Big Offseason, Big Expectations

The 2012 NBA offseason has contained a flurry of deals, moves, and shockers that are certain to keep people talking for months. In what could be most intriguing piece of news to New York sports fans, Jeremy Lin, the centerpiece of the Linsanity craze that started in February, is now with the Houston Rockets after the New York Knicks declined to match a three year, $25 million offer by the Rockets. Other notables include the blockbuster Dwight Howard trade that sent Howard, a highly touted All-Star center, to the Los Angeles Lakers and Andrew Bynum, another All-Star center, to the Philadelphia 76ers as well as Steve Nash’s signing with the Lakers.

As the NBA season opener draws closer, five teams stand out with the high expectations of the 2012-2013 season: the New York Knicks, the Brooklyn Nets, the Los Angeles Lakers, the Oklahoma City Thunder, and the Miami Heat. Each of these teams had some highlights during the off-season, and critics and fans are now waiting to see what each of these teams will accomplish.

The New York Knicks

Carmelo Anthony sets out to prove himself and bring the Knicks further into the playoffs this year. Photo from Newsday

Taking a look at the Knicks’ offseason moves, we can clearly see the mindset of the Knicks’ management: win now. To anyone who has been following the Knicks for the past couple of years, such a short-term goal by the Knicks’ management shouldn’t come as a surprise.

In 2011, the Knicks announced a blockbuster trade, giving up young talent such as Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari for Carmelo Anthony, now the franchise centerpiece and superstar of the Knicks. This year, the Knicks acted no differently, letting off young, developing players such as Jeremy Lin, Toney Douglas, and Landry Fields and signing proven but aging veterans in Jason Kidd, Rasheed Wallace, and Marcus Camby. Many players that the Knicks signed are over 35 years old, meaning that the Knicks will only have a couple of years to shoot for a championship before having to rebuild the roster.

Perhaps the largest question mark on the Knicks’ roster is floating around Carmelo Anthony. In his ten year career, Anthony has been selected to the All-Star and All-NBA teams five times each, but he’s only advanced past the first round of the playoffs once. He’s often viewed as a ball-hogger, a play-stopper, and a single-minded scorer; he’s even been compared to LeBron James, since they were drafted in the same year, play the same position, have similar skill sets, and were derided by critics. After yet another first-round exit in the playoffs to the Miami Heat and watching James finally lift a championship trophy, Anthony is determined to silence his critics.

However, the Knicks have a long road ahead of them if they’re aiming for the top prize. Firstly, the two star players on the Knicks – Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire – have shown difficulty in sharing the floor together; Anthony thrives in isolation plays while Stoudemire shines in pick-and-roll situations, but each play is incompatible with the other. There’s also the question of chemistry. More than a third of the Knicks’ roster is composed of newcomers, and since most of them are veterans, the players need to find a way to mesh quickly before their championship window closes.

The Brooklyn Nets

Two headlines punctuated the Nets’ off-season: a move from New Jersey to Brooklyn and a revamped roster. The Nets’ management launched a campaign titled “Hello Brooklyn,” plastering signs of the Nets’ roster everywhere around New York City in the hopes of drawing fans in (mostly from the Knicks).

Along with snagging a new arena, the Nets also assembled a revamped roster, re-signing All-Star point guard Deron Williams, Kris Humpries, Gerald Wallace, and Brook Lopez while bringing in All-Star shooting guard Joe Johnson from the Atlanta Hawks. Both critics and fans alike have touted the back court pairing of Deron Williams and Joe Johnson as one of the best in the league. Williams is known for his penetration and passing abilities while Johnson is regarded for his isolation and scoring, allowing the two to feed off each another and giving one the opportunity to step up if the other falters.

While the Nets don’t have the highly publicized superstars their neighboring Knicks have, they do have a solid roster and chemistry. Out of the five players in the starting lineup, four players (all except Johnson) are returning players and have already spent a year getting to know each other’s play styles. While Wallace, Lopez, and Humphries are not anywhere near superstars, they’ve each given solid contributions to the team over the past year and can only be expected to get better. Aside from their starting five, the Nets have also brought in reliable backups such as CJ Watson.

It’s obvious that the Nets have the pieces and willpower to become a regular playoff team; the bigger question is whether they can turn their talent into playoff success and have enough to finally bring an NBA championship to New York City.

The Los Angeles Lakers

Two of the biggest moves of the off-season involved the Los Angeles Lakers: the Dwight Howard trade and the signing of Steve Nash.

The addition of Dwight Howard and Steve Nash to the Los Angeles Lakers shocked NBA fans; the Lakers, already championship contenders, now have a bigger roster of superstars.
Photo from CBS Sports; Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE

The Lakers have always been regarded as a strong playoff team, even a championship contender. After receiving arguably the best center currently in the league (Howard) and a future Hall-of-Famer point guard (Nash) while retaining All-Star power forward Pau Gasol, however, the Lakers are suddenly at least one of the top 3 championship contenders in the league.

Why? The Lakers now seem to have endless ways to score. Nash is an expert at running the pick and roll, and with both Gasol and Howard, Nash will have no problem either getting to the rim or dishing it off to one of the big men for an easy score. There’s also Kobe Bryant to remember; even in his mid-thirties, he’s still a major threat who’s capable of scoring from anywhere, and it will only get easier for him with Nash there to set him up.

As with all revamped teams, the biggest problem facing the Lakers is chemistry. Will Kobe allow Nash, a ball-dominant point guard, to have the ball in his hands, and will Gasol and Howard each be able to get involved in the offense? Finally, will Howard stay with the Lakers after this season, or is this going to be a one-and-done?

The Oklahoma City Thunder

While the Oklahoma City Thunder roster didn’t undergo the major surgeries other rosters have this off-season, they’ve still got a big question in front of them for the upcoming NBA season: will we be able to win it all this year?

With still-developing superstars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and prominent defender Serge Ibaka under long-term contracts, the Thunder have set their future in the hands of a few young players. It’s up to them to urge themselves forward, to remember their mistakes in the 2012 NBA Finals and use them as motivation to work harder next season.

However, the Thunder still needs to make a decision about James Harden, whose contract expires after this upcoming season. Should the Thunder decide to give him up, they’ll need to find someone who is capable of filling his sixth-man role.

The Miami Heat

After winning a championship, the Miami Heat is already thinking repeat. The Heat has largely retained its roster from the 2011-2012 NBA season, and its off-season mostly consisted of signing Ray Allen away from the Boston Celtics and Rashard Lewis after he was bought out by the New Orleans Hornets.

Though critics can no longer deride LeBron James for not winning a championship, they can now claim that James will be a one-and-done, and it’s up to James and the rest of the Heat to show that they’re capable of being a long-time championship contender.

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