Kevin Love did much more than reshape his physique last season.
While many players arrived for training camp out of shape once the two month lockout ended, Love was transforming his body, dropping 25 pounds, along with his stature within the NBA.
The challenge this season will be recovering from a broken right hand suffered during workouts.
While this is the first significant injury the 24-year-old has suffered during his career, there is little reason to believe he won’t able to make a strong comeback.
During the 2010-11 season, as he led the league in rebounding and became the first player to post 30 points and 30 rebounds in the same game, Love was initially snubbed from the All-Star game, eventually being added to the roster as an injury replacement.
Love finished the year averaging 20.2 points along with a league-high 15.3 rebounds per game but as the Timberwolves won just 17 games, his contributions were viewed as inflated simply because he was on an inferior team.
Last season, he developed into one of the most dynamic scorers in the game, scoring over 30 points on nine occasions, displayed a knack for scoring in crunch time and kept Minnesota in the playoff hunt throughout the year.
The 24-year-old ranked fifth in the league in scoring, averaging 26 points per game and his 13.3 rebounds were second only to Dwight Howard.
He finished fifth in MVP voting, slighted as Minnesota failed to qualify for the post season for the eighth straight year, the longest streak in the league.
After experience 230 defeats in four seasons, Love is ready to become the most important player on a team with real playoff aspirations.
During each of his first for seasons, Love’s productivity has grown exponentially. If the trend continues, he may not only submit an MVP season, but one of the greatest in league history.
Three of the four young superstars in Oklahoma City have their future secure.
Perhaps the team is hoping to see if the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year had a terrible five game stretch in the Finals (averaging 12.4 points per game on 37.5 percent shooting) was just an aberration.
In 15 games prior to the championship series, Harden averaged 17.6 points on 45.2 percent shooting, 5.2 rebounds and 3.3 assists.
At times, the 23-year-old served as the closer for Oklahoma City, such as his 15 point scoring barrage in the fourth quarter completed a sweep of the Mavericks.
Only a few days remain for the Thunder to sign Harden, or risk losing him next summer as he becomes a restricted free agent.
Smart Move: No team has experienced more success recently in the NBA Draft than Oklahoma City. As Perry Jones, a projected lottery pick, slipped to the end of the first round because of potential knee problems, the Thunder added him to its roster with the 28th overall pick. No player has earned more praise in training camp and Jones may become a critical part of the rotation this season.
Questionable Move: The question for the Thunder is how much talent can it collect to surround the trio of stars. To free up money for the future, Oklahoma City may have to use its one-time amnesty clause to rid itself of the three-years $25.3 million remaining on the contract for center Kendrick Perkins. The amnesty provision can only be used once by each NBA franchise and has to be enacted before the start of the 2013-14 season. Oklahoma City could have already secured Harden for the long term if Perkins was no longer on the roster.
Watch Out For: Pressing for success. After defeating the Heat by 11 in the series opener, Oklahoma City was just three wins away from claiming the championship but then lost its next four games. There is no reason to alter its playing style, no need to dramatically shake up the roster and after posting 13 playoff victories last season, the team has the experience to hoist a banner to join Kevin Durant in the rafters.
By simply facilitating a trade, the Nuggets added a much needed All-Star to its roster.
The addition of Andre Iguodala brings even more athleticism to the highest scoring team in the league, a rugged wing for it porous defense and additional versatility.
Iguodala set the tone early, registering three steals in 25 minutes during his first pre-season appearance in a Nuggets uniform.
Of the eight playoff teams in the Western Conference, only Utah and Denver qualified for post season play without a representative in the 2012 All-Star contest.
With a clear leader joining perhaps the deepest roster in the NBA, the Nuggets may be poised for a deep playoff run.
Smart Move: To land Iguodala, Denver shipped out Arron Afflalo, its starting shooting guard and Al Harrington, the team’s sixth man. As one of the 12 representatives for Team USA at the Olympics in London, Iguodala spent the entire summer training with the best players in the world and now joins a much more talented team than he has ever played with in Philadelphia.
Questionable Move: The selection of Evan Fournier was a bit of a question mark, simply because he is an athletic wing on a team full of them. As the only foreign player selected in the opening round of the 2012 NBA Draft, it is uncertain if he will become a part of the rotation during his opening year.
Watch Out For: League Pass Alert. No team may be more exciting to watch next season than Denver. The team is filled with energetic, high flying and exceptional athletes. Kenneth Faried showed he was ready to avoid a sophomore slump by posting 18 points in his pre-season debut.
The Timberwovles are hoping to land a superstar six years after selecting him in the NBA Draft.
Brandon Roy ended his one year retirement and a year after being released under the amnesty provision by Portland, signed with the team that selected him sixth overall in 2006.
A draft night deal sent Roy to the Trail Blazers, partly because of the medical risk surrounding his knees, but the former Washington standout blossomed into a three-time All-Star.
Smart Move: Minnesota was the fifth best rebounding team in the league last season, even though Nikola Pekovic was the only player aside from Kevin Love to average more than five per game. Forward Andrei Kirilenko, one of the most versatile players in the league over the past 10 years, was added to the bench and can help the Timberwolves dominate the glass.
Questionable Move: In one of the most talented drafts, Minnesota dealt away the 18th overall pick to acquire Chase Budinger, a solid bench player. During his three seasons in the NBA, Budinger has never averaged 10 points, four rebounds or two assists and has just started 35 games. Terrence Jones was selected with the pick acquired from the Timberwolves. In his pre-season debut, Jones posted a team-high 20 points and six rebounds, five offensive, against Oklahoma City.
Watch Out For: A return from Ricky Rubio during the holidays. Minnesota is anticipating its young star back on the court before the new year, a little over nine months since tearing his ACL. Once Rubio went down, so did the playoff hopes for the Timberwolves. His presence in the lineup will be vital to snap an eight-year playoff drought.
The Jazz trapped in the worst possible position in the NBA.
Utah was able to hold off Houston, Phoenix and Portland for the final playoff position in the Western Conference and was promptly swept out of the first round by the Spurs.
With an average margin of defeat of 16 points, the Jazz barely qualified as a playoff team, but its success also prevented two possible entries into the NBA Draft lottery and the hope of landing a star.
As one of the few teams in the league with possibly too much front court depth, starters Al Jefferson or Paul Millsap may have to be moved to give the up-and-coming players, such as forward Derrick Favors, an opportunity and to round out its roster.
Smart Move: While he never may live up to the billing that comes with being the second overall selection in the NBA draft, landing Marvin Williams is a worthwhile risk for the Jazz. Williams quietly turned into a long range threat, shooting a career-high 38.9 percent from 3-point range and knocked down 58 attempts from beyond the arc, three more than any other year of his career, even though he played just 57 games.
Questionable Move: With all of the point guards on the move, Utah was able to snag a former All-Star in Mo Williams, but more promising talent was available. Since he was selected as an All-Star in 2009, Williams has seen his minutes, scoring and rebounding averages drop each season. Back in the starting lineup after serving as the sixth man for the Clippers, Utah needs him to revert back into All-Star form to retain its spot in the Western Conference playoff hunt.
Watch Out For: A slimmed down Enes Kanter. The 6-foot-11 center enters his second season in the NBA 51 pounds lighter and is better prepared to deal with the rigors of an NBA schedule. During his pre-season debut, Kanter played a much more energetic style in 24 points, posting 12 points and 11 rebounds against Golden State.
The Trail Blazers finished the season with two glaring needs: a point guard and a center.
With two lottery selections, the team was able to address both.
Portland selected Myers Leonard with its own pick, the 13th overall. Leonard is a 7-foot-1 center that entered the league with a respectable post game and the athleticism to become a respectable shot blocker.
Portland sent Gerald Wallace to the Nets for a draft selection. If the pick landed within the top four, Brooklyn would retain its rights, but since it would up with the sixth overall pick, the Trail Blazers would be making the selection.
Lillard slipped in the draft, as somewhat of an unknown coming out of Weber State, but he quickly proved he could play at an elite level.
The 6-foot-2 guard averaged 26.5 points, 5.6 assists and 4.0 rebounds and has the potential to create a formidable duo with LaMarcus Aldridge.
Smart Move: By shutting down Aldridge in early April, after the Trail Blazers were knocked out of post season contention, he enters this year fully recovered from off-season hip surgery. Well before training camp opened, Aldridge declared he was 98 percent healed and looks to be selected as an All-Star for the second straight season.
Questionable Move: Nicolas Batum has the potential to become an elite defender on the wing, Portland’s decision to match a four-year $45 million offer from the Timberwolves is a reach. Batum played over 40 minutes just twice last season, logged just two double-doubles and his agent said that it was his dream was to play with Minnesota. If he doesn’t elevate his game, the Trail Blazers will be heading back into the draft lottery instead of the post season.
Watch Out For: An emerging center. J.J. Hickson made the most of his 19 appearances with Portland after being waived by the Kings earlier in the year. In 10 games as a starter, Hickson averaged 18.5 points and 10.7 rebounds and entered training camp as the starting center.