Who To Watch This NBA Season

The NBA season starts today and all eyes are on the Miami Heat. Its superstar lineup includes Lebron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. Guest host Jacki Lyden speaks with TNT analysts and former players Steve Kerr, who played with Chicago Bulls in 1990s, and Kenny Smith, who played with the Houston Rockets during the same time.

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JACKI LYDEN, host:

I'm Jacki Lyden and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Michel Martin is away.

Even before tonight's launch of the National Basketball Association's season, superstar player LeBron James was the talk of the talk shows. It's his new Nike ad.

(Soundbite of ad)

Mr. LEBRON JAMES (NBA Basketball Player): Seriously, what should I do? Should I tell you I'm a champion chaser? Did it for the money, ring? Should I be who you want me to be? Should I accept my role as a villain? Maybe I should just disappear.

LYDEN: LeBron James is a two-time Most Valuable Player in the NBA. He's been harshly criticized for leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers behind, especially in Cleveland. That was in the off-season. The real NBA season opens tonight and LeBron James is joined by two other superstar-caliber players in Miami, meaning that everyone else is fighting for runner-up now, right?

We'll talk to two people who should know - Steve Kerr and Kenny Smith. Between them they've got seven NBA championship rings. Both are NBA analysts now for cable station TNT. Welcome to both of you.

Mr. STEVE KERR (NBA Analyst): Thank you.

Mr. KENNY SMITH (NBA Analyst): Thank you.

LYDEN: So Steve Kerr, the Miami Heat is the big story. They also lured Chris Bosh from Toronto and resigned Dwayne Wade. Tell me a little bit about these top three players.

Mr. KERR: Well, individually they're all phenomenal players, especially Wade and LeBron, they're two of probably the top five players in the league. Bosh is kind of a borderline all-star player. The trick for Miami is to make it all work because in this sport it really is kind of a concert and you have to learn how to play together. And that's going to be interesting to watch this year, to see how quickly they adapt to each other and how they fit their talents together with their teammates.

LYDEN: What do you think, Kenny?

Mr. SMITH: Well, I think the one thing that they have is everyone excited. Those three guys together have formed a formidable team together to say we're going to be around here for the next seven years. And that's going to be a challenge that a lot of teams are going to have to face with.

LYDEN: How do you think three superstars learn to work together?

Mr. SMITH: Well, this is Kenny again, and I think great players don't have to adjust to other people. People have to adjust to them because great players, the reason they're great is because they have multiple skills. And when you have multiple skills, you're able to adapt to different situations. And the biggest thing is if you have a commonality of winning the championship, then everything falls into place. You'll be able to not worry about who has the most shots, who's getting the most attention, who's getting the most endorsements, because their common goal would be to win an NBA championship.

LYDEN: Steve, you played with Michael Jordan in Chicago. What did Michael Jordan do that LeBron James has to learn?

Mr. KERR: Well, I think they're a little different. I actually compare LeBron James more to Scottie Pippen, who obviously played with Michael. Scottie was more of a passer, more of a facilitator, and I think those are LeBron's best attributes. And I think Wade is a little bit more like Jordan because of his scoring ability in the half court. And I think that's going to be really fun to see them work together. It'll be a little bit like Pippen and Jordan watching James and Wade work together.

LYDEN: Kenny, Cleveland, as I think a lot of people know, was devastated after LeBron James left. He had been just such a drawing power for the city's entire economy. Will the team or the city recover?

Mr. SMITH: Any time you lose a great player of that magnitude, it will take time. But you know, the Lakers lost Magic Johnson and all of a sudden there's a Kobe Bryant that comes in. They lost Shaquille O'Neal and then - in Orlando -and all of a sudden there's a Dwight Howard now down there. So there's always that second wave of players.

But players like LeBron James, they don't come every - every year, but you have to build, you have to make smart decisions in drafting and then in trades.

LYDEN: If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden. We're talking NBA with two former stars, Steve Kerr and Kenny Smith, about the pro basketball season opening tonight.

Steve, what about the Los Angeles Lakers? They're the defending champions. How do you think they'll do?

Mr. KERR: They're probably the favorites going into the season. I think the big concern with the Lakers is health. Kobe Bryant had knee surgery at the end of last season. He had a very slow pre-season. And then you just have to factor in fatigue in general because this team has been to the finals three straight years. They're playing upwards of 100 games per season.

So can they deal with the long grind of the year and still turn it on when it counts in May and June? I think that's the big question. But from a talent and a coaching standpoint, I think they're the best team.

LYDEN: Kenny, you mentioned Shaquille O'Neal a moment ago. He's with his fourth team now since 2008, a couple of years ago. Is this his last year playing basketball?

Mr. SMITH: I think he's realized that he is no longer the number one option in every team that he's going, and he's accepted the role of being a secondary player. So, at that level, he could play much more years. But if he had planned to say, I'm the guy. I'm still Shaquille O'Neal. Give me the ball 20 times a game - those days are long gone. But he's accepted, probably better than any aging superstar in any sport, the fact that he's getting older.

LYDEN: Anything else we should be watching for, guys?

Mr. KERR: There's a team in the East that under the radar, and that's Orlando. You know, everybody's talking about Miami, and they should be. It's such a compelling story. But Orlando has been an unbelievably consistent club the last few seasons. They're very well coached. The Dwight Howard is the best defensive player in the league. And they've got great shooters and really solid players on that team. I think Orlando, potentially, could sneak in and win the Eastern conference and maybe even the NBA championship.

LYDEN: Kenny, would you chime in and say anything else we should be watching for?

Mr. SMITH: I think the biggest thing is not only that you have these great players combined on one team, but you have some younger stars starting to emerge, particularly in Chicago with Derrick Rose. And more even - and bigger version of that would be Kevin Durant in a smaller market, Oklahoma City, who at - a year from now, may be the best basketball player in the NBA on a team that probably 95 percent of us have never been to that city.

LYDEN: All right. Steve Kerr and Kenny Smith are analysts for TNT. They joined us from New York City.

Thank you both so much for being with us today.

Mr. KERR: Thank you.

Mr. SMITH: Thanks a lot.

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