All 30 NBA teams will have started training camp.
So, this is the ideal time to look ahead. Here are five of the league's most intriguing story lines to follow this preseason:
1. The comeback trail: The list of players trying to return from significant injuries resembles an all-star roster, and teams will have to monitor these guys closely to make sure they're healthy when the regular season begins. In Houston, Tracy McGrady seems ready to make an earlier than expected return from February microfracture surgery on his knee. In Phoenix, Amar'e Stoudemire expects to return from eye surgery to repair a detached retina. And in Washington, Gilbert Arenas will try to show he's recovered from the knee problems that limited him to two games last season.
But no player returning from injury is more important in the Eastern Conference than Boston's Kevin Garnett, who played in just 57 games last season and missed the playoffs with a right-knee injury. If the 33-year-old power forward has healed fully from his late-May surgery, the Celtics will be the team to beat in the East. Without him, they're vulnerable.
2. Who'll ref?: With the NBA and the referees' union at an impasse in contract talks, the league has started training replacement referees, mostly from the WNBA and the NBA Development League. In 1995, the NBA used replacement refs from the Continental Basketball Association and from the college ranks. Players grumbled, saying the replacements lost control of games. Once again, players are siding with the referees union.
3. The Magic's next act: The league's most intriguing team is the one right here in Central Florida. Hedo Turkoglu left via free agency, and General Manager Otis Smith swapped Rafer Alston, Courtney Lee and Tony Battie for Vince Carter and Ryan Anderson. With Rashard Lewis serving a 10-game suspension to start the year, the Magic will open the regular season without four of their five starters from the NBA Finals. This preseason will be crucial for the Magic as they try to build team chemistry with Carter, Anderson and free-agent signees Matt Barnes, Brandon Bass and Jason Williams.
4. Camping with the Kardashians: The Los Angeles Lakers will try to become the first team to repeat as NBA champions since they "threepeated" back in 2002. They're better on paper, acquiring Ron Artest while losing Trevor Ariza in free agency, but can they avoid distractions? Artest has had attitude problems in the past. And, on Sunday, sixth-man extraordinaire Lamar Odom married reality-TV star Khloe Kardashian.
5. Beasley's return: Miami Heat forward Michael Beasley spent one month this offseason at a Houston substance-abuse center, and now the second-year player is in training camp and saying that he's matured. The preseason will be crucial for Beasley, the second overall pick in last year's draft. He's expected to contend for a starting job.
Ranking point guards
Each Tuesday before the regular season, we'll rank the top five players in the NBA at each position. Today, we begin with point guards. Keep in mind that this is not a fantasy basketball ranking; instead, it's a subjective ranking of the players' actual value.
1. Chris Paul, New Orleans Hornets: Paul is coming off of a season in which he averaged 22.8 points per game and led the NBA in assists per game, with 11.0. His 3-point percentage has improved greatly since his 2005-06 rookie season. Best of all, he's only 24.
2. Tony Parker, San Antonio Spurs: We know about his quickness, which propelled him to a career-high scoring average of 22.0 points per game last season. But his 6.9 assists per game also were a career best.
3. Chauncey Billups, Denver Nuggets: Billups, who turned 33 on Friday, just wins. His trade to Denver last season transformed the Nuggets into contenders for the Western Conference title.
4. Deron Williams, Utah Jazz: Too bad Williams plays in Utah, because that makes him almost invisible to NBA fans on the East Coast. But his 10.7 assists per game last season ranked second in the league.
5. Steve Nash, Phoenix Suns: The two-time NBA Most Valuable Player will turn 36 in February. He averaged 9.7 assists per game last season, the first time he was under 10.0 since the 2003-04 season with Dallas.
Player on the spot
Lou Williams, Philadelphia 76ers: It looks like Williams will take over for Andre Miller, who left in free agency. But Williams is a natural shooting guard who has never started an NBA game. First-round draft pick Jrue Holiday is also an option.
Player on the rise
Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls: Rose nearly led Chicago to a first-round playoff victory over Boston to cap a strong rookie season. He'll turn 21 on Sunday and should only improve.
In the paint
During the next few weeks, we'll use this space to look ahead to the 2009-10 season. We'll begin by handicapping the race for Rookie of the Year.
1. Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers: This 6-foot-10 power forward and former Oklahoma Sooner is the clear favorite for Rookie of the Year honors. Athletic and gritty, the No. 1 overall pick in this year's draft should step into the Clippers' starting lineup immediately.
2. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors: He can play point guard or shooting guard. Either way, the 6-foot-3 scorer out of Davidson will have plenty of opportunities to shoot in Coach Don Nelson's system.
3. James Harden, Oklahoma City Thunder: He's not flashy, but Harden, the No. 3 overall pick, has a well-rounded game. The 6-foot-5 shooting guard should receive plenty of playing time with the Thunder.
The trade for Richard Jefferson and the signing of Antonio McDyess should help the San Antonio Spurs, but Western Conference teams should be wary of a rejuvenated Tim Duncan. According to the San Antonio Express-News, Duncan has lost 15 pounds and spent the summer swimming and working out on an anti-gravity treadmill. Duncan says his knees are pain-free.
The regular season is almost a month away, but the Magic already lead the league in one category: new season-ticket sales. Team officials said they have sold about 4,700 new season tickets. That's more than any other NBA team. ... Utah Coach Jerry Sloan has told reporters that he hasn't decided who will start at power forward for the Jazz, but it'll either be Carlos Boozer or Paul Milsap. "I feel like I'm the starter," Boozer told the Deseret News. "I think I've earned that. That's the only role I've been in my whole career." . . . Mike Dunleavy's return to the Indiana Pacers from knee surgery will have to wait. Coach Jim O'Brien told reporters that Dunleavy has a strained knee ligament and isn't expected to practice until November.