Point/Counterpoint: Which NBA team had the best off-season?

BY DI STAFF | OCTOBER 30, 2012 6:30 AM

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The 2012-13 NBA season will begin tonight, with six teams playing the first of their 82 regular-season contests. Our staff debates which professional basketball squad improved the most during the off-season.

Miami Heat

LeBron gets it now.

Forget about the acquisition of Ray Allen. Forget about the minor emergence of Mario Chalmers during last year’s playoffs. Forget about Dwayne Wade rehabbing his knee to reassume his position as the leader of the Heat.

None of that matters. None of it. They’re all minor subplots to LeBron James — arguably the greatest skill-for-skill, pound-for-pound player in NBA history — understanding what he needs to do to be great.

He’s always had the athletic prowess, but it was a matter of having his practice catch up to his natural talent. The will to win was there, but it was the (lack of a) will to prepare had brought him to a halt.

LeBron figured it out last year. In the midst of locker room reading sessions — featuring young adult blockbuster The Hunger Games — and a phenomenal inside/outside game, James produced what might best be described as a virtuoso basketball performance in last June’s run to his first ring.

And if his off-season is any indication of how he’ll do this season, you can forget about any sort of competition coming from the newly formed Lakers or the Rondo-led Celtics. In past Olympiads, LeBron would piddle around during his off time, catch up with fans, and spent more time signing autographs than he would serious minutes on the floor.

This past summer, LeBron pushed himself more than ever, engaging in shooting competitions with Kobe and Durant, proving not only to them but to himself that he can hang with the world’s best perimeter players.

If that doesn’t scare you, then maybe this will: Erik Spoelstra was once caught on record as saying, “thinking conventionally that first season with LeBron — that was my biggest regret as a coach. I put LeBron in a box. And that’s the worst thing I could’ve done.”

The next season, Miami won the NBA championship. If you thought the Heat were filthy-good last season, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

— by Cody Goodwin

Boston Celtics

Coming off a disappointing season-ending loss to the Heat, the Celts seem motivated to prove that they are still able to compete, even with father-time looming heavily. The loss of Ray Allen should fuel the team’s hatred for their Eastern Conference rival Miami. And with key additions in Jason Terry and Courtney Lee, they have made the replacements necessary to move forward without Allen.

The Celtics have also added youthful depth for Kevin Garnett in the post by drafting center Fab Melo from Syracuse and physical Jared Sullinger from Ohio State.

The seemingly forgotten Jeff Green has rehabilitated himself coming off a heart surgery, and he has recently dominated the preseason games for the Celtics. The former Georgetown standout is not only looking young and athletic, he also has obtained the necessary experience. He should take some of the weight off of the aging shoulders of Paul Pierce.

Although the Heat made a key addition in swiping Allen away from the Celtics, I don’t think Miami will know exactly how to incorporate him in the early going. While Dwyane Wade and LeBron James try to improve each another, they now have to make sure Ray Allen is getting his touches. This will add some confusion to their offense.

The Thunder have just traded away a key sixth man in James Harden, basically because of what seems to be a contract issue. Durant and Westbrook will have to attempt to make the accommodations for the newcomers, which won’t be easy for the young contending team.

The new-look Lakers will start slowly, too, although they could be a threat down the road. But if the team’s 0-8 preseason shows any idea of where the team’s progress is right now, there is a good indication that there is at least a small identity crisis in Hollywood.

— by Levi Lynott

Los Angeles Lakers

Let’s start with what remained: The Lakers still have Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. They already possess arguably the best international player in the league along with the player who will be remembered as the best cager between Jordan and Lebron.

While other players in their twilight years tend to slow down, the über-competitive Kobe has showed more urgency to win his sixth career title in the last few years — probably some kind of Jordan complex. Bryant’s lack of passing will be made up for the addition of Steve Nash, another twilight player desperate for a championship. Arguably the best player in the NBA without a ring, at least among older players, Nash is still in fantastic shape for a 37-year old in his 16th season in the league.

Did I mention Dwight Howard is there, too? After the Lakers disposed of the oft-injured and inconsistent Andrew Bynum, the team’s previous hope for a talented young center, they upgraded by trading for the reigning and three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year in Howard. He clogs the middle of the lane with his ability to block shots, and with Gasol, creates a two-headed monster every team, even the Heat, will have slowing down in the key.

If the Lakers have any issues that could stop them from reaching the NBA Finals, it’s their depth. LA’s premier team still has no solid backup point guard — with all due respect to former ACC standouts Chris Duhon and Steve Blake — and will struggle to find much help at all on the bench. But over the off-season, the Lakers added two more pieces that undoubtedly make them the most improved team coming in to 2012-13.

— by Ian Martin

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