(Reuters) - Five storylines to follow during the 2014-15 National Basketball Association season:
I’M COMING HOME: All seems in harmony again in the basketball universe as LeBron James returns home to gritty Cleveland and the Cavaliers after a four-year run with the Miami Heat that included two NBA crowns.
Public enemy No. 1 in Cleveland after going on national TV in 2010 to say he was “taking my talents to South Beach,” James received a hero’s homecoming when he re-signed with the Cavs, ready to deliver the NBA title he failed to do during his first stint with the team.
James’ return along with the arrival of All-Star Kevin Love through a blockbuster trade with Minnesota elevated Cleveland to championship contenders but will it be enough to bring Cleveland its first major championship title in any sport in 50 years?
THE HEAT IS ON: The other two members of Miami’s ‘Big Three’ Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are back but a fifth straight trip to the NBA Finals will not be as easy without four-time league Most Valuable Player LeBron James leading the way.
Without James, the expectations will not be quite as sky-high in Miami this season but with the addition of Luol Deng spoiled Heat fans will still expect to be in the title hunt.
SMOOTH SAILING FOR CLIPPERS: After a tumultuous end to last season that saw vilified owner Donald Sterling forced to sell his Los Angeles Clippers following the release of a racist rant, the team will chart a new course with former Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer at the ownership helm.
The destination and crew, however, remain the same with Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and savvy head coach Doc Rivers ready to steer the Clippers to a maiden trip to the NBA Finals.
Forever known as the “other” Los Angeles-based NBA team and poorer cousins to the storied Lakers franchise, the Clippers could be poised to sail into the Hollywood spotlight.
SINK OR SWIM FOR LAKERS: Once again Los Angeles Lakers hopes will rest on the aging and increasing fragile health of future Hall of Famer and former most valuable player Kobe Bryant.
Bryant, the lynchpin of five championship teams, played six games last season while Steve Nash, a two-time MVP who played 15 games, will miss the entire season with back issues.
Los Angeles added Jeremy Lin from the Houston Rockets and Carlos Boozer from the Chicago Bulls but the Lakers will only go as far as Bryant’s creaky legs can carry them or sink to the bottom of the Pacific division for a second straight year.
INJURY TIME: Two of the NBA’s best players will begin the new season on the sidelines while another will make his return after a long injury layoff.
Oklahoma City Thunder’s Kevin Durant, the reigning MVP, will miss at least the first month recovering from a fracture in his right foot while Indianapolis Pacers All-Star Paul George is likely to miss the entire season after he suffered a gruesome injury, breaking his leg playing for Team USA.
But there was some good news for the Chicago Bulls with point guard and former MVP Derrick Rose back to full fitness after two substantial leg injuries.
Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto. Editing by Gene Cherry