Out of Bounds: The NBA's fan challenge

A new season, new possibilities and new aspirations. But will teams in the NBA, a league that has lost so much credibility, be able to win back the hearts of sports fans?

A year after the emergence of one of the largest scandals in sports history, referees are being whipped into shape. Thanks to NBA Commissioner David Stern, referees spent the preseason being drilled, not by Stern himself or anyone with a basketball history, but by an Army General.

Yes, that's right. In the midst of further allegations surrounding corrupt officiating, Stern brought in Army Gen. Ron Johnson who will be responsible for the reviewing of game tapes and official calls in an effort to eliminate potential biases among referees.

Johnson has commented that he will enforce all rules for referees, regardless of how trivial they may be. Referee Joe Crawford promoted the change, saying "he's made it perfectly clear," how the rules will be enforced.

With an improved trust in league officiating, teams are getting dialed in for the 2008-2009 season. The new year looks to bring new teams into the contention for playoffs and the championship and the recent shift in the balance of power could favor the Detroit Pistons this season.

Detroit's star point guard Allen Iverson will likely diminish LeBron James' confidence in the Cleveland Cavaliers' ability to thrive this season. Iverson will join Richard Hamilton, Rasheed Wallace, and Tayshaun Prince in a new all-star cast that will look to threaten James' offseason guarantees of a championship.

At this point, however, it would be unconscionable to predict a Pistons championship. After all, the Boston Celtics are the defending champions who made it look oh-so-easy against Kobe Bryant and the Lakers in last season's NBA Finals, though doubts remain as to the credibility of the officiating during the series.

The Celtics will return veterans Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Sam Cassell, who have every intention of repeating last year's dominance.

Meanwhile, both the Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers expect to lead the pack in the Western Conference. Houston boasts the triple threat of Tracy McGrady, Yao Ming, and Ron Artest, while the Lakers and Kobe Bryant will look to redeem themselves after a disastrous showing in the Finals last year. A potential "dark horse" team to watch out for this season is Chris Bosh's Toronto Raptors, who will make a push to the top of the Eastern Conference.

My prediction for the season? An NBA Final series between the Pistons against the Lakers, with the Pistons taking home the crown.