NBA Power Rankings: Post-Olympics Edition
So, yeah, this actually happened.
After months of Dwight Howard trade speculation, a deal was finally reached that sent the All-Star center to the Los Angeles Lakers in a four-team blockbuster. The Orlando Magic received Al Harrington, Arron Afflalo, Moe Harkless, Nikola Vucevic and a few draft picks, while the Denver Nuggets got Andre Iguodala and the Philadelphia 76ers got Andrew Bynum.
I think I speak on behalf of the rest of the NBA community when I say "thank everything that is holy that this is finally over" because there was no way I or anyone else could stand another year's worth of Dwight Howard rumors.
However, the worst part of it is that Dwight got his way. After being as whiny and immature as you could possibly be, Howard got to join a big-market team, leaving the Orlando Magic in disarray in the process.
Howard joins a stacked Lakers team that comes complete with Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, as they suddenly become the new championship favorites despite having played a grand total of zero games together.
We take a look at how far the Lakers moved up and if they've taken over the top spot in the post-Olympics power rankings.
30. Charlotte Bobcats
At least they got off to a good start this summer—they didn't even make any moves that made us all shake our heads.
No, what the Charlotte Bobcats did was have as good of an offseason as a team that just set the record for worst winning percentage in NBA history could ask for.
The Bobcats built with some talent in the draft in the form of athletic freak Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and one of the best perimeter defenders to come out of the draft in Jeffery Taylor. Charlotte will be hopeful that Kidd-Gilchrist can start immediately and mesh with second-year guard Kemba Walker.
Joining Kidd-Gilchrist and Taylor as the newest Bobcats are point guard Ramon Sessions, who's replacing D.J. Augustin, and center Brendan Haywood.
The team will also look forward to the continuing development of second-year forward Bismack Biyombo and last year's surprise story, Byron Mullens.
29. Orlando Magic
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Bad news, Orlando Magic fans: Dwight Howard is no longer with the Magic.
Good news, Orlando Magic fans: Dwight Howard is no longer with the Magic!
As much as it pains the Magic faithful that yet another All-Star center has spurned them for the bright lights of Los Angeles, it's also a satisfying feeling to know the tentativeness and the stress that Howard caused is gone.
Howard may have brought the Magic to only their second NBA Finals appearance in franchise history in 2009, but he also brought about more stress to the organization than any franchise could ever deal with. Although it's partly the Magic's fault for not bringing in the talent to give Dwight another legitimate chance at winning a title, it's also unfair to the franchise and its devoted fans to be put through the past year's worth of speculation.
The Magic are going to be horrible for the next few years. They didn't go after Pau Gasol or Andrew Bynum because they're ready for the rebuilding phase that comes with losing your franchise star. They're not ready to wallow as a 6-8 seed that's first-round fodder; they're ready to be terrible, and now.
But it's not all bad, to be honest. Arron Afflalo is a terrific player and Glen Davis has the appearance of a solid player after a breakout performance in last year's postseason.
Also key an eye on Andrew Nicholson; the rookie may end up turning some heads.
28. Houston Rockets
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In his third year with the Houston Rockets, Jeremy Lin will make $15 million.
The Rockets will have a completely new look to them next season after overhauling their roster in hopes that Dwight Howard would join the team. With Howard going to the Lakers, however, the Rockets have a peculiar looking team with a bunch of rookies and a plethora of players who are yet to have a breakout season.
According to Yahoo! Sports, the Rockets' active roster consists of 24 players. Seriously.
Also, I'm not quite sure why the team gave a lot of money to Omer Asik. We get that he's an excellent defensive center, but is he worth that much to a team that's probably not even going to come close to the postseason?
Still, it should be fun seeing rookie Royce White play. He's a beast at 6'8", 270 pounds, but also contains the ability to handle the ball, which is something we regularly saw from him in his time at Iowa State. He joins Jeremy Lamb, Terrence Jones and Donatas Motiejunas as the Rockets' rookies.
27. Cleveland Cavaliers
I'm not going to get into any Kyrie Irving-LeBron James comparisons, but I will say that the Cleveland Cavaliers need to begin surrounding Irving with talent to avoid a situation similar to the one that came with LeBron.
If you look at the roster outside of the reigning Rookie of the Year, there isn't anything worth looking forward to outside of lottery pick Dion Waiters and shot-blocking forward Tristan Thompson.
There are hardly any offensive options to rely on outside of Irving and Waiters, either. Alonzo Gee was surprisingly good last year, but is he the type of player you want to rely on as one of your primary scorers?
The Cavs are hoping that Irving doesn't suffer a sophomore slump, which is doubtful considering his talent, and that Waiters is as good as he was believed to be leading up to the draft.
26. Golden State Warriors
I know it was a long time ago and you may have forgotten it, but the Golden State Warriors may have had the best draft this year.
The Warriors used their lottery pick to take Harrison Barnes, who will fill in a huge vacancy at the three, while also drafting shot-blocker Festus Ezeli and a double-double machine Draymond Green.
The Warriors are saying they expect to make the playoffs this year, but it seems extremely unlikely with the roster they currently have and the state of the Western Conference. Golden State is putting a lot of faith in Klay Thompson as its next shooting guard and will continue to hope that Stephen Curry can maintain good health for an entire season.
Curry isn't the only other player the Warriors hope stays healthy, as Andrew Bogut could also be of concern. Although the former Bucks center has been injured in unfortunate circumstances, it's still a scary thought to know that your 7' defensive anchor has dealt with injuries in two of the past four years, including only playing 12 games last year.
25. Toronto Raptors
For the first time in a long time, the Toronto Raptors acquired talent worth acquiring.
By obtaining Kyle Lowry from the Houston Rockets, the Raptors not only showed they are ready to move on from Jose Calderon, but they are also serious about competing and becoming a relevant team.
It's either that or get left way behind in a stacked Atlantic Division. It's a given that they'll most likely end up behind four teams that could make the postseason, but it's a positive that they'll actually feature some solid talent worth relying on.
Joining Lowry will be draft picks Terrence Ross and Quincy Acy, as well as Landry Fields, John Lucas III and Jonas Valanciunas, who was the Raptors' lottery pick from last year. Hopefully, the Olympics aren't an indicator of what to expect next year, because Valanciunas didn't exactly impress anyone in his time with Lithuania.
Also, they gave Fields $20 million. That's a lot of money for a mediocre swingman. Sorry to bring it up.
24. Detroit Pistons
They're not exactly on par with their counterparts of the late-1980's or the mid-'2000's, but the 2012 Detroit Pistons can at least say they're on the right track to becoming a quality team.
Through an excellent draft where they took center Andre Drummond, power forward Khris Middleton and guard Kim English, the Pistons have surrounded a young, talented roster with even more talent that could potentially change the outlook of this team for the better.
You may not have noticed, but the Pistons started to look really good by season's end and will be hoping to carry that momentum into the coming season.
While the Pistons didn't do much in terms of free agency, they're more reliant on the players they have instead of pursuing players who could potentially make the team better. It's not that bad of an idea considering the team is sporting the likes of Brandon Knight and Greg Monroe.
However, the team did trade away Ben Gordon and his bloated contract for Corey Maggette, and that's always a good thing.
23. Sacramento Kings
For the past three years, the Sacramento Kings have teased us with talent that just hasn't gelled to form a winning combination.
That may come to an end this year. With DeMarcus Cousins and Marcus Thornton coming off excellent seasons and the team still brandishing hope for Tyreke Evans and his continuing development, the Kings may have just found the next best thing in rookie Thomas Robinson.
In the time he spent at Kansas, Robinson was a double-double machine and an aggressor in the post. He could score at ease in high-percentage areas and from mid-range and grab boards. Combining him with Cousins in the frontcourt should create one of the most fearsome and aggressive low-post duos.
Of course, the Kings will still need help for those two. It's going to be up to the likes of Evans and Jimmer Fredette to prove that they can consistently perform and give this team the perimeter and facilitation help it needs to start winning some games again.
22. Phoenix Suns
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Somehow, the Phoenix Suns don't appear as horrible as I thought they'd look when losing Steve Nash.
Although they didn't get much in return for trading Nash to their division rivals, the Suns will still feature a former protege of Nash's in Goran Dragic and arguably the best passing point guard in the draft in Kendall Marshall.
The Suns will have a completely new look to them next year. Pure scorer Michael Beasley joins the team as the next possible primary scorer, while one of the league's top post players in Luis Scola will play power forward.
Phoenix won't be a playoff team next year, but it'll be interesting to see how Beasley fares if he's put in a spot where he's the No. 1 option. He's a player that many still believe will break out, and this could be the opportunity that he's been waiting for.
Oh, and Brad Miller's on the team, too.
21. Milwaukee Bucks
I can't believe I'm saying it, but who else is excited for Milwaukee Bucks basketball?
In recent years, the Bucks have been playing this incoherent and jumbled mess of a game on the offensive end. Even with Brandon Jennings running the point, the Bucks couldn't snap out of this offense that set a limit at 95 points as its max. The Bucks were a good defensive team, but their offense was too inconsistent to support the entire team.
That may change this season. Set to play in their first full season together, Jennings and Monta Ellis combine to form one of the league's most dynamic backcourts. With Jennings' abilities as a shooter and Ellis' abilities to drive, the two complement each other perfectly.
The Bucks will be coming out the gates with a slightly new roster with Samuel Dalembert set to replace Andrew Bogut and rookie John Henson looking to establish himself as the team's resident shot-blocker.
20. Washington Wizards
Month by month goes by, and the Washington Wizards are appearing less like the laughingstock of the NBA and more like a team that's striving for relevance.
They took another step in the right direction this offseason. They utilized the draft to fill in a void at the two by selecting Bradley Beal and traded the contract of Rashard Lewis for Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza.
With Okafor and Ariza possibly joining Nene Hilario in the starting frontcourt next year, the Wizards suddenly don't look all that bad. Also, with the Orlando Magic going into rebuilding mode, the Wizards could take advantage and become the third-best team in a division that may only have one postseason team.
The Wizards will continue to rely on young talent to get them to the next level, as they will also be keeping a close eye on the development of Trevor Booker, Kevin Seraphin, Jordan Crawford and Jan Vesely.
Most of all, they'll be looking to John Wall to begin taking the next step.
19. New Orleans Hornets
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Even though Eric Gordon might not want to be there, he'll still be expected to perform as well as he did in his final year with the Clippers.
Gordon stated that he'd rather play with the Phoenix Suns, but was forced to re-join the Hornets after the team matched the offer.
Maybe he'll get used to playing there after awhile. After all, it doesn't seem like a bad idea to play with two standout rookies in Anthony Davis and Austin Rivers and the NBA's Most Improved Player in Ryan Anderson.
It's hard to speak on behalf of the rest of the team, however. Chances are that Robin Lopez, Al-Farouq Aminu and Jason Smith aren't the best names to lure in a player of Gordon's caliber.
Then again, are the Suns supposed to be good? Is Eric Gordon telling us something we don't know?
18. Utah Jazz
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It was infuriating to see the poor perimeter shooters the Utah Jazz possessed while having one of the league's top frontcourts, including arguably the best offensive scorer at his position in Al Jefferson.
It didn't seem fair that no one on the Jazz could help stretch the floor for the likes of Jefferson, Paul Millsap and Derrick Favors. With Devin Harris and C.J. Miles struggling so mightily, the Jazz barely made it to the playoffs as an eighth seed and then promptly got swept in a forgettable first-round series against San Antonio.
The Jazz have improved the backcourt, thankfully. While still sporting Jefferson and Millsap, the Jazz added on a slew of perimeter threats in the likes of Marvin Williams, Mo Williams, Randy Foye and rookie Kevin Murphy.
While none of those names truly pop out, each of those players could end up being reliable perimeter options to help create easier looks for the frontcourt members to work with inside.
17. Portland Trail Blazers
The Portland Trail Blazers could use some luck in their favor.
Perhaps they just garnered some. When the team traded away Gerald Wallace to the Nets, it received the Nets' first-round pick. With that pick, the Blazers used it to select Weber State's Damian Lillard, a standout point guard whose draft stock rose substantially in the weeks leading up to draft day.
Lillard's abilities to facilitate as a scorer and passer should work well with Portland, which still wants to make LaMarcus Aldridge the primary scorer. With no other No. 2 scorer currently present on the team, Portland is hoping to see Lillard rise up to that role as one of its top scorers while still being its point guard.
Outside of those two and Nicolas Batum, the Blazers are limited on proven talent, with Wesley Matthews being the only other possible exception.
The Blazers will also look forward to the development of rookie Meyers Leonard, who entered the draft as the top offensive performer for a center.
16. Atlanta Hawks
For a team that just lost arguably its best player, the Atlanta Hawks don't have the appearance of a team that's going to be struggling next season.
Not when they replace their top perimeter shooter in Joe Johnson with four other incredible perimeter threats.
While Kyle Korver, Louis Williams, Anthony Morrow and John Jenkins may not carry similar intangibles as Johnson, they can provide the perimeter shooting that should give space to Josh Smith and Al Horford inside. The Hawks can at least depend on at least one elite three-point threat being in the game at all times.
Atlanta will also be pleased to know that it was finally able to rid itself of Marvin Williams and get point guard Devin Harris in return.
Adding Johan Petro and getting Zaza Pachulia back will fill in a vacancy at the five.
Still, the Hawks aren't close to good enough to competing with the best teams in the East, especially when there were so many other teams in the East that made significant improvements in the offseason.
15. Philadelphia 76ers
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The Philadelphia 76ers appeared so ready to become the Atlantic Division's whipping boy after a stagnant and uneventful offseason.
However, with the acquisition of Andrew Bynum, the Sixers now see themselves as postseason contenders once again, and possibly dark horses to make it as far as the Eastern Conference Finals.
Think about it: The Sixers now have the best center in the Eastern Conference. They went from having a few borderline stars to having one less borderline stars and a proven star in the former Los Angeles Lakers center. Having Bynum on the team favors all sides, as it gives the team a primary scoring option while allowing Andrew to become the first option he's always wanted to be.
The Sixers lost Andre Iguodala in the process, but his departure seemed inevitable as the team had actively looked to trade him many times in the past.
Joining Bynum as new acquisitions will be Nick Young, Dorell Wright, Jason Richardson, Kwame Brown and Arnett Moultrie.
Here's hoping that Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner finally become the All Stars the Sixers envisioned them to become.
14. Minnesota Timberwolves
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For the first time since the finals days of Kevin Garnett, the Minnesota Timberwolves are relevant and could be a postseason team.
Not only is MVP candidate Kevin Love returning and breakout star Ricky Rubio slated to come back from a torn ACL, but the Wolves will also be welcoming in former NBA stars Brandon Roy and Andrei Kirilenko.
Roy returns to the NBA after retiring from Portland prior to the start of last year due to nagging knee troubles. He is slated to become the Timberwolves' starting shooting guard next season and will be expected to perform at what has been one of the Wolves' weakest spots in recent years.
Kirilenko also makes his return to the NBA after spending the past two years in Russia. If his performance with the national team in the Olympics tells us anything, it's that he's ready to make his return to the highest stage of basketball.
The Wolves will also look forward to the continuing development of young talents in Derrick Williams, Chase Budinger and Nikola Pekovic.
13. Chicago Bulls
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The Chicago Bulls find themselves this low not just because of Derrick Rose and his return slated for March, but because of the significant regression to the entirety of this roster.
What were they thinking in that front office when making some of these moves? It's as if everything the Bulls had done right until this offseason was completely wiped off the records so that a new world order of mediocrity and obscurity could take over.
Remember that Bulls team with the so-called "Bench Mob?" Well, that no longer exists, unless you want to count the likes of Taj Gibson, Vladimir Radmanovic, Kirk Hinrich, Nate Robinson and Marco Belinelli as a mob.
Thus far this offseason, the Bulls have lost Kyle Korver, Omer Asik, C.J. Watson, John Lucas III and Ronnie Brewer.
But at least they got Marquis Teague in the draft!
The Bulls should still be good enough for the postseason once Rose returns, however. He still has Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah by his side, and the Bulls can only hope that Richard Hamilton stays healthy for the majority of the season.
12. Memphis Grizzlies
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Needless to say, I, like many others, was extremely disappointed by the Memphis Grizzlies last year.
After an outstanding 2011 postseason when they pushed the Oklahoma City Thunder to the brink in the second round without Rudy Gay, it wasn't that far-fetched of an idea to believe the Grizzlies, if healthy, could possibly crash the party in the Western Conference Finals.
A healthy Grizzlies team garnered a matchup with the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round, yet lost the series in seven games despite having Game 7 at home. With Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol all healthy, seeing the Grizzlies lose to Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Nick Young, Kenyon Martin and Reggie Evans had to be one of the most disappointing occasions to ever happen to the club.
The Grizzlies will be going into next season sans O.J. Mayo, but with Jerryd Bayless, Wayne Ellington and rookie Tony Wroten as their new additions.
Expectations are still high for Memphis despite the disappointing sendoff last year.
11. New York Knicks
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The New York Knicks really want to show that they're capable of competing with the likes of Boston and Miami in the East, which explains the abundance of offseason moves.
However, uncharacteristic of past offseasons, the Knicks actually made a few good moves, including signing Marcus Camby as a backup center, bringing in veteran Jason Kidd to keep fundamentals in the offense and signing an excellent perimeter defender in Ronnie Brewer.
They also brought back Raymond Felton—the same player who was involved in the trade that brought in Carmelo Anthony. It's funny how things have a way of working out. Perhaps Felton and Amar'e Stoudemire can go back to running the pick-and-roll that was so successful before all of these blockbuster moves were made?
While the Knicks may not have Jeremy Lin, they should be pleased to know that they're not going to give nearly $30 million to a player who may not be anything more than a flash in the pan.
Plus, with Iman Shumpert returning from injury, the Knicks faithful should only be pleased when looking toward the future.
Now, it's up to Carmelo to share the ball and become a more versatile star.
10. Brooklyn Nets
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At least we know the Barclays Center will have a team worth viewing, because the Brooklyn Nets would have seen similar attendance numbers to last year's in New Jersey had they not re-signed Deron Williams.
Fortunately, they re-signed their All-Star point guard and also traded for All-Star shooting guard Joe Johnson for good measure. With the move, the Nets now have one of the league's top backcourts that features two elite perimeter shooters and one of the league's top facilitators.
Joining those two in the starting lineup will be three other players who re-signed, including small forward Gerald Wallace, power forward Kris Humphries and center Brook Lopez.
They may not be Dwight Howard, but those three still provide the team with a solid frontcourt on both sides of the court. The Nets hope that Humphries can learn to finish around the rim better and that Lopez can improve those dreary rebounding numbers over the past two seasons.
Also, second-round pick Tyshawn Taylor may be the steal of the draft after having an excellent summer league session.
9. Dallas Mavericks
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For a second there, the Dallas Mavericks looked absolutely dreadful after failing to acquire Deron Williams or Dwight Howard.
Then the world leveled out and the Mavericks became a championship contender via some key offseason moves to bring in players that will fill former weaknesses.
The Mavericks not only had an excellent draft, acquiring Jared Cunningham, Jae Crowder and Bernard James, but made out of the 2012 offseason as good as a team could possibly get after putting all their eggs in the basket of an All-Star who didn't care much for the hometown appeal.
While the Mavericks may have not gotten the men they were looking for, they still acquired Chris Kaman, Elton Brand, Darren Collison, Dahntay Jones and O.J. Mayo.
In those five players, the Mavericks get needed scoring from the center position, productivity at the point, support off the bench in the frontcourt and a scorer at the two to help replace the loss of Jason Terry.
8. Denver Nuggets
Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the Denver Nuggets, the 2012-13 dark horse team of the NBA.
The Nuggets don't have any All-Stars outside of Andre Iguodala, yet could very well have the most dangerous team in the league thanks in part to their depth, balance and size. With so much attention being focused on the Lakers and Thunder out West, we have forgotten just how stacked the Nuggets actually are.
Just go by each position, and you'll see talent everywhere
At point guard, you have Ty Lawson and Andre Miller; at shooting guard, Wilson Chandler and rookie Evan Fournier; at small forward are Iguodala, Danilo Gallinari and Corey Brewer; the power forward position features Kenneth Faried and center showcases the recently re-signed JaVale McGee, as well as Kostas Koufos and Timofey Mozgov.
It's tough losing Arron Afflalo and Al Harrington, but the Nuggets' depth and possessing so many "positionless" players will allow the them to overcome.
There is talent at every starting position and on the bench at just about every position. With George Karl leading the way, the Nuggets could end up sneaking into the WCF if each player performs at or above his expectations.
7. Indiana Pacers
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Larry Bird deserves so much credit for the construction of this Indiana Pacers team because he turned it from a 37-45 borderline postseason team to a legitimate title contender within two years.
While he may no longer hold the title of president of basketball operations, his legacy still remains with this rebuilt Pacers club.
Indiana brings back most of the key players from last year's postseason run, with Roy Hibbert nearly being lost after receiving a lucrative contract offer from the Portland Trail Blazers. Fortunately for Indiana, it matched Portland's offer and still possesses a definitive advantage at the center position with the 7'2" Hibbert in the fold.
The Pacers bolstered their frontcourt with the drafting of Miles Plumlee and acquisition of Ian Mahinmi.
Mahinmi was acquired by the Pacers in a deal that sent Darren Collison to Dallas. Collison was only given two years in Indiana, with a significant regression in his second year contributing to the Pacers eventually cutting ties with the point guard.
No matter, as the Pacers signed another quick point guard in D.J. Augustin to take his place.
6. Los Angeles Clippers
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It's probably that we don't judge this Los Angeles Clippers on the way they exited the postseason last year.
Since then, the Clippers have only improved with a key player returning from injury and a few free agents joining the team.
The team will be ecstatic to have Chauncey Billups back in the lineup after suffering a season-ending injury last year. Although Billups was playing out of position at shooting guard, his perimeter shooting and fundamental approach to the game was the perfect complement to Chris Paul.
The Clippers will also welcome sharpshooters Jamal Crawford and Willie Green, the ageless wonder Grant Hill, as well as Ronny Turiaf and former Sixth Man of the Year Lamar Odom, who may just surprise doubters with a return back to the friendly confines of Los Angeles.
They'll be a good team with all of the weapons they possess, but they'll be a great team capable of winning a title if Blake Griffin can expand his offensive repertoire.
5. San Antonio Spurs
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Much like the Boston Celtics, this San Antonio Spurs team is ageless and continues to prove doubters wrong.
We're constantly doubting teams like the Spurs because of their age. We think that because they're all getting a little older and injuries are more apt to happen that this could very well be the year where the Spurs' reign at the top of the Western Conference comes to an end.
However, it never happens because the team exhibits excellent chemistry, has the best coach in the NBA and has the deepest rotation.
The Spurs rotation went 10 players deep last year. That's why the team is still so good after all these years despite age creeping up on Tim Duncan and injuries ravaging Manu Ginobili. Even last year, when Manu was dealing with injuries, the team finished with the league's best record thanks to Tony Parker's MVP-caliber season and the overwhelming depth.
San Antonio has remained stagnant this offseason with the hopes that the current team will be enough to topple the Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Lakers.
However, with Dwight and Pau on the same team, the Spurs need Tiago Splitter to somehow become a 20-10 player.
4. Boston Celtics
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Losing the best three-point shooter of all time may hurt certain teams.
But the Boston Celtics aren't your average team. Although they ended up losing Ray Allen, they managed to sign another veteran perimeter presence in Jason Terry. Along with Terry will also be Avery Bradley, who drew rave reviews for his outstanding defense as a rookie.
Bradley, however, will miss the first few weeks of the season due to recovery from shoulder surgery.
The Celtics have been leaving their mark all over the offseason, as they look for players who can push them toward another legitimate championship run. By acquiring Terry, Courtney Lee and Jason Collins, Boston has made all the necessary moves to stay near the top of the East in hopes of competing with the Miami Heat.
They also had an excellent draft if their two key draft picks turn out for the better. Jared Sullinger was a standout at Ohio State before a medical red-flag caused his draft stock to plummet, while Fab Melo's on-court production was overlooked due to off-court troubles.
However, at 7'1", Melo could be of good use to a Celtics team that needs the help at the five, with Greg Stiemsma departing for Minnesota.
With Rajon Rondo still setting up Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, the Celtics are still one of the most lethal teams in the NBA.
3. Oklahoma City Thunder
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Outside of drafting Perry Jones and signing Hasheem Thabeet, the Oklahoma City Thunder have been stagnant this offseason.
They're stagnant because there wasn't a heavy need for help. The Thunder will look forward to having Eric Maynor back and contributing off the bench, and they'll also look to their version of the Big Three utilizing the NBA Finals as another growing experience, much like how they used their defeat in the 2011 Western Conference Finals as a stepping stone toward achieving greater heights the next season.
Having Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden bond in London over the past month will only help improve the likelihood of this team making another run at a title.
Of course, the trip there won't be nearly as easy with the Lakers stacked on talent. However, the Thunder may not be as big of an underdog as you think. Westbrook is completely capable of exploiting Steve Nash's defense, and Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins possess the tools needed to stop Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard.
One major concern is whether they can limit the dangerous pick-and-roll between Howard and Nash. Perkins' slow feet may not be able to keep up with Dwight in those situations, and that could mean disaster for OKC.
2. Los Angeles Lakers
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Well, things have certainly shaken up over the past week in the Western Conference.
It appeared for a while that the Oklahoma City Thunder were the overwhelming favorites to repeat as conference champions, but that may no longer be the case with the Los Angeles Lakers' historic acquisition of the league's best center, Dwight Howard.
All the Lakers gave up in return was Andrew Bynum, Christian Eyenga, Josh McRoberts and a 2017 first-round pick. It's not nearly as horrific as the deal that brought in Pau Gasol from Memphis, but the Lakers are still coming away as the heavy winners in the four-team deal that also brought in Chris Duhon and Earl Clark to L.A.
Oh, and they still have Gasol somehow. The starting lineup now reads Steve Nash at the one, Kobe Bryant at the two, Metta World Peace at the three, Pau Gasol at four and Dwight Howard at five, with Antawn Jamison being the sixth man.
They're not the best team in the league because we've only seen it on paper. We know the potential of a Steve Nash and Dwight Howard pick-and-roll, but we also know that it wouldn't be right to put a team that's never played together over the defending NBA champions.
Still, the thought of Nash running the pick-and-roll with the player who led the league in points off the pick-and-roll is something that needs to happen over and over again.
1. Miami Heat
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The 2012 NBA champions maintain their threshold as the NBA's best team despite the Los Angeles Lakers' best efforts.
When it comes down to it, the Heat still have LeBron James, who will be riding into the 2012-13 season off the high of the 2011-12 season.
Since May, LeBron has won league MVP, finals MVP, an NBA championship and a gold medal; it's the first time anyone has accomplished those marks in the same year since Michael Jordan did it in 1992. He and LeBron are the only two NBA players to have ever had such a year, but Michael also didn't marry his high school sweetheart in the middle of all of it.