This one comes to us from new contributor Matt Patrick:

On the heels of the NBA season starting up, drama and expectations are vast. Two players in particular, whom will be watched extremely closely this season, are Dwight Howard and James Harden. While Dwight has already been under much scrutiny—namely his critics claiming he can never measure up to the all-time great centers of years past. The conversation as to where Howard ranks with the greats before him (Russell, Chamberlain, Kareem, Hakeem, etc.) amped up most fiercely when Shaquille O’Neal gave his two (or five) cents into the discussion. Pretty Jordan Rules-esque, huh? Dwight coined the nickname, “Superman” after winning the 2008 dunk competition—which didn’t sit well with the original Superman himself.

Howard was in “limbo” for quite some time in Orlando (Shaq’s former team)—and it was absolutely exhausting. Two questions dominated Dwight Howard and the Orlando magic over the last several months: Will they trade Howard? And if so, where? Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy and Howard had their ups-and-downs, which proved to be extremely taxing for the fans, not to mention the team as a whole. Because Howard has never been labeled as a diva, so to speak, the negative attention in Orlando was surprising. It’s safe to say the sports world was ready for the Dwight Howard drama to come to an end—the thing is, it’s only begun!

Over the summer, Howard was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers (another former team of Shaq)! The Lakers also managed to acquire future hall-of-fame point guard Steve Nash. To say the least, the Lakers’ starting five is pretty scary.

James Harden had a phenomenal year in Oklahoma City last season—winning both the Western Conference championship and the Sixth Man of the Year award. Harden was a significant contributing factor for the Thunder’s success as well as crowd favorite. This summer proved to be great for Harden—being a part of the 2012 Olympic team and thus winning a gold medal. The 2012-2013 season has been highly anticipated by NBA fans—rooting for our favorite sixth man to help his team get to the Finals.

On Monday, Last year’s Sixth Man (and undeniably the NBA’s best beard) was traded from Oklahoma City to join Jeremy Lin in Houston. Playing for the Rockets will be a very different experience for Harden as a player—going from being a sixth man off the bench to a starter and possibly even Houston’s go-to-guy. There’s not widespread agreement as to whether or not this trade was a good move for the two teams involved—while there’s not widespread agreement as to whether or not it was a good move for Harden. Most would agree that he has the talent to be an all-star and a franchise player, but is that really him? Does Houston even want him to fit into that role?

Expectations are high for both Howard and Harden. Laker fans will, no doubt, demand greatness from Howard. Will Dwight live up to Shaq in L.A.? Will Houston receive Harden (and his beard) well? Only time will tell.