Early look around the league: NBA observations

Early look around the league: NBA observations

November 3, 2013, 9:00 pm
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With all the talk about multiple teams tanking heading into the NBA's regular season, you wouldn't know it by some of the results in the first week of play.

Let's start with the Bulls' last opponent, Philadelphia, which shouldn't be expected to keep up its surprising pace to begin the regular season. But with the Sixers' up-tempo approach, hungry players either trying to establish themselves as legitimate NBA players (athletic guard Tony Wroten, for instance), young veterans with pride from past success (the trio of skilled center Spencer Hawes, Chicago native Evan Turner and forward Thaddeus Young) and what appears to be a gem of a rookie in point guard Michael Carter-Williams, things don't quite as bleak for the squad as imagined, whether that was the front office's intent or not.

In a similar boat are young teams in Utah, Phoenix and Orlando. The Magic already started the rebuilding process a year ago, after trading Dwight Howard and emphasizing the development of youngsters like big man Nikola Vucevic, athletic forwards Maurice Harkless and Tobias Harris -- and now rookie guard Victor Oladipo. But having solid-character veterans like shooting guard Arron Afflalo, floor general Jameer Nelson and power forwards Glen "Big Baby" Davis and overlooked free-agent acquisition Jason Maxiell around should help lay a strong foundation for the future, even if the aforementioned quartet of older players isn't around for the long haul.

[MORE: No reason to jump the gun on Bulls' slow start]

The Suns, who clearly followed Orlando's blueprint of starting off with a new head coach-general manager regime (as did Philadelphia), look to be basing things around the guard duo of Goran Dragic and offseason pickup Eric Bledsoe--who didn't receive a long-term contract extension by the Halloween deadline--with hopes of finding keepers amongst the role players, banking on the gradual improvement of rookie center Alex Len and landing a high selection in the presumably loaded 2014 NBA Draft, a universal strategy of the teams mentioned.

The Jazz, on the other hand, have taken a curious approach: Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap simply walked over the summer, rather than being dealt at last season's trade deadline (or even engaging in sign-and-trade scenarios during free agency); lame-duck head coach Tyrone Corbin was left to preside over the beginning of the franchise's transition (while former aide and Utah teammate Jeff Hornacek got the Phoenix job); big man Derrick Favors was given a four-year extension worth approximately $12 million annually, while no deal could be reached with swingman Gordon Hayward.

By the way, if there's a team that seems conspicuous by its absence in this space, it's Boston, which could certainly struggle under first-year head coach Brad Stevens--unlike rookie counterparts like Hornacek in Phoenix or Gregg Popovich disciple Brett Brown in Philadelphia, the former Butler coach has no NBA experience as a player or coach; Orlando is again the model, as second-year coach Jacque Vaughn is a former Spurs player and assistant--but with several capable veterans (such as Jeff Green, Gerald Wallace and Brandon Bass), solid young talent (defensive stopper Avery Bradley, burly power forward Jared Sullinger and rookie centers Kelly Olynyk and Brazilian Vitor Faverani) and the eventual return of All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo, it's widely suspected that the Celtics will make in-season transactions to increase their chances in the lottery process.

[THIBODEAU: We have to work our way through this]

If there was ever a time for NBA fans to pay close attention to college basketball's top prospects, it's this season, especially if one has loyalty to one of the previously mentioned squads, as many league executives are more invested in the potential of freshmen like Kansas' Andrew Wiggins, Duke's Jabari Parker and Kentucky's Julius Randle (Australian guard Dante Exum is another name to know) than what could end up being a middling free-agent class next summer.

There's obviously more than one way to skin a cat, but it will be interesting to see which of these teams is ultimately the most successful in their various rebuilding methods, as luck could end up being the determining factor, though the ongoing development of current assets will also play a role.