Sampling 31 flavors for 2003-04

There will be more than No. 8 and the new No. 23 to see this season. In fact, here are 31 things.

Updated: October 30, 2003, 5:13 PM ET
By Marc Stein | ESPN.com

Opening Night isn't until Tuesday night, but a pattern has clearly emerged. Perhaps you've noticed.

We're guessing you've figured out rather quickly that two players, in a league of more than 400, are going to dominate discussions all season. The focus will inevitably stay fixed on No. 8. Or No. 23.

On Kobe and the kid who inherited Michael Jordan's jersey digits.

The hunger for new information about Kobe Bryant and LeBron James is so constant and so deep-rooted that we can already use a 20. Actually, make it a full.

Better yet, just to break things up, allow me to add up the numbers and share my Thirty-One Things I Want To See That Have Little Or Nothing To Do With Kobe And/Or LeBron. Trust us: Kobegate and the LeBron-A-Thon will still be splashed across your TV when we're done.

Antoine Walker
How quickly can the Mavs work in Antoine? We'll find out.
1. I want to see which of the top five teams in the West gets off to a great start. That is assuming somebody does. You'll note that not a single member of the West's Fab Five has been able to deploy its full team for more than half the exhibition season, if at all. Tony Parker (ankle) is out in San Antonio. Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe (sorry) have been in and out in L.A. Chris Webber is out until December in Sacramento, and Vlade Divac just turned an ankle. Dallas' Dirk Nowitzki, like Parker and Divac, is another ankle victim, and the Mavs just added Antoine Walker to their roster. The Wolves, meanwhile, have barely seen Wally Szczerbiak (plantar fasciitis) and Michael Olowokandi (recent arthroscopic surgery) ... Latrell Sprewell and Sam Cassell also have missed time with foot injuries. Other than all that, it's been a smooth October.

2. I want to see who winds up slipping to fifth in the West at season's end. This ain't the year to miss out on homecourt advantage in the first round. Going in, it looks like that team will be (uh-oh) Minnesota.

3. I want to see veterans all over the league, after an opening month that I guarantee will be sloppier than ever, unanimously volunteer to invalidate the ridiculous new rule that allows players with more experience to report late to training camp. NBA players of all ages need more practice time, not less.

4. I want to see Reggie Miller represent the old guard with distinction and go out in style, on two good legs, instead of missing 3 after 3 after 3 in Boston.

5. I want to see if Ron Artest helps Reggie out by behaving for a change, or at least cutting his suspension total to two or three.

6. I want to see the Mavericks score 150 points some night.

7. I want to see the game when Dallas, with only two guys taller than 6-foot-9 now, gives up 150. OK, 140.

8. I want to see NBA TV made available to the masses, instead of being used as a bargaining chip in the league's contract negotiations with cable operators. Ticket prices are high enough, and now they behave like every Joe Fan can just go out and buy a dish, too.

9. I want to see the Zach Randolph-Ruben Patterson rematch televised somewhere. Even if it's pay-per-view.

10. I want to see if the Blazers will finally lower their trade demands and move Rasheed Wallace, who might be the biggest on-the-move prize in play between now and the February trading deadline. (And, for consistency's sake, I also still want to see how many technicals 'Sheed racks up -- it was an all-too-quiet 11 last season.)

11. I want to see whom the New York papers are going to write about now that so many of the Knicks' usual rumored targets -- Nick Van Exel, Walker, Raef LaFrentz -- have been traded to other teams. Wait a minute. Who am I kidding? There will still be Nick-to-Knicks rumors, even if Golden State is a playoff team.

12. I want to see if anyone can score 30 points a game this season. Two guys did last season -- Tracy McGrady and Kobe (sorry) -- but Boston's Paul Pierce is the most likely candidate this term.

Vin Baker
Vin Baker really is dunking. And you might actually see Celtics fans cheer him.
13. I want to see if Pierce's teammate, Vin Baker, our second favorite Vin Man of all-time (after Dice Clay), can give Alonzo Mourning a run in the mythical Comeback Player of the Year race. I'd also like to see Antonio McDyess make a run here.

14. I want to see the league bring back the Comeback Player of the Year award, so it didn't have to be mythical.

15. I want to see how long it takes before players start openly worrying about being exposed to Charlotte in next summer's expansion draft.

16. I want to see David Stern stop teasing us with vague promises about expansion teams in Europe ... or see him commit to a future franchise in Manchester and hook me up with a front-office job. The NBA and my beloved City in the same city? Too good to be true.

17. I want to see all these new coaches. I want to see if Larry Brown can really take Detroit to the Finals. I want to see if Rick Carlisle really should have been coaching the Pacers all along. I want to see if Jeff Van Gundy can really get Yao Ming and Stevie Franchise to play nice, so Houston can reach its playoff potential. I want to see if Randy Ayers can really handle a whole team of cranky vets in Philadelphia -- Allen Iverson is far from the only challenge -- even though I think I already know the answer. I want to see if Tim Floyd can really coach in the NBA, stripped of excuses in New Orleans with a deep and talented squad ... although I think I can answer that one now, too.

18. I want to see if the Wizards can crack the top 28 in road attendance this season, and whether Kwame Brown wakes up and takes advantage of this fresh start.

19. I want to see a Dennis Rodman comeback about as much as I want to see Michael Jordan come back to play for Eddie Jordan.

20. I (bizarrely) want to see the Bulls answer a flurry of questions: Is Eddy Curry going to sustain last season's strong finish for a whole season? How long will it take to win that fourth road game? And is Scottie Pippen back to eventually replace Bill Cartwright as coach? After all, Cartwright has been there for ages. At 1½ seasons, remember, he has the longest coaching tenure in the Central Division.

21. I want to see how long it takes for the seriously unfair coaching speculation to start. It's a virtual lock that Sacramento's Rick Adelman and New Jersey's Byron Scott, two of the most successful (and underrated) coaches in the league, will be described as "in trouble" at the first sign of trouble.

22. I want to see how Jerry Sloan copes with Carlos Arroyo and Keon Clark at point guard and power forward. There should be a camera at every Jazz game fixed on poor Jerry, with picture-in-picture coverage included.

23. I want to see Karl Malone's first game at the Delta Center, Gary Payton's first game at Key Arena, Spree's first game at Madison Square Garden, 'Toine's first game at FleetCenter, Gilbert Arenas' first game at The Arena in Oakland (or whatever they call the renovated Coliseum) ... and Jason Kidd's first game in San Antonio.

24. I want to see the Wolves finally get past the first round. I really do. But I'm struggling to see it unless injuries derail San Antonio, Sacramento, Dallas or the Lakers.

25. I want to see sustained health for Shaq, to spruce up the MVP race with Tim Duncan and whoever else joins in. Kevin Garnett, Nowitzki, Kidd ... whoever.

26. I want to see at least one whole week where the rookie focus is off LeBron (sorry) and Carmelo Anthony, worthy as they are, and devoted to the two lanky lefties. Detroit's Darko Milicic and Toronto's fast-adapting Chris Bosh are quite interesting themselves.

27. I want to see how Phoenix fares as a Team With Expectations, compared to last season when no one expected anything from the Suns. I also wouldn't mind seeing another replay of Amare Stoudemire spinning past a stationary Mailman in the post and rocking the rim, as seen last week.

28. I want to see people wearing retro jerseys because they actually loved those teams or players back in the day. Not because they like how the colors match. Example: Don't wear the beautiful powder blue of my Buffalo Braves because it goes with your Carolina-swooshed Air Force Ones. Wear it because you're actually a Bob McAdoo fan.

29. I want to see Buffalo take possession of one of the NBA's struggling franchises -- just move, say, the hopeless Hawks or the Heat and bring back Dr. Jack as coach -- but I'd say there's a better chance of Knicks fans giving Keith Van Horn a grace period to settle in.

30. I want to see if Pat Riley can save Lamar Odom, and vice versa.

31. I want to see all five of the Western powers healthy at playoff time, so there are no asterisks in San Antonio or Dallas or anywhere else. Kobe (sorry) and LeBron (sorry) are going to hog all the headlines for the next 82 games, but the postseason can be truly great -- especially on the Wild Side -- if everyone shows up at full strength.

"I'm sure we're going to be the favorites, simply (because of) the names that are on the roster," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said recently. "But it's still a long challenge for us to meet that potential of what we can do."

Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here. Also, send Stein a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.

Marc Stein | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com
• Senior NBA writer for ESPN.com
• Began covering the NBA in 1993-94
• Also covered soccer, tennis and the Olympics

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