With the 2011-12 season officially in the books, NBA fans across the world have entered the worst area of the basketball calendar: summer.
With no NBA games and the business aspect coming into play, it's difficult to find enjoyment at this point of the year. Nevertheless, a season will be played in 2013 and a champion will be crowned. While rosters could change and injuries could occur, the only logical thing to do at this point is look forward as we predict what just may be.
Then again, when does logic ever apply to the happenings of the NBA?
The Miami Heat will enter the 2013 regular season with a heightened sense of expectation. After finishing the 2012 season with an NBA championship, anything short of a second trophy would be considered underwhelming.
Don't think Miami is unaware of such a fact. It's preparing for a repeat.
Whether they succeed in signing Ray Allen or not, the Heat are the favorites to repeat. LeBron James is expected to be in hot pursuit of a second title, while key players Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Mike Miller should be of better health during the 2013 season. With a fully healthy roster and an on-his-game LeBron James, the Heat may be unbeatable.
At least during the regular season, they won't be an easy task to handle.
Projected Record: 63-19
With a coach who will stand behind him, Carmelo Anthony is poised for a career year in New York.
Prior to running into the Miami Heat in the first round of the 2012 NBA postseason, the New York Knicks were the hottest team in basketball. Carmelo Anthony had found his groove, the Knicks were playing the best defense the franchise has seen in over a decade and Mike Woodson was bringing the best out of each player.
The result? A turnaround from 18-24 to 36-30, as the Knicks closed out the season on an 18-6 run.
In 2013, the new era Knicks will have their first offseason together. Carmelo Anthony will become the focal point of the offense while the rest of them learn to play their role properly. This will lead to a greater flow on O, a major improvement from the consistent isolation schemes the Knicks ran in 2012.
Expect the Knicks to shock the league early and often. Any combination of Carmelo Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler should be elite, and in 2013, they'll finally play like it. Should Jeremy Lin re-sign, he too will have his first full offseason under his belt as the Knicks join the ranks of the Eastern Conference elite.
Projected Record: 52-30
Will 2013 be the year Paul George makes "the leap?"
Roy Hibbert has wasted no time in making his mark on free agency. As a result, questions about the Pacers' ability to duplicate their 2012 success are understandable and deserved. With a firm prediction that the former Georgetown Hoya will in fact re-sign with the Pacers, however, it becomes clear that the worrying is unnecessary.
The hurdle for the Pacers in 2013 will be finding offense. Despite allowing just 94.4 points per game, good for 10th in the NBA, the Pacers' scoring differential was just 3.3. While that ranked seventh in the NBA, it's unlikely to improve should Frank Vogel run the type of offense was seen against the Miami Heat.
The Pacers must continue to dump it down low and create offense from the inside out. In all likelihood, the Pacers will opt to go from the outside in, though, and see a slight dropoff in terms of win percentage.
With Paul George and Danny Granger on the roster, expect big things at some point in the season. Just don't expect a fast-paced beginning.
Projected Record: 49-33
With a healthy Al Horford, the Atlanta Hawks will return to their regular season dominance.
The Atlanta Hawks have long been one of the NBA's elite regular season teams. They've finished in the Top 5 of the Eastern Conference in each of the past four seasons, posting at least 44 wins in all but one of those years, the 2012 season which was shortened by the lockout.
In 2013, the Hawks are likely to continue the pace and return to form.
Al Horford's absence left many in Atlanta wondering how they'd be able to survive. With Josh Smith's two-way attack and Joe Johnson finding his touch towards the season's end, Atlanta was able to make a decent run towards the playoffs.
To advance, however, a team must have depth and good health. The Hawks had neither of that. This is the likely reason for their desire to trade nine-figure shooting guard Joe Johnson to the Brooklyn Nets.
A move that could finally take the Hawks past the conference semis.
Projected Record: 47-35
Losing Derrick Rose for half of the season will be tough. His return will be tougher.
Recovering from your star player's absence would be difficult for any team. When you consider that it's the Tom Thibodeau-led Chicago Bulls, however, Derrick Rose's absence simply appears to be a bump in the road for the Eastern Conference's greatest regular season unit.
While the Bulls' status as the best in the East will take a short hiatus, they will remain in contention as they await their superstar's arrival. This will open the door for the Bulls to finish with a respectable record and position in the postseason hunt, thus causing many in Chicago to beg the question: Is this the year that Derrick Rose and the Bulls win their first NBA title?
While that question will be answered at a later date, the Bulls will work their way into the postseason and do some serious damage upon arrival.
Projected Record: 46-36
2013 will see Rajon Rondo like we've never seen him before.
Rajon Rondo will take over the reins in 2013, becoming a more aggressive scorer while maintaining the same old pass-first approach. This will lead to the former Kentucky Wildcat's highest point total of his career and recognition that many Celtics fans feel he should have already received.
As Rondo emerges as an MVP candidate, the Celtics will find fluctuating success. The offseason will treat them well as they rest and develop a greater chemistry entering the 2013 season, while the postseason will offer hope of another championship banner being raised. While Boston is set to ultimately fall short in a deeper than normal Eastern Conference, the possibility cannot be counted out.
After all, when Kevin Garnett has his back against the wall, is there anything to expect but for him to come out swinging?
Projected Record: 45-37
Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis will have their first offseason together to develop into a legitimate force out of the back court. Rookie John Henson will have entered the best possible situation, as his shot-blocking prowess becomes a necessity for a weak defensively but incredibly athletic Bucks team.
With a three-headed monster hopeful to be complemented by free agent Ersan Ilyasova, the Bucks may be on their way to their first winning season since 2010. In turn, the Bucks are poised to hit the postseason with a full head of steam as they offer all the offense an opponent could handle.
But will it be enough?
Projected Record: 42-40
For how long Andre Iguodala and Jrue Holiday be teammates?
Doug Collins' crew had quite the up-and-down season in 2012, going from the clear favorites in the Atlantic Division to the victims of a late-season collapse. Their regular season woes were followed by a major break, as Derrick Rose went down with a season-ending knee injury in Game 1 of their series.
A game the 76ers had lost rather convincingly.
The 76ers went on to win their series with the Bulls and push the heavily-favored Boston Celtics to seven games. While they'd end up losing to Rajon Rondo and company, they'd prove one thing: The 76ers are the most inconsistently brilliant team in the NBA.
With young pieces all around, the Sixers will progress in a positive manner. Jrue Holiday will become a much better point guard, while Evan Turner will continue his development into a true star in this league. Unfortunately, Philadelphia could be without both Lou Williams and Spencer Hawes.
Those losses drop the Sixers into familiar territory: solid mediocrity.
Projected Record: 41-41
The Oklahoma City Thunder may have the greatest home court advantage in professional sports.
No team in basketball has a home-court advantage quite like the Oklahoma City Thunder. From their sea of white and blue T-Shirts to the deafening noise the crowd makes at every twist and turn, it's hard enough to watch the team play at home on television.
Imagine actually playing against them in the arena that as re-defined the term "hostile environment."
Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant have provided the highlight plays to fire this crowd up. James Harden is the reigning Sixth Man of the Year who has much to prove after a disappointing NBA Finals performance. Serge Ibaka, meanwhile, is the league-leader in blocks per game and a member of the NBA's first team All-Defense.
With the addition of rookie Perry Jones III, who offers the Thunder their greatest need of an interior scorer, this team appears to be unbeatable. During the regular season at home, they just might be.
Projected Record: 62-20
San Antonio's Big Three no longer have a big window of opportunity.
The San Antonio Spurs are one year older and another year wiser. This will lead to a combination of both concerning and encouraging signs, with Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili taking over as the faces of the franchise and Tim Duncan receiving the lowest amount of playing time in his career.
As if that will stop the Spurs from winning games.
Parker and Ginobili proved during the regular and postseason that they still have enough in the tank to be considered elite. Manu tore into the Oklahoma City Thunder on quite a few occasions, reminding James Harden who the best Sixth Man in the NBA truly is.
Parker, meanwhile, helped force Chris Paul into shooting 36.8 percent from the floor during the Western Conference Semifinals. Paul also averaged 4.5 turnovers and never made more than five shots in one game until Game 4.
The Spurs still have it. Just how far can they take it?
Projected Record: 57-25
It seems as if the Grizzlies have never been collectively healthy. Will 2013 offer a reversal of fortunes?
The Memphis Grizzlies have one of the talented rosters in the NBA. From promising star Rudy Gay to an elite front court of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, the necessary pieces are there for the Grizzlies to win big. Include Tony Allen, the best perimeter defender in the game, and emerging point guard Mike Conley, Jr. and you've got yourself a playoff run.
The Memphis Grizzlies won't have it easy, as they first host the Denver Nuggets and then face a potential matchup with the Oklahoma City Thunder. With the talent and depth of their team, however, anything is possible.
Expect Lionel Hollins' team to make some noise as they move up the food chain in the Western Conference. While the odds are stacked against them, ask yourself this: Do you really see a team like Memphis suffering consecutive first-round exits? It's hard to say yes to that question.
Projected Record: 55-27
Los Angeles' new dynamic duo will turn heads in 2013.
In 2012, the Los Angeles Clippers found their franchise savior, as Chris Paul led them to their first Western Conference Semifinals appearance since 2006. Considering the Clippers came together just weeks before the season began, offering very little playing time to acclimate themselves with one another's playing styles, it's rational to hold high expectations for 2013.
With players such as Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan set to make major strides in the development of their game, that's exactly what will occur.
Griffin will post his usual 20 and 10, while Jordan will continue to build on a season in which he averaged 8.3 rebounds and 2.0 blocks in just 27.2 minutes of play. The key, of course, will be the man who orchestrates it all: Chris Paul.
With CP3 on the roster, this team is ready for the best season in franchise history.
Projected Record: 54-28
Will the Lakers' trio remain intact? If so, will they pull off the unthinkable?
At this point, Lakers Nation is more concerned with the potential movement of their star players than they are with the Lakers' record. As we focus on what truly matters, however, we realize that the games have to be played for the players to truly matter.
The Lakers will post a solid 53-win season and once again put themselves in position for a first round playoff win. Unfortunately, they're also in position to play the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference Semifinals.
Nevertheless, the season will show promise. Kobe Bryant will continue his hot scoring, and the Lakers will have brought in a point guard to run the show. Andrew Bynum will continue his development as an offensive force, while Pau Gasol will be on the move.
To the low block. More of the same in Los Angeles.
Projected Record: 53-29
Denver's young talent appear to have taken a major step towards putting it all together. How dangerous are the Nuggets?
The Denver Nuggets will take another step forward with the same young core that has made two consecutive playoff appearances. In 2012, however, the expectations will be high for a young core who is all set to hit their prime at the same point in time.
Whether or not that will come this season, however, is yet to be seen.
The Nuggets' transition offense is the best in the NBA. Denver led the league with 104.1 points per game as a result of its high-octane attack, led by point guard Ty Lawson and his crafty scoring and facilitating abilities.
Unfortunately, the Nuggets half-court offense is as dreadful as any. Until that area of their attack improves, they will remain a team on the rise, a rise that's taking it's time.
Projected Record: 47-35
Mo Williams is coming back to Utah! Will he push the Jazz to playoff success?
Mo Williams is one of those players that everyone knows about, but not everyone knows how good he is. In 2013, everyone will see what the NBA has been hiding from us.
Williams will do wonders for the Utah Jazz, stepping in as their best facilitator and three-point shooter. This will lead to the Jazz running a more efficient front court, as the floor will finally be spread and their low-post scorers will have room to work. After all, who is going to leave a guy like Mo Williams open on the perimeter?
As for Williams' ability to facilitate, this is a player who averaged 7.1 assists with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Considering the Jazz's front court is a pick-and-roll machine waiting to have the key turned in the ignition, while the Cavaliers were LeBron James machine waiting for a key to appear. Williams should have even greater success than that.
Utah got the point guard of their future and possesses the deepest front court in basketball. What more could you ask for?
Projected Records: 46-36
With a healthy Ricky Rubio, the Minnesota Timberwolves will make their first postseason appearance of the post-Garnett era.
It's been a long time coming.
The 2013 season will be forever remembered in the Twin Cities as the year the Minnesota Timberwolves finally got over the hump.
For the first time in the post-Garnett era, Minnesota will be playoff-bound. With head coach, and pure winner Rick Adelman at the helm, the team will be in its finest form yet. As Ricky Rubio returns to run point and Kevin Love takes another step towards superstardom, the T-Wolves will finally become a force in the West.
While we know who the stars will be, the breakout players will make the difference. Nikola Pekovic, who thrived with Rubio running point, will re-emerge as a viable frontcourt weapon on both ends. Derrick Williams will move in the right direction as well, while Wayne Ellington will emerge as a Most Improved Player of the Year candidate.
A promising year in Minnesota.
Projected Record: 44-38
ECF: Miami Heat over New York Knicks (4-2)
WCF: Memphis Grizzlies over Oklahoma City Thunder (4-3)
The 2013 NBA Finals will pair one team looking to pad their legacies and another looking to build. Those two teams will be the Miami Heat from the East and the Memphis Grizzlies out West.
Rudy Gay and the Grizzlies will be on a mission after last year's first-round exit at the hands of the Los Angeles Clippers. Their full roster healthy for the first time in this group's young history, the dominant front court of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol will lift Memphis through the postseason. A coming out party for Rudy Gay and Mike Conley, Jr. will help as well, with Tony Allen playing his usual smothering defense.
As for the Heat, we know what to expect. LeBron James is the best player in the world, while Dwyane Wade remains a Top 5 player in the league. Chris Bosh also seems to have discovered a fitting role for himself, as he focuses more on the defensive end and scoring around the basket than the long jump shots that inconsistently fall.
As for who will emerge victorious, the games will be much closer than one might expect. At the end of the day, a count of 4-2 will decide the series.
Result: Miami Heat 4 - 2 Memphis Grizzlies