Never mind that the Lakers added Dwight Howard and Steve Nash in the offseason, the majority of NBA general managers still believe the Miami Heat will raise the Larry O’Brien Trophy come June.
In NBA.com’s annual preseason survey of general managers, 70 percent picked the Heat to successfully defend its championship. Last year, 74.1 percent of the league’s GMs predicted the Heat would win it all.
Still, the bar has been raised. The Lakers’ moves this summer shook the NBA just as the Heat’s haul in 2010 reverberated throughout the country. Howard’s long saga with the Orlando Magic ended as many first predicted, with Howard following Shaquille O’Neal’s footsteps and moving from the Disney World to Hollywood.
“At the end of the day, I think we all knew,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
While Spoelstra and others around the league weren’t surprised when Howard ended up in Los Angeles, just about everyone was taken aback when former Phoenix Suns guard Steve Nash joined Los Angeles’ effort. Nash, still one of the league’s top guards despite star despite his age (39 in February), will start alongside Howard, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace and Pau Gasol when the Lakers open the season at Staples Center against the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday.
“Stunned” was the word Heat guard Dwyane Wade chose when asked about Nash’s move.
Howard and Nash fill out a formidable starting five, and it doesn’t take much of an imagination to project into the future and see how the new-look Lakers would match up against the Heat in a Finals series. The Lakers would get the edge at two key positions, center and point guard.
But pencil the Lakers into the Finals at your own risk. The defending Western Conference champion Oklahoma City Thunder, which played the Heat better in The Finals than a five-game series would indicate, is one year older and deeper coming off the bench than perhaps any other team in the league, especially Los Angeles.
In other words, the Lakers will not be coasting into The Finals.
Right now, a matchup against the Thunder in the conference finals is the furthest thing from the Lakers’ minds. The preseason isn’t much of an indicator, but Los Angeles started its tune-up games 0-6. Just as the Heat learned when it started from scratch in 2010, the Lakers are beginning to understand it takes more than a stacked starting five to win games.
“They’ll be great, but they have to make it work,” Wade said this summer. “Some people figure it out right away, some people take till midseason to figure it out and some take until the next year if they figure it out. Obviously for them, they need to be successful as they want to be, they’re going to have to do it right away.”
Howard, who only recently returned to action after back surgery ended his final season in Orlando prematurely, was asked before training camp about the potential of an up-and-down season in his first turn with the Lakers. Going in, he expected an adjustment period.
“I don’t know what the Heat really went through because I wasn’t in their locker room,” Howard said. “But every team goes through different things during the year. There are going to be some rough patches at times, but that’s where we all have to realize that it’s not just about that particular day, but it’s about the journey.”
The Lakers weren’t the only team shaking up a roster in the hopes of unseating the Heat.
Closer to home, the Celtics revamped their roster with the additions of guards Jason Terry and Courtney Lee. Boston also re-signed Kevin Garnett and cut ties with Ray Allen, who quickly bolted for Miami. Also in the Atlantic Division, the Philadelphia 76ers shook things up with addition of former Lakers center Andrew Bynum, who was acquired in the Howard trade.