The Los Angeles Lakers have newly-acquired Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, the Oklahoma City Thunder will be a year older and wiser and the Boston Celtics have upgraded their bench while holding onto Kevin Garnett.
But a panel of NBA executives asked by Sports Illustrated to pick their favorites for the 2013 league championship overwhelmingly cited the Miami Heat as the team to again beat.
The defending champions received 15 first-place votes, one second-place one and two third-place nods from a body of NBA minds that included 10 general managers.
The team they vanquished in the Finals, the Oklahoma City Thunder, garnered two first-place votes, six second-place votes and eight third-place votes. The Lakers have added the league’s most dominant big man in Howard and a crafty point guard in Nash to a team that already includes Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, but were deemed worthy of just two first-place votes, compared to their nine second-place ones and six third-place votes.
So while Los Angeles may not be seen as the favorites to win it all, it appears to NBA front office types that they’ve overtaken the Thunder as the top threat to the Heat.
The fact that OKC needed just five games to easily bounce the aging Lakers from the playoffs this past spring seems to matter little, a fact that is sure to motivate stud Thunder players such as Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden.
All of this is simply conjecture, of course. The teams still have to go out each night and prove their worth on the court. Chemistry and a lack of injuries are critical to any title run.
Likewise, the Heat are a year older, especially with the addition of Ray Allen. Additionally, Dwyane Wade is coming off offseason surgery on a bothersome left knee, while Chris Bosh is rebounding from the abdominal injury that slowed him late in the playoffs.
That Miami is still held in such high regard is a testament to the tremendous admiration all league executive have for the unmatched talents of reigning MVP LeBron James.