All of these teams require changes and upgrades of some sort or another in an effort that could stop the Miami Heat dead in their tracks, over the next five years, at least.
And the common aspect of change that all these teams share comes at either the center spot or the point guard spot or both—where a dominant center is crucial and a pure point guard is mandatory.
The Miami Thrice have promised the citizens of South Beach a bunch of championship banners over the next few years.
Can the Heat win it all this year? The answer is quite possibly yes, but there are 10 teams that are capable of throwing a wrench in Miami’s plans over the next few years in an effort to halt the dynasty.
Some of these teams are like ripened fruit that are ready to leap into the mix with the Heat, while others are still raw and must grow to maturation before posing a threat.
Who are these guys and what changes to they need to make in order to slay the three-headed dragon aka Miami Thrice and put them into a constant state of flux?
The Magic have an exorbitant amount of dead wood and an unenviable infestation of wood lice to keep pest control companies busy, 24/7.
Parasites in the forms of Gilbert Arenas and Hedu Turkoglu won’t be coming off the books anytime soon, and will keep Magic fans sick to their stomachs. But at least the Magic have rid themselves of Vince Carter and Rashard Lewis, two extreme underachievers.
It’s unfathomable that Howard could finish his career without a title, and recent reports indicate that he’ll be with the Magic for the long haul.
For the Magic to stop the Heat in at least one of the next five years, they need to again overhaul their team and build around Howard.
Unfortunately, that venture represents a massive undertaking of Herculean proportions.
But what better way to start than with Superman as the main cornerstone?
John Wall started his rookie season in Washington at a break-neck pace and almost notched a quadruple double on one occasion. Only Blake Griffin stopped this young gun from winning the ROY.
Unfortunately, injuries slowed his pace, but one thing is for sure—Wall has superstar written all over him and will be a huge impact player in the NBA.
The Wizards are another very young, talented and athletic team with length to boot. Their pathetic record in 2010-11 was a reflection of their inexperience, but they are growing in leaps and bounds.
JaVale McGee is a 23 year old seven-foot center who averaged 10 points and eight rebounds. Nick Young came out of nowhere to average 17.4 points per game, with many games well over the 20 point plateau. The 6’11" Andray Blatche is a young and versatile power forward who can also play center and he averaged 8.1 REB and 16 PPG.
And John Wall has that uncanny quarterback ability to make them all better.
This team will surprise over the next couple of years and they could become a strong contender within the next three or four years—at which time, the Wizards would be ready to cast a vanishing spell on the Heat.
In his rookie season, Blake Griffin has taken the NBA by storm, and it won’t be long before he establishes himself as the best power forward in the game.
The young Griff has length, muscle and talent to add to his unbelievably explosive athletic abilities. And it’s not surprising that NBA.com has him ranked as the fourth most efficient player of the regular season.
Griffin, without a doubt, is a huge pillar and cornerstone for the Clippers and is fast becoming the most exciting player in L.A and the NBA. He not only won the Rookie of the Year award this season, but he’s established himself as a genuine superstar.
The Clippers also boast a young and athletic nucleus that includes 22 year olds Eric Gordon and DeAndre Jordan.
The Clippers are still growing, and smart management could add to the optimistic expectations of their nucleus. And that could deliver a championship in as little as four years.
Getting a pure point guard like Chris Paul, Deron Williams or Rajon Rondo would be a huge step in the right direction for this team.
It would certainly go a long way in helping the Clippers emerge from the giant shadow of the L.A. Lakers and possibly enough to cause a heat wave in Miami.
The Grizzlies have an abundance of youth, talent and athleticism—despite finishing fourth in the Northwest. The sky is the limit for this team.
And the Grizzlies potential was on full display as they eliminated the shell shocked Spurs in the first round and gave Kevin Durant’s OKC Thunder a tremendous scare in the second.
Memphis is missing the new multi-superstar blueprint of an NBA super-team, but the talent that runs through their roster is obviously there, and perhaps more importantly, it’s evenly spread out.
Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph are both fringe superstars and excellent post game players who are playing like superstars.
Marc is an emerging center who has leaped out of his brother’s shadow during these playoffs. Zach is extremely underrated and is clearly one of the best power forwards in the league.
Since Shane Battier came to the Grizzlies at the trade deadline, the team has been on a tear. The gritty defensive player, who is not known for filling up the stat sheet, does the important and inglorious dirty work that goes a long way in helping his team win.
What’s surprising is that the Grizzlies' playoff success didn’t include the injured Rudy Gay.
Keeping this team intact may be the only thing keeping the Grizzlies from winning a championship over the next few years and becoming a Heat stopper.
And the biggest market in the NBA deserves to have a winning team.
Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony are two of the most explosive scorers in the league and the new look Knicks are anything but the bottom feeders they used to be.
New York was promising enough to make the playoffs and give Boston a difficult time before being eliminated in the first round.
But after the blockbuster trade that sent many talented players to the Denver Nuggets, the Knicks have much rebuilding to do. They need to strengthen their bench, bring in a dominant center and a pure point guard to run the show, because the declining Billups won’t take this ship very far.
Centers like Roy Hibbert, Dwight Howard, Tyson Chandler or Marc Gasol would give the Knicks a strong presence in the post. Obviously, Howard would be the favorite, but will the Knicks’ management make a play for any of these guys?
The perfect fit at point guard would be Chris Paul, who has said he would like to play in the Big Apple, and the superstar point guard deserves to play in a big market instead of floundering away in a small market like New Orleans, where basketball is second fiddle to football.
But possibly the biggest change the Knicks need to make is to replace Mike D’Antoni and bring in a defensive-minded coach. It is defense, after all, that wins championships—a concept of which D’Antoni hasn’t a clue.
Those changes would make the Knicks extremely viable for the near future and strong title contenders. It would certainly bring the heated rivalry with Miami back again.
The Oklahoma City Thunder are a very young and explosive club full of promise as reflected by their two young superstars, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
Last year, they put the league on notice when the Lakers barely escaped their clutches in the Western Conference showdown, and this year was supposed to be their coming out party. Unfortunately, the Dallas Mavericks had something to say about that.
Kevin Durant again led the league in scoring and Russell Westbrook’s unencumbered, lightening play begs for slow-motion replay to be freeze framed in order to catch the slashing blur making a direct line to the rim.
There are, however, two big problems facing the Thunder, which need to be rectified if they hope to win a championship.
First and foremost is Kendrick Perkins, a hole in the middle without the help of Kevin Durant. Perkins’ unproductive play of single digit rebounds and points at the bottom of the spectrum is absolutely unimpressive.
The Thunder have to figure out a way to sweep the overrated Perkins under the rug and obtain a productive center, or get Kevin Garnett to help bail him out.
Secondly, Russell Westbrook is playing out of position and should be moved to the shooting guard spot. A point guard should help make his teammates better by facilitating the offense, something that Westbrook clearly does not do.
Westbrook’s style of play, however, would make him one of the top three shooting guards in the league.
And all of a sudden, we would have a thunder storm to extinguish the Heat.
The Portland Trail Blazers are a group of gritty fighters who just don’t know when to give up. They certainly didn’t after the no show of Greg Oden, or after the tragedy of Brandon Roy, whose bone-on-bone knees will prevent him from reaching his unlimited potential.
But even without Oden and Roy, the Blazers look like an extremely balanced team on both ends of the court. And they are an offensive team with a very solid and gritty defensive game.
LaMarcus Aldridge has proven that he is one of the best power forwards in the game, and he should have been on this year’s All-Star ballot. Gerald Wallace is a driving force of talent and sheer determination. Marcus Camby is still a defensive force among many on this team, including Wes Mathews and Nicolas Batum.
The Blazers have the will and determination to overcome the worst bad luck situations imaginable, a characteristic of a true champion.
With an upgrade at the point in the likes of Steve Nash, a pure point guard with above average distribution skills, the Blazers could win a championship as early as next year, by quite possibly scorching the Heat in the Finals.
The Chicago Bulls lacked the collective fortitude of their team as well as an effective offensive strategy, and that inevitably stalled their engine in their bid to dispose of the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals.
And there is plenty of finger pointing to go around after the top seed failed to make the Finals.
With the exception of the first game against the Heat, Chicago was missing in action and only once—Carlos Boozer (23 points and 17 rebounds in a Game 3 loss)—did any Bull show up to play. But unfortunately, Boozer is just too inconsistent to count on.
But a better prospect might be to trade the underachiever and obtain a productive power forward in the likes of Carl Landry or David West (both available in the offseason).
Derrick Rose is obviously trying, but he doesn’t know the difference between games where he should be the main point of distribution (pun intended) and games where he must step it up and take over the offense out of sheer necessity.
Rose is in the same superstar enigma predicament as Russell Westbrook. Both play more like shooting guards than the point guards they’re supposed to be. Both should be moved to the shooting guard spot, and both would be among the top three shooting guards in the league (behind only Dwayne Wade).
With those moves, and by wheeling and dealing for a pure point guard in the likes of Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Steve Nash, Rajon Rondo or Jose Calderone—the Bulls could become a Heat curse for years to come.
The Dallas Mavericks are playing the Miami Heat in the 2010-11 Finals, and it could represent their last best chance to win a title after losing to the Heat in 2006.
Dallas has one of the deepest benches in the league and are led by superstar Dirk Nowitzki, and a few key trades to this aging team could help them reach the Finals again next year.
Nowitzki is a superstar and Tyson Chandler is a dominant big man in the paint. In addition, the Mavs have a very good small forward in Caron Butler (who should be back from injury next season).
But point guard Jason Kidd is not as effective as he used to be and certainly not as effective as Steve Nash would be.
Bringing in Nash and keeping Chandler might be all this team needs to get a championship within the next two years. That’s before both Nash’s and Nowitzki’s games both decline.
Bringing in Nash could give Miami a heat rash.
The Lakers are most definitely still in the game and could make the Finals next season and fulfill their part of the Heat-or-Three-peat equation.
They have won five championships in the first decade of the 2000s and they still boast many of the best players in the NBA.
They have arguably the best center in the league in Andrew Bynum, if you look at his incredible second half performance of 2010-11. Pau Gasol was the fifth most efficient player in the NBA and a major cog in the wheel of the Lakers last two championships. Lamar Odom was the Sixth Man of the Year and would be the face of many teams in the league.
And Kobe Bryant is not the superstar he used to be, but he’s still a major contributor.
Some people think the Lakers need to be imploded after failing to win a championship with the same team that won the last two.
But nobody seems to realize that the 2010-11 Lakers were essentially a rudderless ship. That is, they were essentially a four on five team that had a mannequin for a point guard.
Put a capable guard like Jose Calderone of the Raptors and the situation might have been entirely different. Put the likes of Chris Paul, Steve Nash or Deron Williams at the point and the situation would have definitely been different.
With those changes, the Lakers would put the deep freeze on the Heat.