The 2013-14 NBA season should prove to be Miami’s most difficult campaign in conquering the Eastern Conference.
The Heat’s competitors all improved — from the top tier teams to some young, rising franchises like the Cavaliers and Wizards (gulp). And the Heat, for now, have gotten a little bit worse after cutting loose some expensive wing insurance in Mike Miller.
So who poses the greatest threat to a Heat three-peat?
4. New York Knicks
Additions: Andrea Bargnani, Tim Hardaway Jr. (Drafted), Metta World Peace
Subtractions: Jason Kidd, Rasheed Wallace, Steve Novak, Quintin Richardson, Marcus Camby
There has been plenty of change surrounding the Knicks core, but have they gotten better or worse?
Andrea Bargnani weighs down the Knicks defensively and is an average-to-streaky shooter. A fine addition! Metta World Peace should have peaced out from basketball by now. And rookie Tim Hardaway Jr. may not be good enough to crack the rotation.
The Knicks will continue to twirl in the East’s second tier for the foreseeable future. It’s difficult to contend while paying an average, injury prone Amare Stoudemire $23 million. If you happen to be a Knicks AND Jets fan, I pity your existence.
3. Chicago Bulls
Additions: Derrick Rose (“Injury”), Mike Dunleavy, Tony Snell (Draft)
Subtractions: Marco Belinelli
Derrick Rose returns after a
vacation recovery from an injury sidelined him for all of last season. No doubt the feisty, youthful Jimmy Butler will sharpen his offensive game, but the Bulls will continue to struggle to take the Heat when it matters.
Despite upgrading their perimeter shooting with Mike Dunleavy and rookie Tony Snell, the Bulls still lack creators. There’s still too much of an offensive burden on Rose. The reason the Heat are so tough to defend is because they can consistently manufacture efficient offense through several core players. the best of which who happens to be the top player in the land. A Nets-Bulls series would intrigue, but Brooklyn’s upgraded firepower should be too much to handle.
2. Indiana Pacers
Additions: Danny Granger (injury), Solomon Hill (Drafted), Chris Copeland, C.J. Watson
Subtractions: Tyler Hansbrough
The gang that pushed the champion Heat to seven games is back, minus Tyler Hansbrough. Their youthful core will continue to strengthen naturally with age. Franchise cornerstones Roy Hibbert and Paul George offer arguably the best inside-out duo in basketball. The ceiling continues to rise for the Indiana Pacers.
How dominant George becomes offensively will determine their postseason fate, and a healthy Danny Granger wouldn’t hurt. They will continue to get overlooked during the season, but this team has shown they’re built for the playoffs.
1. Brooklyn Nets
Additions: Jason Kidd (Coach), Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry, Andrei Kirilenko
Subtractions: Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, Keith Bogans
On paper, the Nets boast the most well rounded starting five in basketball — at least offensively. They have six legitimate creators on the roster when you add in Kirilenko off the bench. They can stab a defense from the post, from the perimeter, and everywhere in between. They’ll experience some chemistry pains early — just as Miami did in 2010, but expect the Nets to be a different team towards the backend of the season.
How high Brooklyn climbs after this summer’s talent injection depends almost entirely on their defense.
Can the additions of Pierce, Kirilenko and Garnett catapult the league’s 18th best defense into the top ten? If the answer is yes, and Garnett can stay healthy, they will be the second best team in the East. Throw in a little luck and they could be a handful for Miami in the playoffs.
The next season of The Association will be historically entertaining.