The Miami Heat just completed its victory parade on Monday as the 2011-12 NBA champions, with the proverbial championship monkey finally off LeBron James’ back. So while there were a few days of celebrations in South Beach, Heat officials no doubt already are preparing for next season, starting with this Thursday’s NBA draft.
The Heat were the preseason NBA title favorites in LeBron’s first season in Miami, just as they were before this past season. So it should come as no surprise that Miami already has been installed as the 11/4 favorite at Bovada to repeat next summer.
And why not?
Miami may not have any salary cap room but the Big 3 of LeBron, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh is intact. James played this season at a level not seen since Michael Jordan and he is entering his prime, as is Bosh. Wade will be 31 in January and showed some signs of age but won’t have to deal with a compacted regular season in 2012-13. Plus look for him to skip the Olympics to rest his bad knee all summer.
Unlike the other main sports in the U.S, repeating is rather easy in the NBA if you have that one transcendent player like the Heat do with LeBron. Kobe Bryant threepeated and later repeated as a champion with the L.A. Lakers. Jordan had two threepeats. Hakeem Olajuwon won back-to-back rings.
Tim Duncan has won four rings, although never back-to-back. Larry Bird never repeated as a champion, either. And superstars like Charles Barkley, John Stockton, Karl Malone, Patrick Ewing, Steve Nash and Dwight Howard never won rings. So it’s not that easy.
Speaking of Nash, he is a free agent this offseason and there’s talk he could join the Heat, signing for much less money than he would get elsewhere just for a chance at a ring. Ditto for Celtics guard Ray Allen.
If Howard’s not the best active player without a ring, then Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant is. Durant reached his first Finals this season and the Thunder have gone at least a round further in each of the past three postseasons, culminating in this year’s five-game Finals loss to the Heat. So perhaps next year is Durant’s turn, and the Thunder are 5/1 second-favorites.
The Chicago Bulls, not the Heat, have finished with the best record in the NBA the past two regular seasons and they are the 6/1 third-favorites for 2013. However, the Bulls don’t know when star point guard Derrick Rose will return from a severe knee injury suffered in this year’s playoffs. He’s not likely to be back before January at the earliest. In addition, the Bulls also might be without All-Star small forward Luol Deng for a few months if he needs offseason wrist surgery, as expected. There’s talk the Bulls could trade Deng for a young player and essentially start looking toward the 2013-14 season when Rose should be back to 100 percent.
Howard certainly could affect 2013 NBA title futures if he is traded, as expected. The Lakers are currently 10/1 but would take a huge jump if they could somehow get Howard to pair with Kobe. The Mavericks, the 2011 champions, are at 14/1 but it’s not out of the question they could sign free agent point guard Deron Williams and swing a trade for Howard, who wants to play with Williams but preferably in Brooklyn.
The San Antonio Spurs, who had a 20-game winning streak before losing the final four games of the West Finals to Oklahoma City, are 10/1 to make one last run with aging Tim Duncan. The Clippers, a conference semifinalist this year in the West, are 18/1 and also could try to get Howard.
Boston must likely replace Hall of Famers Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen this offseason, and Danny Ainge could try and trade Paul Pierce to get even younger around Rajon Rondo. The C’s are 25/1 to win the franchise’s 18th NBA title.