1. L.A. CLIPPERS & CHRIS PAUL: If the Clips can get Chris Paul from the Hornets without giving up Eric Gordon I strongly consider it. They have Minnesota's unprotected No. 1 pick this June in a terrific draft. If Paul is committed to playing long-term with Blake Griffin and Gordon in L.A., I try to do the deal. I honestly have my reservations about Paul's durability but sometimes you've got to roll the dice and this might be the way to go. I'm sure they don't want to part with a valuable pick and prospects but if you can have that threesome to build around, that's a very good building point.
2. NBA SCHEDULE: We've all gotten a chance to look at it and it will be a grind. Three games in a row, four games in five days, five games in six days, etc. Won't be easy. I remember my first year as a Toronto Raptors broadcaster during the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season and I felt like a zombie at the end of the season and I didn't even play - it will beat you up. Above and beyond conditioning and injuries, the overall professionalism, maturity and mental toughness of each player will be challenged and exposed. The teams with the toughest guys will succeed in a season like this, above and beyond who has the healthiest roster of talent. Definitely a character builder and character-revealing season.
3. TORONTO RAPTORS: I'm really curious to see if Jerryd Bayless can play extended nightly minutes and help you win as a point guard in this league. He showed me some good flashes at times last year. He can score - he's kind of a 1 1/2, 1 3/4 type of point guard. He needs to show that he can run a club and make the necessary reads and adjustments on the floor and make others better and do it without losing his cool and getting baited by opponents. He's a tough guy and competes - I like that. He has a chance to be a good player. He's on his third pro team - it's time to take another step and become a polished lead guard. I'm excited to see him grow and mature as a player.
4. DWIGHT HOWARD (Magic): The man is a beast and wherever he ends up he's going to have a major impact on the direction of a franchise. As much as the game is changing and the little man (upcoming free agents like Paul and Deron Williams for example) is a huge part of the show now, I still would take Howard over both of those guys. He impacts the game in so many ways and I still think there is another gear we've yet to see from him. I'm fascinated by the rumours and packages being thrown out there as trade bait for him. You talk to any GM or coach in the league and they all know that he can be a dramatic and - more importantly - durable building block for a long-term winning franchise. You want him? You better put your best chips on the table - all in or go home.
5. CARON BUTLER-TAYSHAUN PRINCE-Arron Afflalo (Free Agents): You hear the big trade rumors and the chatter about guys like Nene, Gasol, Chandler and Company in the free agent discussion. These three guys will bring you productivity, professionalism, efficiency and winning plays. They will be players that can surely make your roster much improved. Wherever they sign it won't bring tons of hype and hoopla but they'll be glue guys who produce and win for you. At a fair reasonable price and term length, they're a good deal.