This may be the most anticipated NBA season over the last 12-15 years. Let’s get a few things established from the start: The march to the Finals are anything but guaranteed for the restocked Los Angeles Lakers. The 0-8 preseason could ultimately be seen as a positive thing, as it quieted some of the unrealistic expectations and relieved a bit of the immediate pressure such a talented roster will undoubtedly feel. The Miami Heat, while almost ignored by defending Champion status, are going to see if they can recapture the magic of their Finals run with the larger bulls-eye on their collective backs?
The Boston Celtics were able to offset the loss of Ray Allen by bringing in Jason Terry, Courtney Lee, and most recently Leandro Barbosa. With Jeff Green returning from heart surgery and Avery Bradley eventually coming back from his ankle injury, GM Danny Ainge has done a good job of retooling the roster around Rondo and the vets. Just last night, Oklahoma City sent Twitter into a frenzy by shipping all-world 6th man James Harden to Houston (essentially) for rookie small forward Jeremy Lamb and Kevin Martin. While I agree with proponents of the trade from the OKC side of things, I still wonder if it will create match-up issues for them in a postseason series with the Lakers. Ultimately, if GM Sam Presti deemed Harden simply not worth the money, I definitely respect his ability to “re-stock the cupboards” with young and somewhat comparable talent.
Minnesota and Dallas each brought in multiple free agents with hopes of bolstering their rosters, and will need strong contributions from each with the news of Kevin Love and Dirk Nowitzki’s recent injuries. Without further ado, here are the initial 2012-2013 rankings:
#1 Miami Heat: Respect the ring. After falling just short 2 years ago, Miami was able to climb to the mountaintop. Not sold on the Rashard Lewis pick-up, but if Ray Allen can remain somewhat healthy, the bench is definitely improved. LeBron James plans to do his damage in the paint, Bosh is playing C, and Coach Spoelstra has every player learning all positions. How does Miami respond?
#2 Oklahoma City Thunder: A knee-jerk reaction would have been to move them from this spot simply because of the adjustments the trade will cause. Jeremy Lamb could be a steal in a few years, and don’t forget about Kevin Martin being an expiring contract. Time for KD to take even another step forward, as Harden’s absence will place even more play-making responsibilities on he and Westbrook.
#3 Los Angeles Lakers: Laker fans may be surprised by the ranking, but quite frankly nothing is etched in stone. While they arguably have their best lineup in 12-15 years, the questions on their bench still remain. The additions of Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks should help, but that unit will need a leader. Coach Brown will have to avoid the temptation of leaning too heavily on his starters. Bryant, Nash, and Howard must remain healthy. Annoyingly repetitive cliche you should expect to hear all season: Marathon, not a sprint.
#4 Boston Celtics: KG may not be talking to Ray Allen or even mentioning him by name, but he doesn’t need to worry about his ex running-mate as the Celtics are definitely loaded for a deep run into the playoffs. Courtney Lee, Jason Terry, a returning Jeff Green and the rookies (Sullinger/Melo) are nice upgrades for a team that pushed the defending champion Miami Heat to a Game 7 of the ECF. Will be interested to see how the parts fit as Avery Bradley returns from surgery (Dec/Jan).
#5 San Antonio Spurs: While Duncan is still very effective, Parker emerged as the “guy” over the course of last season. The Spurs have done a good job of re-stocking the roster around the core (Parker/Duncan/Ginobili). Diaw’s in shape, Steven Jackson has been re-signed, and the team has high hopes for rookie G Nano de Colo (France). They open the season with a back-to-back @ New Orleans (Anthony Davis vs. Duncan) and home for Oklahoma City.
#6 Los Angeles Clippers: The Clippers are another team that did a good job of stocking the cupboards. Lamar Odom gets his shot at redemption, but health has prevented he and fellow free agent F Grant Hill from playing in the preseason. It will be interesting to see how Jamal Crawford fits into that mix, but if won’t be at the expense of up and coming G Eric Bledsoe. Alongside Golden State’s Klay Thompson, Bledsoe should be in the running for this year’s Most Improved Player award.
#7 Denver Nuggets: If their 7 game series with the Lakers in 2012 wasn’t enough to get your attention, this year’s version of the Nuggets will definitely make you turn and look. Andre Igoudala was the perfect edition to this roster. Coach Karl has a plethora of versatile forwards to throw at the opponent, as Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari also return to the roster fully healthy.
#8 Memphis Grizzlies: The Grizzlies remain one of the scrappiest teams in the league. They grabbed our attention with their opening round upset of the top-seeded Spurs a couple years back, but that was actually without the services of Rudy Gay. Trouble is, when Gay and Zach Randolph are both available it leaves them in a bit of an offensive quandary. Each player tends to like the ball in their hands in iso sets. Similar to one of the issues teams like New York experiences (Melo/Stoudamire), offensive redundancy is tough to overcome.
#9 NY Knicks: Out walks Linsanity, but the rumors of a potential Isiah Thomas revival return. Stoudemire is out for (potentially) the first month with another issue with his troublesome knee(s), but is it possible that may be a blessing in disguise? It could permit Melo to get himself going while Felton and Kidd get adjusted. Knicks fans are hoping Kidd can provide some veteran leadership once Stoudemire returns.
#10 Brooklyn Nets: The Barclay Center is ready, Brooklyn is set, and the Nets are talking about making deep playoff runs. Full disclosure, unlike Shaq, I’ve never been much of a believer in Brooke Lopez as a dominant center. He’s a scorer, but lacks a bit of toughness and tends to be as injury prone as his front court mate Gerald Wallace. That said, I’ve very intrigued by the amount of pressure a back court of Deron Williams and Joe Johnson could put on opposing teams. Bench is still a major concern. Would like to see them upgrade the second unit before I consider them legit contenders.
Others receiving consideration:
Chicago Bulls– Still respect what coach Thibodeau can get out of his team whether Rose is available or not.
Philadelphia 76ers– If Bynum can manage to play 80% of the games, I think Philly can be a top-4 seed in the EC.
Utah Jazz– Don’t be shocked, but Coach Corbin had these guys playing some good ball last year. Would like to see Favors take that next step.
Written By Jabari A. Davis