Can George Gervin lead the league in scoring for the third straight year, or will the opposition finally get smart and put five players on him and leave the other Spurs alone?
Can Magic Johnson maintain his infectious enthusiasm now that he's made it to the promised land?
Is this the year the 76ers, who owe their fans three times over, finally start paying their debt?
Is this the year the Bullets finally realize they are going into war with conventional ammunition while practically everyone else has nuclear weapons?
These are just some of the questions that will be answered over the next nine months in the National Basketball Association, which begins its 35th season Friday.
The biggest question, however, is how far will the quality of play sink now that it is illegal to wear any face, ear, neck, finger, hand or wrist jewelry on the court?
Darryl Dawkins may weigh 20 pounds less without his gold, but he says he has licked the problem. He'll wear two ankle bracelets under his socks. One will say "Chocolate" and the other "Thunder."
Six teams have new coaches and no two of the situations have anything in common. Cleveland's Bill Musselman hasn't coached in the NBA; Scotty Robertson of Detroit is inheriting the worst team in the league; Stan Albeck could stomach Cleveland for only one season and left for San Antonio; Jack McKinney lost his job with the Lakers to his best friend, Paul Westhead, but caught on in Indiana; Paul Silas retired as a player with Seattle to take the coaching job in San Diego, and Gene Shue returned to the Bullets in owner Abe Pollin's last gasp at recapturing the past.
Three of the game's greatest players will not be around this year as Rick Barry, Pete Maravich and Dave Cowens have retired. Their bodies just wore out. They could be joined by a fourth; Bill Walton's foot is hurting again.
There is also a new team in the league, the Dallas Mavericks, and former Bullet Coach Dick Motta will find out if it will listen to him any better than his old team did.
The two best squads in the league, the Lakers and the 76ers, chose to stand pat, but practically every other team reshuffled its deck.
Major trades saw Paul Westphal go from Phoenix to Seattle for Dennis Johnson, Larry Kenon go from San Antonio to Chicago, Campy Russell have a prayer answered and go from Cleveland to New York, Lloyd Free twirl from San Diego to Golden State, Robert Parish take his No. 00 from Golden State to Boston, and Bernard King get a new life in Oakland.
This is also the year of the experiment. The Suns are trying to make Walter Davis a guard, the Knicks are trying to make Ray Williams a passer and the Bullets are trying to develop a team of defensive specialists.
In short, there are some different drummers and some new beats in a lot of NBA towns, but when the music stops next May, the crown will probably be staying right where it is -- in Los Angeles. The Lakers have no depth, but with players like they have, who notices? Los Angeles has one guard, Norm Nixon; one center, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and a bunch of guys like Magic Johnson and Michael Cooper who are simply basketball players; they don't bother calling themselves guards or forwards. The Bullets
This undoubtedly will be the last year of the Washington Bullets as Capital Centre fans have come to know them. The team has problems and knows it. The Bullets don't have a solid defensive guard, they are slow and have lost the ability to intimidate the rest of the league.
Their front court of Elvin Hayes, Wes Unseld, Bob Dandridge, Mitch Kupchak and Greg Ballard is as strong as any, but the NBA is a game of finesse now and the Bullets are short in that department.
Top draft choice Wes Matthews is an exciting ball handler, but just like Kevin Porter, he doesn't have much of an outside shot. He works hard on defense, but at 6-foot-1, it's going to be tough for him to stop many people.
The Bullets' most pleasant surprise has been second-round pick Rick Mahorn. He has improved tremendously in the preseason and will see a lot more than spot duty once the season starts.
Kupchak is a key to many of the things the Bullets want to do. So far his back has not bothered him. But Kupchak can't operate as a big guard. Dandridge can, however, and if the Bullets are to be successful this season, he may have to.
Kevin Grevey has developed into one of the most dependable scorers on the team, but he is the only guard taller than 6-2.
What all of this means is that the Bullets will probably go only as far as Hayes can carry them. And his usual 20 points and 10 rebounds a game may not take them very far. Teams on the Rise
The Knicks, Bulls, Warriors and Pacers are the teams to watch. None made the playoffs a year ago, but all should be factors this time.
The Knicks will benefit from a year's experience together and from the acquisition of Russell. They also have perhaps the best all-around guard in the league in 6-5 Michael Ray Richardson, who led the NBA in steals and assists last season and this summer decided to work on scoring.
The Bulls drafted two outstanding point guards, Ronnie Lester and Sam Worthen, and also landed Kenon. Artis Gilmore is healthy and could be the second-best seven-footer in the league after Abdul-Jabbar, if Coach Jerry Sloan can get him involved more in the offense.
The Warriors made more changes than any other team and will have seven new faces. The only starter to keep his job is John Lucas. He'll team with Lloyd Free, Purvis Short, King and rookie Joe Barry Carroll.
Atlanta was one of the league's strongest teams last year and all the Hawks were missing was a big shooting guard. They found him in top draft choice Don Collins, a 6-6 innovator from Washington State. Good Teams with Problems
Phoenix and Seattle both think they improved with the Westphal-Johnson trade, but the Sonics are hurting because free-agent Gus Williams still hasn't signed and isn't in camp. Vinnie Johnson is good, but he's no Gus Williams. Also, the loss of Silas will hurt because the Sonics are down to only Fred Brown in the leadership department.
Davis doesn't like playing guard and his shift also leaves the Suns with a void at small forward.
The Celtics have Larry Bird and the biggest and deepest front line in basketball. Now that Tiny Archibald has finally signed, they are also solid in the back court. Cowens' sudden retirement last week will hurt, however. Like the Sonics, the Celtics are now short on leaders. The Individuals
Newcomers Darrell Griffith and John Duren of Utah will give the Jazz the youngest and one of the most exciting backcourts in the league and Mike O'Koren and Mike Gminski will make New Jersey a factor in the Atlantic Division. O'Koren is also the only player in the NBA with an apostrophe in his name.
Other rookies to watch are Worthen, Larry Smith and Ricky Brown of Golden State; Hawkeye Whitney of Kansas City, who is another of the "no-position, just-a-heck-of-a-player" types, and Michael Brooks of San Diego.
Highly touted rookies Kelvin Ransey and Kiki Vandeweghe still haven't signed with Portland and Dallas, respectively.
Expect the usual output from Bird, Gervin, Abdul-Jabbar, Moses Malone, Julius Erving and the Johnsons (at least three of the 11 -- Dennis, Magic and Marques), but there is another group of veterans that is just starting to make its mark. It includes, most notably, Junior Bridgeman of Milwaukee and Dan Roundfield of Atlanta. The Predictions
Philadelphia should win in the Atlantic Division, with Boston close behind. New York has the inside track on third, with New Jersey and Washington fighting for their lives.
Milwaukee and Atlanta should be the class of the Central Division.
Kansas City should have it pretty easy in the Midwest Division, while it'll be a dog fight in the Pacific. The Lakers should repeat, with everyone else, except probably San Diego, in the hunt for second place.