Western Conference

DAN BILICKI -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:53 AM ET

DALLAS MAVERICKS

Camp chatter: Before joining Team Germany for the European Championship, Dirk Nowitzki spent the summer backpacking in Australia to get away from media scrutiny. He slept in a car and neglected to shave for over three weeks ... The Mavs signed Devin Harris to a five-year extension believed to be worth more than $42 million.

The big question: Will this roster be able to come back after a devastating loss to Golden State? Will Dirk be able to overcome the scrutiny he faces after disappearing in playoffs.

DENVER NUGGETS

Camp chatter: Nene suffered a calf strain in the FIBA Americas tournament and most likely will miss the first few weeks of camp ... The Nuggets moved forward Reggie Evans to Philadelphia for Steven Hunter and Bobby Jones in early September ... Carmelo Anthony starred with the U.S. at the Olympic qualifying.

The big question: How much can a full season with Allen Iverson help the Nuggets? Iverson hasn't played a full season since 2002-03. With each passing year he racks up more miles on his odometer and it seems to be wearing him down. The Nuggets had a better record with A.I. out of the lineup (19-13) than in (26-24).

GOLDEN ST. WARRIORS

Camp chatter: The Heat tried for two months to acquire Mickael Pietrus through fruitless sign-and-trade scenarios but the Warriors didn't bite. Pietrus should be in camp with a $3.47-million deal and a focus on becoming a free agent next summer ... The Warriors played with their roster over the summer to fit even better into returning coach Don Nelson's system.

The big question: Can the Warriors shock anyone this year like they did last April? The element of surprise may be gone from the Warriors but they will still have some of the liveliest fans in the league behind them. Another year playing Nellie-ball should prove for more shootouts and high-scoring affairs.

HOUSTON ROCKETS

Camp chatter: The Rockets not only brought in Steve Francis through free agency, they drafted Aaron Brooks with their top pick and traded to bring back Mike James ... Both Rafer Alston and Justin Reed had run-ins with the law ... Luis Scola, who starred in Argentina's silver medal win at the FIBA Americas tournament, came over from San Antonio.

The big question: How in the world will coach Rick Adelman find playing time for the five point guards? There aren't enough minutes in a game to keep everyone happy. Also, with 18 players on their roster, some bodies will have to be moved.

L.A. CLIPPERS

CAMP CHATTER: Elton Brand, who is on the shelf after rupturing an achilles tendon in August, remains optimistic that he can return before season's end. He has had the cast removed and has been fitted for a removable walking boot ... The Clippers hope that the signing of Ruben Patterson will help ease the loss of Brand ... Former lottery pick Yaroslav Korolev won't be back with the team after they declined his option ... Shaun Livingston's rehab from a severe knee injury is ahead of schedule, but he is still a ways away from sprinting or jumping.

THE BIG QUESTION: Can the Clippers win without Brand? His injury leaves the Clippers small up front but they can make up for it with a solid backcourt and great depth. The team's only concern should be rebounding but the remainder of the cast could easily pick up some slack ... Corey Maggette, Tim Thomas and Patterson all averaged five or more rebounds per game last season and could see bumps in those numbers with Brand out.

L.A. LAKERS

CAMP CHATTER: Kobe, Kobe, Kobe will be all you hear coming out of the Lakers camp this season. Bryant's well-documented demands to be traded if the Lakers fail to bring in another top-tier player have been brushed over while he was playing -- and dominating -- with Team USA over the summer. The only talent they were able to land was the returning Derek Fisher and first-round pick Javaris Crittenton.

THE BIG QUESTION: How long will Kobe remain a Laker? If the team around him starts performing better and gets off to a winning start, Bryant may be fine in Laker-land. But unless the team can get another solid performer to flank him, his days in Los Angeles are looking numbered.

MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES

CAMP CHATTER: Pau Gasol is still the undisputed best player on this squad and hopefully he didn't get too accustomed to playing with players who were the calibre of his Spanish teammates ... Darko Milicic unleashed a tirade of profanity at the media regarding the referees at the European Championship which upset his new employers ... Marc Iavaroni takes over as coach.

THE BIG QUESTION: How much will the new guys in town help this sad sack franchise? Mike Conley and Milicic, along with Juan Carlos Navarro, Casey Jacobsen and Andre Brown probably won't be enough to help the team that had the worst record in the league last season get out of the gutter.

MINNESOTA T-WOLVES

CAMP CHATTER: The club will have to deal with the death of guard Eddie Griffin, who was killed this summer when his SUV collided with a train ... Juwan Howard, who was acquired during the summer, already has asked to be traded ... The deal that sent Kevin Garnett to Boston brought in a lot of young talent. Gerald Green and Al Jefferson should get a lot of minutes.

THE BIG QUESTION: Who's going to lead this team? The Garnett trade left the T-Wolves devoid of veterans. This young squad, with an average age of 25.8, will have to look up to the likes of Mark Blount, Theo Ratliff and Howard. The oldest guard on the team, Marko Jaric, turns 29 in October. The younger guys may have to lead themselves.

NEW ORLEANS HORNETS

CAMP CHATTER: Off-season acquisition Melvin Ely will be vying for front court playing time against an already deep front court ... Tyson Channdler has shown up for camp early after playing with the U.S. team in hopes of developing a jump shot ... Long-time Raptor Morris Peterson is looking to land a starting job but with will have competition in Rasual Butler.

THE BIG QUESTION: New Orleans has two big questions facing it: Can the team stay healthy throughout the season? The club suffered with key players Chris Paul, Peja Stojakovic and David West missing chunks of last season. Secondly, are the Hornets good enough to make the playoffs in an always tough Western Conference? They have the talent but face stiff competition.

PHOENIX SUNS

CAMP CHATTER: The Suns and new GM Steve Kerr were so desperate to get out of luxury tax hell, they dealt Kurt Thomas and two first-round picks to Seattle for its second-round choice. The deal will end up saving the team roughly $15 million ... The Suns have one roster spot remaining that needs to be filled. They have been looking at several fringe big men ... Coach Mike D'Antoni is so impressed with newcomer Grant Hill's workouts that he's lobbying for his name to be put on the all-star ballot.

THE BIG QUESTION: Can the team win if Steve Nash gets hurt? When Nash was forced out of the lineup last season, the Suns were 2-5 and looked disjointed. While Leandro Barbosa is a quality player, he didn't seem able to run the offence nearly as well as Nash. Nash, who turns 34 this season, won't be getting any more durable and the Suns' window for taking home a championship is starting to close.

PORTLAND BLAZERS

CAMP CHATTER: Unless you've been living under a rock, you probably know that first overall pick Greg Oden will miss his rookie season after undergoing microfracture surgery on his right knee. Reports are that he has back problems as well ... After drafting Oden, the Blazers dealt their leading scorer and rebounder, Zach Randolph, along with Dan Dickau and Fred Jones for Steve Francis (since waived) and Channing Frye.

THE BIG QUESTION: How will the team cope with the losses of Oden and Randolph? They do still have good young players like LaMarcus Aldridge and rookie of the year Brandon Roy so the team might not be as bad as some will anticipate. But, this is a rebuilding year and the possibility of teaming a top-five pick next year with a potentially healthy Oden is a solid foundation for the future.

SACRAMENTO KINGS

CAMP CHATTER: The Kings have made it clear they intend to make last season's leading scorer Kevin Martin the face of their franchise and have given him a five-year extension worth upwards of $50 million. The departure of coach Eric Musselman might have played into Martin's decision ... New coach Reggie Theus once starred in the teen-oriented sitcom Hang Time. This experience may help him deal with a unique character like Ron Artest.

THE BIG QUESTION: Where is this team going? Sacramento is in need of a shakeup since this group of players clearly isn't working. The biggest off-season acquisition was Spencer Hawes, the 10th pick of the draft who won't be the saviour of the franchise -- this season at least -- and the rest of the cast is aging.

SAN ANTONIO SPURS

CAMP CHATTER: Stars Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili both sat out the FIBA Americas tournament and will be well rested ... NBA final MVP Tony Parker spent the summer trying to help France qualify for the Olympics. Parker also was busy tying the knot with Eva Longoria and releasing his debut rap album.

THE BIG QUESTION: Can this Spurs team, a year older, repeat and keep its dynasty going? As long as the key players can stay healthy, Gregg Popovich's squad shouldn't have any problem making the playoffs and thriving.

SEATTLE SONICS

CAMP CHATTER: The Sonics will be without their two leading scorers from last year. Ray Allen was dealt to the Celtics while Rashard Lewis opted out of his contract and accepted a max-money deal with Orlando. A loss of talent like that would concern most teams but with the additions of Kevin Durant and Jeff Green through the draft as well as Delonte West and Wally Szczerbiak from the Allen deal the dropoff won't be as much as expected ... P.J. Carlesimo gets another shot.

THE BIG QUESTION: What's going on with the Sonics ownership? How long will the team stay in Seattle? While the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe has offered to donate 26 acres of land as a site for a stadium, there is still no plan to provide the $450 million needed to build it. After Clay Bennett and fellow Oklahoma-based owners purchased the Sonics, rumours immediately began about a move.

UTAH JAZZ

CAMP CHATTER: Andrei Kirilenko led Russia to a shocking gold medal at the European Championship. He took home the MVP award from the tournament and he'll be looking to improve on a lacklustre 2006-07 season ... Kirilenko has demanded a trade and the Jazz has been in talks with the Suns over a possible trade involving Kirilienko and Shawn Marion. Nothing appears close to fruition and Kirilenko is expected to be present when camp opens ... Emotional playoff leader Derek Fisher bolted the team for a return to Los Angeles.

THE BIG QUESTION: Can the Jazz improve on its 2007 playoff run? Utah is hard-pressed to break through the West's proverbial glass ceiling with Dallas, San Antonio and Phoenix on the top. They could fend off the Nuggets and take the Northwest division again, but making the leap to the NBA finals sounds like a stretch.


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