1. Lakers – They won the championship last year, the championship the year before and they lost in the Finals the year before that. As much as it pains me to put them here, the Lakers are the team to beat until someone proves otherwise. Additions like Matt Barnes and Steve Blake don’t make that task any easier. Let’s not talk about this anymore.
2. Celtics – The Celtics have been to the top before and know what it takes to get there again. Everyone wants to put Miami in one of the top two spots but the Heat haven’t accomplished anything yet and the Celtics put the band back together for another run at a title. Add in Rajon Rondo trying to prove he’s the best point guard in the league and you’ve got a dangerous veteran team.
3. Heat – The three spot goes to the new trio in South Beach. LeBron, Wade, and Bosh immediately put the Heat in contention for the championship, but its all the role players Miami signed who will help them win it.
4. Magic – The team with a lot of regular season success but just not enough to do it when it counts. The Magic will get their 50+ wins, but Vince Carter is too old and Dwight Howard is too one dimensional for Orlando to get over the hump.
5. Thunder – This lofty ranking comes down to one player, Kevin Durant. The rest of the team is generally unproven and still young enough to rank among the leagues most inexperienced teams. But Durant is a good enough player to carry his youthful comrades deep into the playoffs. This team may have only been to the playoffs once so far, and lost to the Lakers, but young teams need to grow at some point and Durant’s not going to wait long for that.
6. Mavericks – The Mavs are deep and balanced having made plenty of trades and signings over the past year to bolster their roster. With Dirk Nowitzki re-signing, Dallas will make another run for the top of the West. But like the Magic in the East, it just might not be plausible enough to happen.
7. Bulls – The Bulls got a taste of the playoffs over the last few seasons and come into 2010-2011 looking for more of the same. Reloading with the likes of Carlos Boozer, Kyle Korver, and Ronnie Brewer add some quality depth to burgeoning young stars Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah.
8. Blazers – This team leads the league in untapped potential. Brandon Roy could be an All-NBAer, but he’s always injured. LaMarcus Aldridge can shoot as well as any big man, but never seems to dominate when it matters. Greg Oden can’t stay healthy. They have the talent to play with anyone in the league, but injuries and team cohesion continue to keep them from the top.
9. Rockets – Houston made moves this offseason, shipping Trevor Ariza out of town and leaving the future of the team in the hands of Aaron Brooks, Kevin Martin, and newly healthy (supposedly) Yao Ming.
10. Spurs – Still a dangerous team, the Spurs have started to trend downwards as the seasons since their last championship start to pile up. Tim Duncan might have a few solid years left, but his days of dominance are done.
11. Suns – Similar to the Spurs, the Suns success hinges on the ability of a veteran star, Steve Nash. Phoenix showed a lot of promise over the past couple seasons, but don’t have enough to cash in on a title while Nash is still around.
12. Jazz –Deron Williams put in a solid waiver claim for the “best point guard in the league” last season while Chris Paul was out and with Utah swapping Boozer for Al Jefferson in the frontcourt, they may not skip a beat. Now they just need to find a way to avoid the Lakers in the playoffs.
13. Bucks – Brandon Jennings gave the Bucks a spark last year but it was Andrew Bogut who carried the “Fear the Deer” banner. Milwaukee’s season’s chances are tied to his recovery from the horrific injury he suffered just before the playoffs last year.
14. Nuggets – This ranking all depends on what Denver decides to do with Carmelo Anthony. If they keep him and his head is in the game, the Nuggets would be ranked much higher. But it seems more likely ever day that this scenario doesn’t end well for Denver.
15. Hawks – After shelling out a max deal for Joe Johnson, Atlanta will be looking for a little more than the second round playoff flameout they went through last season. Look for Josh Smith to continue enhancing his game after an improved showing last year. Jamal and Jordan Crawford will keep things exciting off the bench.
16. Clippers – Blake Griffin is back, Eric Gordon had a great summer for Team USA and Clippers fans can only hope that the exciting young players on the team light an inspirational fire under Baron Davis’s beard.
17. Hornets – Back from injury, Chris Paul has a long road ahead of him to regain his spot as the best floor general in the league, not to mention carrying his rag-tag team of unproven free agents and “slowing down” veterans to the playoffs.
18. Grizzlies – Memphis had a good showing last season, but not enough to make the playoffs. With Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol back in the fold down low, and another year under the belts of Mike Conley and O.J. Mayo, the Grizz will be looking to play more games this year after the regular season is over.
19. Knicks – New York is going to have to prove they are more than just Amar’e, and Raymond Felton is going to have to show he was held back by Larry Brown in Charlotte, and return to wheeling and dealing like he’s back at the University of North Carolina.
20. Wizards – John Wall will be fun to watch and it will be interesting to see Gilbert Arenas rejoin the NBA scene. Player to watch: Super athletic center Javale McGee is poised for a breakout year running the floor with Wall.
21. Warriors – This team could jump a few spots, and potentially contend for one of the bottom playoff spots in the West. Andris Biedrins and newly acquired David Lee will control the boards while Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry will continue to create plays for teammates and light it up from outside.
22. Bobcats – The Bobcats enter this season shortly removed from their most successful campaign. Unfortunately, they are a year older (Stephen Jackson) and didn’t make any moves to add more scoring punch to an already woeful offensive team.
23. Sixers – Philly has a lot of intriguing prospects on the wings in Jrue Holiday, Louis Williams, Thaddeus Young, and number 2 overall pick Evan Turner. But they lack the size and experience to seriously compete for a playoff spot in the newly top heavy Eastern Conference.
24. Pacers – Indiana is hoping for a breakout year from Darren Collison and first round pick Paul George has shown some impressive athleticism in the pre-season, but the most intriguing part of the Pacer season should be seeing Tyler Hansbrough (last year’s first rounder) play his first full season in the pros.
25. Kings – Potentially one of the most exciting teams in the league, the Kings boast a couple of young players who are must see TV. Tyreke Evans comes back this season fresh off winning the Rookie of the Year Award and DeMarcus Cousins will do his best to make it two ROY awards in a row as he tries to average a rookie double-double.
26. Nets – Brook Lopez is one of the top centers in the league and Derrick Favors should provide some much needed backup in the post. With a lot of new free agents in tow, the success of the Nets might come down to what they do with up-and-down point guard Devin Harris.
27. Timberwolves – Minnesota can’t seem to figure out what style of play to settle on. Trading away Al Jefferson should provide good minutes to the patient Kevin Love. Jonny Flynn and Wesley Johnson will keep the T’Wolves (or Syracuse, Midwest) interesting until the front office can convince Ricky Rubio to cross the pond and play in the NBA (if he ever does).
28. Raptors – With Bosh and Hedo gone, the only NBA team in Canada will hope for a breakout year from Andrea Bargnani. Brazilian sparkplug Leandro Barbosa bolsters the bench and the development of Demar Derozan may be worth watching.
29. Pistons – Detroit brings back a roster that couldn’t win 30 games. Considering the fact that Rip Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince are still considered important players for the team, not much is going to change.
30. Cavaliers – Sorry, it wasn’t my Decision…