Which NBA Teams Besides the Miami Heat and L.A. Lakers Can Win the Title?
In the eyes of many observers, the NBA regular season and postseason hold no relevance until the NBA Finals arrive.
The reason for this belief is that a majority of fans have come to expect nothing but pure greatness out of the revamped Los Angeles Lakers and defending champion Miami Heat.
And that's why they play the games.
While paper rosters might intrigue fantasy athletes, they mean absolutely nothing once the games are being played. Team chemistry is a factor that cannot be discredited, but let's be frank about what we've all come to know.
Anyone can be defeated at any given moment.
The question is, who actually can overcome those daunting Lakers and the star-studded Heat? While some will quip that no one is capable of such a feat, there are actually a handful of NBA franchises with realistic title odds.
As for who they are, the following slides will answer just that.
The fact that Jason Terry, Courtney Lee, Avery Bradley, Brandon Bass and Jeff Green help round out the roster is just comfort for a potentially bold prediction: The Boston Celtics will finally overcome the Miami Heat and find themselves in the NBA Finals for the third time in six years.
The justification of such a belief has nothing to do with the players on the floor. The Boston Celtics have long run a picture-perfect system in which pace is the key to their game. This comes via the teachings of head coach Doc Rivers, who is widely considered to be one of the greatest coaches of our generation.
It doesn't hurt to know that big-shot players such as Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry roam the floor.
With a proven system in place and a surplus of elite talent, the Boston Celtics might have the most depth of any team in the NBA. Rajon Rondo has established himself as the game's best facilitator, while Avery Bradley has proven to be a defensive menace at both guard positions.
Courtney Lee will add a new-found sense of athleticism and defensive prowess to the perimeter, while Jason Terry will do the exact same thing Ray Allen did—but with fresher legs. Paul Pierce, meanwhile, remains one of the game's top players at the small forward position.
Jeff Green, Brandon Bass and Jared Sullinger offer a sense of toughness to the forward slots, utilizing their unheralded mix of strength and finesse to overcome their opponents.
As one could only expect, the man who solidifies this team as a legitimate title contender is a 14-time All-Star, a former league MVP and a Defensive Player of the Year Award winner. That man, of course, is "The Big Ticket," Kevin Garnett.
Garnett's intensity, fearless nature and smothering defense make him a matchup nightmare on any night. His ability to hit the mid-range J and lock down even the greatest of scorers only further solidifies his status as a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
The fact that he can break even the strongest of minds makes the team all the more dangerous.
2011-12 Season Results
39-27. They lost in Eastern Conference Finals to Miami.
For those worried about Derrick Rose missing significant playing time, keep in mind that the Chicago Bulls have been here before.
Head coach Tom Thiboeau led the Bulls to an 18-9 record in Rose's absence during the 2012 regular season, thus maintaining the team's hold on the top seed in the East. So for those who feel as if the Chicago Bulls will be far out of contention before Derrick Rose returns, allow history to deflate those false expectations.
The Bulls have a solid core of Joakim Noah, Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer to pace their starting lineup. Alongside them will be sharpshooters Richard Hamilton and Marco Belinelli, as well as a surplus of quality point guards.
That includes Kirk Hinrich, Nate Robinson and rookie Marquis Teague.
While the team will suffer in terms of individual talent, Tom Thibodeau isn't referred to as one of the best coaches in the business for no reason. His system will prevail during the regular season and allow the Bulls to be in contention for the top seed once D-Rose returns.
The true X-factor, however, is a reserve poised to have a breakout season. That player is forward Taj Gibson.
Gibson has become a fan favorite in Chicago due to his physical defense, non-stop motor and phenomenal dunking ability. What has gone largely unnoticed outside of Chicago, however, is that the Brooklyn native has developed at a rapid pace over the past three seasons.
This includes the massive improvement of his jump shot and a level of patience that complements his shot-blocking abilities perfectly.
With all of this being known, the Chicago Bulls are poised to return to the form that they flashed in 27 regular season games without Derrick Rose. Opening up with Sacramento, Cleveland, New Orleans and Orlando should be a nice way to build that momentum.
The unpredictability of the Philadelphia 76ers, New York Knicks, Atlanta Hawks and Brooklyn Nets only further bolsters the Bulls chances of finding themselves in the top four of the Eastern Conference by the time D-Rose returns.
2011-12 Season Result
50-16. The Bulls lost in opening round to Philadelphia.
New York Knicks
A lot of people, especially New York fans, have gotten caught up in the poor performances the Knicks have put forth over the past two seasons.
Some perspective is needed.
The Knicks roster currently consists of three of the game's elite positional players. Amongst them are 2011 MVP candidate Amar'e Stoudemire, reigning Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler and Carmelo Anthony.
You know, that same 'Melo guy who always seems to rank amongst the game's greatest in terms of scoring the basketball.
Although the trio has yet to find rhythm together, this all has come with a considerable amount of inexperience. Not only has one of the three been injured at virtually all times, but they have yet to spend a full training camp together.
Entering the 2012-13 NBA season, all of that will change.
The chemistry issues between Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony are likely to disappear as the duo sacrifices personal success for the taste of championship gold. Head coach Mike Woodson should make sure of that, while 'Melo's taste of Olympic gold should only add to his desire to get out of the doghouse as the only major player from the 2003 NBA draft to not win a ring.
Alongside the Knicks' Big Three will be a three-headed monster of point guards, including Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd and Pablo Prigioni. Each player is of a pass-first mentality and all have significant experience against NBA talent.
Including Prigioni, who has consistently tortured Team USA with his passing and defense during international play.
Throw in the emergence of Iman Shumpert as a lockdown defender, as well as J.R. Smith's decision to play defense, and you have yourself a legitimate contender. With the Brooklyn Nets, Philadelphia 76ers and Indiana Pacers all having flaws of their own, you're left with even playing field amongst the second tier of team's in the East.
What this leads to is an eventual showdown with either the Boston Celtics or Miami Heat, thus enabling the superstars on the roster to shine. Something they will do time and time again during the 2012-13 NBA season.
2011-12 Season Result
36-30. They lost in first round of the playoffs to Miami.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Considering that the Oklahoma City Thunder made the 2012 NBA Finals with a core of four players 23 years of age or younger, it's only fair to assume that they could do it again in 2012-13.
After all, another year of experience and a heartbreaking loss to strengthen their everlasting hunger for a championship are powerful forces.
And that's before you consider that the Thunder's three best players all took home gold with Team USA during the 2012 London Olympics.
With Kevin Durant leading the charge, the Oklahoma City Thunder instantly become favorites in the Western Conference.
For many, it's a given that Durant is now one of the top two players in the NBA. His three consecutive scoring titles and uncanny ability in the clutch separates him a number of top-tier players.
Having the league's leading shot-blocker, the reigning Sixth Man of the Year and one of the most dynamic forces the point guard position has ever seen only makes his job a little bit easier.
Serge Ibaka, albeit fundamentally raw, has emerged as one of the game's true impact defenders. His ability to alter shots is pivotal to the Oklahoma City Thunder's sound defensive attack, thus creating transition opportunities for the next man in line.
While Westbrook has had his purity as a point guard questioned, there is no way around how phenomenal a player he is. Not only is the UCLA alum one of the supreme perimeter defenders in the NBA, but he ranked fifth in the NBA in points per game during the 2011-12 NBA season.
The man who puts it all together, however, isn't even in the starting lineup. That honor goes to the reigning Sixth Man of the Year, James Harden.
During the 2012 NBA Finals, Harden was nowhere to be found. The bearded one averaged just 12.4 points per game (on 37.5 percent shooting), down from his regular season average of 16.8 per contest—and way off his 18.5 per-game average against the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Finals.
Should Harden rediscover the form that made him an NBA-award winner, the Oklahoma City Thunder have to be a favorite to take home the NBA title. The elite talent is there to lead them through the postseason, while defensive-minded role players such as Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins are available for crunch-time stops.
It may take the perfect storm, but the Oklahoma City Thunder could take out both the Los Angeles Lakers and the Miami Heat.
2011-12 Season Result
47-19. The Thunder lost in NBA Finals to Miami.
San Antonio Spurs
Father time may have won a few battles with the San Antonio Spurs, but the war is far from over.
36-year-old Tim Duncan and 35-year-old Manu Ginobili continue to turn the clock back, schooling 95 percent of the players at their position. In fact, it wouldn't too far off to list Ginobili as one of the top 25 players in the game today. Duncan might be in that discussion, too.
As for that 30-year-old point guard on their roster, Tony Parker...he isn't too shabby in his own right.
Parker torched NBA defenses for averages of 18.3 points and 7.7 assists during the 2011-12 NBA regular season. The dominance continued in the postseason, where Parker averaged 20.1 points and 6.8 assists en route to the Spurs' seventh Western Conference Finals appearance in the past 14 seasons.
Judging the numbers alone, that means that the Spurs have a 50/50 chance of making yet another appearance during the 2012-13 season.
Much like the Boston Celtics, however, San Antonio is a team in which the individual talent takes a back seat to the man in charge. Gregg Popovich, a four-time NBA champion and reigning Coach of the Year Award winner, is one of the best to ever do it.
Proof of such came a year ago when he led an injured and experience-depleted Spurs team to the best record in the in the NBA.
This time around, expect the Spurs to be all the more dangerous. Young players such as Daniel Green and Kawhi Leonard will have a full season and a training camp with the team under their belts, thus improving their comfort and chemistry with teammates.
Key midseason additions such as Stephen Jackson and Boris Diaw will have an equal opportunity to acclimate.
Although they are not quite as athletic as some of their Western Conference counterparts, the San Antonio Spurs are never a team to count out of the title picture. They haven't won four titles since 1998-99 for no reason, folks.
Just keep in mind that the franchise won three of those titles with the same core personnel it currently boasts.
Expect big things out of San Antonio this year.
2011-12 Season Result
50-16. They lost in Western Conference Finals to Oklahoma City.