In the NBA there are only a few teams every year who have a legitimate shot at winning a title. The Oklahoma City Thunder proved last season that they belong in that class.
In a recent poll of 20 NBA front-office executives and coaches conducted by Sam Amick of SI.com, the Miami Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Lakers were picked to be the clear-cut title favorites in 2012-13. The Heat led everyone with 16 first-place while the Thunder and Lakers each garnered two first-place votes.
The Heat and Thunder of course are expected to be among the NBA’s best next season after meeting in the NBA Finals this past season. Miami added some old shooters to their roster while LeBron James continues play in his absolute prime.
The Thunder will improve only from the invaluable experience they gained from a late playoff run and Olympic gold medal earned by their Big 3. The Lakers find themselves more relevant than last season after trading for Steve Nash and Dwight Howard this offseason.
It’s hard to argue with the assumption that next year’s NBA title will be decided by these three teams. A few teams that were left out however were the San Antonio Spurs, Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls.
The Spurs are always overlooked despite winning as many games as just about anyone in the past two seasons. Their roster next season will not look much different than it did this past year when they lost to the Thunder in the Western Conference Finals.
The Celtics were supposed to roll over and die this coming season but some offseason moves have kept them relevant including two first round draft picks and the acquisitions of Jason Terry and Courtney Lee. The Celtics lost to the Heat in seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals last season.
The Bulls had the best record in the NBA last season but were bounced in the first round of the playoffs after Derrick Rose tore his ACL. Rose is still rehabilitating and may not be 100 percent by the start of next season. If Rose is healthy for the playoffs, Chicago may prove to be Miami’s toughest test in the East.
Miami really shouldn’t have any trouble in the East and a third straight NBA Finals appearance seems very likely for them. The West is much more unknown as there are many teams capable of beating each other at the top of the conference.
The Thunder should be the favorites in the West but things just got much tougher with the new-look Lakers. OKC had a dream-like run last year getting to the NBA Finals and it never gets easier to make it back.
The Thunder have improved as a team each season since about 2008. If they continue their climb then next June we’ll be previewing the same NBA Finals matchup we had this past season which would be a dream for any NBA fan.