Entering the 2011-12 NBA season, there was no story more reported than the Miami Heat's inability to win the NBA championship just one season prior. The pressure was on LeBron James to take home his first career title, while head coach Erik Spoelstra consistently found himself on the hot seat.
Fast forward one calendar year.
The Miami Heat are the defending champions, LeBron James is the reigning Finals MVP and Erik Spoelstra has earned himself years of job security. Best of all, the Heat have absolutely no pressure to repeat.
But how could that be?
After the 2012 offseason, the Los Angeles Lakers reemerged as the most revered yet hated franchise in the NBA. This comes by virtue of their acquiring two-time MVP Steve Nash and three-time Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard.
That and the fact that they already had the likes of Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol under contract.
Although the Lakers will be the team that garners the headlines, it is actually the Heat who benefit most from this alteration of rosters. As for why, allow the shift in attention to offer insight into what the Miami franchise could potentially achieve.
The question is, will anyone notice?
Who is the favorite to win the NBA championship?
With the relocation of Steve Nash, Dwight Howard, Jeremy Lin and James Harden, the Western Conference has become the main focus of the NBA.
The Los Angeles Lakers are the obvious attraction with their new All-Star team, but the Oklahoma City Thunder are an equally legitimate championship contender with superstars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
Down in Texas, the Houston Rockets have transformed into a team that is knocking on the door of legitimacy. Alongside them are the 2011 NBA champion Dallas Mavericks, and some franchise known as the San Antonio Spurs that are wondering when they fell out of contention.
Spoiler alert: they never did.
With all of this attention being placed on the Western Conference, it appears as if we've forgotten about the Miami Heat. After all, it was those very Heat that defeated the Thunder to win the 2012 NBA championship.
For the first time in NBA history, the favorite to repeat as champions are the last team to cross our minds. Quite the interesting development for a franchise that actually improved their roster from a year ago.
Although teams will look to knock off the Heat, the pressure to repeat has been alleviated. And that's not the only weight lifted off of their shoulders.
Burden of Expectation
When LeBron James won his first NBA championship in 2012, many believed that the 2013 season would be one in which The King would reign supreme without distraction. No one thought that he'd be able to do so with virtually no attention.
LeBron can thank the Los Angeles Lakers for that blessing in disguise.
Already outlined was how the Heat are benefiting on the floor, but how about in the eyes of the media? Although journalists will not determine the outcome of a games with their writing, their words can be of great distraction.
Fortunately for Miami, it's a star powered L.A. franchise that will garner the praise and criticism all season long. Not those Heatles.
With the league now focused on another franchise, could the Heat actually win unexpectedly?
Develop in Peace
With the basketball world focused on the Western Conference elite, the Miami Heat can now develop their rotation without the pressure of a national evaluation. After all, who was really talking about the Nuggets bringing down 18 offensive rebounds against them?
For some readers, that may even be the first time you've ever heard that statistic.
The fact of the matter is, this Heat team is nothing like they were a year ago. Mario Chalmers is stepping up as a facilitator, while Ray Allen changes the entire dynamic of the Heat's offensive attack.
Add in the acquisition of Rashard Lewis, and you have a situation in which the Heat must discover each other's tendencies. Although the stars remain on the same page, the addition of sharpshooters and development of youth changes the team's game plan.
Fortunately for the Heat, they can go through the growing pains with minimal pressure.