of guards, prospects and draft picks in pursuit of a scoring big man.
Photograph by Andrew Hancock For Sports Illustrated
SECOND TO NONE With the promise of big minutes to show his scoring skills, No. 2 pick Jabari Parker will outpace the other rookies.
AL TIELEMANS/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (JAMES)
AL TIELEMANS/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (NOEL)
JEFFREY PHELPS/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES (PARKER)
KAMIL KRZACZYNSKI/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES (GIBSON)
JACK ARENT/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES (KERR)
RICHARD ROWE/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES (ADAMS)
RANDY BELICE/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES (NOAH)
GREG NELSON FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (BROOKS)
GREG NELSON FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (MCHALE)
GREG NELSON FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (OLADIPO)
LAYNE MURDOCH/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES (WILLIAMS)
BRIAN BABINEAU/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES (VALANCIUNAS)
JORDAN JOHNSON/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES (RUBIO)
JESSE D. GARRABRANT/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES (SULLINGER)
GREG NELSON FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (VILLANUEVA)
GREG NELSON FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (DUNCAN)
JOHN W. MCDONOUGH/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (BRYANT)
CHAD MATTHEW CARLSON FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (BOOK)