The Miami Heat are the reigning champions. They escaped sure defeat in Game 6 on the heroics of LeBron James and Ray Allen to come up with another championship. The veteran Spurs just could not muster enough to win in Game 7 as the Heat pulled away in the end. But going into next year, the Heat will not only have competition from the West but from teams in their own conference. Looking at the Heat as the barometer, the Indiana Pacers and the Brooklyn Nets made some interesting changes to bolster their team. But is it enough for them to beat the Heat come playoff time?
The Pacers pushed the Heat to the brink last season in the Eastern Conference Finals. But in Game 7, their youth showed up as point guard George Hill and wing player Paul George disappeared at the wrong time. The one thing the Pacers had that damaged the Heat a lot last postseason was their post game. Big men Roy Hibbert and David West were hitting the Heat with body blow after body blow and the Heat could not do anything with them. But the one thing that hurt the Pacers inside was they did not have that third big man to give the Heat problems. Well, the Pacers think they have resolved that issue. According to Yahoo! Sports, the Pacers have acquired veteran forward Luis Scola and sent forward Miles Plumblee, guard Gerald Green and a protected 2014 1st round draft pick to Phoenix. This move, along with the re-insertion of sharpshooter Danny Granger and swing forward Chris Copeland, makes the Pacers a stronger offensive team while still retaining the toughness that they are known for. Imagine if they would have had Scola, Copeland, Lance Stephenson and veteran point guard CJ Watson coming off the bench. They would have been even tougher last year.
But with the additions, the Pacers are still missing a lead guard to initiate the offense. George Hill is good, but he is not a point guard. And we all saw what happened with him at point guard when the pressure picked up against Miami. His uneven play cost them big time. They don’t necessarily need a star point guard, but a guard that won’t turn the ball over in crucial times. And other than Hill, the only other guy that can initiate that offense is the newly acquired Watson. If the Pacers could rely on a guy like Granger or Paul George to initiate the offense, then maybe they would be fine with Hill (who is really an undersized shooting guard) playing the point. But because of no solid addition at the point guard spot, the reservations are still there about the championship aspirations of this team. For the Pacers’ sake, they better hope Hill has learned from last year and will be better when the pressure comes his way.
In Brooklyn, the thirst of Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov for a championship is real. And to quench his thirst to make the Nets a serious contender, he has thrown money and caution to the wind. The Nets made a trade that brought them veterans Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry from the Boston Celtics. Immediately the expectations of the team went through the roof as some touted them as the biggest contender to the Heat. The starting lineup they now boast will be Garnett and Pierce at the forwards, Joe Johnson and Deron Williams at the guard spots and Brook Lopez at center. But not only will they have those guys starting for them, the Nets re-signed backup big Andray Blatche, signed forward Andrei Kirlenko to backup Paul Pierce, brought in guard/forward Allan Anderson to backup Joe Johnson along with having the aforementioned Jason Terry to backup Deron Williams. This team has all the tools to make a run.
But one thing that has to be looked at is the age of their key additions. Paul Pierce has been an incredible player for Boston his whole career, but over that time he has broken down. Injuries have taken away some of his explosiveness and with that, some of his effectiveness as a player. Signing Kirlenko was a good thing, but if he is playing more than Pierce when it really counts, then the Nets basically wasted money to bring him in. Another thing that may be an issue with Pierce is how he fits in Brooklyn. After being in Boston so long and becoming a legend there, how will playing in a new city for a new team for the first time in his career affect him? It could be excellent, but it could also be something that goes like Joe Namath when he played for the Los Angeles Rams. Kevin Garnett has been very durable during his entire career, but last year he started to show signs of breaking down. He ended up missing 14 games last season and he also had the lowest rebound and point totals of his career last postseason. Garnett brings intensity and passion when he plays, but what happens when your body is telling you that it cannot produce like it used to? It seems like in the case of Garnett and Pierce they are battling two enemies: the Heat (as the defending champions) and Father Time. The Nets will need these two to be at their best to win the East. We shall see if they can get it going when the time is right.
Both squads made perceived improvements. But in the end, it is still in question whether it is enough to defeat the Heat.