NBA Power Rankings: Post-Summer League Edition
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Summer league is over. The NBA's best are playing in the Olympics, while the NBA's worst—well, many of them—just finished summer camp (er, league).
The league has witnessed a flurry of trades and free-agent signings. The draft is over. Heck, even Dwight Howard has finally found a home (I'm joking).
Nonetheless, this seems like as good a time as any to power rank the NBA teams, all 30 of them. This is of course merely a snapshot, taken in late July, of a league that will look dramatically different when the very first game of the 2012-2013 season tips-off.
No preseason games have been played, no official stats have been recorded and no one really knows what will happen next year, but it is fun to make a few predictions.
Where is your favorite team ranked? Where is Dwight Howard heading, and remember when Jeremy Lin was on the Knicks?
What a summer!
No. 30: Houston Rockets
Jeremy Lin and a collection of rookies, will make for a rough 2012-2013.
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The Houston Rockets had one of the league's more interesting offseasons.
Leading up the NBA draft, the team made two trades to acquire additional first round picks, and also move up in the draft order.
The Rockets seemed ready to make a mega-deal for Dwight Howard when they amnestied talented power forward Luis Scola, but no deal ever was finalized for Howard.
Houston also made on of the most highly publicized free-agent signings in recent memory, when they successfully outbid the New York Knicks to acquire the services of Jeremy Lin.
Lin is joining a Rockets team that has been almost completely gutted of its established, veteran NBA talent.
The team is now primarily comprised of very young players. There are no players older than 30 on the entire roster.
Houston seems headed for a very rough season. They might not be the least talented team in the league, but the time it will logically take to get all the new players playing on the same page as a unit could cost the Rockets any chance at respectability.
It's going to be a tough season in Houston, but the team may have a very bright future.
No. 29: Charlotte Bobcats
Charlotte missed out on consensus No. 1 pick Anthony Davis, and selected Michael Kidd-Gilchrist instead.
The Charlotte Bobcats are coming off a historically bad 2011-2012 season. They finished with a record of 7-59 and are still on a 23-game losing streak.
The losing continued on NBA draft lottery night. The Bobcats were the favorites to win the lottery and with it the top pick, Anthony Davis of Kentucky.
Instead the Bobcats lost out on the top pick and ended up with the second selection. That allowed Charlotte to take Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, a player with a lower ceiling than Anthony Davis, but one with plenty of NBA skills nonetheless.
In short, the Bobcats will be better. They'll still be near the bottom of the standings,but they won't be a whole level below the rest of the league. They will win more games and keep their losses closer (last season Charlotte was outscored by a league leading 13.9 points per game).
They're still one of the league's weakest teams, but they've bottomed out and will improve next season.
No. 28: Toronto Raptors
Toronto acquired Kyle Lowry in a trade with Houston.
Toronto had an interesting offseason. They acquired Kyle Lowry from the Houston Rockets but still have Jose Calderon on the team. That situation could change between now and the first NBA game next season, or Toronto could choose to make Calderon a backup to Lowry and see how that works out.
The Raptors selected Terrence Ross, a shooting guard with the No. 8 pick in the 2012 NBA Draft. Ross will be used prominently next season. They also signed Landry Fields away from the New York Knicks.
Most importantly. Toronto will welcome its first round pick from the 2011 NBA draft onto the roster.
Jonas Valanciunas was selected fifth overall last year and was signed to a contract on July 18. The 7'0" tall power forward is expected to contribute rather quickly.
Toronto is a talented, young team that hasn't played together as unit before. That will cost them in the standings this season, especially in an increasingly competitive Atlantic Division in which four of the five teams have legitimate shots at playoff berths.
The Raptors are banking on this year paying dividends down the road.
No. 27: Cleveland Cavaliers
Can Kyrie Irving lead Cleveland back to the playoffs? Not this year.
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The Cleveland Cavaliers scored what appears to be a great future point guard in the 2011 NBA draft.
Kyrie Irving was impressive last season. He took home the NBA Rookie of the Year award. Now all Cleveland has to do is find the right players for him to pass the ball to.
That's easier said than done, of course.
The Cavaliers lost their leading scorer from last season, Antawn Jamison, who inked a free-agent deal with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Cleveland has added talent, but it is young and unproven talent. Tyler Zeller and Dion Waiters, the team's first-round draft picks, both have the potential to become very good NBA players.
Cleveland is like many other young teams in the NBA. They have many new parts, some of whom will pan out into solid or even better NBA players. They won't all work out, though. In the meantime, the team and their fans will be forced to wait and endure some rough seasons.
No. 26: Phoenix Suns
Goran Dragic will attempt to replace Steve Nash.
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The Phoenix Suns team that takes the floor to start the 2012-2013 season will be one that is almost completely remade since the 2011-2012 season concluded.
Steve Nash is gone. Goran Dragic is the point guard.
Other new faces include Luis Scola, Shannon Brown, Michael Beasley and the Suns' first-round draft pick, Kendall Marshall.
They will join a team that has a pretty slim returning cast. Jarred Dudley, Marcin Gortat, Channing Frye, and 2011 first-round pick Markieff Morris make up the bulk of the returning roster.
It's a lot of new pieces, being blended with a few good, but not great returning ones. Dragic has put up solid numbers, but he's never been handed a starting role from the start of the season before.
Beasley is a player with lots of potential, but he has yet to figure out how best to utilize it in the NBA. The Suns lack much in the way of athleticism at either power forward or center.
It's going to be a tough season in Phoenix.
No. 25 New Orleans Hornets
Anthony Davis' Olympic endeavors could cause fatigue for the rookie next season.
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The New Orleans Hornets added the consensus No. 1 pick. That would be Anthony Davis, out of Kentucky.
Davis will end up as a star in this league. His impact on defense will be felt immediately. Davis himself may feel something else impact him once the NBA season gets underway.
Davis has leaped from high school, to college, where his team played a brutal schedule which culminated in a NCAA championship.
After that it was off to the NBA draft and all the associated hoopla.
From there, Davis went from being someone who would be able to enjoy observing the 2012 USA Basketball Team's march toward a gold medal, to an actual part of it, when Blake Griffin went down with an injury.
Davis will return from the Olympics and will have only a little time to relax before rookie camp, preseason and, of course, actual NBA games.
Don't be shocked to see Davis deal with some fatigue, muscle pulls or nagging injuries. Even if he doesn't deal with those, he's still joining a team that has added talent, but is for the most part fairly new.
The Hornets have lost Chris Kaman, Emeka Okafor and Jarrett Jack.
Can Greivis Vasquez run the point guard position full time? Can a now thin frontcourt be effective? Yes, Ryan Anderson will help, but he's more of a three-point shooter than a physical low-post presence.
The Hornets will have a healthy Eric Gordon, but he may have burned some bridges when he signed an offer sheet with Phoenix.
Overall, New Orleans has added some major pieces, but they've also lost some important players as well. With Davis almost certain to endure a rocky rookie season, especially on offense and on the glass, the Hornets will have to wait until 2013-14 to really reap the benefits of their top draft pick.
No. 24: Sacramento Kings
Expect a big year from DeMarcus Cousins.
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There's good news for Kings fans: drafting Thomas Robinson, another year of added maturity for DeMarcus Cousins, the emergence of Isaiah Thomas as a viable point guard.
Then there's the not-so-good news.
Tyreke Evans is still on the team, and he still doesn't seem thrilled about his role or potential position on it.
The team lacks a true center. Cousins and first-round draft pick Thomas Robinson are both more suited for power forward.
Cousins could slide to the center position, but defensively speaking, the Kings lack much in the way of shot-blocking.
Sacramento has talent, but they don't have the right mix of it, not yet.
No. 23: Portland Trailblazers
Portland spent big bucks to retain Nicolas Batum.
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The Portland Trail Blazers are coming off a really rough 2011-12 season.
They fired their head coach Nate McMillan in March, and they finally cut ties with former top draft pick Greg Oden, who has never been able to stay healthy.
The offseason finally brought about some good news.
Portland retained athletic small forward Nicolas Batum, who had signed a free-agent offer sheet with Minnesota.
They also drafted two promising young players in the first round of the 2012 NBA draft. The problem is that the Blazers are going to need that promise to be realized quickly if they hope to have a non-lottery 2012-13 NBA season.
Don't count on it.
Meyers Leonard and Damian Lillard are both very talented, but Leonard is not going to step in and become a solid NBA center from day one, and Lillard, who will eventually be the team's starting point guard, will go through going pains as well.
Point guard is the deepest position in the league. The talent level is very high, and Lillard looks like he may end up getting a rude introduction to the rigors of the NBA.
No. 22: Orlando Magic
Dwight Howard? Yep, he's still on the team.
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If you're one of the rare people who actually enjoys the non-stop Dwight Howard trade rumors, then there's good news.
As of now, they're unresolved.
That's not good news for Magic fans, though.
Howard appears to be staying in Orlando, for now.
That throws the Magic right back into another potentially lost season while they attempt to rectify a circumstance that in reality has plenty of blame to go around on all sides.
The Magic's future is neither dim, nor is it bright. It's just muddled.
The roster is not terrible; it's not all that different from the one that lost in the first round of last year's playoffs. The big loss is free agent power forward Ryan Anderson, who signed with New Orleans.
Orlando drafted two skilled big men and retained free agent point guard Jameer Nelson.
There is just too much uncertainty surrounding Orlando as of now. They don't even have a head coach. That will all change by the time the season starts. Who knows? Maybe Howard will actually get traded. Once that happens, Magic fans will have a much better idea of what to expect next season, and beyond.
No. 21: Washington Wizards
Kevin Seraphin will have the Wizards climbing the standings.
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There is a lot to like about the Washington Wizards moves this offseason, starting with a trade the team made with New Orleans, which allowed them to rid themselves of Rashard Lewis and his massive contract.
That deal didn't just rid the team of Lewis, it also brought Washington Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza. Adding those two players into a frontcourt that already has Nene and Kevin Seraphin creates depth and adds some defense to a team that needs it badly
Then came the NBA draft. The Wizards got exactly what they wanted there as well, nabbing the top shooting guard in the draft, Bradley Beal.
Add Beal to the new frontcourt, and all of a sudden former No. 1 pick, point guard John Wall, could be staring at a whole slew assists.
The Washington Wizards could be pretty good. The one thing that could easily prevent that is injuries.
Injuries are something that both Emeka Okafor and Nene are very familiar with. Both have battled them on and off, at times missing chunks of time, or just random games here and there.
Washington appears to finally have assembled a roster that could get to the postseason. There's probably not enough depth to get them there this year, but they'll make it interesting.
No. 20: Milwaukee Bucks
Milwaukee is a team with a bunch of questions, and not enough answers.
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The Bucks have only one player on their team with the ability to consistently create his own shot. His name is Monta Ellis, and he's not much for defense, nor is he signed to a long-term contract.
Ellis is a free agent following next season, which certainly could play a role on how this coming season plays out in Milwaukee.
The Bucks, who traded center Andrew Bogut for Ellis last season, were lacking interior defense in wake of that deal.
Drafting North Carolina big man John Henson will help, but not immediately. Samuel Dalembert was acquired in a trade with the Houston Rockets, but Dalembert is not any sort of long-term solution.
Ultimately, the Bucks are going to need some sort of plan. The current roster features a backcourt that doesn't shoot the ball well and a frontcourt that lacks much in the way of scoring as well.
The one real bright spot was that the Bucks were able to re-sign Ersan Ilyasova. Ilyasova is a very good all-around basketball player, and his presence insures that the Bucks won't be terrible, but he won't be enough. Milwaukee will have to add more talent to the mix, and as of now, they haven't done it.
No. 19: Utah Jazz
Al Jefferson is tough player, but he won't be able to get the Jazz back to the playoffs next year.
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The Jazz barely made the playoffs last season. Once they got there they were quickly and efficiently bounced out of them by the San Antonio Spurs.
The odds are the Jazz won't be back in that situation this season.
Utah didn't have any draft picks, and they dealt point guard Devin Harris to the Hawks in exchange for Marvin Williams.
Replacing Harris at point will be Mo Williams, who was last seen as backup point guard for the Los Angeles Clippers. Williams was acquired as part of a four-team trade.
Can the 31-year-old Williams take over as a starting point guard? More importantly, how good will he be? The Jazz aren't exactly teaming with great options for a point guard of any skill level to pass the ball to.
Al Jefferson is a force down low, but the team has yet to see former top draft picks, such as Derrick Favors or Enes Kanter, become the go-to options one might expect of top-five picks.
Marvin Williams is another top pick who has been in the league for a while without emerging as anything more than an inconsistent player.
The Jazz just don't have the horses to keep up in the NBA right now.
No. 18: Minnesota Timberwolves
If Ricky Rubio is healthy, the league could be in for a very different Timberwolves team.
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When the Timberwolves lost Ricky Rubio to a torn ACL last March, it not only impacted last season, but its far reaching effects could easily extend into the upcoming one as well.
Rubio will return, but it will take time for him to become the player he was when he went down.
In the meantime, the Timberwolves will have to make do without, and that has proven to be difficult.
It is not often that a team that missed the playoffs doesn't make at least a few major moves.
The Timberwolves' one big move was dealing their pick in the first round of the 2012 NBA draft to the Rockets, in exchange for Chase Budinger.
Budinger will help by providing Minnesota with an consistent outside shooting threat not named Kevin Love.
Love, one of the best all-around players in the league, is not only the best rebounder in the NBA, but he's one of its better three-point shooters.
Of course, sending your best rebounder out to the three-point line comes with its own set of potentially negative consequences. Adding Budinger will hopefully allow Love even more time under the rim, where he's at his most lethal.
The rest of the team is solid, but there's not enough talent, even once Rubio is back and at full force for this team to make the playoffs.
They're still one or two players away, so unless Derrick Williams becomes a star next season, the team will have to wait a little longer for playoff basketball.
No. 17: Detroit Pistons
Don't expect much of a slow down from Greg Monroe.
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The Pistons are in a group of teams that could make the playoffs, or just narrowly miss them. What is holding Detroit back from postseason play?
The Pistons were 27th in the NBA in points per game last season. The team has not been able to acquire anyone who stands out as a sure-fire path to improved scoring.
Yes,second-round draft pick Kim English could eventually develop into a scorer. Corey Maggette was acquired in exchange for Ben Gordon. Maggette can score,but he's not going to alter the team's offense dramatically.
The Pistons made an intriguing first-round draft selection when they chose Andre Drummond.
Drummond has lost of upside, but he's very raw. He could have a more immediate impact on defense than on offense, but he's far from an instant fix.
The Pistons will continue to count on Greg Monroe, who nearly averaged a double-double last season. Detroit is hoping 2011 first-round pick Brandon Knight will improve as well.
Barring dramatic improvement, it won't be enough to get Detroit to the postseason.
No. 16: Golden State Warriors
Can Stephen Curry stay healthy for a whole season? Probably not.
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Close. The Warriors are very close, but are they ready to make the playoffs?
If one were to look at the projected Warriors starting five (Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, David Lee and Andrew Bogut), there would be legitimate reason to think that the Warriors are postseason bound.
It just might happen.There are plenty of potential health concerns when it comes to the Warriors, but they've got a coach in Mark Jackson who seems to have instilled some real enthusiasm. Add in a newfound focus on defense, and the Warriors could surprise some people.
Acquiring point guard Jarrett Jack from New Orleans will help make any missed games by point guard Stephon Curry not quite as tough to deal with.
Then there's first-round pick Harrison Barnes, a talented small forward who is joining a team that just happens to have a need at that position.
Mark Jackson has the Warriors headed in the right direction. Will this be the year that it starts to come together?
No. 15: Dallas Mavericks
Chris Kaman will attempt to fill the void at center that has existed since Tyson Chandler departed.
Chris Graythen/Getty Images
The Dallas Mavericks and their owner Mark Cuban basically had to do something they're not used to this offseason.
They had to settle.
The Mavericks were a serious contender for point guard Deron Williams, but he chose to move to Brooklyn, with the Nets.
Then Dallas had some temporary designs on acquiring Dwight Howard, which didn't work out either.
So instead of grabbing the high-profile, big names, Dallas instead grabbed some less well-known quantities.
The Mavericks got Elton Brand off the amnesty scrap heap, courtesy of Philadelphia. They got a new point guard, Derren Collison, in a trade with Indiana, to replace departed veterans Jason Terry and Jason Kidd.
Dallas signed free-agent shooting guard O.J.Mayo.
Chris Kaman agreed to a one-year contract to play center.
All of this settling might end up producing some interesting results. The Mavericks still have one of the league's best scorers in Dirk Nowitzki and one of its best defenders in Shawn Marion.
These moves won't put Dallas in position to win another NBA title, but it should get them back to the postseason.
No. 14: Philadelphia 76ers
The 76ers new center is Kwame Brown.
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
The 76ers made a number of changes, but in the end, the results may end up quite similar.
The team got a little better on offense, adding Nick Young and Dorell Wright.
They lost Elton Brand and Lou Williams and then signed Kwame Brown to replace Brand at center.
Add it all up, and the 76ers appear to be a team almost running in place. They get better in some areas but take hits in others.
Add in that the Atlantic Division promises to be one of the league's more competitive divisions in basketball, and Philadelphia is in a rut. It's not terrible since that "rut" involves postseason play, but it could be better.
No. 13: Denver Nuggets
JaVale McGee will have an impact on the Nuggets next season.
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The Denver Nuggets have a lot of very good basketball players. If they had one great one, they might be able to really make noise out west.
At point guard they've got not one, but two good ones, in Ty Lawson and Andre Miller.
Danilo Gallinari is a forward who can score. Arron Afflalo is another player who can score in bunches.
Add in JaVale McGee, a super athletic seven-foot center who has yet to fully realize his fairly high potential, and the Nuggets are a team that can beat almost anyone on any given night.
The question is, how often they can get enough of their talented players to play to their lofty potential?
Denver has talent, depth and athleticism. They just don't have that one go-to player who can always get his shot in a tough spot.
No. 12: Atlanta Hawks
Al Horford and the Hawks are entering a year of transition.
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This has been an offseason of the unexpected for Atlanta.
Count me among those that were convinced that the Hawks were never going to be able to rid themselves of the Joe Johnson contract.
Clearly I was wrong.
The Hawks ended up dealing Joe Johnson to the Brooklyn Nets.
Atlanta is now under the guidance of new G.M. Danny Ferry, who used the cap room freed up by the Johnson deal to add Lou Williams and Devin Harris to the roster.
The Hawks have a major decision to make regarding Josh Smith, the star is slated for free agency following next season. Atlanta has to decide to either trade their young star, or attempt to sign him.
That decision could impact the Hawks as well as other teams around the league.
No matter what direction Ferry and the Hawks head in, this is a talented team. Al Horford is a legit force in the low post, Lou Williams and Devin Harris could be a high scoring backcourt duo and, of course, Smith is a fantastic talent.
No. 11: Chicago Bulls
Luol Deng is going to have to step-up if the Bulls hope to continue their regular season dominance.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
The Chicago Bulls are in a tough spot.
Two seasons in a row, the Bulls have finished with the best record in the Eastern Conference. Two seasons in a row have ended in disappointment. This past season's ending was due in large part to an injury that will have implications well beyond the 2012 NBA playoffs.
Derrick Rose, the MVP of the 2010-2011 NBA season and one of the league's brightest young stars, suffered a devastating knee injury towards the end of the very first playoff game of the 2012 playoffs.
Rose's knee injury will cause him to miss a portion of next season. How much is up for debate.
Initial reports suggested eight-to-12 months, though recent reports suggest he's ahead of schedule.
Either way, Rose missing time will prevent Chicago from repeating as the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference for the third straight season.
The Bulls, to their credit, have not panicked in the wake of Rose's injury.
They've basically maintained the same core they've had with Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng buffering Rose to form four-fifths of a potent starting five.
The Bulls did sign free agent Kirk Hinrich. Hinrich has played in Chicago before and should be a welcome addition.
It appears that Chicago will wait out Rose's injury and hope he returns as the same elite point guard that won MVP in 2010-2011. That will ultimately cost them some regular-season success, but if it yields postseason success, that's a trade-off Chicago would gladly take.
No. 10: New York Knicks
Carmelo hopes to win gold this summer, and then strike gold with the Knicks next season.
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The summer of 2012 has been "Linsane" for the New York Knicks.
The bulk of the news has centered around Jeremy Lin and his free agency. That's all over now. Lin and Landry Fields are out; Jason Kidd and Raymond Felton are in.
The Knicks of 2012-13 are built to win, and win now.
They also added Marcus Camby to back up Tyson Chandler.
New York will rely heavily on the defense that Mike Woodson preaches, and the scoring of Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire.
Add to that mix reliable ball-handling from Kidd and Felton and three-point shooting from Steve Novak and J.R. Smith.
The Knicks will be better than they were last year, though they're also going to be operating in a tougher Atlantic Division. New York will be good, better than they've been in quite some time, but Knicks fans hoping for a parade and a banner will need to wait a little longer.
No. 9: Memphis Grizzlies
Rudy Gay and the Grizzlies are searching for consistency.
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
The Memphis Grizzlies have plenty of talent, but they lack a few key parts, and it seems like those needs have not been addressed this offseason.
The team had no interest in retaining free-agent shooting guard O.J. Mayo, and so he left for Dallas.
"Shooting" is a big part of the problem in Memphis. The Grizzlies have guys who can excel in the open court, such as Rudy Gay and Mike Conley, and some great low-post players like Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol.
They lack that one guy who can knock down enough open long-range jumpers to force defenses to extend towards the perimeter. That proved to be one of Memphis' critical deficiencies in their first-round playoff loss to the Clippers.
Perhaps Tony Wroten, a lanky point guard that Memphis drafted late in the first round, can develop into a reliable long-range shooter, but as of now, Memphis finds itself with the same problems it had last season.
No. 8: Brooklyn Nets
Deron Williams leads the new-look Brooklyn Nets into their inaugural season.
Chris Chambers/Getty Images
New logos, new players, new location and best of all? Postseason play.
The Brooklyn Nets didn't make enough moves to write a fairly tale and win a ring, but they got enough accomplished to make the playoffs. They might even end up with a better record than their new inner-city rivals, the New York Knicks.
What exactly did Brooklyn accomplish this offseason?
The Nets are all of a sudden a pretty good team. They're not a finished product yet, but the current roster is a huge improvement.
The team needs to play defense and learn to play with one another. Lopez missed almost all of last season. Wallace didn't join the team until mid-March, and Johnson and Teletovic are totally new additions.
The Brooklyn Nets appear quite serious about making a run at bringing a title to Brooklyn. It might be a bit much to expect next season, but they appear off to a good start.
No. 7: Indiana Pacers
Indiana made a nice run in the playoffs, can they improve even more next season?
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
The Indiana Pacers provided those NBA fans who enjoy hating the Miami Heat with a brief period of euphoria last May. It was after the Pacers had beaten Miami in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals to take a 2-1 series lead.
That euphoria was short-lived as Miami ran off three emphatic victories and sent the Pacers home for the summer, while the Heat continued their march towards an NBA title.
Those three wins also exposed some serious flaws on the Indiana Pacers.
The flaws are serious in that they will probably prevent the Pacers from winning a title. They'll still be a highly competitive team, with lots of talent, but they may lack enough to get over that last hump.
There is a lack of low-post scoring.
Roy Hibbert is without question a very good center, but he's not much of a force on offense, and David West does not seem like he has enough scoring ability to make up for Hibbert's weaknesses.
The offensive futility actually exists throughout the roster. Danny Granger, Paul George, George Hill: All are very good players, but none are consistent threats to take over a game on offense.
Indiana drafted Miles Plumlee and Orlando Johnson. Perhaps Johnson will surprise as the rare second-round pick who contributes in his first season, but all the weaknesses that Indiana had in that playoff series last May still exist, and that's not a formula for major improvement.
No. 6: San Antonio Spurs
The San Antonio Spurs looked unbeatable, until it all came to a screeching halt.
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When the season starts next fall, the Spurs will be on a four-game losing streak.
That streak began when an 18-game winning streak came to an end. It was Game 3 of the Western Conference finals, and the Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder appeared headed for a close, hard-fought series.
Then the Thunder rolled off four straight wins and, in the process, made the Spurs look like an old team.
Make no mistake about it, the Spurs are old. Their most critical part, center Tim Duncan is 36, Tony Parker is 30 and Manu Ginobili is 34.
The supporting cast is not as old, but they're not young, and they're also not good enough to prevent San Antonio from taking another step backwards this season.
Re-signing Tim Duncan was inevitable, but unfortunately so is aging and slowing down. The Spurs are fighting a battle with time, a battle that no one has ever won.
No. 5: Los Angeles Clippers
Blake Griffin and the Clippers will make even more noise this coming season.
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"Lob City." That's the nickname given the the Clippers, who have become one of the NBA's premier draws ever since they paired Chris Paul and Blake Griffin up before last season.
Sometimes it takes more than just one season to establish a real cohesion. This is one of those cases.
The Clippers started the summer with some defined weaknesses.
Depth at forward? Problem solved as the Clippers dealt for Lamar Odom.
What about depth at the guard position, and some outside shooting to replace the departed Mo Williams? Not an issue: The Clippers went out and inked Jamal Crawford to a free-agent contract and also brought back veteran Chauncey Billups.
The Clippers still have some weaknesses, but they've also addressed a bunch of them as well. Now if they could just get Blake Griffin and D'Andre Jordan to hit their free throws......
No. 4: Boston Celtics
Kevin Garnett hopes to point the Celtics in the right direction.
Jim Rogash/Getty Images
Ray Allen is gone, but the Celtics aren't.
Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett are all still there. In fact, they'll probably be healthier and in better shape, after a normal offseason and a normal preseason.
It really is not just what's returning from last year's squad, which advanced all the way to game seven of the Eastern Conference finals.
It's what is new and being added. Here's a list.
Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo, both of whom were selected in the opening round of the 2012 NBA Draft.
Then there are the other returning Celtics, Jeff Green and Chris Wilcox, both back from heart surgeries. Brandon Bass was brought back to help with scoring.
Add it all up, and it is hard to see how the team that was one game from the NBA Finals didn't get better.
The Celtics are an aging squad just like the Spurs are, but Boston features one player who is in his prime in Rondo, and the supporting cast is both younger and more talented.
No. 3: Oklahoma City Thunder
Kevin Durant is a bonafide superstar,but next season could be a step backward for his Thunder.
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It may seem tough to believe, but when the NBA Finals started, many people thought the Thunder would win the series, and that feeling was only reinforced when the Thunder won Game 1.
Things changed rather dramatically after that first win, and within those four consecutive losses lie some of the reasons that the Thunder could be primed for a step-back in the NBA hierarchy next season.
Keep in mind that the Thunder haven't made any major changes to the squad that went to the Finals. They signed Hasheem Thabeet and drafted Perry Jones.
Thabeet seems like nothing more than an emergency backup. Jones could become a legitimate player, but that doesn't seem like it would happen in his rookie season.
Ultimately, the Thunder's problems are the same ones that Miami exposed last season. The Thunder are prone to being beaten by another club with prolific talent that just happens to be more physical and mature .
Russell Westbrook and James Harden are both very young and consequently not always as consistent as their team needs them to be.
Kendrick Perkins seems a step or two too slow to be effective in the system the Thunder utilize, which is extremely fast-paced.
None of these problems are severe, none are not correctable, but all of them will take time to overcome. The Thunder and that current trio of Harden, Westbrook and Durant will probably win a title together, but that doesn't mean it will happen in 2013.
No. 2: Los Angeles Lakers
Steve Nash is the first MVP caliber point guard to wear a Lakers uniform since Magic.
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Just like the Thunder team that handily beat Los Angeles in the second round of the 2012 NBA playoffs, the Lakers have some well-defined and clear-cut weaknesses.
The Lakers have needed a point guard for a while, but last year the need was as glaring as it has ever been. The Lakers made a bold move in July by acquiring two-time MVP Steve Nash from the Phoenix Suns.
Nash is old at 38, but some players age better than other ones do. Nash was one of only two players to average more than 10 assists per game last season. He might not be a top point guard for the entire duration of his three-year deal, but the first season seems like a safe bet.
The other major shortcoming of last year's Lakers was scoring off the bench.
Now that issue appears rectified with the signing of Antawn Jamison. Jamison can score, even if he doesn't do a lot of other things.
Keep in mind that the Lakers are a team with Kobe Bryant, who is loathed by many NBA fans but is nonetheless one of the league's greatest players.
Kobe won't be playing forever. In fact, he may retire somewhat soon. He wants to win and sometimes a sense of urgency can make a huge difference.
No. 1: Miami Heat
LeBron displays the rewards for his championship season.
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If you just won the NBA Finals, and then you add players who will, in all likelihood make you better, that presents a compelling case to predict you will repeat as champs.
Welcome the world of the Miami Heat.
After besting the Oklahoma City Thunder in five games, the Heat had barely finished celebrating when they landed Rashard Lewis and Ray Allen via free agency.
There aren't too many ways these two acquisitions could hurt Miami. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are all fairly young, and Wade, who was not totally healthy for last year's title run, could be in better health next season.
Miami didn't win because of luck, and they didn't win because of the refs. They won because they've got the best basketball player in the world, and they're the best team in the world. As of now, there's no reason to think that will change.