The 2011 NBA Finals have just ended, but it's never too early to look forward to next season.
Assuming the NBA and the Players' Association are able to agree to a new Collective Bargaining Agreement and avoid a lockout, professional basketball will enter a new golden age in 2011-12.
That leaves the other stars like Dirk Nowitzki, Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose and the Boston Celtics combination of Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett with the tough task of keeping the Heat from reaching the NBA Finals for the second year in a row.
It should be a fun ride. Let's take a look at which teams will be at the top of the heap in the NBA next season.
Will Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire be able to coexist for a full season?
My guess is yes, they will, but Melo’s style of play will ultimately cost head coach Mike D’Antoni his job.
D’Antoni wants his team to run, while Melo prefers to play a slow, one-on-one style of offense. But, even without D’Antoni, the Knicks will be good enough to be the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference.
The Grizzlies are a young team primed to make a leap next season.
With veterans like Tony Allen, Shane Battier, Zach Randolph and Rudy Gay leading the way for younger guys like Mark Gasol, O.J. Mayo and Mike Conley Jr., the Grizzlies have a nice balance.
Plus, they showed what they are capable of this year, upsetting the No. 1 Spurs in the playoffs.
Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker have all seen their best days pass them by.
There’s no way they’ll repeat as the top seed in the Western Conference in 2011-12.
They’ll still make the playoffs, but younger teams like the Thunder and Grizzlies will be their kryptonite.
The Magic simply have to be good this year if they want to have any shot of keeping Dwight Howard.
That means better seasons from Hedo Turkoglu, Jameer Nelson, Gilbert Arenas and company.
If they get off to a slow start, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Howard demand a trade midseason.
Jason Kidd, Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry aren’t getting any younger. And, J.J. Barea will be a free agent after the NBA Finals end.
If the world champs lose Barea, this team probably won’t make a return to the Finals.
Even with him, they’ll have a hard time matching the success they’ve had this season.
The Lakers and new head coach Mike Brown are holding firm that the Lakers can contend with the team they have right now.
That’s not going to happen.
They need to find a point guard this offseason, because Derek Fisher simply isn’t cutting it anymore.
If they can convince J.J. Barea to play with Andrew Bynum after their “confrontation” in the playoffs, he’d be a great fit for the team.
The Celtics have enough left in the tank for one last hurrah. Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen will be in the last year of their contracts and Paul Pierce isn't getting any younger.
In 2012-13, the Celtics are going to be Rajon Rondo's team. But, the original "Big Three" still has 2011-12 to win their second ring.
Dwight Howard, anyone?
The Thunder are set to take over the Western Conference next season.
As the Lakers, Spurs and Mavericks continue to get older, the Thunder are growing into their primes.
With last season’s addition of Kendrick Perkins, Oklahoma City will play enough defense to stop the run-and-gun teams of the West. And, with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook leading the way on offense, the sky is the limit for this team.
If the Bulls can get a shooting guard this offseason, they could repeat as the best team in the regular season in 2011-12.
Simply put, Keith Bogans is not a starting shooting guard. Kyle Korver is a decent player, but he’d be better suited coming off the bench. Ronnie Brewer is a defensive stopper, but his offense is about as bad as Korver’s defense.
Therefore, the Bulls remain one piece away from becoming a legitimate championship contender.
But as long as they have Derrick Rose, anything is possible.
LeBron James has learned how to be a closer in this year’s playoffs, Game 2 of the NBA Finals aside.
As he and Dwyane Wade continue to learn to play together, they’ll continue to improve.
And Chris Bosh has shown during these playoffs that he does indeed deserve to be mentioned along with James and Wade as a member of “The Big Three.”
The Miami Supervillians are going to be a force in the 2011-12 season and will be the team to beat.