Miami Heat 2011-2012 Champions
Every team is looking to dethrone the Miami Heat and take their spot. Though they have the biggest target on their backs, they are clearly one of the favorites coming into the 2012-2013 season.
However, winning a second championship in a row will not be an easy feat for the Heat.
There are several teams who can challenge them in winning the coveted Larry O’Brien Championship trophy.
Every team is standing with an equal 0-0 record. But do they all truly have the same chance in knocking off the Heat?
Click ahead to see the power rankings of the biggest threats to the Heat’s back-to-back championship run.
Rookie Michael Kidd-Gilchrist at Charlotte Bobcats Media Day
7-59. That was the Charlotte Bobcats' record last season.
As nightmarish as last season was, the Bobcats do have some reasons for hope.
This summer they added rookie Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, second overall in the 2012 NBA Draft. Gilchrist is not the most offensively gifted player, but he is very athletic and his defensive capabilities more than make up for what he lacks.
Former Pistons guard Ben Gordon joined the team along with Ramon Sessions. Both guards will provide the boost the offensively-inept team so badly needs.
The Bobcats are headed in the right direction with these roster changes. Yet it is hard to believe they will be any better than they were last year. They are too far removed from the top teams in the league to make any significant impact.
This season will be similar to last season as the Bobcats will fail to make the playoffs.
Sacramento Kings guard Jimmer Fredette
Not much to see here.
The Kings had yet another disappointing season and their offseason is simply not enough to change the outlook this year.
On the bright side, they do have point guard Isaiah Thomas who flourished last season, as well as DeMarcus Cousins, one of their best defenders. Alongside rookie Thomas Robinson, Cousins will help in racking up boards.
The Kings' young players may lead the team forward in the future but this year is not the time.
Pistons head coach Lawrence Frank
It seems like so long ago that the Detroit Pistons were one of the most feared teams in the league.
The Pistons ended last season with a dismal 25-41 record. They came in second to last in offensive efficiency, right before the Bobcats.
They did pick up Andre Drummond in the draft, and he is sure to provide an answer to the Pistons' frontcourt depth issues. If developed correctly, Drummond stands to be a possible franchise player for the team.
Unfortunately, Drummond is about the only exciting thing to look forward to in the upcoming season.
Kyrie Irving of the Cleveland Cavaliers
Kyrie Irving is the best thing that has happened to Cleveland since LeBron James was their star.
Irving won the 2012 Rookie of the Year award for all the right reasons. He is a tough competitor, very athletic, and he continues to make his teammates better.
But even Irving's impressive play couldn't help salvage the Cavs' season.
The Cavs added both Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller, but in the end lost Antawn Jamison, one of their best offensive players.
Irving is by far the star of the team and will be for years to come, but with a team full of young and inexperienced players, don't expect the Cavs to make it to the playoffs.
Al Harrington of the Orlando Magic
The Orlando Magic had quite the busy offseason. The entire organization was revamped from the front office to the roster, leaving them with many problems to address.
Not only did they need a new head coach, but they also needed a new GM. The Magic filled those voids in signing Jacque Vaughn and Rob Hennigan but have made no actual progress in fixing their roster.
After the Dwight Howard saga finally ended with him signing with the Los Angeles Lakers, the Orlando Magic have seemingly gone from bad to worse.They also lost Ryan Anderson, and their draft picks are not enough to replace either player.
Not only did they fail to get rid of Hedo Turkoglu and Glen Davis' big-dollar contracts, they went ahead and overpaid Jameer Nelson in re-signing him.
For every step forward the Magic have taken, they've taken too many steps back.
They are simply not good enough and will not win enough games to be a factor.
Jeremy Lin of the Houston Rockets
After the failed trade that would have sent Pau Gasol to the Lakers, the Rockets lost out on another big trade in not acquiring Dwight Howard.
Though last season saw them missing the playoffs, the Rockets came very close and just missed earning a seed in the Western Conference.
However, they lost too many of their top scorers. Luis Scola, Kyle Lowry, Goran Dragic and Courtney Lee are all gone. They did sign Jeremy Lin, but he can't do it all on his own.
With these significant losses, it will be fairly difficult for the Rockets to come close to what they accomplished last season.
Portland forward LaMarcus Aldridge
Last season, the Portland Trailblazers completely blew up their team. They shipped out all their problem players, as well as veterans who were not moving in the same direction as the team.
In replacement, the Trailblazers picked up Meyers Leonard, Will Barton and Damian Lillard. LaMarcus Aldridge now has a core group of players to play with for the next couple of seasons.
Clearly, the Trailblazers are more focused on rebuilding for the future than on solving any of their immediate problems.
Raptors guard DeMarDerozan
If the Toronto Raptors are to make any type of playoff run, they face several obstacles in the East.
The Raptors were not one of the eight eastern teams who made the playoffs last year, falling short at 11th in standings.
This offseason, the Raptors added several new faces to the team including both Landry Fields and Kyle Lowry, among others.
At this point, it's a toss up in predicting how far they will get this season. They might just grab the eighth seed, but they also might miss the playoffs for the fifth straight season.
Wizards point guard John Wall
Though the Wizards had yet another below average season, this summer they continued their roster overhaul in hopes of improving the team.
At the trade deadline, the Wizards shipped JaVale McGee to Denver in exchange for Nene Hilario. In Nene's short time with the Wizards, the team won 10 of their 20 total wins. They also got rid of Nick Young for Brian Cook. The Wizards set the tone early by ending relationships with selfish players in exchange for those who are more disciplined.
They added both Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor from the New Orleans Hornets. These veteran players are the defensive specialists Washington needs.
In addition, they have their draft pick Bradley Beal, who the Wizards hope will be able to apply his shooting abilities at the professional level.
John Wall now has a supporting cast behind him to make the Wizards a much better team; they just won't be good enough to make a run for the title.
Hornets forward Anthony Davis
The New Orleans Hornets had a forgettable season last year and at this point are looking for any way to climb out of the bottom of the pack.
With popular draft picks Anthony Davis and Austin Rivers, the Hornets have rebuilt their team with impressive players who will immediately help remedy their problems.
Davis will spearhead the group with his versatility in playing either the forward or center position. Not only can he pull down plenty of rebounds and shot block, but he is athletic enough to play as a forward too.
Rivers' addition to the team not only brings the Hornets more offensive help, but experience as well. Having been coached by Coach K is sure to be a benefit to the young guard.
As the Hornets enter a new era with their two young stars, they have a chance to finally move up in standings.
Center Samuel Dalembert at Bucks' Media Day
The Milwaukee Bucks haven't made the playoffs since the 2009-2010 season, when they were eliminated by the Atlanta Hawks.
Last season, they almost made their first playoff appearance in two years. The Bucks ended up losing five of their last seven games to miss it again.
At the trade deadline, the Bucks lost Andrew Bogut to the Warriors in exchange for Monta Ellis. Since Ellis and guard Brandon Jennings only played together for a couple of months, a full season will give them more time to jell together on the court.
In a Yahoo! Sports article by Chris Jenkins, Jennings reflected on lack of size being a factor in why the team failed to win critical games. Now that they have Samuel Dalembert, the Bucks have a center who can protect the rim.
If all goes well this season, the Bucks can finally re-emerge onto the playoff scene.
Michael Beasley during Media Day
Like so many other teams, the Phoenix Suns faced a major overhaul. They needed a new guard, new power forward, new small forward, an upgraded bench, and then some.
The Suns signed several key players, namely Dragic, Scola and forward Michael Beasley, and are definitely headed in the right direction.
Goran Dragic drew a lot of interest this summer and the Suns were able to bring him back to Phoenix. Dragic's 11.7 points per game and 46.2 percent in field goals made last season is just what the Suns need.
Luis Scola is a huge piece for the Suns. Scola is a top scorer, and his numbers were consistent in his time with the Houston Rockets. His impact on the Suns will be immediate.
Michael Beasley, however, is a hit or miss. Beasley has always had the talent to make it far in the league, but he lacks the mental toughness and discipline to do so. This may be cause for concern for the Suns. If Beasley can focus, he will be a threat to opposing teams.
The Suns are in a rebuilding era without Steve Nash. They struggled throughout the season with Nash, one of the best ball handlers in the league, so don't expect a cake walk in winning the title without him.
Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors
The Golden State Warriors have gotten better and more organized.
Gone is their franchise player Monta Ellis. In are Jarrett Jack and Klay Thomspon, both players who will continue to boost their scoring, something the Warriors have no trouble doing. The Warriors came in 12th overall in scoring, with 97.8 points a game.
What they did lack was defensive ability. Head coach Mark Jackson stressed defense and upper management responded.
The Warriors brought in both Carl Landry and Andrew Bogut to help on defense. But if Bogut cannot remain healthy, something he's struggled to do over the years, he will not make an impact. Stephen Curry is also coming off a major injury and that will affect the Warriors down the line as well.
Nevertheless, the Warriors now have a better bench than they've had before. It may be enough for them to make the playoffs, but they would have to upset many, many teams to win the Finals.
Josh Smith during the 2012 playoffs
Every year it's the same old story with the Atlanta Hawks. They make the playoffs consistently, but never advance far enough to contend for the title. After a string of playoff appearances as the middle seed in the Eastern Conference, the Hawks needed a change.
And change they did.
The Hawks totally shifted their roster, unloading Joe Johnson and his absurd $119 million contract. Their draft pick, John Jenkins, did very well in the summer league, finishing with a 50 percent field goal average. Jenkins may not start in place of Johnson, but his athleticism will be a great addition for the Hawks. The Hawks also traded Marvin Williams to the Utah Jazz in exchange for Devin Harris. Harris struggled as a guard with the Utah Jazz, but he solves the Hawks' immediate point guard issue.
The Hawks also still have their two big men, Josh Smith and Al Horford. Smith is a scorer, but what the Hawks need him to be is a leader first.
Just this past March, Smith expressed that he wanted to be traded. With Johnson gone, Smith is now the leader of the team, but with an attitude like that how far can the Hawks really go?
Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young of the 76ers
Last year, the 76ers narrowly sneaked in as the eighth seed of the Eastern Conference.They showed the league that they are an up and coming team with the potential to do much better next season.
But how much better?
The 76ers traded their star player Andre Iguodala to Denver, a loss that has been sorely overlooked. The Sixers no longer have an elite, athletic defender who can battle the league's best scorers.
What they do have however, is Andrew Bynum.
With Dwight Howard now playing in the West, the former Lakers center is probably one of the best—if not the best—centers in the East. The Sixers needed a go-to offensive player and they got that in Bynum.
If Bynum can focus and play team basketball, he will be an integral player for the 76ers.
If he resorts back to the immature player he often was with the Lakers, his addition to the team will not mean much.
Al Jefferson of the Utah Jazz
The Utah Jazz headed into the playoffs so quietly that their first round sweep by the San Antonio Spurs was hardly noticed.
The Jazz had bigger concerns to address in the offseason before they could even consider next year's playoff hopes.
They added some key players, most notably Mo Williams, Randy Foye and Marvin Williams. The trio can alleviate some of the Jazz's shooting difficulties as well as play perimeter defense. Williams is a quality point guard and the Jazz expect him to produce more than Devin Harris did.
Overall, the Jazz had a very clinical offseason. No flashy trades were made, nor any particularly risky moves taken. Just enough pieces to solidify the team and make them a bit better than they were last year.
The Jazz are in position to make the playoffs again, but fierce competition in the West will cap their ceiling at a five or six seed.
Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire of the Knicks
This offseason the Knicks lost Jeremy Lin and missed out on signing Steve Nash, but they did manage to sign Jason Kidd, Raymond Felton and Marcus Camby.
Jason Kidd is the oldest point guard in the league and it is very unlikely he will be able to compete with the younger guards around him. Kidd's abilities have slipped, and though he brings a veteran presence to an often dysfunctional team, he is not a great option for the point guard spot.
Felton is a bit better, as he averaged 17.1 points per game and 9 assists in his brief stint with the Knicks during the 2010-2011 season. Only time will tell if he will be able to lead the team's offense throughout the season.
The Knicks of course still have their duo, Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire. The two of them are great offensively, but they still do not play together.
In addition to chemistry issues, the Knicks still lack the defensive mindset to compete with top teams. Marcus Camby should help a bit in that, but one person alone can't fix the team's issues.
The Knicks will make the playoffs, but how far they will go remains to be seen.
Kevin Love at Media Day
The Minnesota Timberwolves had a quiet but really good offseason.
They got rid of expiring contacts with Michael Beasley, Anthony Randolph and Anthony Tolliver. They replaced them with Chase Budinger, guard Alexey Shved from Russia, Greg Stiemsma and veteran Andrei Kirilenko.
Kirilenko is returning to the NBA so it will be interesting to see how he adjusts.
Overall, the Wolves have done well in rebuilding their team. They now have quality bench players as well as playmakers to help them finally advance in the post-season.
Up until Ricky Rubio's season ending injury last March, the Wolves were in the hunt to snatch up the Western Conference's eight seed. Losing him was a huge blow to the team as they went into a downward spiral, completely missing the playoffs.
With this upgraded roster the Wolves have added much more talent to their team, and once Rubio returns, they should be even more of a threat.
Instead of fighting for the last spot, look for the Wolves to be a legitimate contender in the Western Conference.
Andre Iguodala of the Denver Nuggets
The Denver Nuggets are one of the most efficient teams when it comes to scoring. In fact, last season they were good for first overall, scoring an average of 104.1 points per game.
They play fast-paced, athletic basketball, but struggle on defense. Their scoring abilities brought them the sixth seed in a competitive Western conference, but it wasn't enough to defeat a loaded Lakers team.
As a result, Denver added JaVale McGee and Andre Iguodala to help on defense.
If McGee can improve even more on his defense, the Nuggets can be a threat. They need him to be the big man on the court, making it easier for his teammates to score. Denver has to hope McGee doesn't return to the undisciplined behavior he had with the Wizards.
Iggy is the biggest help for the Nuggets. He is undoubtedly one of the best lock down defenders in the league and will be invaluable come playoff time.
With an already deep backcourt of Ty Lawson and Andre Miller, the Nuggets have a chance to advance past the first round of the playoffs this year.
Dirk Nowitzki battles for control of the ball against the Thunder
The Dallas Mavericks weren't able to repeat their success after winning the Finals in 2011.
Not only did they have a tough season, but their offseason didn't start off very strong. The Mavericks missed out on getting Dallas-area native Deron Williams to join them, in addition to losing out on getting Dwight Howard and Steve Nash.
They also lost both Jason Kidd and longtime Mav Jason Terry, who joined the Boston Celtics.
Though they aren't one of of the favorites coming into the season, don't count the Mavs out just yet.
The Mavs still managed to have a good offseason despite these losses. They claimed Elton Brand of off waivers, giving Dirk Nowitzki a solid backup.
Free agents Chris Kaman and OJ Mayo were signed to the team along with Darren Collison and Dahntay Jones, who were acquired in a trade with the Pacers.
Chris Kaman, a former teammate on Dirk's German national team, is a veteran big who gives the Mavs an inside scoring presence. Mayo, Collison and Jones have the potential to be a strong backcourt for the Mavs. The three guards' speed and athleticism will allow the Mavs to score easy transition points.
But for the Mavs to qualify for the playoffs, they need Dirk to remain healthy. He is the best player on the team, but at 34 years of age it's becoming increasingly difficult for him to keep up with the younger players in the West.
It will take some time to integrate these new players into the system, but Dirk has the supporting cast he needs to go deep in the playoffs.
Gerald Green at Indiana Pacers Media Day
As I mentioned before in my article, the Indiana Pacers are capable of rising above their expectations.
The Pacers are a gritty team boasting both offensive and defensive strength with Danny Granger leading the way. Granger's versatility in playmaking is one of the Pacers' best assets.
Ian Mahinmi, their newest addition, solidifies the Pacers lineup with his ability to deter opponents from attacking the rim.
After being defeated by the Heat in the playoffs, look for the Pacers to make waves this upcoming season.
Derrick Rose waving to fans before the Bulls take on the 76ers
The Chicago Bulls experienced one of the biggest upsets when they lost All-Star Derrick Rose to a season-ending ACL injury.
Though Rose says he will return when he is ready, an ACL injury can take anywhere from eight to 12 months of recovery.
We all saw how the quickly Bulls faltered without their leader. Though Kirk Hinrich, Nate Robinson and Marquis Teague will fill in for Rose, they have really big shoes to fill.
The Bulls also lost key defensive player Omar Asik. Asik and Taj Gibson complemented each other nicely on the court, and his departure leaves a glaring hole at the reserve center spot.
Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng and Joakim Noah are still strong players that can carry the team into the playoffs, and if there's any coach that can find a way to succeed, it's Tom Thibodeau.
Thibodeau has the second highest winning percentage by a coach in his second season, winning 75.7 percent of all games.
He will find a way to help the Bulls remain a threat in the east, but how far they go depends on whether or not his current roster can step up without Rose.
Blake Griffin of the Los Angeles Clippers
After last year's exciting season, the Los Angeles Clippers are no longer cast behind the shadow of the Lakers.
The Clippers instantly made themselves a better team once they brought in Chris Paul, stealing a key player from the Lakers.
The effect was instantaneous. The Clippers had a great turnaround from the previous season, finishing with a 40-26 record, good for the fifth seed in the West.
Though the Spurs sent them home packing after a quick four games in the second round, the Clippers are entering the 2012-2013 season as one of the lower seeds in the playoffs.
The Clippers face many obstacles in their conference. The Lakers' offseason widens the gap between the two teams and the Thunder and Spurs still dominate the West. In addition, both the Nuggets and Grizzlies can outplay the Clippers, making it difficult for them to move up in standings.
It is very unlikely that the Clippers can overtake each and everyone of these teams to win the championship.
Brooklyn Nets point guard Deron Williams
You probably thought the Brooklyn Nets was just a name change for the New Jersey Nets. But it isn't. The new look Nets have upgraded and are much, much better.
They kept their star point guard Deron Williams, re-signing him to a five year $98 million contract. Other teams around the league were interested in the guard, but the Nets were able to keep him. This is a huge plus because he is their leader, and the offense runs through him.
They also inked new deals for forward Kris Humphries and center Brook Lopez, both players who, though not as flashy as other players, can contribute to the team.
Humphries is not the best at defending or scoring, but he is a fantastic rebounder. Lopez is great with low-post scoring as well as scoring spot up jumpers.
Adding Joe Johnson gave the Nets a much needed boost to rejuvenate the team. Together, he and Williams are sure to complement each other and produce well for the team.
If the Nets have good chemistry on the court, they may earn themselves a high playoff seed.
Grizzlies forward Rudy Gay
The Grizzlies are one of the surprise teams that could come up big when it matters most. Last season didn't show that though.
After gaining control of game one of the first round of the playoffs against the Los Angeles Clippers, the Grizzlies blew a 21-point lead. Everything fell apart from there and they were ousted on their own court after a seven game match.
Nevertheless, the Grizzlies made some key moves that will help them avoid this disaster next season.
The Grizzlies let OJ Mayo walk as a restricted free agent, which was a step towards the right direction. Mayo never really lived up to expectations and was not the consistent scorer the Grizzlies needed him to be. In addition to his off-court issues and superstar attitude, it was time for them to cut him loose.
The Grizzlies still have Zach Randolph, Rudy Gay, Marc Gasol and Marreese Speights. They have one of the deepest frontcourts in the league.
Though forward Darrell Arthur sustained a leg fracture a couple weeks ago, the Grizzlies should be fine without him.
They have size, scoring ability and they play good defense. The Grizzlies have a solid group of players and will challenge any team they face.
San Antonio Spur Tim Duncan during the 2012 Western Conference Finals
Unlike the majority of the league, the Spurs did not have an offseason.
Aside from rookie Marcus Denmon, whom they added from the draft, the Spurs had a completely uneventful offseason. Rather than go out and test the waters to add players, they simply revamped their team.
They signed Tim Duncan to a long-term contract, ensuring he will retire a Spur, as well as Boris Diaw and Danny Green.
One obvious hole in their roster was their difficulty in versatility, which the Thunder exposed during the Conference finals. Though the Spurs have not found any players to fix that, don't make the mistake of counting them out.
They've proven time and time again that age is not a factor. The Spurs shocked the league in locking up the number one seed in the West, in addition to the 20 straight games they won.
Expect the unexpected again with them this season.
Russell Westbrook at OKC Thunder Media Day
Although they lost to the Heat in the Finals last season, the Oklahoma City Thunder still have a very good chance of winning it all this year.
They've got a team built around players and they are mostly set at every position. They have Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Serge Ibaka. They have depth, speed, youth and athleticism on their side.
Most importantly, they have shed any notions of being a young and inexperienced team. The Thunder are returning this season having handled adversity in losing the Finals.
The bitter taste of defeat should be enough motivation for them to win the title.
Rajon Rondo of the Boston Celtics
For the past couple of seasons, the Boston Celtics have shown they are one of the top teams to beat.
Year after year they surprise folks in the playoffs. After coming up short in game seven of the Eastern Conference Finals, the Celtics are reloaded and ready to come for the throne.
They are one spot ahead of the Thunder simply because the Celtics made it further in their season against the reigning champs then the Thunder did.
Though they lost Ray Allen to rival Miami Heat, the Celtics gained several players to make up for it.
The Celtics come into the 2012-2013 season with plenty of guys at their disposal. Avery Bradley showed last year that he deserves to be a starter. In addition, they have Courtney Lee, Brandon Bass, Jeff Green and Jason Terry; they are all legitimate players who can shoot the ball well.
The Celtics also added rookies Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo. Despite his previous back problems, Sullinger is a gifted forward. His ability to rebound well is often overlooked, but for a team that ranked last in rebounding last season, this will relieve their rebounding woes. Melo has the potential to develop into a strong defensive player, and has displayed such during the preseason.
These are just their acquisitions. The Celtics still have Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo. Garnett and Pierce still have plenty of juice left in the tank, and Rondo showed last season that he can and will rise to the occasion.
If they can remain healthy and consistent throughout the year, they will again be a major force to contend with.
LeBron James of the Miami Heat
The Miami Heat ended the 2011-2012 season on top of the world. They were the best team when it mattered and their championship run showed that.
With their recent additions, it is hard to deny that they are poised to make another championship run.
As I mentioned previously in my article on the Heat's offseason, Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis will make them a better team.
Last year we saw LeBron James carrying his team offensively, making up where his teammates were lacking. From scoring to rebounding to playing defense, LeBron was all in. With inconsistent play from other players, and injuries depleting his co-star Dwyane Wade, LeBron oftentimes single-handedly propelled the Heat forward.
Both Allen and Lewis, if healthy, will help the Heat in becoming an even bigger offensive threat than they were before. With LeBron free from heavy pressure, his shooting will be more efficient.
LeBron is already pretty efficient on the court. Just imagine what he'll be like now that he has more help.
Kobe Bryant at Lakers' Media Day
The Lakers had a drama-filled season last year.
They got a new coach, their trade for Chris Paul was voided, fan favorite Lamar Odom was traded, Pau Gasol was un-traded, and they once again were sent fishing early in the playoffs.
Yet their offseason more than makes up for it all.
After their trade for Chris Paul was nullified, the Lakers were left without a point guard. Ramon Sessions was brought in in hopes of fulfilling that role, but he was not enough. So who did the Lakers get? None other than Steve Nash.
Nash will not only help lower the pressure on Kobe Bryant, but he will contribute offensively as well. He is one of the best passing point guards and is sure to work well with his teammates.
If Nash's addition wasn't enough, the Lakers also added Dwight Howard.
Dwight Howard’s addition to the Lakers has seemingly made them the number one threat to the league. He is one of the best centers in the game, as he can defend and he can shoot well.
But it doesn't stop there. The Lakers improved their perennial bench issues by adding both Jodie Meeks and Antawn Jamison. This makes them even deeper than they were before.
With all these pieces, the Lakers are set to win the Finals this season.