For years, the NBA has needed to rely on the prevalence of its most historically rich teams to thrive as a league. For as long as many fans can remember, that reliance has been bestowed upon the Boston Celtics and New York Knicks, who both reside in two of the biggest sports markets in the world.
While both teams may very well still be perennial playoff contenders for years to come, their necessity to the league overall is dwindling. The leveling of the structure is not so much a result of these two storied franchises becoming weak, but rather the rest of the NBA becoming strong.
According to NBA.com, in 2012, the league experienced one of their best ever seasons in regards to television ratings. Network broadcasters ABC and TNT turned in their highest rated regular seasons since they had begun televising games. From the 2011 to the 2012 season, ABC's ratings jumped 10 percent, while TNT's was up 4 percent.
While the Knicks and Celtics continue to get their fair share of prime time games and most certainly contribute to a good portion of that rising viewership, fans are becoming interested in the league as a whole. There are players and teams across the NBA that are stealing their thunder, and the league could not be happier about it.
Here are five reasons (teams) that the NBA no longer needs the Celtics and Knicks to thrive.
The Chicago Bulls will forever be linked with the NBA's greatest player of all-time, Michael Jordan. As a franchise right now, they are knocking on the door of doing something that they had not done before Jordan, nor after he retired—winning a championship.
As long as star point guard Derrick Rose is healthy and leading the attack, the Bulls will be a playoff team. What the front office has built around him is what will make them a yearly championship contender.
Despite a first-round playoff exit at the hands of the Philadelphia 76ers in 2012, the Bulls sport one of the most talented and deepest rosters in the NBA. For two consecutive years, including 2012 where they only had Rose for 39 games, they have finished the regular season atop the Eastern Conference.
If Rose can come back healthy, and hopefully stay that way, there is nothing to stop them from making a yearly trip to at least the conference finals. From there, it is just a matter of taking that next step, and getting the franchise's seventh championship trophy.
While they could not take down the Thunder in the Western Conference finals this past season, the San Antonio Spurs continue to be a marker of success in the NBA. Some will call them boring, but if boring continues to win games at the rate they do, they are probably just fine with it.
The Spurs are the rarity in a star-driven NBA, as they do not have the young superstar players that some other teams do, and nor do they need them. Veterans Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, and Manu Ginobili lead the team, along with the well respected coaching of Gregg Popovich.
The excitement in the Spurs' game is not in high flying dunks, flashy plays or locker room personalities, but rather in its consistency. They have made a trip to the playoffs every year since 1997, which just so happens to be the year that Tim Duncan was drafted.
In 2012, they finished the regular season tied for the league's best record, finishing on a 10-game winning streak, and adding another 10 straight to start the playoffs.
While their window for success may be closing due to the age of key players, they continue to embody that of a well-oiled machine. Smart, precise and consistent basketball is its own brand of exciting play, and fans of the game will always be drawn to the way they play.
While the Lakers would tend to fall into the same category as the Celtics and Knicks, being a big-market team that the league has needed to rely on, this new look squad for the 2012 season bears mentioning anyway.
After an offseason for the ages, the Lakers are joining the league-wide trend of stacking superstar players. Already having Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol in the fold, they have acquired both PG Steven Nash, and C Dwight Howard.
With such a solid core of star players, while not forgetting about the likes of Metta World Peace and Antawn Jamison, the Lakers very well could have the most dominant starting lineup in the NBA.
With Kobe Bryant getting closer and closer to the conclusion of his career, this kind of roster had to be just what he wanted in hopes of getting at least one more ring.
Whether or not this influx of talent translates to instant success on the court remains to be seen. However, one thing is for certain, as all eyes will indeed be on the Purple and Gold come the start of this season.
The Oklahoma City Thunder likely bring to the table the best blend of youth and talent of any NBA roster.
Their "big three" in Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden is just beginning to tap into what the are capable of doing both individually, and together as a unit. Take in to account the defensive prowess of Serge Ibaka, and it suddenly becomes a very legitimate "big four".
Experience, as with any professional sports team, will be the key moving forward.
Last year's loss to the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals was no doubt a disappointment, but also a learning experience. This young group has plenty of basketball ahead of it, and if there is a team that is going to win "Not one... Not two... Not three...", it could very well be them.
As the Thunder showed last year, they are ready to compete right now, and will be one of the more exciting teams to watch both now, and for the foreseeable future. What's more, is the way that Oklahoma City has taken to this team. The classic franchises will always have their dedicated following, but it is this kind of new, exciting and small-market fan base that the NBA loves to see enter the picture, and build upon.
The Miami Heat, a young franchise in comparison to that of the Celtics or Knicks, has filled the shoes as the NBA's prime attraction. Part of being one of those big-name franchises is being loved and hated all the same.
Since the day of LeBron's infamous "decision", and Miami becoming the first to form a soon-to-be trend with their "big three", the Heat have become the No. 1 target for fans and media alike. Evidenced by their recent NBA Championship win, they seem to have taken to the role quite well.
The talent level of their superstar players and now the chemistry of which, is of the quality that could land them in the NBA Finals year after year. They could already score with the best of teams, and adding one of the best 3-point shooters of all time, in Ray Allen, to the fold can't hurt at all.
While there are other teams in the NBA that can score in bunches, it is Miami's combination of which with their lock-down defense that sets them apart. Their stars are still relatively young, but are now experienced. Some fans love it, and many will hate it, but this dominant Heat team will be that way for many years to come.