5 NBA Teams Facing 'Championship or Bust' Season in 2012-13
Expectations drive the NBA. If fans, owners, writers and analysts believe your team has the talent to compete for a championship, failing to do so creates the “championship or bust” mentality.
In the land of "big threes," dynasty hopefuls and veteran teams who have been there before, there are a handful of NBA teams facing that fate.
Teams like the Phoenix Suns, Minnesota Timberwolves and Washington Wizards would be happy just to make the postseason. If they do so, their year would be deemed a success in the eyes of owners and fans.
Other teams around the league, however, have much greater expectations placed on their shoulders. If the following teams come up short in their chase for the Larry O’Brien Trophy in 2013, their season will be a bust.
5. San Antonio Spurs
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The San Antonio Spurs have solidified their place as an NBA dynasty. They won four championships over a nine-year period with the same alpha dog (Tim Duncan) and appeared poised to rattle off more.
Having said that, the Spurs haven’t won a championship since 2007. Their steady core of Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Duncan under the watchful eye of head coach Gregg Popovich has remained intact, but repeating past success has eluded them.
They have been warriors during the regular season, winning at least 50 games in every season since their last championship (which includes winning 50 games during the lockout-shortened 66-game schedule, no easy feat). Despite being written off by critics year after year for being “too old” or “too slow,” this team competes at a high level even when injuries would appear to hinder its progress.
No matter how dominant and overwhelming the Spurs have looked during the regular season though, they haven’t reached the NBA Finals since their last championship win.
Last season, the Spurs finished the regular season on a 10-game winning streak. That streak ballooned to 20 straight wins after the Spurs demolished the Utah Jazz in Round 1, swept the Los Angeles Clippers in Round 2 and snagged the first two games away from the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference Finals.
Everything was clicking for the Spurs and they truly looked unstoppable. However, the Thunder finally figured out that they were younger, faster and more athletic than San Antonio, which led to four straight wins, ending the Spurs' impressive streak.
San Antonio's championship window finally appears to be closing. Duncan is getting near retirement age, Ginobili can’t stay healthy and even the great Tony Parker can’t carry this team by himself.
The Spurs only have a couple of years left with the same core of guys. They’re facing a championship-or-bust season, but nothing will negate their fantastic run of success.
4. Boston Celtics
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The original “big three” in Boston is no longer. Ray Allen decided to take his talents to South Beach this summer to join the defending-champion Miami Heat, so the new “big three” in Boston will be centered on the exploits of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo.
Meanwhile, head coach Doc Rivers recently signed a five-year extension reportedly worth $35 million, according to Chris Forsberg of ESPN Boston. Logically speaking, the life of that contract extends past the shelf life of future Hall of Famers in Pierce and Garnett; meaning the time to win is now for Rivers and the Celtics.
It’s been reported that Rivers and Rondo have a tenuous relationship (h/t Mike Cole of NESN.com), so there’s no telling what the future direction of the franchise will be when the aging stars retire.
The Celtics did lose Allen this offseason, but they replaced him with the trio of Jason Terry, Courtney Lee and Leandro Barbosa. Two of those three guards have won Sixth Man of the Year awards in the past, so they’re more than qualified to replace the statistical output of one player (even if it is Allen).
In addition to the three new guards, the Celtics will have a healthy Jeff Green, rookies Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo and added depth at center with Darko Milicic and Jason Collins. They certainly have enough firepower to compete in the East considering they took Miami the distance in the Eastern Conference Finals (a series Boston led 3-2 after five games).
When you have as much talent and as much veteran leadership as the Celtics do, you play to win championships, not to come up short.
3. Oklahoma City Thunder
The Oklahoma City Thunder have developed the most talented young core in the entire NBA through the exploits of general manager Sam Presti. Kevin Durant is 24 years old, while Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Serge Ibaka are all just 23.
That collection of young talent has all the makings of an NBA dynasty for many years down the road. But there’s one pressing problem: The Thunder can’t afford to keep Harden without suffering severe luxury tax penalties.
The reigning Sixth Man of the Year award winner is entering the final year of his current contract, which is why OKC is under more pressure to get over the hump and win the Larry O’Brien Trophy this season.
This may very well be the final season in which the Durant/Westbrook/Harden/Ibaka core plays together. If Harden leaves for a lucrative contract next summer that the Thunder decide not to match to avoid tax penalties, they’ll have one less weapon opposing teams have to worry about.
The Thunder should still be considered the best team in the West until proved otherwise, but reaching the NBA Finals and improving to win the championship won’t be an easy task.
2. Miami Heat
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Even the best basketball player on the planet right now doesn’t have a great shot at winning seven championships. Nevertheless, as a three-time MVP award winner with a rock solid (and improved) supporting cast, James and the Heat are expected to win on the highest stage.
Winning his first championship ring eases some of the pressure from James' shoulders, but the Heat will still be facing championship-or-bust expectations for the foreseeable future.
1. Los Angeles Lakers
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Many Los Angeles Lakers fans are already crowning the revamped team as champs before they’ve played a single regular-season game together. Additionally, Mark Medina, Ben Bolch and Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times put together an article about their own championship expectations for the team.
As a result, the big-market Lakers are facing a championship-or-bust season without a shadow of a doubt.
Steve Nash, the face of the Phoenix Suns franchise, left the team and surrendered proximity to his family to chase a championship ring with the rival Lakers. Kobe Bryant is seeking his sixth championship ring to add even more fuel to proverbial fire in terms of the ridiculous Michael Jordan comparisons. And Dwight Howard is hoping to get over the hump with the best supporting cast he’s ever been a part of.
The Lakers first have to prove they can knock the Thunder off the pedestal in the Western Conference before they get a shot at the Miami Heat or whichever other team comes out of the East. Regardless of that fact, anything short of a championship trophy in Lakerland will be viewed as a major bust this season.