The Miami Heat are the favorites to repeat as champions in 2012-13, according to a poll of 20 NBA front-office executives conducted by Sports Illustrated’s Sam Amick. The defending champs garnered 16 first place votes, while the Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Lakers each received two votes each.
Miami’s combination of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh proved too much for opponents in 2012, outlasting Kevin Durant and the Thunder in the NBA Finals. One Eastern Conference executive’s opinion on why the Heat will repeat:
“The Heat are a defending champion who now knows what it takes to win it all. LeBron is chasing history. The pressure is off in a sense because he has a title in his back pocket.”
In James’ first season with the Heat, the media frenzy and constant hatred really wore on the 2011-12 MVP. Between the villain role, the constant criticism of not being “clutch”, and the target that he placed on himself with the proclamation of “not one, not two, not three…” James essentially made the road to the O’Brian trophy a lot harder than it needed to be. When he gave up the theatrics and let his game do the talking in 2011-12, the result was a championship. With one title already in the books, I think James will continue to ascend as he looks to join the ranks of the true NBA greats.
The Thunder showed that they have the talent to win a title, and Durant should be in the conversation for MVP once again in 2012-13. With a young but experienced core, Durant and Russell Westbrook will look to unseat the Heat after tasting bitter defeat in the NBA Finals. If the team can extend the contract James Harden, the Thunder will have four young players locked up for the future. Oklahoma City should be a perennial powerhouse, and the greatness of Durant could be enough to win a title.
Unfortunately for the Thunder, the road out of the West got much more difficult in the offseason. With Steve Nash and Dwight Howard heading to L.A., the Lakers’ front office has immediately thrust the team into title contention. With a starting lineup of Nash, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol and Howard, the Lakers on paper look to contend for an NBA championship. However, many of the NBA executives foresee a similar adjustment period to the Heat’s 2010-11 campaign. One Eastern Conference executive’s opinion:
“The Lakers will have an adjustment period for sure, but Mike Brown is so good defensively that I can see Dwight being a monster this year. He’ll have to be, because Nash is brilliant but he has taken a step back defensively. It’s just like Miami, which needed a year to adjust to each other. The Lakers will face the same issues. The difference is that Nash and Kobe are a little older and less inclined to be stoppers defensively.”
With Miami and Los Angeles acquiring superstar talent and Oklahoma City building through the draft, the NBA has become a three-horse race in the eyes of the executives. While injuries and upsets may change the outcome when the season opens in October, on paper the odds are in favor of seeing these teams competing for a title come playoff time.
Zach Mink covers the NBA for Rant Sports. Follow him on twitter @zachmink12 for more news and analysis.