5 Biggest Threats to Miami Heat Championship Throne Next Season

Tyler Conway@jtylerconwayFeatured ColumnistJuly 25, 2012

5 Biggest Threats to Miami Heat Championship Throne Next Season

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    It had long been speculated that once LeBron James captured his first NBA championship, it would take a superhero-level effort to prevent King James from the crown for the foreseeable future.

    And with James' Miami Heat adding Ray Allen, arguably the best shooter in NBA history, and Rashard Lewis to an already robust cast of characters, Miami is the 2-1 favorite to win the 2013 NBA title, according to Vegas Insider.

    But which teams pose the biggest threat to James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh? Here's a look at the top five contenders that will challenge Miami next season.

5. Memphis Grizzlies

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    Key Additions: Jerryd Bayless, Wayne Ellington

    Memphis made almost no waves in terms of personnel decisions this offseason and probably made the right call in dong so.

    On paper, Memphis quite possibly has the strongest starting five in the Western Conference. The weakest link is Tony Allen, who happens to be one of the three best perimeter defenders in the NBA.

    The team also lost unhappy shooting guard O.J. Mayo this offseason, which could be the very definition of addition by subtraction.

    Paramount for the Grizzlies is finding a happy middle ground between their two vastly different identities. Their inability to choose between Zach Randolph's plodding, post-heavy offense and Rudy Gay's more preferred uptempo style cost them against the Clippers during the playoffs this past season.

    If coach Lionel Hollins can actually take the reins and harness his two stars correctly, the Grizzlies have a cohesive unit that could challenge any team in the NBA. If not, it could mean another first-round exit from the playoffs.

4. San Antonio Spurs

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    Key Additions: Boris Diaw (re-signed), Nando de Colo

    The Spurs' roster went largely unchanged this offseason, and who can really blame them?

    After tying for the NBA's best record in the regular season, the Spurs looked like one of the best teams in recent basketball history in the first two rounds of the playoffs. San Antonio moved the ball with a European fluidity, seemingly making stars out of D-Leaguers and never once showing signs of team friction.

    They played as if a 13-year-old put all of their stats up to 99 on NBA 2K12.

    And after going up 2-0 on Oklahoma City in the Western Conference Finals, it looked like a cakewalk for a Miami matchup.

    Then came a herculean four-game performance by the Thunder. James Harden's brilliance suddenly made him "better" than Russell Westbrook. Kevin Durant made people think he's the world's greatest player. And Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins shot a combined 18-for-20 in Game 5.

    So forgive me if I'm not willing to write off this Spurs nucleus just yet.

3. Boston Celtics

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    Key Additions: Jason Terry, Courtney Lee, Jared Sullinger, Jeff Green (return from injury), Fab Melo, Jason Collins

    Ray Allen's departure for Miami may end the original Big Three's magical five-year run in Boston, but the players the Celtics replaced the future Hall of Famer with make them a better team.

    Terry makes the Allen loss almost a wash by himself. The 34-year-old is a fearless sixth man with playoff prowess and an innate sense for the moment. 

    But it's Lee's arrival that will almost instantly make Celtics fans forget about Mr. Shuttlesworth. Lee is a knockdown corner three-point shooter and brilliant defender who gives Boston perhaps the best defensive backcourt in the league.

    The Celtics also added enough depth that the three-year, $34 million contract Danny Ainge gave Garnett might not be a disaster after all. If the draft picks work out and Green stays on the court, coach Doc Rivers should be able to limit the 36-year-old Garnett's minutes until he's truly needed for a playoff run.

    Boston took Miami to seven games this past season, but it may be next year's squad that provides the truest of tests for LeBron James and Co.

2. Los Angeles Lakers

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    Key Additions: Steve Nash, Antawn Jamison

    Laker detractors' favorite new argument is that adding a 38-year-old Steve Nash and a 36-year-old Antawn Jamison only makes L.A. older, more susceptible to injuries and historically less likely to win an NBA championship.

    That's all true, but it doesn't factor in the bottom-barrel talent that Nash and Jamison are replacing.

    Nash's 12.5 points per game (on 53 percent shooting), 10.7 assists per game and 20.3 player efficiency rating (PER) replace Ramon Sessions' 11.3 points per game (on 43 percent shooting), 5.5 assists per game and 16.8 PER. Those numbers place Nash among the NBA's elite and Sessions among the NBA's slightly above-average.

    And Jamison, who was still effective enough to score 17.1 points per game this past season, will likely usurp bench minutes from Josh McRoberts, who is Josh McRoberts.

    These moves give the Lakers one of the best starting fives in the NBA, and re-signing Jordan Hill to go along with Jamison gives the team the bench depth it sorely lacked last season.

    The window may be short for these Lakers, but it's open.

1. Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Key Additions: Perry Jones III, Hasheem Thabeet

    Until someone knocks the Western Conference champions off their perch, there is no bigger threat to the Heat than Oklahoma City.

    Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Serge Ibaka all shrunk at different points of the NBA Finals, and their impending Olympic experience should do nothing but help their games. If the trio can learn to play on the international stage, then there should be no more games where Harden scores fewer than 10 points, Westbrook clanks 16 of his 20 shots or, well, Ibaka completely disappears.

    But as always, the Thunder go as far as superstar Kevin Durant can take them. Another Olympian, Durant let USA Today know how much being LeBron James' teammate sticks in his craw so little removed from the Thunder's Finals loss.

    Durant admits it bothers him coming to the gym and seeing James every day.

    "It does. It does, but what can I do?" Durant said Tuesday [July 10]. "He's my teammate now. I'm a team player. I can't let that affect this. This is bigger than that. It's tough to lose in the Finals and play the guy you've been going up against for five games who beat you. So me, I'm just going to get over it, still be a great teammate, come out and play hard."

    And KD has seemingly used his annoyance as motivation, quickly usurping Carmelo Anthony from the starting lineup and being Team USA's best player in the exhibition season.

    If Durant continues his ascension, we could be having the overwrought KD vs. LeBron conversation again next June—only this time it will actually have merit.

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