With the Miami Heat coming off back-to-back championships, which team has the best chance of thwarting their three-peat chances?
In an improving Eastern Conference, several challengers stand in the way of the Heat accomplishing such a feat.
The first club that comes to mind is the Indiana Pacers. They took Miami to seven games in the conference finals and improved this summer.
The Pacers' most significant weakness this past season was their lack of a bench, but they addressed that in the offseason by signing Chris Copeland and C.J. Watson, then swinging a deal for Luis Scola. Let's also remember that Danny Granger should be good to go off the pine after missing just about all of the 2012-13 campaign with knee issues.
Then there are the New York Knicks. After bowing out to Indiana in the second round of the postseason, the Knicks made numerous offseason moves, trading for Andrea Bargnani and dipping into the free-agent pool to snatch up Metta World Peace and Beno Udrih.
Sure, those three teams are formidable and will probably pose problems for Miami, but none of them should represent the Heat's main challenger.
That title belongs to the Brooklyn Nets.
Even with the wheeling and dealing that the Pacers, Bulls and Knicks did, none of them can hold a candle to what the Nets accomplished this summer.
General manager Billy King did all of that while keeping his original core intact.
Some are already calling the Nets overrated and are comparing them to the 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers, which looked loaded on paper but didn't make so much as a whimper on the court.
Sorry, but I'm not buying it.
Those Lakers came into the season with one of the worst benches in the league and an injured, disgruntled Dwight Howard. The same can't be said for Brooklyn, which is arguably the deepest team in the NBA and has a cast of characters that is more than willing to accommodate one another.
The Nets possess exactly what it takes to give the Heat fits: a ton of size and an elite point guard.
Three out of those four bigs can hurt Miami offensively, and Evans is apt to have a field day on the glass against the Heat, the worst rebounding team in the league during the 2012-13 season.
Deron Williams can also carve up the Miami defense, and he has countless options to go to now. That is going to make him incredibly dangerous, and don't forget that he can be a No. 1 option at times.
He will have the luxury of being able to dump the ball into either Garnett or Lopez in the post. Not many teams have one polished post scorer, let alone two. Brook will work low, and Garnett will go high. And late in games, Williams has both Pierce and Joe Johnson to take big shots, not to mention Terry off the pine.
Brooklyn does not have any on-paper weaknesses, and it's important to consider the impact that Garnett will likely have on Lopez and Blatche. One thing the Nets lacked last season was toughness, and there is no doubt that KG will do all he can to instill his intensity into fellow Nets big men.
We all know how gifted Lopez is offensively. It's his heart and killer instinct that have been questioned. With Garnett around, that should no longer be a problem. The same goes for Blatche.
Plus, KG should assist Lopez defensively. While the Stanford product is a good shot-blocker, he is not an exceptional team defender. He has gotten better, but he's still not at the level of an elite center. Garnett will help mask Lopez's slow feet, cleaning up any messes he may leave in the form of missed assignments and poor pick-and-roll defense.
As an added bonus, KG will not only obscure Lopez's defensive deficiencies, but he will also serve as a teacher and mentor on that end of the floor.
We should also address the chatter about potential chemistry issues in Brooklyn. Given the makeup of the roster, I don't see that complication arising.
The Nets are getting two guys in Garnett and Pierce who have played with each other for six years. They are used to making sacrifices for the benefit of the team, so I don't envision any problems occurring with them. For that duo of future Hall of Famers, the only difference will be the uniforms.
Also, Terry played with them in Boston during the 2012-13 season. He will fill a role that he has been comfortable with throughout his entire career: sixth man.
KG should complement Lopez well up front, and while Pierce and Johnson need the ball in their hands to be successful, let's remember Pierce played with Ray Allen for five years. He knows what it's like to have another high-scoring wing playing alongside of him.
Based on all of that, Brooklyn is not going to have any crippling chemistry issues. Sure, it may take the team some time to get on a roll at the beginning of the season, but once the playoffs heat up, the Nets should be fine.
With its size, versatility, depth and veteran leadership, Brooklyn is the biggest threat to the Heat.
Sure, Indiana has plenty of size, but it doesn't have the Nets' firepower.
The Bulls may be getting Rose back, but we've seen this song and dance with Chicago before. The Bulls just don't have enough "oomph" offensively to top Miami in a seven-game series, and they haven't exactly improved their roster since bowing out to the Heat in five games in 2011. I'm not even counting the most recent playoffs because Rose did not play.
New York? It should be a very good team; however, the Knicks don't have the personnel to hit the Heat where it hurts. They don't possess anyone who can beat up Miami inside like Brooklyn and Indy.
All four of the teams mentioned have a shot at beating the Heat, but no one has a better chance than the Nets.