tom jones' two cents
The NBA season tips off Tuesday, so here's Two Cents' preview of the 2012-13 season.
Three teams to beat in the East
The defending champs return the Big Three — Dwyane Wade (above right), Chris Bosh (far left) and, yep, the best player on the planet in LeBron James (second from left) — then added to it by signing super shooter Ray Allen (second from right). If you think Allen was effective in Boston, wait till you see the open shots he'll get playing with James and Wade slashing to the hoop. Some are wondering if this team can win 73 to break the NBA record. That won't happen, but pencil it into the Finals. Actually, go ahead and use a pen.
The Celtics might not really be the second-best team in the conference, but they are second here because they are the one team that might actually challenge the Heat because they match up well. The downside is they lost Ray Allen. Worse, they lost Allen to the Heat. But Rajon Rondo, left, gives the Celtics a big edge at point guard. The big concern is whether Boston can squeeze one more healthy season from its old men — 36-year-old Kevin Garnett and 35-year-old Paul Pierce.
I was tempted to put the Knicks in this slot, but there is something about the Pacers, who gave the Heat fits in last season's playoffs. Roy Hibbert, left, is a major force down low and Danny Granger and David West are nice scorers. The bench was revamped, and the Pacers will be a tough out for anyone come playoff time. This is a good team in the true sense of the word, but I'd feel even better about the Pacers if they had that elite star who could take over when the rest of the team needs him.
Three teams to beat in the West
Los Angeles Lakers
The Heat has the Big Three and the Lakers now have the Big Four: Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and new additions Steve Nash and Dwight Howard, left. But just like the Heat, the Lakers might need some time to mesh. It remains to be seen if Howard can coexist with Bryant, but if everyone checks his ego and lets Nash do his thing and distribute the ball, this team is good enough to win it all, provided Bryant stays healthy.
Oklahoma City Thunder
With all the offseason moves around the league, particularly with the Lakers, you almost forget that the Thunder reached the Finals last season. All the talent remains, including stars Kevin Durant, left, and Russell Westbrook. But the big question is this: Will last season's loss in the Finals fuel the Thunder, or will the Thunder spend half the season thinking about last season's Finals?
San Antonio Spurs
Don't count the Spurs out just yet even though Tim Duncan (above left) is 35, Manu Ginobili is 35 and Tony Parker (right) is now 30. But maybe you've already forgotten that the Spurs, counted out last season, too, tied for the best record in the league, and that was during a compressed season. They didn't do a lot in the offseason, but don't underestimate the heart of these veterans.
Three on the rise
A new building, new uniforms, a new name and a new attitude make for a whole new team. In fact, it feels like a whole new team as the Nets move from New Jersey to Brooklyn, N.Y. The Nets didn't land Dwight Howard as they hoped, but they picked up Joe Johnson, who should blend in nicely with leader Deron Williams. Brook Lopez is vastly underrated in the post, and this team plays excellent defense. They still have to earn some postseason stripes, but this is a solid little team.
Golden State Warriors
This is a team that went 23-43 last season. Don't expect a complete turnaround. In fact, this team will struggle to make the playoffs. It all comes down to health. Andrew Bogut hopes to play at some point after ankle surgery last season and Stephen Curry has missed most of the preseason. But if this team can get healthy, it has a chance to be a bubble team. There's a lot to like about this team, including former Gator David Lee.
Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers went 46-20 last season, so it seems odd to consider them a team on the rise. But they have a chance to be even better than last season because Blake Griffin gets better every day and the team added Grant Hill and Lamar Odom. The Clippers still remain the second-best team in Los Angeles, but they aren't a laughingstock anymore.
Three on the decline
This is a no-brainer, right? The Magic parted ways with Dwight Howard and seems headed straight for a lottery pick. In fact, there's already a buzz that the Magic will start trading off what few decent parts it has left as the season rolls along. Such a shame because Magic fans and that beautiful Amway Center deserve better than a rebuilding project that likely will take several seasons to come to fruition.
The Bulls will make the playoffs, but they won't go in tied with the best record in the league, as they did a season ago. That's because former MVP Derrick Rose likely won't play until after the All-Star break. There's plenty of talent left, but the uncertainly of Rose's health makes this a team that isn't as good as last season when it was very good.
Losing Steve Nash cripples the Suns. Goran Dragic will try to step in as point guard, and he's not bad. But he's no Nash. Actually, who is? Nash still ranks as one of the game's top point guards and improves every player he plays with. Dragic can't be expected to do the same. Plus, how good is he supposed to make Michael Beasley?
MVP: LeBron James, Heat
Coach of the year: Avery Johnson, Nets
Rookie of the year: Anthony Davis, Hornets (left)
Defensive player of the year: Dwight Howard, Lakers
East: Heat, Celtics, Pacers, Knicks, Nets, 76ers, Bulls, Hawks
West: Lakers, Thunder, Spurs, Clippers, Nuggets, Mavericks, Grizzlies, Warriors
Finals: Heat over the Lakers