The Los Angeles Lakers put together what is arguably the greatest offseason in the history of the NBA. Adding two All-Stars and future Hall of Famers to their lineup is a huge coup, and the Lakers were able to accomplish the feat. The addition of center Dwight Howard and point guard Steve Nash infuses the lineup with talent and leadership, and gives the team a formidable starting lineup.
The two signings, combined with Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, make for an expensive crew, but the talent is impossible to deny. That said, a Sports Illustrated poll pinned the Miami Heat as the favorites to win the NBA title later this year.
Coming of a fantastic championship season last year, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and company look to be in their prime, ready to take on the league for the second year in a row. Their Big Three and the chemistry they've built over the last two seasons together will be tough for any team to match. Though the Lakers may have a bit more talent on paper, they haven't done anything as a group thus far. Without having proven themselves, general managers and other executives found it tough to mark the Lakers as the team to beat.
In the poll, Miami received 16 first-place votes, one second-place vote and two third-place votes. The Oklahoma City Thunder received two first-place votes, six second-place votes and nine third-place votes while the Lakers garnered two first-place votes, 10 second-place votes and six third-place votes.
The three teams stand far above the rest in the eyes of the 19 league executives who took part in the poll. With Miami winning last year, it looks like most of the pressure will now fall on the shoulders of the two Western Conference giants. Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak's spending spree will be looked at with scrutiny, described as all-for-naught, if they are unable to win a title. With an impending face-off with the Thunder in the WCF, an exit before even reaching the Finals would be a tough pill for Lakers brass to swallow.
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