John Wall will win a NBA Championship before LeBron James. You heard it here first. It may take three or four years before John Wall is in the NBA Finals, but he will win a NBA Championship before LeBron James. So will Paul Pierce (again), Dwight Howard, and Derrick Rose. Why do I firmly believe these statements to be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth? Allow me to explain my reasons.
The Miami Heat will not win an NBA Championship with their core group of Dwayne Wade, James, and Chris Bosh. This is not because they aren't a talented enough group. The real reason why this won't occur is because of the teams in the Eastern Conference that are already too strong, growing stronger, or will be stronger than the Heat in the next few years.
TEAMS THAT ARE TOO STRONG:
How many people have noticed that the defending Eastern Conference champion Boston Celtics have had a good off-season? They resigned Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Nate Robinson. They added the O'Neal brothers, Jermaine and Shaquille. (They aren't brothers?) They still have Kevin Garnett, Glenn Davis, and Rajon Rondo. And Kendrick Perkins should be back to full-health by the time the playoffs roll around. Doc Rivers is returning at head coach, and they have a big psychological advantage over LeBron James, having sent him home in two of the last three playoffs. Some will say that the only negative is their age. Doc Rivers has figured out how to manage an older team, and all that playoff experience will be a huge advantage in May and June.
The Chicago Bulls had the second best free-agent signing period, to the miracle that Pat Riley performed in Miami. Their starting five is the most well-balanced group in the NBA, behind the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics. Derrick Rose, Ronnie Brewer, Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer, and Joakim Noah have an opportunity to develop into the third best team by years end. They have a solid bench, and a head coach, Tom Thibodeau who knows exactly how to stop LeBron James. Joakim Noah is already thinking about knocking out one of Miami's big three if they drive to the hoop. Derrick Rose didn't make any effort to convince LeBron to come to Chicago, which leads me to believe that he is maturing fast and is ready to become Chicago's leader. He wants to prove to everyone that he doesn't need LeBron on his team to be a title contender.
I bet Dwight Howard is more amped up to beat his Florida neighbors, now that LeBron moved to Miami. He is finally getting serious about developing his offensive repertoire, as he has gone to visit Hakeen Olajuwon this summer. That's a scary thought, Dwight Howard with two or three of Olajuwon's post moves. If he can shoot at least 65% from the free-throw line, he might pass Pau Gasol as the game's best big man this year. Stan Van Gundy probably wants to beat the Heat more than any other coach in the league. Why wouldn't he want to stick it to Pat Riley, who unceremoniously dumped him when Riley had a chance to coach the Heat to a Championship in 2005-06? The Magic also have players that can out-shoot just about anyone in the league. This team is looking more and more like the Houston Rockets of the mid-nineties: dominant center surrounded by shooters. Their inside-out game could have the Heat running around in circles come playoff time.
TEAMS THAT ARE GROWING STRONGER:
Atlanta Hawks fans breathed a sigh of relief when the team resigned Joe Johnson. I realize that they were terrible on the road during the playoffs the last two years, but they are still on the upswing. Mike Bibby is a solid veteran point guard, who can distribute the ball to Johnson, Josh Smith, Marvin Williams, and Al Horford. They have solid bench support from Jamal Crawford and Maurice Evans. If their new head coach can get this talented group of players to step it up on the road, they have the athleticism to run with the Heat.
The Milwaukee Bucks, and Brandon Jennings, were the biggest surprise of the NBA season last year. The Heat have no one who can keep up with Brandon Jennings. The Bucks have two excellent scorers, John Salmons and Corey Maggette, and a solid power forward, Drew Gooden. If Andrew Bogut stays healthy, he has the ability to be a top five center in the NBA. Don't forget about Michael Redd, a guy who can take over a game offensively. This team is going to cause their opponents major headaches for the next three or four years.
As long as Larry Brown remains the head coach in Charlotte, the Bobcats will continue to get better. Gerald Wallace and Stephen Jackson bought into his system last year, and they had a winning record against LeBron. Before the Detroit Pistons beat the Los Angeles Lakers with Shaq and Kobe Bryant, nobody thought that Brown could pull that off. He is a basketball mastermind, and the Heat should fear facing him. If Larry Brown leaves this team, they will fall out of this category, and will not be in the playoffs.
TEAMS THAT WILL BE STRONGER IN THE NEXT FEW YEARS:
Amar'e Stoudamire, your time is... not now. At least not this coming season. New York Knicks fans should be back to their trash-talking ways after next summer. There is a very good chance that Carmelo Anthony will be signing with them in the 2011 off-season. If he goes to New York, they will go from a 30-35 win team, to a 45-50 win team overnight. He loves facing LeBron James, and there are many who think he has as much talent as LeBron, albeit a different set of skills. (He can actually shoot and make a jump shot).
Washington Wizards/Bullets fans have been waiting a long time for a team loaded with talent. With all due respect to the Gilbert Arenas/Antawn Jamison/Caron Butler or Chris Webber/Juwan Howard/Georghe Muresan trios, they may have their most talented team since the late 1970's when they won an NBA Championship. Their starting five is John Wall, Arenas, Al Thornton, Andray Blatche, and JaVale McGee. Their bench support is Kirk Hinrich, Josh Howard, Nick Young, and rookie Trevor Booker. They are not the deepest team in the NBA, but the level of young talent on this team is unheard of. John Wall may already be the fastest player in the NBA. Rondo and Rose are quick, but when Wall turns on the afterburners, no one is staying with him. Andray Blatche is being compared to a young Kevin Garnett, and he dominated other power forwards during the second-hald of last season. McGee is a seven-footer who has the athleticism of a young Shaq. He isn't as wide as Shaq was in his early years, but he can handle the ball on a fast break, has a great vertical leap, blocks shots, and can finish strong at the hole. Add the veteran presence of Kirk Hinrich, Josh Howard, and Al Thornton, and this team is about to break-out into a 45-50 win team. The most important player, though, may be Arenas. If he plays at the all-star level he did a few years ago, the Wizards will be very hard to beat come playoff time. And there is no one Arenas would love to have revenge on, moreso than LeBron James. These Wizards, led by John Wall, will be better than the Miami Heat within three years time.
The Western Conference has been the dominant Conference in the NBA for the last decade, but the tide has turned. The Eastern Conference is extremely talent-laden, and everyone will be gunning for the Miami Heat. My prediction is that the Eastern Conference champion for the next four years will be the Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls, Orlando Magic, and the Washington Wizards. John Wall will win a NBA Championship before LeBron James.