Each NBA team has massively different expectations awaiting it for the 2012-13 season. Each team also has a single player that will bear the largest share of that pressure.
All of these highlighted players have this pressure on them for vastly different reasons. Some have been put in a place of more responsibility due to their team's offseason transactions. Others are new additions to their teams, expected to be the leader the team has been looking for. Still others are merely in the same situation as last season when they carried similar pressure.
I have to say, I do not envy any of these guys in regard to the pressure they are going to be required to bear. When there is 10 seconds left in the game and the team is down by a point, it will be these players who everyone looks at to take and make the winning shot. That mentality is overblown in today's NBA, but it obviously still exists.
Here are the heroes that each team will look toward in those moments. Here is one player on each team that is under the most pressure next season.
Now that Joe Johnson is a Brooklyn Net, the Atlanta Hawks will be looking for a leader and a playmaker. While many may expect Josh Smith to fill that role, it will actually be big man Al Horford who will have more pressure on him.
Horford has shown the potential for stardom, averaging 12.8 points and 9.5 rebounds per game over his career. The large part of that career has been spent while playing out of position at center, because Horford is actually much more suited to play the power forward position.
Smith is an incredibly versatile player, but he will not be able to improve upon his stats of 18.8 points, 9.6 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game. Horford, on the other hand, should get many more opportunities with Johnson gone from the lineup.
The departure of Ray Allen this offseason is a sign of one thing: The reign of the Big Three in Boston is coming to an end. That is why Rajon Rondo will be the Celtic under the most pressure next season.
He has clearly demonstrated that he is one of the best point guards in the NBA over the past four or five seasons. He averaged 11.9 points and 11.7 assists per game while leading the Celtics to 39 wins in a lockout-shortened season. He is an old-school point guard who excels on the defensive end. However, he does need to work on his long-range shooting still.
With Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce nearing the end of their careers, Rondo will be looked to more and more to lead this team and make the big buckets when it counts. Let us hope that his shooting has improved enough to be able to answer that call.
This is the first extremely obvious choice on this list. Unlike his wannabe-teammate Dwight Howard, Deron Williams ended the speculation about where he would end up by signing with the Brooklyn Nets.
Despite the recent additions the Nets have made in Joe Johnson and Gerald Wallace, Williams is clearly the man in Brooklyn. Last season, he averaged 21 points and 8.7 assists per game on a bad team. With these other additions, he will be leading a vastly improved squad in 2013.
The Nets have proved that they are willing to pay whatever is necessary to win, and they have paid Williams a pretty penny. He will be under tremendous pressure to lead this team to the playoffs next season, especially considering how much money the team has invested in him and his teammates.
To say that the Charlotte Bobcats were not very good last year would be a massive understatement. However, that does not mean that the veterans on that team will be willing to submit to a brand-new rookie as a leader.
That is exactly what will be expected of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist next season. He was drafted for his work ethic and character on and off the court and will be asked to use those intangibles to help change the culture in Charlotte.
What that translates to on the court is icing on the cake at this point, as the Bobcats are still years away from even playoff contention. The task at hand for MKG is to go into that locker room and convince his teammates, some of whom are accomplished veterans, that they should follow him. That's a tough job for any incoming rookie.
Derrick Rose will probably miss a large chunk of the 2012-13 NBA season, and on many teams, that would actually lessen the pressure placed on him. Unfortunately for Rose, it just multiplies the pressure on him in Chicago.
The biggest reason is that the Bulls have no consistent perimeter scoring threat to count on other than Rose. Richard Hamilton and Luol Deng have each shown that they cannot fill that role, even when Rose is not on the court. No one else on the Bulls' current roster has shown the ability to do so either.
That fact puts immense pressure on Rose, both to come back quickly and to perform at a high level when he comes back. Returning from such a serious injury is never a cut-and-dry process, and this pressure could complicate that further. The fact that Chicago is his hometown and has not won a title since Michael Jordan is just the cherry on the sundae of pressure that rests on Rose's back.
Kyrie Irving was drafted in 2011 to become the next franchise player for the Cleveland Cavaliers. He got off to a great start last season, averaging 18.5 points and 5.4 assists on 47 percent shooting from the field. Just for a comparison, Chris Paul averaged 16.1 points and 7.8 assists on 43 percent shooting in his rookie campaign.
The pressure will only increase for Irving, though, as the team around him is getting younger. Antawn Jamison accounted for 17 points per game last season, but he and those points are gone now. Irving will have to help make up for that lost production, either by scoring himself or assisting others.
It is clear that this Cleveland team is now Irving's team. The LeBron James era is over and very few players from that era are left. This is the Irving era, and now it is all on him as far as what that will mean for Cleveland.
Dirk Nowitzki was hurt last year by the lockout and struggled to get back into shape as the season progressed. This season he will have to overcome a different obstacle.
The Dallas Mavericks are a completely different team than they were a year ago. Nowitzki, Shawn Marion and Rodrigue Beaubois are some of the only remaining pieces left on the roster from last season. Elton Brand, Chris Kaman, O.J. Mayo and Darren Collison will be joining them to round out the roster.
Nowitzki is still the leader of the team, but he will have to learn how to teach many new bodies this season. The pressure on him will be more than it ever has been for that reason.
The Denver Nuggets have shown themselves to be a talented and balanced young team since the departure of Carmelo Anthony in 2011. However, the team has struggled to find out who the new leader of the squad is.
Ty Lawson is that man. He is already in a leadership position as the point guard of the team, and last season, Lawson led the team in points and assists per game. Of all the talented young players on the team, Lawson is clearly the one best-equipped to lead.
You would never know it by the way he plays, but Lawson is a bit short at 5'11". That is the only disadvantage he has. He is quick, a good passer and can score. He is a complete player at his position, which is exactly why the Nuggets will expect big things from him.
Georgetown product Greg Monroe has developed nicely into a dependable big man for the Detroit Pistons over the past two years. Now that Andre Drummond has been brought in to help out down low, even more will be expected of Monroe, who should eventually get moved to the power forward position.
Finding a 6'11" tall player who can average 15.4 points and 9.7 rebounds per game at just 22 years old would be a dream come true for any team. The Pistons have all of that in Monroe. He led the team in points and rebounds last season, proving that he can put up big numbers.
Now, he will be expected to continue to improve as the team continues to build around him with young talent. Drummond should help eventually, along with Brandon Knight and Rodney Stuckey. But Monroe will be the key. He is the biggest talent and, therefore, deserves the biggest share of the pressure.
One thing I love about Andrew Bogut is how old-school he looks. He just looks like he was lifted straight out of an old film about basketball in the 1970s. Maybe it is the haircut.
Anyway, he is the player for the Golden State Warriors with the most pressure on his back. The Warriors have long been a defense-less team. While they have had plenty of offensive talent over the year, defense has always been the reason they have had limited postseason success.
Bogut has now been brought in to be the anchor for the team's renewed commitment to the defensive end. He has shown that ability throughout his career, averaging 12.7 points, 9.3 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game. It will be on him to stay healthy and help Golden State to "defend" its way to the playoffs. This team cannot do it without him.
Once the Houston Rockets' season starts, we are going to find out very quickly whether or not Jeremy Lin will be worth the contract Houston gave him in restricted free agency.
We all know what Lin did during the period of last season that has been termed "Linsanity." But now he needs to prove that he can flourish outside of Mike D'Antoni's offensive system. With the Rockets, Lin will not have the luxury of playing with players like Carmelo Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler like he did with the Knicks.
Lin will have to prove that he is a bankable star on the court just like he is off the court. Just bringing in advertising dollars and ticket sales will not cut it in Houston. As the biggest name on the team, he will have to lead and play better than he ever has before. That is pressure.
Roy Hibbert was a restricted free agent this offseason, and he definitely benefited from it. The Portland Trail Blazers signed Hibbert to a max offer sheet forcing Indiana to match it in order to keep their star center. However, with that much money comes even more responsibility.
Getting that big contract points to Hibbert as the star player on this balanced and talented team. That means that Hibbert must produce on a nightly basis and stop being inconsistent in his play. He is young, but he is no longer getting paid like a youngster. It is time to grow into the player he is getting paid to be.
The other option for Hibbert is to underperform, which would make the contract a massive overpayment and him trade bait at some point in the future. It would also sink the Pacers and their ability to contend in the seasons to come. Hibbert has a lot riding on those big shoulders of his.
Chris Paul is the leader of the Los Angeles Clippers. Say what you want about Blake Griffin, but Paul is the guy who really makes this team go. It was not until he joined the team that it was able to make the playoffs.
However, Paul is slated to be a free agent after next season. The Clippers will have to win Paul over even more if they want to ensure that the star point guard will stay with the team. So, what pressure is on Paul you ask?
Paul has the pressure of choosing what he is going to do after the season and his options greatly depend on his play during the season. As we have seen with LeBron James and Dwight Howard, choosing where you want to go can cause a lot of strife for you and the teams involved. Paul will have that weight on his shoulders, along with what he already does in leading his team.
You might be surprised to not see Kobe Bryant on this slide. By now, we all should know that Kobe is going to do what Kobe is going to do. He puts pressure on himself all the time.
The player that will really be under pressure to perform is Steve Nash. Nash has never won a title despite having a Hall of Fame career, and the Lakers are looking to him to fill the hole they have had at point guard for years.
Nash will have to juggle the egos of Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, doing his best to get them all their touches while running a somewhat different offense than he did in Phoenix. Nash has been able to do similar things throughout his career. Hopefully, he will be able to do it next season as well.
The Memphis Grizzlies impressed everyone two years ago when they upset the San Antonio Spurs and pushed the Oklahoma City Thunder to a Game 7 in the playoffs. A season later, they improved their regular-season play but were unable to advance in the playoffs.
It probably does not say anything that Memphis played better in the playoffs without Rudy Gay, but that is what people will think if Gay does not prove that he can lead this team in 2012-13. He led the team in scoring with 19 points per game last season, but that is not enough by itself.
Gay must lead and win. This team is too good to not win, and its window is closing swiftly. Gay must prove that he can lead and play with Zach Randolph. Getting the twosome going at the same time would make the Grizzlies far more potent.
LeBron James finally won the ring that had eluded him for nine years. Anyone who still hates on him now clearly has something against him personally. He has solidified himself as the best player currently in the world.
All that said, the pressure does not just end the first time you accomplish a goal. If anything, reaching that goal intensifies the pressure as fans and media expect you to do it again the next year. That is definitely true when it comes to LeBron, since he is the best player in the world.
Next season, the expectations will be higher than ever for LeBron. He will be expected to win MVP, a title and Finals MVP all over again. He definitely has the talent to do it, but the pressure will still be there.
Monta Ellis has not been a Milwaukee Buck very long, but he is already the Buck under the most pressure for next season.
He was brought in as an injection of offense for a squad that had little going on that end of the floor other than Brandon Jennings. He is more talented than Jennings and is there to take the pressure off of him. Ellis must lead the team and take and make the big shots.
He is close to playing in the playoffs for the first time in a long time, but it will not happen without him playing stellar ball. He has never been under this kind of pressure before.
Ricky Rubio missed the last stretch of the season with a knee injury, and that was a big reason why the Minnesota Timberwolves did not make the playoffs. This season, the pressure will be on Rubio to perform and help lead the team to the playoffs.
Rubio had a very good rookie season last year up until his injury. The 21-year-old Spaniard averaged 10.6 points, 8.2 assists and 4.2 rebounds per game last season, proving that he can lead a team from the point guard position.
His pairing with Kevin Love has the potential to become one of the toughest to defend in the NBA. But it all depends on his health and ability to continue to be effective. That is why he has the most pressure on him this season.
No. 1 overall draft picks are expected to come in and produce immediately in the NBA. That is why Anthony Davis is under immense pressure for next season.
Davis is the savior of the New Orleans Hornets. At least, that is what Hornets fans are hoping. He has been called a once-in-a-lifetime prospect, but that means nothing once he gets on the court. He does not have to win immediately, but he does have to make his team better immediately.
One thing that should help Davis be ready for the challenge is his recent play with Team USA. That team is the best of the best, and just being around those guys should help Davis ready himself for the obstacles ahead.
If there is one thing that New York wants, it is to win. Carmelo Anthony knows this, and it is time to do it.
The de facto leader of the Knicks, Anthony came to the team in a trade that basically gutted the roster other than Amar'e Stoudemire. The team has built a solid supporting cast around them, and they are now good enough to contend in the Eastern Conference.
Anthony must do whatever it takes to win. He can no longer be the black hole that does nothing but fire up shots. He must defend, rebound and lead. If he does not, this current version of the Knicks will never win anything.
Russell Westbrook is in this slideshow for the same reason that he is in many other slideshows. He is one of the most maligned players in the NBA. Often times, that criticism is unwarranted.
Continually, Westbrook has to live with the media questioning his on-the-court decisions and fans complaining about the fact that he is not an old-school point guard. Meanwhile, he does exactly what his coaches want: score.
Say what you want about him, but this team needs Westbrook to score. Yet, he will still be criticized for doing so and not passing enough to other players. That is the pressure he must live with. The pressure of being criticized for filling the role that the team asks him to.
I know that we keep hearing that Dwight Howard is "so close" to being traded, but I am beginning to think that that means something different than what I thought all these years. Granted, if Howard is traded, this is irrelevant, but I decided to enjoy the possibility that Howard could be stuck in Orlando.
If he is, can you imagine the pressure he will be under? He will be a star player stuck on a team that he does not want in a city that no longer wants him. Are you salivating like I am at the possible storylines?
Anyway, the pressure on Howard would be enormous, mainly because of all the hate and scrutiny that would flood his way. The truth is, he may be under a similar amount even if he is traded to a new team. His career has taken that big of a PR hit.
The Philadelphia 76ers are a talented group that is built on defense. Andre Iguodala is the veteran on this team that has been there the longest. However, that does not make him a leader or star.
He needs to become both of those. Iguodala is a leader off the court, but he needs to do more on it. He shot a poor 38 percent from the field last season, and he scored just 12 points per game.
Iguodala is a good defender, but he must do more for this team if Philly is ever going to get past the Bostons and Miamis of the world. Eastern Conference contention is not far off, but Iguodala must take the 76ers there. That pressure is evident and will be heavy on him next season.
Goran Dragic is a good point guard, but it will not be easy for him to take over as the starter for the Phoenix Suns. Why? Two words: Steve Nash.
Nash won two MVPs and led the Suns to some of the best seasons in franchise history during his tenure there. He will clearly be remembered as one of the best Suns in NBA history, earning his place in the Hall of Fame.
Dragic is a similar player and even backed up Nash in Phoenix a few years ago. He should be a good replacement, but he will not be able to run the offense like Nash did. The pressure to do so will be great.
After last season, it is clear that LaMarcus Aldridge is the star of this ballclub. The 27-year-old power forward averaged 21.7 points and eight rebounds per game last season, proving himself to be among the best in the league at his position.
That is why the pressure is on him most on this Portland team. He is the leader now, especially now that Brandon Roy is long gone and distractions Jamal Crawford and Raymond Felton have departed. This is his team, and with that comes tremendous pressure.
Thomas Robinson is under the most pressure as a rookie of any Sacramento King, and the reason is similar to that of fellow top draft pick Micheal Kidd-Gilchrist. Robinson is being brought in, not only because of his talent, but because he has the ability to change the culture in Sacramento.
At least, that is what the team is banking on. This Kings team is an immature one, but also a talented one. It lacks the work ethic and commitment to defense that is necessary to win. Those are two areas that Robinson excels in, which is why he was drafted by them.
However, just as in Kidd-Gilchrist's case, it will not be easy for him, as a rookie, to come in and command the respect necessary of veterans to lead them in changing the culture. The pressure to do so as quickly as possible is probably already something he is feeling.
Tony Parker really took a step as far as stardom goes last season, leading the San Antonio Spurs and putting himself into the MVP conversation. He averaged 18 points and 7.7 assists per game, having one of the best seasons of his career.
The reason the pressure is on him is because of the age of the Spurs' other stars. Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili have both seen better days and are each nearing the ends of their careers. Parker is clearly the one with the most left in the tank, and therefore must lead this team.
He did prove he could do it last season, but that does not lessen the pressure of the task. That pressure is going nowhere.
The Toronto Raptors are ready to contend in the Eastern Conference. Well, they are at least ready to start building toward that contention. That is why they traded for young point guard Kyle Lowry.
Lowry has been brought in to lead this team on the floor. He played well with Houston last season, averaging 14.3 points, 6.6 assists and 4.6 rebounds per game. That is definitely starting point guard material, but the Raptors are probably hoping that he can do even more now that he will not have to share the court with Goran Dragic.
The pressure is on Lowry most because he is the big name that is being brought in to improve the team. Landry Fields was a big addition, but not as big as Lowry. The latter will be the one the players look to to lead.
The Utah Jazz were a particularly tough team to pick. They are still pretty young, but they do have some veteran leadership. So I chose one of those guys in Al Jefferson.
Jefferson averaged 19.2 points and 9.6 rebounds per game last season. The pressure will be on him to have similar production once again because that production is critical to this team returning to the playoffs. It is not coming from anywhere else.
In a few years, the Jazz probably will not need that much from Jefferson, but right now they does. The younger players are not ready to shoulder the burden. Jefferson must do it for a little while longer.
The Washington Wizards have finally surrounded John Wall with a dependable supporting cast, but that does not mean that the pressure will not still be on him.
Last season, Wall averaged 16 points and eight assists per game. Now with weapons like Trevor Ariza, Emeka Okafor, Nene and Bradley Beal at his disposal, Wall should have an even better year. In fact, next year should be better both statistically and winning-wise.
If it is not, Wall could not be a long-term fixture in Washington. He should be able, with his talent, to lead this team to playoff contention. That is the pressure that awaits him.