The 2012-13 NBA season is upon us and, as always, the wait for the new season to kickoff seemed endless. With the Miami Heat having won their first title since the trio of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh came together in the 2010 offseason, Eastern Conference fans would be hoping for the Larry O’Brien Trophy to remain in their hold for a few more years given the Western Conference’s success over the last decade and a half. In the last 14 NBA seasons, since Michael Jordan led the Chicago Bulls to their sixth title in 1998, Western Conference teams have won 10 of 14 NBA championships, with the Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs alone having won nine NBA rings between them. With LeBron and Co. very much primed for back-to-back titles, the Eastern Conference promises to dominate the NBA landscape over the next few seasons.
The Big Eastern Conference Picture: Dwight Howard’s exit from the Orlando Magic is sure to send the Magic’s fortunes plummeting no matter who the replacements for Howard are. A similar downward spiral can be expected of the Chicago Bulls, who are expected to be without injured All-Star Derrick Rose (torn ACL) for much of the season. However, with coach Tom Thibodeau at the helm, and a strong supporting cast, the Bulls should remain in contention for the playoffs, at which point Rose may return to boost their chances.
Elsewhere, the Atlanta Hawks broke up their core of Joe Johnson, Al Horford and Josh Smith when Johnson was traded to the Brooklyn Nets for a number of players, including Jordan Farmar and DeShawn Stevenson. Meanwhile, Philadelphia’s acquisition of Andrew Bynum, who came to the 76ers in the four-team deal that involved Howard’s departure to LA and Andre Iguadola’s exit from Philly, will cover up the 76ers’ glaring weakness at center where they were consistently exploited by the Boston Celtics in the 2012 Playoffs.
Watch out for: The Brooklyn Nets. With All-Star guard Deron Williams leading them, and Joe Johnson, Gerald Wallace, Brook Lopez, and young talent like MarShon Brooks, the Nets will be the team on the rise. Having disappointed over the last few seasons, the franchise make the move to Brooklyn with the real promise of making a return to the playoffs.
Eastern Conference Rookie Watch: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. The 19-year-old Kidd-Gilchrist was picked up second by the Charlotte Bobcats in the 2012 NBA draft just behind No. 1 pick Anthony Davis. Kidd-Gilchrist is a small forward and was a part of the U.S. gold medal winning team in the FIBA U-17 World Championships in 2010. Bradley Beal, who was Kidd-Gilchrist’s teammate on that squad, and was picked third overall in the 2012 NBA draft by the Washington Wizards, could be another exciting rookie to watch. Beal plays shooting guard and could form part of an exciting backcourt with the explosive John Wall. The one surprise in the 2012 rookie class, however, could be Jared Sullinger, who was picked up by the Boston Celtics at No. 21 in the draft. At 6-9, Sullinger provides vital big-man depth to the Celtics. Sullinger is no slouch with the ball, having averaged 10.9 PPG and 7.0 RPG for the Celtics in eight preseason games so far.
Eastern Conference All-Stars: Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James are virtual certainties with Andrew Bynum taking the center spot for the 2013 NBA All Star weekend. The one position, though, that could be hotly contested, with Derrick Rose sidelined, is the point-guard spot. Deron Williams of the Nets and Rajon Rondo of the Boston Celtics are sure to have fans caught in a dilemma as to who to vote for. My guess is Rondo, but it could just as well be Williams, particularly if the Nets are off to a better start than the Celtics this season.
Eastern Conference MVP Candidate: Is this even a discussion? When you have the world’s best basketball player in LeBron James in your half of the NBA’s two-conference system, the regular season MVP accolade is a certain lock. Kevin Durant may compete for the scoring title, but James’ all-round game, which includes his stellar defensive play, should have him as MVP for the second year running.
Eastern Conference Playoff Contenders: The Miami Heat, with the signing of Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis, seem well placed to retain their superiority over all other Eastern Conference teams. Unlike the West, where the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Lakers could be locked in a three-team battle for pole position, the Heat should be the undisputed leaders of the East come playoff time. The New York Knicks, with the addition of Jason Kidd to their star-studded ranks, and Boston Celtics, with the inclusion of Jason Terry and Courtney Lee, may try to challenge Miami, but it would be surprising if anyone other than the Heat finish with the best record in the East. Indiana, Brooklyn, Philadelphia and Chicago would be the other playoff certainties from this conference.
2013 Eastern Conference Winner: Undoubtedly, Miami will make their way to the NBA finals for the third year in a row. It’s not that they are a team without weaknesses. The Heat still lack a quality point-guard and an imposing center, but such is the array of talent at their disposal that those weaknesses can be covered up. The only two teams that could challenge them are the Lakers, with their acquisition of Howard, and the 2012 Western Conference winners, Oklahoma City Thunder. Either way, a Heat versus Lakers showdown, or a rematch of the 2012 NBA finals, should make for a heady finale to what promises to be a bigger, better and more dramatic season than ever before.