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Lakers rise with Steve Nash, but Heat and Thunder still reign

NBA trades and free-agent signings add intrigue to next season, but Miami and Oklahoma City still seem best on paper.

July 06, 2012|By Broderick Turner
  • LeBron James and Kevin Durant help their respective teams remain the best two teams in the league.
LeBron James and Kevin Durant help their respective teams remain the best… (Robert Duyos / MCT )

No matter how much the NBA has shifted during this month's free-agency and trading period, the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder remain the best two teams in the league.

But it has been fun to watch all the moving parts around the league, all with the intent of taking down the NBA champion Heat.

Here's one NBA reporter's take on how the league will shake out next season.

Western Conference:

1.Oklahoma City. The Thunder lost in the NBA Finals, but it's a team full of 20-something stars that's talented and now more experienced.

Kevin Durant, 24, is one of the NBA's best players. Russell Westbrook, 24, isn't the prototypical point guard, but he's one of the best athletes in the game and he's still improving. James Harden, 22, had a poor NBA Finals series, but was the league's sixth man of the year. Serge Ibaka, 22, has only gotten better every year.

2. Lakers. The addition of point guard Steve Nash, a two-time most valuable player, to go alongside Kobe Bryant, Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol has made the Lakers much better. Bryant remains one of the top five players in the league and the Lakers have a size advantage over most teams.

They should be fun to watch, but the Lakers don't look ready yet to dethrone the Thunder in the West. However, things could change if the Lakers get Dwight Howard.

Meanwhile, the Lakers are not very far ahead of the teams ranked just below them.

3. San Antonio. Everyone wants to bury the Spurs, but they just go about their business.

They have one of the best coaches in Gregg Popovich and still have their Big Three — Tim Duncan (he hasn't signed yet, but where is he going?) — Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.

4. Clippers. Not only do the Clippers have All-Stars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, they also re-signed Chauncey Billups and acquired free-agent guard Jamal Crawford and Lamar Odom, a former sixth man of the year.

But for the Clippers to take that next big step, Griffin and center DeAndre Jordan have to improve.

Griffin has to develop a better low-post game in which he actually has some moves and not just dunks. A nice 15-foot jump shot would help.

Jordan has to get some type of offensive skill set when he's more than four feet from the basket.

And both have to improve their free-throw shooting.

5. Memphis. The Grizzlies remain a scary team.

They have one of the best frontcourts in forwards Zach Randolph and Rudy Gay and center Marc Gasol, and point guard Mike Conley is solid.

Remember the Dallas Mavericks?

Nobody seems to know what the Mavericks are doing. They lost out on Deron Williams, Jason Kidd left and Dirk Nowitzki might play alongside Ramon Sessions. They are starting to drop off the NBA map.

Eastern Conference:

1. Miami. The Heat is the defending NBA champion and it still has three of the league's best players.

LeBron James was the Finals' and league MVP, and it looks as if he has figured things out. Shooting guard Dwyane Wade and power forward Chris Bosh are as good as anybody at their positions. With Ray Allen reportedly joining the Heat, Miami will be an even tougher out.

2. Boston. The older the Boston Celtics get, the better they seem to get.

Kevin Garnett, 36, agreed to a three-year deal to return to the Celtics. Paul Pierce, 34, still gets it done. Rajon Rondo is one of the top five point guards. If the Celtics re-sign Jeff Green and get a healthy Avery Bradley, they will contend because they also have one of the best coaches in Doc Rivers.

3. Brooklyn. If Derrick Rose were healthy, the Chicago Bulls would be ranked second or third. But he suffered a torn left knee anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus tear and could be out the entire season.

So the Brooklyn Nets move up here.

They got Williams back, traded for six-time All-Star guard Joe Johnson from the Atlanta Hawks and re-signed forward Gerald Wallace. And the Nets still have a chance to acquire Howard from Orlando. Even if the Nets don't get him, center Brook Lopez is capable.

4. New York. The Knicks still have Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler. The Knicks agreed to a deal with Kidd and are weighing whether to match the offer sheet Jeremy Lin got from the Houston Rockets.

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