The 2012-13 NBA season is fast approaching, and with it comes a fresh batch of teams looking to compete near the top of the standings.
The 2012-13 season looks set to be dominated by the Miami Heat, but after the Heat in the Eastern Conference, it is generally a wide open playing field.
The Brooklyn Nets are the league's newest superstar team. The New York Knicks boast the same flawed core. The Boston Celtics are even older, even with Ray Allen leaving to join the Miami Heat. The Chicago Bulls lost their supremacy with Derrick Rose's injury, and the Indiana Pacers are still one rank below in terms of out-and-out talent.
However, the Heat are not invincible, and thus, teams like the Pacers can give them issues as the league progresses next season.
The Indiana Pacers possess talent at the position the Heat struggle at—center.
Roy Hibbert is close to commanding a maximum-level salary. With a young, physical and genuinely up-and-coming roster, the Pacers have the potential to really scare the Heat during the regular season and during a playoff series.
The Pacers' brand of physical, tough basketball is not pretty on the eye, but is one of the very few ways of consistently beating the more talented Miami Heat group.
The Chicago Bulls without Derrick Rose are still good enough to be a team on the positive side of the .500 win percentage mark.
Head coach Tom Thibodeau and players like Luol Deng and Joakim Noah will ensure that despite losing the best young point guard in the league, the Bulls still have the pieces to make a push for the playoffs.
The Heat cannot discount the Bulls next season. They will not play them until after the new year begins. The league office is obviously planning for Derrick Rose to return around February or March.
Should he return, he could guide the Bulls into a monumental clash with the defending champions. The Bulls would surely fancy their chances given their incredible defense and arguably better frontcourt depth.
The Boston Celtics had the Miami Heat beat. After Game 5, I, along with many other sports analysts, thought that the Celtics were going back to the NBA Finals and that the Miami Heat had somehow once again thrown the series away and ended the postseason in infamy.
Then came LeBron James' incredible Game 6 outburst, and the Celtics' age catching up to them in Game 7.
The Celtics, though, had the Heat on the brink of elimination. That's better than any other team managed in these playoffs.
And they've brought the band back together for one last, last, last run at an NBA championship.
Rajon Rondo is one of the most creative point guards since Steve Nash. Kevin Garnett still has amazing energy despite heading into yet another gruelling 82-game NBA season. Paul Pierce has shaken off an MCL injury to return to lead the Big Three (now without Ray Allen, who joined Miami.)
The Celtics have that mix of talent, veteran grit and determination to make the Heat work hard for each and every last win.
The New York Knicks may not have landed Steve Nash, but Jason Kidd is a good alternative.
And though losing Jeremy Lin hurts, the Knicks are entering a pivotal year in terms of their future and I believe they are on track to finally become one of the Eastern Conference's elite teams.
The Knicks are also well built to kill Miami. They are strong inside with Tyson Chandler and Amar'e Stoudemire. They have great outside shooters in Carmelo Anthony and Steve Novak.
Although losing Jeremy Lin weakens their point guard position, the Knicks went out and brought in Ray Felton, a more than capable replacement.
The Heat will likely beat the Knicks over a series, but the Knicks have enough talent to really challenge over a couple of games.
The Brooklyn Nets are the league's newest super-team, boasting point guard Deron Williams, guard/forward Joe Johnson and big men Brook Lopez and Kris Humphries.
With so many viable scoring options with varying skill sets, the Nets are one of the more balanced super-teams in recent times.
With scoring inside and down low from Humphries and Lopez complemented by the penetration, passing and finishing of Deron Williams and the raw scoring power of Johnson, the Nets have gone from meaningless to meaningful over the space of one summer trade window.
Miami must watch the Nets closely as they try to figure out on-court chemistry and who will take on the role as the closer on a team stacked with options in crunch time.
The Nets have the potential to make a giant leap forward in the East this season, as so few Eastern Conference teams made significant offseason maneuvers.