To recap: I rank each team from 1-10 on their projected starters, bench, coach and watchability, using a 1-10 scale, and rate them overall based on a (starters x 5) + (bench x 2) + (coaching x 2) + watchability to give them an overall score. Why does watchability matter? Because we're not robots here, that's why.
I'm breaking down these previews into small, bite-size chunks to make them more palatable to read, around 1,000-1,500 words each, obviously spending more time on the contenders than the minnows. Enjoy and leave me all kinds of comments about why I'm terribly wrong.
Miami Heat: 79.5
Projected Starters (9): C Chris Bosh PF Udonis Haslem SF LeBron James SG Dwyane Wade, PG Mario Chalmers
Even with Haslem reduced to a total non-entity by this point and Chalmers leading the league every season in "times teammates yell at him for doing something stupid," you still have the rate the starters collectively very high just because James is so much better than everybody else and Wade and Bosh aren't exactly slouches themselves. That being said, I thought Grantland.com's Andrew Sharp nailed it last week with this savage takedown of Wade, who has done everything possible the last 36 months to be the most unlikable player in the league, almost making James a sympathetic figure by comparison.
Wade has made a lot of noise in the off-season about recapturing his old, superduperstar form, and while the easy narrative would be to predict some 2002-2004 Shaq/Kobe alpha dog feud between him and James, I unfortunately don't see it going that way -- just the opposite, in fact. I think James, either directly or indirectly let it be known to his good buddy, "I am not gonna carry your butt for 110 games again next season just for you to show up for a couple of Game 7's." Still, the crunch-time dynamic in close games between the two should be interesting.
It's awfully hard to three-peat, and the Heat were pushed to the absolute limit just to repeat last season, and I think something has to give with these guys, at least in the regular season. Sure, it'd be impressive for them to gun for 70 wins or even overall home court advantage, but it's just not worth the effort, considering how much they're going to have to ride their big guns down the stretch. I think something has to give and James plays way fewer minutes this season, either via a minor injury that costs him 10-15 games or a minutes reduction by coach Erik Spoelstra or both. There's simply no way "Coach Spo" can push James to nearly 3,900 minutes again this season and get away with it. I think somehow, someway, he's got to shoot for 3,500-3,600, max.
Projected Bench (6.5): C Chris Andersen, PF Michael Beasley, SF Shane Battier, SG Ray Allen, PG Norris Cole, C Joel Anthony, SF Rashard Lewis, SG Roger Mason Jr., C Greg Oden
It's one thing to get beaten by James and Wade, but this bench is why I truly hate the Heat. It's simply not fair how they pick up the Birdman from some trailer park and he immediately becomes an invaluable contributor for them right when Haslem goes down. It's not fair that they get to sign Allen on the cheap because Rajon Rondo's too much of a jackass to get along with him. It's not fair that Battier is arctic cold all playoffs long and then magically finds his stroke in Games 6 and 7 of the Finals. And it's really not fair that Mike Miller shoots like 3 percent versus the rest of the league and 87 percent vs. the Spurs.
God I loathe this team. You know somehow, someway, the Beez is gonna keep his nose clean, not give in to the temptations of South Beach and end up winning the Sixth Man of the Year award for them. You know that Oden would be injured for the season after 30 seconds on the court for the other 29 teams but somehow he'll wind up giving Miami 15 quality minutes a night in the playoffs, including a last-second block in Game 7 of the Finals. They could suit up Justin Bieber and he'd find a way to win a playoff game for them. I can't stand it.
Coaching (7): I can only give Spoelstra so much credit when it took Frank Vogel pulling Roy Hibbert for the Heat to win Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals and Pop pulling Tim Duncan for them to win Game 6 of the Finals. Maybe he's a Vulcan? (Though he looks more like a Ferengi.) Also, he kind of stumbled into the small-ball lineup with James as the power forward by luck, with Bosh going down with an abdominal injury in the 2012 playoffs, and that fortuitous injury has enabled them to win two championships. Not that I'm bitter or anything.
Watchability (7.5): Less iso-driven and more eye-pleasing offense than when they started out in 2010-2011, and they do whiz the ball around pretty good when they're humming, I must admit. Also, it's no secret that they boast the most devastating transition game in the league and that their defense, when they bother to try, is downright frightening for stretches. Obviously anytime you tune them in it's in the vain hopes that they'll lose, regardless of opponent, and they automatically drop a notch or two for that crappy announcing crew.
Best-case scenario: They go 73-9 in the regular season and 16-0 in the playoffs, proving without a doubt they're the greatest team in the history of basketball. The league immediately folds because there's no point anymore.
Worst-case scenario: The grind of the past three seasons is just too much, James finally breaks down, Wade follows suit in trying to make up for the absence and they get nothing from Beasley, Oden or anyone else, really. They limp toward the playoffs and are almost relieved when the Pacers put them out of their misery in the second round. A battered, wiser and humbler James returns to Cleveland, wisely without a "Decision" spectacle.
Realistic scenario: A regular season where the Heat alternate between dominant and ordinary, good enough for only the third-seed in a more-competitive-than-usual Eastern Conference. They get past the upstart Cavs in round one, but succumb to the Pacers in the second round, ending their dynasty. James signs with Cleveland. Basically just like the worst-case scenario but with like, eight more regular season wins.
Degrees between All-Time Best Player and Manu Ginobili: 2 (We already did James, so here's Wade, who was teammates with Blake Ahearn on the 2007-08 Heat, who was teammates with Ginobili on the 2008-09 Spurs.)
More from Pounding The Rock:
- Stampler's NBA Predictions Part 6: The Pistons & Bucks
- The Spurs should hope for a slow trade season
- Spurs exercise options on Cory Joseph & Kawhi Leonard
- Stampler's NBA Predictions Part 5: The Pacers and Cavaliers
- Spurs sign - and then waive - Josh Howard