The 10 Biggest Storylines Of The NBA Season: The Return Of The Injured Superstars

Last season, a spate of injuries to some of the league’s biggest stars left an indelible mark on the NBA landscape. While certain injuries had dramatic effects on a team’s championship aspirations (Russell Westbrook), others mercifully helped to hasten the inevitable (Kobe Bryant).

Thanks to advances in sports science and medical technologies, players are recovering faster than ever before, but unrealistic expectations are often the unfortunate byproduct of these marvelous innovations. We live in a culture of now, and just as recovery times have dwindled, so too have our attention spans and our collective patience. We want things to happen instantaneously, and when they don’t, we occupy ourselves by making Internet memes out of once-beloved players (Derrick Rose).

But a summer of fun, sun, and some sorely-needed convalescence is sometimes just what the doctor ordered, and some of the biggest names on last season’s injury report will make their much-anticipated return during the 2013-2014 season.

Honorable Mentions: Lou Williams, Andrew Bynum, Anderson Varejao, Danilo Gallinari, Danny Granger

[RELATED: The 10 Biggest Storylines Of The NBA Season: The Battle For NYC]

*** *** ***

For Minnesota fans, the eternal winter of the soul got a little bit bleaker last season after Kevin Love broke his hand (twice!) and later underwent season-ending knee surgery, injuries that limited the former All-Star rebounding machine to just 18 total regular season games. Love and the Timberwolves — along with a fully-recovered Ricky Rubio and a re-signed Nikola Pekovic — will be looking to bounce back this year and thaw out those old playoff hopes that have been encased in ice for almost a decade now.

Poor Rondo. Thanks to a torn ACL, he was forced to sit idly by while the Big 3 era in Boston finally came to an end. First, his surrogate big brothers were shipped out of town to help usher in the rebuilding process, and then Doc Rivers, his stern-but-loving father figure, went out for a proverbial pack of smokes. On the bright side, it appears as if Danny Ainge is hedging his bets on the mercurial young point guard as the Celtics’ franchise cornerstone for the foreseeable future.

The craziest thing about Kobe’s injury was the revelation that he is, in fact, human and not some sort of basketball-playing cyborg programmed to destroy everything in his path. In the past, he’s played through all sorts of injuries, but at 35, the torn Achilles tendon he suffered last spring spurred all sorts of apocalyptic proclamations about his inevitable decline. Even if wine typically gets better with age, any connoisseur will tell you that’s only true up to a point.

Of course, all of this is just added motivation for Kobe, and the Lakers current roster being what it is, they’ll need him back in full Mamba mode if they hope to have any chance at making the postseason. Still, it’s doubtful he’ll be able to log the type of minutes that arguably led to his current predicament in the first place, and that’s probably a good thing. Even the world’s deadliest snake has to face its own mortality sooner or later.

The man Jalen Rose calls Furious Styles – a reference to both his hyper-aggressive play and his equally-fierce sartorial decisions – had a reason to be upset last spring when an inadvertent knee-check from Patrick Beverley prematurely ended his season, along with the Thunder’s hopes of an NBA Finals rematch against the Miami Heat. After spending the playoffs at home, frowning at his television, the temperamental point guard will bring the wrath of Achilles with him when he returns to tear through the competition in the 2013-2014 season.

Rose and Westbrook are, without question, the two most explosive point guards in the NBA, but they couldn’t be more different in terms of demeanor. Westbrook’s fiery persona in many ways makes him the perfect foil to Rose’s calm, stoic façade, but that stoicism has been tested endlessly over the past 16 months as he slowly and methodically makes his return from the torn ACL he suffered during the 2012 Playoffs. Even after being medically cleared to play back in March, Rose (wisely) opted to sit out until this season, a decision that was met with unwarranted criticism among a certain subset of fans, commentators and journalists, some of whom compounded his frustrations with a series of mildly amusing Internet memes.

Nonetheless, the world will be watching to see whether Rose can once again be the unstoppable force of nature that earned him the Most Valuable Player Award just a few short years ago or become merely a shadow of his former self.

Which player are you most looking forward to see play?

Follow Jamie on Twitter at @WinoCarpenter.

Follow Dime on Twitter at @DimeMag.

Become a fan of Dime Magazine on Facebook HERE.