It was in the summer of 2010 that LeBron James took his talents to South Beach, and in three seasons with the Miami Heat, King James has essentially made his very own kingdom down there. Alongside him are his aces of Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh and Ray Allen, a Jack in Shane Battier, and even a joker in Chris Andersen. For about three-years the Miami Heat regime has reigned supreme in the NBA, making three consecutive NBA Finals appearances, winning the most recent two. This poses the question: will they finally be dethroned? We will survey the landscape of the league and find out whether or not King James II will be crowned King James III.
The first order of business would be to discuss the state of the Eastern Conference entering the 2013-2014 season. In short, the Celtics went on a fire sale, Brooklyn loaded up and Miami gained another quality player, believe it or not. The once-forgotten first overall draft pick Greg Oden signed a one-year deal to join Miami and possibly assist the franchise in taking the next step into becoming a dynasty. Oden, who had been out of basketball since the LeBron era began in Miami, has had a career highlighted with injuries that have prevented him from having an impact on the NBA. He is one of many big-name players returning from extended absences due to injuries.
The Indiana Pacers, who fell one win short of reaching the NBA Finals last year, will see the return of their star small forward Danny Granger, who only played in five games all of last year thanks in part to patellar tendinosis. Granger, 30, initially suffered the injury during the 2012 playoffs and aggravated it in the start of the 2012-2013 season. He looks to return and take the Pacers to the next level. In the past two post-seasons the Pacers have taken steps in the right direction, pushing the Miami Heat to the limit in both the 2012 semifinals and the 2013 Conference Finals only to fall short. The Pacers appear to be creeping up on Miami. The same could be said for another familiar Miami foe.
For the Chicago Bulls, last year was a statement year to say the least. The Bulls captured No. 5 seed in the playoffs, a first-round upset against the Brooklyn Nets, snapped the 27-game win streak of the Miami heat, and posted a 15-13 record against the top four seeds (Miami, New York, Indiana, Brooklyn). What makes last year a statement is that they accomplished all of these feats without their star point guard, Derrick Rose. Rose suffered a torn ACL in the first round of the 2012 playoffs and missed the entire 2012-2013 season to nurse the injury. This year he returns in full stride and looks to cause problems for the Heat.
Another team that reloaded during the offseason includes the Detroit Pistons, as they acquired Brandon Jennings from Milwaukee, signed the always-exciting Josh Smith and re-acquired Chauncey Billups, who won a NBA title with Detroit in 2004. These acquisitions, along with new head coach Maurice Cheeks, look to place Detroit in a good position to make an impact in the Eastern Conference.
A fun note regarding the Western Conference: with the exception of the 2012 Finals, the only teams to win the Western Conference since 1999 include the Lakers (seven times), the Spurs (five) and the Mavericks (two). That’s just to give an idea on how tough the Western Conference is, and in 2013 it should be no different. In recent years we’ve seen the emergence of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers as forces to be reckoned with, with the Thunder making the finals in 2012.
But then there comes the younger teams that begin to form identities and prove to be just as tough. Last year in the playoffs, the Memphis Grizzlies upset both the Clippers and Thunder in consecutive rounds to reach the Conference Finals against the San Antonio Spurs, where they were swept. They may look to make another post-season run, but that depends on whether or not they can also handle the Denver Nuggets and Golden State Warriors, who both have emerged into their own.
Don’t forget the Houston Rockets who enter the Dwight Howard-era, following his abysmal year in Laker-land. Howard joins a team that consists of Jeremy Lin, James Harden and Omir Asik, making this lineup look very respectable on the court. Some even go as far as to say they will establish a big-three similar to Miami, New York, Indiana and San Antonio.
But you essentially cannot mention the Western Conference without talking about the San Antonio Spurs or the Los Angeles Lakers, especially this year with the second coming of Kobe Bryant. Bryant is returning from a season-ending Achilles injury that slowed down the Lakers as they worked toward the postseason as an eight seed. There is no confirmation that Kobe will be ready for the Lakers’ season opener against the Clippers, yet one can only assume that he is going to return no less than what he used to be, with the rumors that this could be his final NBA season.
On the flip side, the San Antonio Spurs are still the team to topple in the West, following their tremendous run to the NBA Finals, where Tony Parker and company fell short to LeBron and the Heat. Parker, Duncan, Ginobli, and head coach Greg Popavich put together a solid season as they always do, and look to repeat their success and hopefully capture a NBA title in the process.
When it’s all said and done, can LeBron and the Heat be topped? The East isn’t as light as it was last year, with the returns of Granger and Rose, the revamping of Detroit and Brooklyn and even the fire that the Knicks and Boston both bring. The same could be said for the Spurs, however their path to the finals may not be as daunting as Miami’s.
With that said, there will be a new NBA Champion in my eyes, but it will be the familiar faces in San Antonio, and their opponent will be the upstarts in Indiana. The MVP will go to Carmelo Anthony, who is in an all-important contract year, while Derrick Rose will garner the comeback player of the year. In Brooklyn, head coach Jason Kidd will walk away with coach of the year honors while down in Orlando, Victor Oladipo will rise up as rookie of the year.
The NBA can be unpredictable, but one thing that is for certain: we are in for a special treat this season.