At last, something more significant than the unveiling of alternate jerseys and the release of marketing catch phrases.
For the first time in two years, we're about to open legitimate NBA training camps, not the condensed, post-lockout versions of 2011.
This time, all the ancillary nonsense has been taken care of in advance, everything from free agency to amnesty to set-in-stone exhibition schedules that actually will allow for more than a two-game preseason.
So what do we need to learn over this next month, before the Heat get their championship rings Oct. 30 against the visiting Celtics at American Airlines Arena and the new-look Lakers are unveiled for real later that night at Staples Center?
There are 10 questions worth considering.
1. Who's back, who's still out and who is on the slow track when it comes to injuries?
While the start of training camp generally brings a sense of renewal, there will be a staggered start for several teams.
Most notably, we're still months away from Bulls point guard Derrick Rose returning from his devastating knee injury during the opening round of last season's playoffs and at least weeks away from Dwight Howard returning from his offseason back procedure.
Also to miss the start of the season are Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio and Knicks guard Iman Shumpert after a pair of gruesome knee injuries.
Of course, perspective also is required in the wake of learning that Suns forward Channing Frye likely will be lost for the season due to a heart irregularity detected during his routine preseason physical.
The start of camp also leaves us without Clippers guard Chris Paul (thumb) and Warriors center Andrew Bogut (ankle), while among those expected to miss all of camp include Magic forward Al Harrington (knee) and Celtics guard Avery Bradley (shoulder).
2. Which players have the most to prove in camp?
As with some of the aforementioned players, camp will provide an opportunity to show they're all the way back, with the Heat's Ray Allen and Clippers forward Blake Griffin, who injured his left knee in Olympic camp, at the top of that list.
But two players, in particular, will be under acute inspection.
After essentially taking a season off for what could be described only as a mental-health check, Lamar Odom finds himself at a crossroads in his comeback bid with the Clippers, either back to Sixth Man Award-winning form or simply too Kardashianed out to again be an NBA factor.
Then there is the compelling case of Brandon Roy in Minnesota, an amnesty cut by Portland who attracted no interest last season but now is confident of a revival in Minnesota.
3. Which teams have the most to prove in camp?
That will be teams that will be changing styles or systems, generally the teams that have made the greatest offseason changes.
For the Lakers, of course, much will be on hold until Howard makes it back to the court. But the arrival of assistant coach Eddie Jordan and the tenets of the Princeton offense should get Kobe Bryant back to some of the structure he appreciated with the triangle.
Chris Carlson / AP
Center Andrew Bynum takes his game to the Sixers.
Also with new centerpieces are the Nuggets with Andre Iguodala, the Rockets with Jeremy Lin and the Hornets with No. 1 overall pick Anthony Davis.
In each case, camp will be about developing an identity, not the slow-go warm-up approaches of teams already set in their ways, such as the Spurs, Heat or Thunder.
Name tags also might be required in Dallas and Boston, where the roster overhauls have been significant.
4. Which coaches have the most to prove in camp?
You'd probably have to start with Mike Dunlap in Charlotte and Jacque Vaughn in Orlando, coaches who beat out better-known candidates for their positions despite relatively nondescript resumes at this level.
Of course, an argument could be made that management will have to prove to Dunlap and Vaughn that they actually have been given NBA-quality rosters.
Rare are teams that need to win exhibition games, but the Bobcats and Magic might prove to be the exceptions.
5. Is free agency essentially over?
Not if you ask Kenyon Martin, Derek Fisher, Leandro Barbosa and a handful of other veteran free agents who expected more than mere minimums to be available in advance of camp.
Among known quantities still unsigned as of this posting are Martin, Fisher, Barbosa, Chris Andersen, Mickael Pietrus, Josh Howard, Anthony Tolliver, Louis Amundson, Mehmet Okur, Maurice Evans, Yi Jianlian, Ryan Gomes, Tracy McGrady, Michael Redd, Maurice Evans, Hassan Whiteside, Ben Wallace and Jonny Flynn.
And that's with the NBA operating for one final season with a dollar-for-dollar luxury tax. Expect the market to grow even tighter next summer, when the tax increases exponentially.
For now, legitimate difference-makers still remain available, even as many teams approach the 20-player limit for training camp.
6. Who's out of the picture?
Among those to retire in the offseason were Brad Miller, Brian Scalabrine, Anthony Parker, Eduardo Najera and Keyon Dooling. Among free agents who opted to take their game overseas were Shelden Williams (France), Semih Erden (Turkey), Rudy Fernandez (Spain), Vernon Macklin (Turkey), Von Wafer (China), Daryl Watkins (Bulgaria), Jerome Dyson (Israel), Craig Smith (Israel), Ben Uzoh (France), Sonny Weems (Russia), Morris Almond (Serbia) and James Singleton (China).
7. Are there preseason trade possibilities?
The problem is that free agents signed in the offseason cannot be dealt until Dec. 15 or for three months, whichever is later. That significantly reduces the available pool.
More likely are veterans stuck in going-nowhere situations seeking buyouts, since it's not as if there is light at the end of the tunnel in Orlando, Charlotte or Sacramento.
8. Who will receive rookie-scale extensions?
Mike Ehrmann / Getty Images
The Thunder have re-signed Serge Ibaka, but not yet Sixth Man of the Year James Harden.
Nowhere will the focus be greater than in Oklahoma City, where the Thunder already have re-upped with Serge Ibaka and now have to find a number that works with James Harden.
Amid the renewed challenge from the Lakers, the lack of an agreement with Harden could have the Thunder on their heels even before they begin the defense of their Western Conference title.
9. Where's the place to be this preseason?
There is nothing quite like the NBA exhibition schedule for its lesson in geography.
The international portion of the schedule will take the Heat and Clippers to China, the Celtics to Turkey and Italy, the Mavericks to Germany and Spain, and the Magic and Hornets to Mexico.
But it's the obscure venues that make the NBA preseason a mix of barnstorming and, well, small-town survival.
Cities that will host exhibitions include Fresno (Warriors-Lakers); Hidalgo, Texas (Thunder-Rockets); Fargo, N.D. (Pacers-Timberwolves); La Crosse, Wis. (Grizzlies-Bucks) and Winnipeg (Pistons-Timberwolves).
10. Where's not the place to be?
That would be Sacramento, which will host three preseason games amid the gloomy reality that this, indeed, could be the start of the end for the Kings at ARCO/Power Balance/Your Name Here arena.
No, there are no exhibitions scheduled this preseason for Seattle, but there now is NBA hope there, something we're not sure will long be the case in Sacramento.
Ira Winderman writes regularly for NBCSports.com and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. You can follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/IraHeatBeat.
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