by Lang Whitaker | @langwhitaker

It’s that time of year again, time for us to take a peek at the shape of the NBA as the season begins.

When I did a post a few weeks ago previewing MUSCLEWATCH 2010, commenter Fat Lever (no pun intended) asked if we could get a MUSCLEWATCH for the SLAM staff. My initial reaction was no, because our jobs are not to be in the best possible shape. And then I figured, why not?

Take, for instance, me. Over the last eight months, I’ve lost about 30 pounds. I went to the doctor back in February, and he told me that I was overweight and that my cholesterol was too high. These things were, obviously, connected, and could be traced to one main factor: I never exercised.

I played basketball every day of my life for about 20 years, and after moving to New York, I threw myself into this job at SLAM, and let everything else, most prominently my health, slide. It didn’t have far to fall. I’ve never been thin, even when I was playing basketball in high school and running 5-6 miles each day at practice. When I reached my 20s, my knees started giving me trouble (mild arthritis in both of them), so I just gave up.

But in recent years, I knew I needed to do something. I was heavy, and tired all the time, and didn’t like always having to buy XXL clothes. I didn’t want to join a gym, and I live literally feet away from one of NYC’s most beautiful parks, of which I wanted to take advantage. Running is free, so that was appealing. My doctor had actually suggested I take up running, and he said he thought my knees could handle it. I went to lunch one day with SLAM columnist Idan Ravin and mentioned this, and he said he thought my knees would probably stop giving me trouble if I lost some weight.

Around the same time as my doctor’s visit, I spoke to someone who uses the Nike Plus running system. If you don’t know, it’s basically a small plastic disc that goes in your shoe, and then it wirelessly connects with your iPod and tracks your runs or walks — distance, time, calories, everything. So I ordered the Nike Plus thing from Amazon (it cost less than $10) and a Velcro pouch ($5) to attach it to my shoes, because I didn’t have the Nike Plus shoes. And then one morning I started running.

That was in February. For the first few weeks, my knees killed, but I iced them and stretched them and started losing weight, and one day they stopped hurting all together. Since then I’ve cut back on the amount of food that I eat, started drinking pretty much only water all day long, and forced myself to stick to a regular exercise schedule. I don’t run marathon distances — I’ve now built up to running about 3 miles at a time — but I do it regularly, two days on and one day off, and I don’t allow myself to skip a day. When I was sick a few weeks ago I took five days off, and not being able to go and run made me feel worse than having the stomach flu. This morning I went for a run and came back in and synced my Nike Plus thingy, and discovered I’ve now logged over 150 miles since I started running. Also, I’ve lost a lot of weight. It didn’t happen overnight, but it keeps happening, slowly but surely, about one pound a week. Which isn’t that extreme when you think about it. Yet seeing it happen makes me want to continue at it.

My point is, MUSCLE WATCH isn’t only about adding muscle, it’s also about transformation. And I believe it’s possible for anyone to transform their body. Obviously you have to put in the work and be completely committed to the task. Actors do it all the time: for his role in American History X, Edward Norton supposedly added 30 pounds of muscle; for his part in Wolverine, Hugh Jackman put on 20 pounds of muscle thanks to a vegan diet; before portraying Tony Stark in Iron Man 2, Robert Downey packed on 20 pounds of muscle.

All that said, this year’s MUSCLEWATCH was a bit of a disappointment. It seems that I saw fewer stories about guys putting on the hyperbolic pounds of muscle than we’ve seen in previous years. I wonder if this is symbolic of some sort of change in direction for NBA players? In an article in the Racine Journal Times, Bucks coach Scott Skiles says gaining weight is “totally overrated. We’re not a big weight-conscious team. We’re concerned about body fat. Body fat is what slows guys down.”

Perhaps more NBA players are looking to be slimmer and more agile than they used to be?

Or maybe I’m just not as good at using the Google News search functions as I used to be? (By the way, shout outs to Linkstigators Ken, Todd, Shae, Garrett and Seth for sending along MUSCLE WATCH nominations.)

Look, this is hardly scientific. It’s just a collection of stories about how much guys weigh.

Let’s go to the scales…

• Sacramento’s Hassan Whiteside, the Examiner casually reports, gained 25 pounds of muscle over the summer. Researching further, it appears Whiteside added the 25 pound of muscle since summer league ended, which means he put on 25 pounds of muscle in just a few months. (Random thought: The Kings should play “Mr. Brightside” whenever Mr. Whiteside scores.)

• CJ Miles has added 12 pounds of muscle, leaving him just 3 pounds from the magical 15. And in other Jazz weight news, Sundiata Gaines gained 15 pounds, Al Jefferson also added 15, and Kyrylo Fesenko lost 15 pounds.

• According to the Washington Post’s epic blogger Michael Lee, Wizards center JaVale McGee not only gained eight pounds of muscle, he also was diagnosed with asthma and, thanks to an inhaler, has more stamina. Also in DC, Nick Young has reportedly added 10 pounds of muscle.

• Roy Hibbert showed up for training camp having lost 23 pounds over the summer, and he’s now down to 255 pounds. “Roy Hibbert has had one of the best summers I’ve ever witnessed in my years of coaching,” coach Jim O’Brien told the Indy Star. Hibbert worked out with Bill Walton, and like McGee, Hibbert also discovered he has asthma, which he’s now treating with an inhaler, and which should increase his time on the floor.

• Evan Turner reportedly put on 10 pounds of muscle, but the Sixers didn’t want him so big, so he ended up losing weight. He weighed in at camp 4 pounds heavier than he’d been in college.

• DeJuan Blair’s body fat is down to 8 percent.

• In Orlando, Rashard Lewis lost 10 pounds, Vince Carter lost three percent body fat, and most impressively, Stan Van Gundy has hit the gym this summer and has shed a few pounds.

• Pistons forward Austin Daye has been trying hard to put on weight. According to the Detroit News, Daye ate a lot of In-N-Out burgers. Well, who wouldn’t? This season, after hiring a nutritionist and personal chef, he’s added 9 pounds, but he’s still 6-11 and 205 pounds. Meanwhile, point guard Rodney Stuckey has dropped 10 pounds.

• Anthony Randolph has purportedly added weight this summer, making it a whopping 50 pounds he’s put on since entering the League (even though he’s still only about 225). And for Eddy Curry, the struggle continues.

• Mike Cunningham at the AJC reports Jeff Teague has added 6 pounds through focusing on building leg strength.

• Lakers rookie Derrick Caracter weighed 305 in college, but going into training camp he weighed in at 265. The LA Times has an interesting interview with the trainer who helped Caracter shed weight, and he says Caracter lost the weight by doing a variety of things, including Bikram yoga.

• According to the News Observer, DJ Augustin has added 5 pounds of muscle while reducing his body fat, putting him at 180 for this season: “Augustin said he took just one week off, following the playoff loss to the Orlando Magic, before hitting the gym. Pilates, yoga, running and weight-lifting were his summer.”

• Brook Lopez reportedly lost 25 pounds from having mono, but he’s since put the weight back on.

• Kendrick Perkins is rehabbing his knee injury, and he told the Boston Herald, ““I’ve lost fat, not muscle. I’m staying in the weight room. I’m on the bike. I walk a lot. I eat right.” According to the article, Perkins weighed 285 at the time of the injury, weighs 275 right now, and hopes to get to 265 by the time he returns.

• Also on the recovery trail, Blazer’s Edge reports Greg Oden lost 30 pounds this summer, although Oden says he’s since added 4 pounds of lean muscle. “I had a really good chef in Indiana. I would love to say it’s my mom, but she would cook me up greasy food.”

• There was a report earlier this summer that LaMarcus Aldridge had put on 20 pounds of muscle, though in that same link above, Aldridge says he only expects to be 4-5 pounds heavier this season than he was last season.

• Eddie House lost 15 pounds this summer. Bonus points to Heat.com for actually using the phrase “15 pounds of muscle.”

• Chuck Hayes also lost 15 pounds.

• And finally, Ron Artest is on his way to losing 15 pounds.