NBA: Five storylines to track in the 2015-16 season

NBA: Five storylines to track in the 2015-16 season
PHOTO: AFP

Battered warrior Kobe Bryant, limited to 41 games since an Achilles injury in 2013, returns to lead the Los Angeles Lakers in what could be the final season of a Hall of Fame career.

The chances that a young Lakers team could send the five-time NBA champion and 17-time All-Star out on a high note - even if he stays healthy - appear slim, although the 37-year-old could have the satisfaction of helping the club's current crop feel their way toward a contender's identity.

Things look much more promising for another ageing superstar: San Antonio's Tim Duncan returns for a 19th season with the Spurs very much in the playoff mix.

Bay Area Back-to-Back

The Golden State Warriors are primed for a run at a second straight title - but repeating in the NBA is notoriously difficult and reigning MVP Steph Curry, fellow Splash Brother Klay Thompson and company will now have to perform as the hunted rather than the hunters.

The barbs have already been flying, with Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers implying they were lucky to avoid injury as well as his team.

Certainly the Warriors will be tested in the rugged Western Conference, where the San Antonio Spurs are again touted as contenders, Oklahoma City welcome back former MVP Kevin Durant, the Houston Rockets expect a lift from off-season moves and a healthy Dwight Howard and New Orleans boast superstar in waiting Anthony Davis.

Knicks can only get better

The Knicks have gone backwards since bringing in Hall of Fame coach Phil Jackson as team president late in the 2013-14 campaign. Notoriously tough New York fans are growing impatient after sweeping roster changes led to a club-worst 17-65 record last season.

Whether Jackson's off-season moves and a healthy Carmelo Anthony can reverse the franchise's fortunes remains to be seen.

"To be quite honest, I don't really have any expectations at this time," Anthony said as training camp opened. "It's going to take time, getting guys playing together."

Follow the money

Dialogue this season between owners and players will set the stage for labour peace or turmoil in 2017.

The current 10-year contract is due to run through the 2020-21 season, but either side can opt out following the 2016-17 campaign.

One reason to do so on the players' side is a bid to negotiate a larger percentage of league income after the NBA's new $24 billion TV deal with ESPN and Turner Broadcasting kicks in for the 2016-17 season.

Informal talks are already underway, and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver voiced optimism on the eve of the season that the financial health of the league would help avoid an eventual work stoppage such as the one in 2011 that resulted a shortened, 66-game season and cost owners and players millions of dollars.

Long-range planning

Like any Hollywood hit, the Golden State Warriors' unexpected run to the NBA title is spawning imitators, and that means an increased focus around the league on the three-point shot.

Stats trackers at ESPN report that teams' league-wide averaged more three-point attempts per game (24.9) this pre-season than the quick-fire Phoenix Suns averaged in 2004-05 (24.7).

Atlanta's Al Horford was among the players coming into training camp saying he had been working on his three-point shot.

"I understand that I have to be near the paint, (working) pick-and-rolls, working around the basket, but I want to be able to have the ability that if I need to shoot those shots, to take them," he said.

Likewise defending the "trey" takes on new importance, with Oklahoma City's new coach, Billy Donovan, among those stressing pressure on perimeter shooters.

It's a balancing act, says veteran San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich.

"If you're going to get people off the (three-point) line who might penetrate on you a bit more, you've got to be able to take care of that also," Popovich said.

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