The Miami Heat are the 2012 NBA champions. So, who's next?
In a league where forward thinking is not only encouraged but is a way of life, there's hardly any time to digest the Heat's victory.
The second LeBron James hoisted the Larry O'Brien trophy above his head, 29 other teams consciously vowed to ensure that wouldn't be the case next June.
But while such chivalry is admirable, there are only a handful of teams that truly stand in the way of the Heat and a repeat.
After finishing the season with the worst winning percentage in NBA history, could it really get any worse for the Bobcats?
As it turns out, it did, as Charlotte got burned in the Anthony Davis sweepstakes.
While it's difficult to imagine the Bobcats faring any worse than they did this season, there's no denying their roster of misfit athletes has close to no chance of winning an NBA title next year.
Odds: 1,000 to 1
What Steve Nash did for the Suns this season is nothing short of incredible, but he will not be calling Phoenix his home come opening day.
Though the Suns have a number of other intriguing athletes on their roster, most of them—if not all—are merely products of Nash's abilities as a distributor and dribble penetrator.
Without Nash, this team is a sinking ship, so, consider it sunk.
Odds: 400 to 1
The Pistons showed spurts of competency this season, but with an underwhelming roster and very little cap space, their ability to make improvements is severely restricted.
Though Detroit will look to use the ninth overall pick in the draft to add a sizable difference maker, this team will, once again, only go as far as Greg Monroe can carry them.
And despite the big man's individual accolades, that won't be far at all.
Odds: 300 to 1
Despite a multitude of household names on the roster, the Kings are in rebuilding mode, if you could even call it that.
DeMarcus Cousins and Isaiah Thomas are studs, but the rest of the roster—including an inconsistent Tyreke Evans and overrated Marcus Thornton—is a wash.
Though Sacramento would like to think there's a light at the end of the tunnel for their Kings, such a concept remains but a dream.
Odds: 285 to 1
There is a lot to be said about the efficiency of Jose Calderon, the athleticism of DeMar DeRozan and the scoring abilities of Andrea Bargnani, but there is even more to be said about Toronto's shortcomings.
While the Raptors are comprised of a few talented pieces, there inability to improve the roster—courtesy of market appeal and cash constraints—puts them at a severe disadvantage.
Plenty is needed to be done to right this ship, and it's not going to happen over one offseason.
Odds: 285 to 1
The Wizards aren't headed for glory, but many tend to underestimate how effective a John Wall and Nene pick-and-roll tandem stands to be.
Washington was hardly worth watching this past season, but Wall continues to evolve as a scorer, distributor and defender, and Nene is the optimistic veteran presence this team craved all along.
That said, with little to no financial leeway the Wizards will, once again, find themselves relying on a slew of marginal role players more than any team should.
Odds: 275 to 1
Anthony Davis will not only serve as a pillar of hope for the Hornets when they draft him, but also a source of appeal.
Suddenly re-signing with New Orleans won't scare Eric Gordon, giving the Hornets a real chance at being home to a formidable duo.
However, it takes more than two pieces to win a title, especially when those two pieces remain prospective and unproven.
Odds: 250 to 1
Kyrie Irving has been everything Cleveland needed him to be and more, but the same cannot be said of the rest of the roster.
Though the Cavaliers stand to significantly improve through the draft and ever so slightly via free agency, they are still an organization in flux.
Antawn Jamison's likely departure will leave a veteran sized hole that will be tough to fill while players like Luke Walton and Anderson Varajao will only stunt the team's offensive growth.
Help is on the way in the form of a prolific draft pick, yet it will be years before that help amounts to anything substantial.
Odds: 200 to 1
As captivating as Golden State's Big Three has the potential to be, there's simply too much guess work involved, specifically with regards to Andrew Bogut and Stephen Curry.
Currently, the Warriors' ability to leave a lasting imprint on the rest of the league hinges on the health of two injury-prone stars and an overused work horse.
And yet, should health and usage not become an issue, growing pains will, as first-year experiments aren't typically easy to watch when the athletes in question aren't named LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
Odds: 175 to 1
Some refuse to admit it, but Deron Williams isn't going anywhere, leaving the Nets free to assemble a definitive roster around their coveted pillar.
However, while Williams is talented enough to lead a championship-caliber team, Brooklyn will simply not be a championship-caliber team next season—there's just too many holes to plug between now and October.
With Williams aboard, the Nets' future is undeniably brighter, but for the time being, patience will remain a virtue.
Odds: 145 to 1
Brandon Jennings is maturing, and Monta Ellis and Ersan Ilyasova have rendered the Bucks exciting to watch again, but there is no championship ring in their immediate future.
Though Ellis and Jennings are an intriguing pair, their playing styles are nearly identical, which makes it nearly impossible for either party to establish a sense of continuity on the offensive end.
Thanks to a wildly inconsistent Eastern Conference, Milwaukee will be presented with an opportunity to contend for a playoff spot, but anything else—let alone a championship—is simply out of the question for this enigmatically assembled roster.
Odds: 125 to 1
The Jazz have one of the most unbalanced rosters in the NBA, which isn't doing them any favors in their pursuit for a championship.
Utah is absolutely stacked in the frontcourt, but lacks any kind of depth in the backcourt. And after Devin Harris' horrid 2011-12 campaign, uncertainty at the point guard position has never been more prevalent.
Despite clinching an improbable player berth this season, there's still too much work to be done to even consider the Jazz as legitimate title contenders.
Odds: 115 to 1
Though the Rockets nearly clinched a playoff berth this season, the 3-10 stretch they embarked on to close out the season was indicative of the team they truly are—unproven and submissive.
Not only are Kyle Lowry and Kevin Martin risks that extend far beyond the medical staff, but Goran Dragic's ceiling remains unmeasurable and their frontline is simply wasting away before our very eyes.
While what the Rockets accomplished this season cannot be discounted, they simply don't have the necessary pieces to contend for an NBA title right now.
Odds: 110 to 1
The Timberwolves once again finished among the NBA's basement teams this season, yet there's no telling what this team can accomplish with a healthy Ricky Rubio by Kevin Love's side.
That said, it's going to take more than Rubio's penchant for making his teammates look good for Minnesota to journey to the realm of title contention.
Without some added size and an additional outside shooter or two, the Timberwolves' chance at snagging next year's NBA title remains slim, even with Rubio.
Odds: 100 to 1
The Blazers became a fixture for disappointment this past season, as they watched their championship blueprint go up in flames.
While Portland stands to lose a multitude of free agents this offseason, it's difficult to imagine the team not using the available cap space and numerous lottery picks to fill out the roster with talented athletes who can help reverse the organization's current fortune.
However, there's certainly plenty to look forward to as the Blazers prepare for next season, just not a championship, as simply clinching a playoff spot is going to take all this team has.
Odds: 100 to 1
It's not going to get much better for the Sixers after an improbable playoff run that saw them nearly reach the Eastern Conference finals.
While there is plenty of talent to appreciate in Philadelphia, the team lacks the killer instinct necessary to compete with elite teams on a consistent basis.
And as we head into the offseason, the Sixers are faced with a wealth of franchise-altering questions, as both Spencer Hawes and Lou Williams are currently flight risks. Andre Iguodala's continuously uncertain status isn't helping this club, either.
It's all downhill from here.
Odds: 90 to 1
Dwight Howard or no Dwight Howard, the Magic simply aren't legitimate title contenders.
Orlando's roster has been pieced together—for the time being—with a self-centered superstar and a group of marginal role players who are expected to produce more than they're capable of.
That's hardly a recipe for a championship, but rather one that instills a sense of entrapment into the team's star player, and one that can ultimately lead to a head coach's ousting as well.
Don't expect the soap opera that has become the Magic to go anywhere anytime soon.
Odds: 75 to 1
You've got to love Dirk Nowitzki, but he can only carry the Mavericks on his own for so long.
Less than a year after winning the NBA championship, Dallas barely squeaked their way into the playoffs. And with both Jason Kidd and Jason Terry set to explore free agency, the Mavericks' dynamic stands to worsen.
While we can't go as far as to say that Nowitzki's title window has closed in Dallas, we can imply it, because that's the road the Mavericks are currently headed down.
Odds: 70 to 1
The Hawks make playoff appearances on a consistent basis, yet remain one of the most uninspiring teams in the NBA.
That said, while Atlanta seems doomed to ride the perpetual wave of mediocrity, it's saved by Al Horford, who missed almost the entire season with a torn pectoral muscle. Horford proved to be a valued commodity and injected life into a near lifeless lineup.
But while that's encouraging, the Hawks are going to need a lot more energy and more efficient production from its bench before they have a shot in hell at contending for a title.
Odds: 60 to 1
Without Derrick Rose, the Bulls are not necessarily a lottery team, but they're hardly a championship contender.
Though Chicago will find ways to win games with its current cast, the intangibles Rose brings to the hardwood are irreplaceable.
And try as hard as Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng or Joakim Noah may, they're simply not the game-changer that Rose is, leaving the Bulls with a best case scenario of a mid-level playoff seed and an early postseason exit.
Odds: 50 to 1
After a hellacious roller-coaster ride of a season, the Knicks have much to prove leading into next season.
New York can ride the Linsanity bandwagon all it wants, but neither Lin or his reputation will be able to bring the team a championship on their own.
For the Knicks to avoid a reoccurring batch of early postseason exits, Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire must find a way to co-exist. Yet even if they do, it will be at least a year before their chemistry reaches a championship level.
Odds: 50 to 1
The Nuggets' star-less dynamic is certainly an intriguing one to consider, but it's hardly a method that will win NBA titles.
When push comes to shove, a team needs that one player they can go to down the stretch who has enough confidence to take and respond to big shots. Denver doesn't have that.
Superstars aren't everything, and the Nuggets don't have to model their team after the Heat, but they do need a proven postseason performer who can transform them from a simple playoff fixture to an actual championship contender.
Odds: 40 to 1
Should the Celtics part ways with both Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett, keep your eyes on Rajon Rondo—he's the glue that holds Boston's entire team together.
Though losing Allen and/or Garnett would be a huge blow, the Celtics have the cap room necessary to fill the void they'll leave behind. More importantly, though, they have the point guard who can run an offense like clockwork.
There's a strong possibility Boston finds itself in tougher waters to navigate next season, yet as long as Rondo's orchestrating on either end of the ball, the Celtics can never be counted out.
Odds: 35 to 1
The Grizzlies are a heartbeat of consistency away from being considered indisputable title contenders.
Memphis has a great core in Tony Allen, Mike Conley, Marc Gasol, Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph, but cannot afford to let winnable games—or series' for that matter—slip away with any kind of frequency.
There's always a grace period when a new juggernaut is on the precipice of being formed, and for the Grizzlies, their grace period is officially up. It's time they began to strive for more, as they have the talent to contend for accolades much more substantial than a first or second round playoff exit.
Odds: 35 to 1
For the Clippers, their newfound sense of relevancy is both a blessing and a curse.
Blake Griffin and Chris Paul are quite the pairing, but they're both so consciously aware of what's at stake that they need to get out of their own heads.
Paul needs to become more aggressive attacking the rim, while Griffin needs to realize not every pass from Paul needs to be thrown directly toward the basket.
If these two can accept their roles as leaders, instead of as a sidekick to the other, the Clippers will surprise some people next season.
Clippers: 25 to 1
The Pacers are a mere one player away from wreaking absolute havoc on the rest of the NBA.
Indiana's failure to exploit Miami's weaknesses ultimately led to their postseason demise this season, but the foundation for greatness is there.
Darren Collison, Paul George, Danny Granger, Roy Hibbert, George Hill and David West are all exceptional talents, and if the Pacers can keep that core in tact while adding another piece to the puzzle, they're a team that will turn heads next year.
Odds: 20 to 1
Despite a second consecutive second-round exit and a slew of roster issues, you have to believe in the Lakers.
Both Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum are studs, and Pau Gasol remains a star in his own right. There is a clear need for a prolific point guard, but that search is already in the capable hands of Mitch Kupchak.
Los Angeles may be a team that lacks depth and a general direction, but that's only for the time being. After all, the Lakers front office is not one to sit around and twiddle thumbs.
One way or another, we'll be seeing a completely revamped roster next season, one that allows the Lakers to pick up from where they left off just two years ago.
Odds: 15 to 1
The Spurs have managed to get better with age, and that won't change heading into next season.
San Antonio is the poster-team for efficiency, and while there's room for an added youthful presence, the Spurs are in position to fill that need, allowing them to make at least one last run at a title.
If we've learned anything over the past two seasons, it's to never bet against Tim Duncan or Tony Parker, a philosophy that we would be foolish to turn our backs on now.
Odds: 8 to 1
Failing to capture an NBA championship is nothing to celebrate, but the Thunder must acknowledge they have a bright future ahead of them nonetheless.
While James Harden's and Serge Ibaka's contractual negotiations will pose a major concern next summer, Oklahoma City still has the opportunity to engage in at least one more season of unimpeded dominance.
And with exception to their finals bout against the Heat, that's exactly what the Thunder did all year long—dominate.
There are some major decisions that will soon need to be made on Oklahoma City's behalf, but regardless of how bumpy the road ahead is, a team with two superstars like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook is never out of the running.
Odds: 4 to 1
Now that LeBron James has his first taste of a championship, it's more than frightening to consider how many more helpings he'll be coming back for.
For Miami, half of the future battle was getting that first ring in the Big Three era, and now that they have it, winning championships stand to become as routine as any other game for them.
Again, that's incredibly frightening.
To believe that the Heat will stop it at one is misguided, because now that they have one, think of how many veteran free agents will flock their way willing to take a pay cut in order for a shot at one themselves.
The Big Three proclaimed they were prepared to bring multiple championships to South Beach when they first joined the Heat. And from where we're now standing, there's no evidence to believe otherwise.
Odds: 3 to 1