However, if there is to be another team that makes it to the NBA’s biggest stage in the next 5 years, it’s going to have something to do with one of these 6 factors:
1. Dwight Howard
Let the trade talks begin once again. Howard could instantly make so many different teams a sudden championship front-runner. Orlando will probably play another cat-and-mouse game with their superstar as the 2012/2013 season begins but it’s highly unlikely Howard will be wearing Magic blue when the 2013/2014 season begins. Just think of how few dominant offensive big men the Heat had to play on their recent title run….yeah, no one comes to mind. I don’t think they’d like to see a matchup with Howard in May or June.
2. Deron Williams
There’s going to be a lot of money thrown in the superstar point guard’s direction this summer and it’s for a good reason. Williams could make a team like the Mavericks or Lakers an instant big-time threat to the Thunder’s Western Conference crown. If he stays in Brooklyn, some big moves would have to go down, but don’t rule out the difference a top-level point guard can make.
3. Derrick Rose and Company
Yeah, the Heat got a bit of a free pass on this one. The top seed in the East featured a deep roster led by one of the premier playmakers in the league and it’s unfortunate we couldn’t see them at full strength when things mattered most. But there are still some big questions as to Chicago’s full potential as of now, whether they need a more dominant frontcourt player than the inconsistent and docile Boozer, especially when paired with the offensively challenged Noah. At full strength this season, they may have been able to take down the Heat, but they may still be a trade away from really reaching their peak.
4. Mitch Kupchak/Jim Buss
Lakers fans would probably be fine with having this past year washed from their memories completely. Watching Kobe average 40 points per game in his last two outings of the season while the rest of his team failed to support the effort was almost unbearable. Trading Lamar and Fischer for chump change? Being content with Sessions as the big trade deadline acquisition? These aren’t the usual trends of one of the league’s most illustrious franchises, but as long as number 24 is still in purple and gold, the Lakers have a place on every NBA watcher’s radar. Kupchak and Buss have to make some big decisions in the coming months, particularly whether Bynum is reliable enough to be Kobe’s #2 guy or if Gasol is worth dealing for a more consistent piece. Either way, something needs to be done.
5. James Harden/Serge Ibaka
With Durant and Westbrook signed on for the next five years, GM Sam Presti has to set his sights on the next two most important pieces on the Thunder’s roster. Ibaka’s low-post defense and Harden’s playmaking ability were key to getting out of San Antonio, and in order for the Thunder to continue their run, they’ll need to do all they can to retain their services. Both players could become restricted free agents after next season and will most likely have some pretty attractive suitors, both players being worth 8-digit salaries in today’s market. So we’ll have to see what kind of tricks Presti has left up his sleeve.
6. The Perfect Formula
There’s always the possibility that a team just finds the perfect ingredients for a championship run, somewhat similar to 2011’s Mavericks or 2004’s Pistons. The Clippers, Spurs, Celtics, Grizzlies, 76ers and Pacers are some of the teams that could be a couple key moves away from getting over the hump. Even though they may not have the same superstar status as the Heat or Thunder, sometimes a deep and motivated team can make all the difference.