MIAMI (AP) — Five things to note as the NBA offseason opens the same way it did last year, with everyone chasing LeBron James and the Miami Heat:
THE L.A. STORY
The two best free agents on the market share the same building. Dwight Howard had a disappointing first season with the Lakers, Chris Paul led the Clippers to their greatest success, and now they have decisions to make on July 1. Will they stay put? Follow James' model and go somewhere to play together? Leaving Los Angeles means leaving money — we're talking more than $20 million — on the table, so the best guess is both will be back at Staples Center next season.
WORTH THE PAIN
The last team standing in the Eastern Conference next season? Maybe the one with the healthiest knees. Specifically, the one whose star has the best recovery from a knee injury. Derrick Rose should be back in Chicago after sitting out all season with his torn ACL. The Indiana Pacers, who took Miami to a seventh game in the East finals, could have leading scorer Danny Granger back after he played just five games this season. Rajon Rondo could have the ball back in his hands in Boston. And imagine how much better the Heat can be if Dwyane Wade, bothered by a painful right knee all spring, is fully healthy this time next year.
BIG THREES, BIG QUESTIONS
Long before James, Wade and Chris Bosh came together, San Antonio and Boston proved the best route to a title was through a Big Three. Now, both could be broken up. Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili might've had their last, best chance for another title in Game 7 after more than 100 postseason victories together. Ray Allen's already gone in Boston, having moved on to Miami, and now the Celtics have to decide if they're keeping Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett around.
TAKE YOUR PICK: It's 10 years ago this month that James, Wade and Bosh were all taken in the first five picks in what may go down as one of the best drafts in history. This one doesn't look as good. The Cleveland Cavaliers have the No. 1 pick, just as they did when they selected James in 2003. Will it be Nerlens Noel, the Kentucky defensive star coming off a torn knee? A trade? The rebuilding in the post-James era depends on making the right decision.
COACHING CAROUSEL: The NBA's Coach of the Year is out of work. So is the coach of the Western Conference runner-up. It's a turbulent time in the coaching ranks, and George Karl and Lionel Hollins are proof that winning games can still mean losing jobs. Even the Clippers are looking for a coach, firing Vinny Del Negro after he led them to their first division title. With so many good candidates out there, teams looking for a leader can still get a good one.
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