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GUY RAZ, HOST:

It's weekends on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.

The NBA returns tomorrow with five games on Christmas Day to start their lockout-shortened season. And since players and owners agreed to a new labor contract a month ago, it's been a free agency free-for-all.

NPR's Mike Pesca has been following where everyone landed, and he's here with us now. Mike, welcome.

MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: Hi. Some haven't landed. They're still trapped in China, but that's another story.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

RAZ: Let's start. And, Mike, I don't think this has never been said before this year in the history of NBA previews. But let's start with the Los Angeles Clippers.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

RAZ: This is, historically, one of the worst franchises in professional basketball. They landed, quite possibly, the best available player this year in trade, but it was a circus getting him there.

PESCA: Yeah. Chris Paul is truly a great player. And a lot of times in the NBA there's a lot of hype over this or that superstar. But the hype is deserved when it comes to Chris Paul. And the Lakers almost had him. The situation was Paul plays for the Hornets and the New Orleans Hornets have no owner. They're sort of owned by the league.

And when the Hornets had that original deal with the Lakers, the commissioner of the NBA, David Stern, stepped in and said this deal will not go forward. There was a ton of fallout from that deal. One of the Lakers' players, Lamar Odom, who was involved in the deal, his feelings were so hurt.

RAZ: I bet.

PESCA: Then he was eventually traded. The Rockets, who are a third team in the deal, just are going nowhere now because of it. But the Clippers did wind up eventually, landing Paul. And this makes for the most fascinating tandem in the NBA because Blake Griffin, power forward...

RAZ: Blake Griffin was the Rookie of the Year last year. I mean, he's a great player.

PESCA: Yeah. Griffin is going to be on the receiving end of so many Chris Paul passes that Blake Griffin himself has dubbed the team Lob City and Lob City t-shirts have emerged in the L.A. area.

RAZ: Let me ask you about the storyline in the city of Los Angeles because of course the Lakers, the greatest team of all time...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

RAZ: ...they are showing some signs of wear and tear. Kobe Bryant is nursing a bad wrist. There's no way that there's going to be a changing-of-the-guard in Los Angeles this season, will there?

PESCA: Well, you still have to look at who the Lakers have on their roster. And it includes Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant. Now, Gasol was really bad in the playoffs last year and that's why the Lakers were swept by the Oklahoma City Thunder. And for the first time in a long time, we do go into the season with the Lakers being something other than a favorite to win the West. And if I did have to pick a favorite, I would pick the aforementioned Oklahoma City Thunder.

RAZ: Mike, nobody saw the Dallas Mavericks as a championship contender last year at the beginning of the season. Of course, they won it all. Is there a team like that this year, sort of surprise team that isn't getting a whole lot of attention?

PESCA: You know, I don't know about the championship contender caliber. But if you want to talk about a team who could go deep in the playoffs - and maybe this would parallel the run of the Memphis Grizzlies last year - I kind of like the Indiana Pacers. They're an anonymous team from an anonymous state and they added an anonymous player David West, and he's just anonymously very, very good.

Tyler Hansbrough, the great college player from North Carolina. He's going to be coming on strong. And they also have a lot of players who don't, as they say, show up in the stats sheet but they're either a defensive specialist or a three-point specialist. So they have a lot of interesting ingredients. So, why not root for the Pacers rather than all these crazy superstar teams that we've been hearing about all off-season.

RAZ: How about sending those anonymous letters from those anonymous folks in Indiana, Mike, when we get - after this conversation. That's NPR's Mike Pesca talking about the NBA season. Mike, thanks so much.

PESCA: You're welcome.

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