Great Expectations isn't just the title of a Charles Dickens novel: It's something that many NBA players will have to live up to next year.
While the league's hot stove is slowly beginning to cool down, the pressure in many cities—and for many players—continues to rise steadily as the season approaches. Obviously, there is a certain burden that is inherent with being a professional athlete, but there's far more to it than that.
For the most of the NBA's elite, a deep playoff run is simply not good enough any longer. Win a championship and the 2012-13 campaign can be deemed a success; anything short of that outcome is an abject failure.
So, with training camps around the league set to open in a matter of weeks, let's take a look at the five players who will be under the most pressure heading into next season.
Now that LeBron James has an NBA Finals victory on his resume, he should be free from any sort of external pressure for the rest of his career, right?
While an albatross of sorts was removed from James' neck after the Miami Heat's title triumph, the burden of the infamous "not two, not three, not four..." prediction still weighs heavily upon his shoulders. Ill-advised promises aside, a second consecutive title would help to silence those who lament the rise of the NBA's so-called "super-teams."
The 6'8", 250-pound James has been the most dominant player in the sport over the past 12 months—a year that saw him capture the MVP award, an NBA championship, the NBA Finals MVP award and an Olympic gold medal. Even so, he's still a far cry from being considered as one of the game's all-time greats.
Last year, the onus was on James to shed the negative labels that he was branded with during his first eight seasons. Now, he has to define his legacy.
The city of Philadelphia was teased with the 76ers' wildly successful playoff run last season, but it was clear that the team had reached the ceiling of its potential.
Enter Andrew Bynum.
The four-team deal that shipped the league's best center, Dwight Howard, to the Los Angeles Lakers also sent the NBA's second-best big man, Bynum, to the Sixers—a franchise that hasn't had a dominant player at the 5-spot since Moses Malone.
The Malone comparisons have already begun for the former Lakers All-Star, who received his first taste of brotherly love at a raucous press conference at the National Constitution Center on Wednesday. "I've never seen anything like this," said Bynum.
As the centerpiece of a young roster that should make a statement in the Eastern Conference this year, much will be expected out of the 24-year-old Bynum during his debut season in Philadelphia.
"There's pressure," said Bynum on Wednesday when asked about his new situation, "but pressure makes diamonds."
By virtue of their basketball ability and their prominence in the 2003 draft class, Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James will forever be linked. Now that James is an NBA champion, the pressure on Anthony to bring a title to the Big Apple is more intense than ever before.
That pressure should be relieved somewhat by Anthony's supporting cast. Mike D'Antoni and Jeremy Lin are gone, and in their places are Mike Woodson (a coach who 'Melo seemed to like playing for last year) and Jason Kidd (a point guard who everyone likes to play with).
Tyson Chandler is still patrolling the middle, ready to cover for Anthony's defensive lapses, and Amar'e Stoudemire has already promised "an incredible year" in 2012-13.
The Knicks will need an incredible year out of everyone, as several teams in the Eastern Conference improved quite a bit this summer. With the recent moves made by the Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers and Brooklyn Nets, New York may wind up as the fourth-best team in the Atlantic Division.
New York hasn't won a playoff series in 12 years, but that means little to a vocal fanbase that is ready for the Carmelo Anthony era to bear some legitimate fruit. The Nets' move to Brooklyn won't do much to help matters either. The white-hot lights of Broadway will be focused on Anthony and the rest of his Knicks teammates all season long.
Kevin Durant is the best player in the league who has never won a title.
Of course, Kevin Durant is also only 23 years old. At that age (and with his ridiculous skill set), the 6'9" forward figures to make a few more NBA Finals—and possibly win a couple—before he rides off into the sunset.
That said, the 2012-13 iteration of the Oklahoma City Thunder figures to be the most talented team that Durant has ever been a part of. With James Harden and Serge Ibaka headed for free agency next July, this season could be Durant's best shot at a championship for the foreseeable future.
The journey to the mountaintop won't be an easy one. The Los Angeles Lakers are the early favorites to take the Western Conference crown, while the San Antonio Spurs, Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Clippers are also worthy heirs to the throne.
If Oklahoma City is able to successfully navigate through that gauntlet, the Thunder may find themselves in a rematch with the Miami Heat—the very team that denied them a title last season.
The bitter taste of that defeat has undoubtedly served as motivation for Durant this summer, and if his performance in the Olympics is any indication, the Thunder forward won't go down without a fight this season.
Dwight Howard is known for having his fair share of fun, but as the newest member of a Los Angeles Lakers team that boasts Steve Nash, Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant, play time is over for the seven-foot center.
While Bryant is still the team's alpha dog, the franchise will only go as far as Howard takes it. The Lakers have arguably the most talented starting five in the league, and with that distinction comes a certain level of expectation: NBA Finals or bust.
What happens in the regular season is of little consequence: If the Lakers fail to at least compete for the Larry O'Brien Trophy next summer, the entire year will be deemed a colossal disappointment. Howard recognizes the burden that's now on his shoulders, and he doesn't appear to be shying away from the challenge.
"One day I want to be the guy that leads the team to a championship, and this is the perfect time to start," said Howard at his introductory press conference last week.
The term "Dwightmare" can officially be retired. The "Indecision" is finally over. It's now time for Howard to lead his new team to the promised land, or else the joke will ultimately be on him.