While the NBA promotes its brand worldwide in training camps across the globe, fantasy players are looking for something completely different from training camp. It's a time when players compete for starting positions and good draft preparation can give a fantasy owner an edge over the competition. The drafts may be a few weeks away, but your work starts now. With that in mind, let's look at the emerging battles entering camp.
Houston. Because Tracy McGrady initiates much of Houston's offense, the Rockets point guard isn't going to be used as a traditional point guard. He'll bring the ball over half court, pass to McGrady and be asked to knock down the occasional jump shot to create space for McGrady and Yao Ming. Rafer Alston has the edge as the incumbent, but this looks to be a situation tailor-made for Mike James. Steve Francis may get some work there in training camp, but this will be James' job before long.
Atlanta. The Hawks will be improved this season, but not playoff improved. The need for a veteran point guard, like Speedy Claxton, is not vital. I think a healthy Claxton will come out of camp with the job, but Acie Law will take over during the season.
Memphis. Grizzlies coach Marc Iavaroni is modeling his team after his former club, the Suns, and that means a true point guard. One who will give himself up to make teammates better. While we like Damon Stoudamire's ability to shoot the rock, being a selfless leader is not his calling card. Mike Conley will be leading the Grizzlies opening night with Kyle Lowry and Stoudamire getting what's left over.
Portland. Like Houston with McGrady, the Trail Blazers rely heavily on their shooting guard (Brandon Roy) to distribute offense. Jarret Jack did some nice things last season, but it looks like he'll have to fight Steve Blake and Sergio Rodriguez for minutes. There's nothing flashy to Blake's game. His outside shot is getting better and he knows how to find an open man. Rodriguez is more suited to changing the pace coming off the bench and should get more minutes this season, but not the starting job. Neither Jack nor Blake is a game-changer or game-dominator, and there'll be limited value because Roy will dominate the ball.
Cleveland. The Cavs could really use a point guard that can take the pressure of LeBron James while hitting his outside shots consistently. They toyed with Larry Hughes at the point last year, but he may be needed at shooting guard if Sasha Pavlovic follows through on his threat not to report to camp. That would open the door for Daniel Gibson. He's not a true point and will never run a team, but as LeBron's helper, he should be fine.
Utah. The Jazz has an interesting battle going on with any of four guys in the mix for the starting job. Since morphing the best qualities of all four into one good shooting guard is not yet possible, the Jazz will have to choose the one with the least blemishes. A perimeter threat is what Utah requires most from the position, and Gordan Giricek's the most dangerous weapon they have. Giricek has held the job for various stretches the last four seasons, but has also played his way out those chances. Poor defense and shot selection have mostly been the issue. First-round pick Morris Almond won't be given the job, though he does pass the scoring test. Ronnie Brewer could make it an easy decision if he were a better shooter. His athleticism and defense are not in question; his outside shot is. C.J. Miles could be the answer, but his refusal to show up for summer league leaves him in coach Jerry Sloan's doghouse. Miles wants a contract extension, but the Jazz are not in the mood to give him one. In the end, it may not be who starts the game for the Jazz, but who finishes it. More often than not last season, it was Matt Harpring on the floor with Andrei Kirilenko, Carlos Boozer, Mehmet Okur and Deron Williams.
Portland. Ideally, the Trail Blazers could use someone like they had last season when Ime Udoka defended hard and knocked down threes. The competition is between Martell Webster and Travis Outlaw. Webster has more offensive game, while Outlaw is the better defender. Darius Miles is reportedly healthy and has a new attitude, but he'll have to prove that to coach Nate McMillan. I think this will be Outlaw's job once the season opens. His outside shot needs consistency, but he defends the perimeter, runs the floor and is more versatile than Webster.
Los Angeles Clippers. The Elton Brand injury leaves a huge hole in the lineup. Entering training camp, any of three guys are in the mix. Tim Thomas, Ruben Patterson and rookie Al Thornton will all get looks during training camp. The Clippers were bottom-half of the league in offense last season, so that dictates Thomas getting the first crack at replacing Brand. But he can't touch Brand on the defensive end. That's where Patterson has the edge. Thornton won't be much of a factor until later in the season. I suspect coach Mike Dunleavy will patch the hole with Thomas and Patterson for now. But stay tuned for changes as the season progresses. (By the way, I love Corey Maggette this year because of Brand's injury).
Toronto. The Raptors would like Andrea Bargnani to start at center, but I have doubts whether that's the best fit for him on this team. Ideally, someone who could help Chris Bosh with the defensive aspects of playing center would be the best fit. He's not a great rebounder or shot blocker for a 7-footer. This team won the division with Rasho Nesterovic at center and I'm betting he'll be there again this year.
Detroit. Nazr Mohammed is penciled in as the starter, but I expect Antonio McDyess and Rasheed Wallace will see a lot of action there. McDyess is not a full-timer at this stage of his career, so look for Wallace to slide over to center with Jason Maxiell ready for the prime time at power forward.
Washington. The on-going saga of Etan Thomas and Brandan Haywood. Haywood provides the best offense for the position, but with Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison on board, offense is not what's needed from Washington's center. Neither will "win" this battle and it will be a wasteland for fantasy owners. If I had to choose one, I'd go with Thomas, who hasn't ticked off coach Eddie Jordan.
Seattle. The early off-season talk surrounds Robert Swift, who won the job in camp last year before a knee injury wiped out the season. With so much change in Seattle, I think new coach P.J. Carlesimo would be better served leaving the seasoned Nick Collison at center to start the season. Swift, who's played in 63 games over two seasons, will get his minutes as the primary backup and gradually move into the starting assignment.