They’ve given us more wisdom on Twitter in 140 characters than Skip Bayless has given us in his entire professional career. With the BIG 2012-13 NBA season ahead, I decided to turn to Kelvin Carter @kslay623 and Reed Swift @Swiftyy10, one a Heat fan one a Laker fan, and let them break down the teams that matter this upcoming season.
No space restrictions. No hypothetical trade rumors. Just pure NBA talk. Let it begin!
It’s time. Time to commence what could be. Heat and LeBron, defending champion with the best player in the league. Scary combination. Celtics, deeper than the Big Blue Sea, lost the best shooter of all time, but now a youthful infusion. Knicks adding a rejuvenated Felton, veteran bigs in Camby and Thomas, and a Melo who supposedly now “gets it”.
Thunder obviously returning their youthful core, but adding some pieces in PJ3 and Thabeet… possibly contributing? Lakers adding their best point guard since Magic, and replacing their inconsistent big man with a big who fits Nash’s PnR game much more fluidly. Brooklyn adding pieces around D-Will, as well as moving into what will probably be one of the most live playing environments in the league. And lord knows, somehow San Antonio’s old and decrepit bodies will somehow find a way to muster out 55-60 wins.
List goes on. Philadelphia adding a post presence in Bynum, Indiana getting another year to gel their pieces, Minnesota adding Roy and Kirilenko to go with the talents of Love, Rubio, Pekovic and Williams. What’s scary about this league now, KC, is there are a bunch of well-rounded teams. Teams added pieces, and in most situations, you can’t look and say, “Oh, well in the end Darko sucks so who cares.” Boston is going to use Darko for a five minute breathing period for KG’s knees.
No longer can you walk into LA and just know that your mediocre point guard is going to earn his next seven-figure contract playing against Derek Fisher. No longer can you just double LeBron and pray to the high heavens that James Jones won’t have a career night twice a season. No longer can you know that Melo will dominate the ball to a fault because he finally has a point guard that he respects more than the guy at the barbershop. (Linsanity is a whole separate issue to be discussed later). No longer can you walk into Philadelphia and just attack the paint. There’s now a 7-1, 280 pound behemoth waiting for you.
Let’s get this started. Chain time. Contender by contender. Let’s do it. We’ll start with where respect is due. Your Miami Heat Mr. Carter. Break it down for me. What do you expect?
The Miami Heat start and finish with LeBron James. Skip Bayless cannot argue that, the idiot at the barbershop cannot deny it, and no John Hollinger statistic can make that statement untrue. From scoring, to creating open lanes for Wade to slash, to getting the newly added Ray “Jesus Shuttlesworth” Allen open looks from 3, to involving Bosh in the pick and roll game, and anchoring the defense, LeBron James is the key to all of it. The Miami Heat will go as LeBron goes and judging from last year and especially last year’s postseason, the Heat have little to worry about come April in the Eastern Conference. Let’s just get that out of the way from the outset. LeBron has proven time and time again that one player can take a team to the playoffs, experience so much success, even reach an NBA Final, but if last year was evidence of anything, it was that you need a TEAM to win rings in today’s league. Therefore, even with LeBron putting up insane lines on a near nightly basis, consistency from the supporting cast will be essential to complete the daunting task of repeating as NBA champions.
First and foremost, Ray Allen is quite possibly the most important signing short of Dwight Howard to LA during this off-season. He is nowhere near the best player to switch teams but what he will bring to the Heat will prove to be monumental in their quest to repeat. Championship experience, positive attitude, leadership, and of course, one of the greatest sniper arms in the history of the league, will round out the already potent mix of talents Miami brings to the table. Adding Rashard Lewis also brings more versatility to an already tough matchup for any team and I see his impact being most evident in crunch time when the Heat can push a lineup of Allen, Wade, James, Lewis, and Bosh. Quite simply, the Miami Heat won last year on the shoulders of the best player in the NBA today and he, as well as the rest of the team, have all gotten better. Until someone proves otherwise, they are the favorites.
This is not to say I don’t have some reservations about this group. Given the Olympics and a late June end to the NBA season, it is inevitable that LeBron will hit a physical wall that he has yet to hit in his career. How the Heat stay afloat and refocus during this time will be essential. Also, Dwyane Wade has not had a “serious” injury in years, he is most definitely due for one. Will Ray fit into the screwy Spoelstra offensive scheme as seamlessly as anticipated? Will Rashard Lewis refocus back to the late Orlando days when he was one of the best stretch 4’s in the game? Will Chalmers solidify himself as a legitimate lead guard or continue to turn the ball over at a rate never seen before in the NBA? These are just a few of my most pertinent concerns for the 2012-2013 version of the Miami Heat. What do you think?
There is zero doubt that the Miami Heat have become LeBron James’ personal circus tour. City to city, LeBron and his fellow showmen take their show on the road and rarely fail to please. They are clearly the favorites in this upcoming season. LeBron proved last year that he has not only grown in terms of his personal skill set, but also in his mental capacity to focus on basketball. This is where I always contended LeBron failed. For years now, LeBron has hoisted a set of talents that this league hasn’t seen in decades. With those same talents however came an obsession to please those around him and be liked by the basketball community. There were moments of immaturity, entitlement, and annoyance, but that all changed following the Mavericks victory in the 2011 NBA Finals. LeBron rededicated himself to his craft. This isn’t to say that he never worked hard or desired to achieve greatness. But he found an extra gear in terms of the desire to place himself amongst the upper pantheon. You saw this play out in the 2012 playoffs. LeBron not on Twitter. LeBron joking around way less. LeBron not partying following games. He put his eye on the prize, and he took control of his own playoff destiny. The most talented player in the league is now equipped with the knowledge of how to win a championship, and the ability to separate himself from his previous failures. The only personal question that remains with LeBron is whether the hunger will transcend into an obsession. Repeating is the most difficult accomplishment in sports. I have no conjecture to whether or not he’s ready for this, I just know that I am excited to see his personal journey play out.
As for the Heat as a unit, they present a unique situation for teams across the league because their two biggest strengths also present opportunities to become their two biggest weaknesses. Amongst the Heat rotation (James, Wade, Bosh, Allen, Lewis, Battier, Chalmers, Miller, Cole, Anthony, Haslem), the Heat’s strongest 5 is undoubtedly Allen Wade Battier James Bosh as you described above. Last year, with Chalmers’ as the substitute, teams weren’t ready to capitalize on this. While LeBron is undoubtedly one of the best defenders in basketball, I never saw one team attempt to punish the Heat for playing LeBron at the 4. Coaches and players alike have now had an offseason to deal with what will be a similar problem with Allen included. By no means am I ever going to believe that LeBron James would be a matador on defense at the 4. However, look across the board. Melo is an absolute bull on the block. He could undoubtedly create foul trouble for LeBron if he put his mind to it. Pau has atleast 5 inches on LeBron, with giraffe arms to boot. While his female organs may frequently overtake his infant male parts, same problem. The point is this. There is no beating the Heat at their gameplan. Small ball, they will run you off the court. LeBron is too good in this system. You have to punish their weakness. Inside. Chris Bosh is possibly even softer than a banana nut muffin from Big Apple Bagels, so rim protection is solely LeBron. As is distribution. As is rebounding. As is defense. See the trend here? This is all made possible by this small ball lineup. As we saw in 2011, LeBron was semi-lost on the perimeter having to share the ball with Wade. But now, operating as a point-forward out of the high post, the circus is his show. And as long as it remains that way, the Miami Heat will remain your NBA champion.
Through reading above, some of my concerns are obvious. As dominant as Miami’s small ball lineup can be, there are obvious opportunities to capitalize. I don’t see Spoelstra having a solid counterpunch to teams who choose to absolutely punish the Heat down low. Don’t give me Oklahoma City tried, it failed. Serge Ibaka can’t throw the ball in the ocean unless it’s a hammer dunk, and Kendrick Perkins might as well be selling donuts to the homeless. The Thunder are a great matchup for the Heat, because Durant will never punish LeBron in the post, and Russ couldn’t run an offense if his life depended on it. But for teams like the Lakers, Celtics, Knicks, etc. who will attempt to bully the Heat, things are going to get interesting. Ray’s ankle, how does he deal with this through the season? The Heat want to run, he’s not going to be able to take plays off. Lewis, does he revert to Orlando form, or is he cut by November? Bosh, does he finally embrace doing the small things to help LeBron down low, or does he add extra butter to his banana nut flavor? I haven’t even gotten to Wade, who might have the softest psyche in the league. I’m still not entirely convinced that he believe’s it’s LeBron’s team, and that’s a concern. He was hurt last year, so he willingly took a back seat. Does he try and reinstall his dominance this year?
The bottom line with the Heat is that their strengths override their weaknesses, but they are by no means a shoe-in title winner. But as my man KC says, any discussion about a championship begins and ends with them. We might as well get right to it. What do you think of Boston’s offseason upgrades?
Always thought the end of the Big 3 era in Boston would end in a complete remodeling of the league’s second most storied franchise.
Losing Ray Allen to their conference nemesis was undoubtedly a big time haymaker to their team identity, attitude, and most importantly their floor spacing capability. But in this critical off-season the Celtics have validated their ability to fill holes by adding Jason Terry, Courtney Lee, and Leandro Barbosa while also bringing back key injured players in Jeff Green and Avery Bradley. The original Big 3– Pierce, Garnett, and Allen, made Boston a perennial title contender. The new Big 3, starting with Rondo and ending with Pierce/Garnett, might be even better given the potency of this new and improved youthful supporting cast.
Rondo has a legitimate claim at being one of the best point guards in the game, if not the best on any given night. I always believed the only player in the league capable of coming close to averaging a triple double would be LeBron James, but seeing Rondo in his unrestricted and aggressive form makes me question that sentiment. Doc Rivers is the best Xs and Os coach in the NBA today, which makes Boston a monster in any close game situation. KG still anchors the defense as an intimidator with his intensity and extensive vocabulary while Paul Pierce, although no longer “The Truth”, is still a viable lead scorer option when it comes to winning time. I see this Celtics squad easily securing the number two seed in the Eastern Conference and posing some serious problems to Miami if they can get to the Conference Finals.
As always, the biggest question with this Celtics team will be age. Yes, they brought in some youthful exuberance capable of sparing Geriatric Garnett and Wheelchair Pierce some minutes throughout the regular season, but is it realistic to expect those two to remain in prime health come playoff time? Although Rondo is the best player on this team, Pierce and Garnett are still the heart and soul of the city, something Boston fans know not to take for granted. I also question their attitude. At this stage, this Celtics team needs to adopt the Spurs longevity formula: shut up, play hard, play together. A game has yet to be played and newcomer Jason Terry is already taking personal shots at the now NBA Champion Miami Heat. Rookies Jared Sullinger and Kris Joseph, to be effective, need that “work hard, play hard” mentorship from a guy like KG, not the “talk tough, play weak” sideshow that often accompanies Terry and Paul Pierce. But that’s just me, I know you have a lot of experience analyzing the Celtics, what you thinking Reed?
I have to agree KC, I did not see Boston’s Big 3 era transforming into what we see today. Let’s start with Ray. I honestly can’t say I’m stunned they let him go. You’re talking about a guy who’s had multiple ankle issues, and last year, really struggled. He’s never had truly fluid chemistry with Rondo, whether they admit it or not, and I think in the end, we can see clear as day Ray ended up being a little bit more of a drama queen than Boston wanted to handle. To hear they offered him double the money and a no trade clause just shows me he really felt like they should’ve made him feel like royalty. Sorry Ray, not happening.
I gotta say, I love what Ainge put together. To fill Ray’s void, you sign hands down the best option in Jason Terry, who really will be much better suited to this team because he can play some point. One of Boston’s weaknesses has been wearing Rondo down. Now, you can play Jet 15 minutes a night at SG, and 10-12 at PG to keep Rondo fresh. I love what they did at the 2 as well. Bradley will come back at some point, and Lee quietly was 2nd in the league in 3pt percentage last year. Gotta think that helps replace Ray. And then to sign Barbosa? While he still won’t play defense, that’s gotta be one of the best 11-12th men in the league. Resigning Bass and KG was huge obviously, but more than anything, I loved their draft. Sullinger is the type of undersized 4 who will find his niche immediately, and I would not discount Fab Melo making an impact. He can’t shoot, he will NEVER score, but lord, he can really give KG a breather. Boston’s other problem last year was when KG went out, their length was gone. Now, Melo can fill that void when needed.
Here though, is what I believe is the key to Boston’s success. Jeff Green. He holds the keys to Boston’s season. If he is back to being Jeff Green, this team just added a whole new dimension against Miami. One of Miami’s major advantages against Boston was putting Bron at the 4, their favorite small ball lineup. Well now, Boston can defend that more solidly. Go with a lineup of Rondo, Jet, Pierce, Green, Garnett, and that all of a sudden looks much more imposing in terms of defending the small lineup.
Let’s make this clear. When you have GREAT players, no one person can truly defend that man. Be it Kobe, LeBron, Durant, whomever, you don’t lock those guys down. I’m not saying Jeff Green is going to stifle LeBron James. Impossible. However, Jeff Green is one of the few guys in the league who LeBron can’t look at and say, “Hmmm, I’m either going to blow by you like Reggie Bush, or bully the hell out of you like James Harrison.” Green has experience playing in the post, and has the physical attributes to make LeBron work a little harder than he’s accustomed to. All in all, they still have whom I believe is the best coach in the league, Doc Rivers, and couple that with a VERY, VERY deep roster, they’re scary to me. Really are. I think you can really limit their minutes now.
Starters: Rondo, Bradley, Pierce, Bass, KG. Bench: Jet, Lee, Green, Sullinger, Collins, with guys like Joseph, Melo, Darko, and Wilcox. Laugh at some of those guys, but mind you, some of them won’t be dressing every night. They are deeper than deep. Which is the formula you need to counteract age.
Okay man I gotta hear your thoughts on Philly. Expect improvement with Bynum manning the middle, or do you see a drop off losing Iggy?
You will start to see a recurring theme with my analysis of the remaining “contenders” from the Eastern Conference: I do not care. Aside from Boston I do not see a single team taking Miami past 5 games. Just too much weaponry, experience, and heart on both of those teams for even an upgraded Knicks squad to contend with.
To humor the conversation, Philly is one team I see making noise in the future. I love Jrue Holiday as one of the most underrated point guards in the league and with the guidance of Doug Collins plus the departure of a ball stopper in Lou Williams, Holiday’s role in the offense is about to surge. Bynum is the best center in the league 20 games out of the season but the other 62 he’s barely in the top five in a league with only 2-3 legitimate classic big men. Nonetheless, the Eastern Conference is allergic to playing against good big men, hence why Orlando was always a top five team regardless of how bad the rest of the team outside Dwight was. Bynum will have a tremendous impact.
The rest of this analysis will be devoted to the biggest reason I don’t value Philly this year any more than my grad school IM rec team. Andre Iguodala has been one of the most overlooked perimeter players in the league for a long time, something we saw during the Olympic run. He is a poor man’s LeBron James, less flash and awe dropping talent yet way more blue collar intangibles. He was the engine to last year’s team throughout the regular season, and even in the playoffs, it was Iggy who hit big shots and came up with huge defensive stops on a regular basis. There is no substitute for Iggy. Philly will be inept to stop LeBron, Melo, heck, even Paul Pierce’s wheelchair bound ass. Every contender in the East has a dynamic player at the 3 spot and it was Iggy’s job to contain or at least make it difficult for them. With that piece gone, I see Philly finishing in the 6-8 spot and getting bounced first round.