March 18, 2012; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat small forward LeBron James (6) talks with Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard (12) during the first half at American Airlines Arena. Heat won 91-81. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE
The Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat have switched places with each other from two years ago. In 2010, Miami re-signed Dwyane Wade and added LeBron James and Chris Bosh just weeks after the Lakers won the NBA championship. This summer, the Lakers traded for Steve Nash and Dwight Howard to reload after the Heat reached the top of the basketball mountain.
How should Heat fans react to the Lakers’ offseason? They shouldn’t react much one way or another. Hopefully a 9-8 start, a five-game losing streak and a collapse in the Finals to start the Big Three era reminds Miami fans that the game is played on the court. And we haven’t even seen this new Lakers squad play one game. But we can make reasoned predictions off of this trade without making impudent declarations.
First, let’s start in the East. The Philadelphia 76ers traded Andre Igoudala, seldom-used Nikola Vucevic, 2012 first-round pick Moe Harkless and a first-round pick for Andrew Bynum and Jason Richardson. This move should keep the Sixers in the playoffs, which is good for Miami. Philadelphia gave Miami a lottery-protected draft pick in a trade, and now the Heat should have that first-round pick next June.
The Sixers lost a great perimeter defender in Igoudala, but added the second-best center in the NBA. Unfortunately for Bynum, though, his nonchalant attitude will be more scrutinized now that he’s the first option on his team. Philadelphia does have some 3-point shooters in Richardson, Dorell Wright and Nick Young, who should all work well with Bynum (if he’s healthy). But Evan Turner needs to have a breakout year for the Sixers to make the second round again. In dealing Igoudala, the Sixers’ management has put the team’s future in Turner’s hands.
We’ll have to see Philadelphia play on the court, though. Beyond Miami and Boston, the East is wide open. With Derrick Rose still months away from returning to the court, the Chicago Bulls have let many of their supporting players leave in an apparent attempt to tank the 2012-13 season and get a high-draft pick to pair with Rose. The Pacers traded away Darren Collison and overpaid Roy Hibbert. Just as the Sixers are pinning their hopes on Turner to have a good year, Indiana needs Paul George to play well to retain that third seed in the East. The Knicks and Nets have teams that are good enough to make the playoffs, but not challenge Miami or Boston.
The Dwight Howard trade did nothing to change the balance of power in the East. The Heat and Celtics are still the best teams, and they should meet in the conference finals barring injuries.
Now, the Lakers had a great summer. Nash represents a big upgrade over Ramon Sessions, and the team added Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks to contribute scoring off the bench. Those are two pretty big holes the Lakers filled. And to cover up for the Lakers’ older legs on the perimeter – Nash, Kobe Bryant and Metta World Peace – Mitch Kupchak acquired a defensive juggernaut.
This Lakers team will have high expectations, just as the 2010-11 Heat had. If the Lakers hit a snag, media members will ask whether Mike Brown is fit to coach this superstar-laden team and if the Lakers’ pieces truly fit to form a team. Bryant and Nash both have dominated the ball for their entire careers, exactly what James and Wade had done before they teamed up. The Heat did run too much isolation at times, but Erik Spoelstra added effective half-court sets, like the Wade/James pick-and-roll. Wade and James both have effective post games, which was especially useful for a team without a back-to-the-basket center. The Lakers have a dominant center, but Nash and Bryant will need to learn how to play together. We’ll have to see to what extent the Lakers run the Princeton offense.
Pat Riley’s presence inexorably links the Lakers and Heat. And it’s certainly plausible that we’ll see these two teams play each other in the Finals. But before a single ball has bounced for 2012-13 season, we must refrain from saying that the Lakers should be favored to win the championship. The Heat don't need to worry about the Lakers unless L.A. beats the Thunder. The Lakers will have to prove that they are better than the Thunder and Heat on the court. Just as LeBron, Wade and Bosh silenced all the critics in June.