1. Los Angeles Lakers (41-25 in 2011-12)
Key adds: Dwight Howard, Steve Nash, Antawn Jamison
Key departures: Andrew Bynum, Ramon Sessions, Matt Barnes
Skinny: Nobody has ever added two guys with this much hardware. On paper, not even the mighty Heat can mess with this bunch. But that’s why they play the games ... Everybody is going to have to adjust and that bench isn’t scaring anybody. Once upon a time, Kobe Bryant and Shaq ruled the league. Now, Bryant has an inside force in Howard and two-time MVP Nash, plus his old friend Pau Gasol ... How do you stop this team? Nobody will be able to answer that query. If healthy, no one will be able to slow down this freight train ... Even with Nash, the Lakers will be fine defensively because Howard will erase any mistakes.
Burning question: Will Kobe be able to share his team and city with two new superstars?
2. San Antonio Spurs (50-16)
Key adds: Nando de Colo
Key departures: None.
Skinny: Few expected it, but the Spurs steamrolled the competition in the regular season. Kawhi Leonard came out of nowhere, Tim Duncan found the fountain of youth and Tony Parker had one of his best seasons yet. But, once again, when the playoffs came the Spurs were sent packing. Depth is great in the regular season, but with Duncan and Manu Ginobili getting closer to the end of the line every year, San Antonio’s window might have closed. The young Thunder beat them once and could do it again and the Lakers simply are too big and too talented. Then again, the Spurs have a habit of making us look stupid.
Burning question: Can Leonard avoid a sophomore slump? It happens, but it can’t if the Spurs want to contend. Leonard has to be even better than he was in his first season.
3. Oklahoma City Thunder (47-19)
Key adds: Eric Maynor (from injury), Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, Perry Jones III
Key departures: James Harden, Daequan Cook, Derek Fisher, Nazr Mohammed
Skinny: Stunning trade of Harden changed everything. He powered bench, though return of Maynor will prevent complete falloff. Still, it’s hard to see this team knocking off Los Angeles or Miami after losing such a key piece. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook will ensure they don’t slip too far Jones is ready to step right into the rotation and was once considered a potential top 10 pick so the team is even better than before.
Burning question: Can they beat the Lakers? It should be old vs. young for Western supremacy (though the Spurs always have something to say about that). OKC’s young pups won’t outsmart L.A.’s old dogs, but have a quickness advantage. Even with Harden, this probably still was L.A.’s year.
4. Denver Nuggets (38-28)
Key adds: Andre Iguodala, Evan Fournier
Key departures: Rudy Fernandez, Arron Afflalo, Al Harrington
Skinny: The Nuggets made out like bandits in inserting themselves in the Dwight Howard trade. They didn’t give up much to get Andre Iguodala, a top five perimeter defender who also does many things well on offence. He’ll be a great fit, quarterbacking what should be an improved defence. The Nuggets might even finish a spot higher, but like the Spurs, the depth that will carry them through the regular season might not be able to get them past the second round of the playoffs. Ty Lawson is the best point guard nobody considers elite and he’ll have Denver running opponents into the ground.
Burning question: Will the Nuggets consolidate some of the talent to get an elite big man?
5. L.A. Clippers (40-26)
Key adds: Lamar Odom, Jamal Crawford, Grant Hill, Matt Barnes.
Key departures: Mo Williams, Nick Young, Reggie Evans.
Skinny: Added a ton of veterans to help Chris Paul keep Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan focused. Should be fantastic on offence and will block shots spectacularly at the other end, but, aside from Paul, who really defends out of this group? Jordan is often out of position, Griffin’s a bit of a matador, and that should be their undoing. In the meantime, they’ll look good this winter.
Burning question: Which Lamar Odom shows up? Will it be the Odom who began his career with the Clippers and went on to be a key cog in Miami and with the Laker or the guy who was a mess in Dallas last season? If Odom returns to form the Clippers will have one of the NBA’s top benches.
6. Memphis Grizzlies (41-25)
Key adds: Jerryd Bayless, Tony Wroten (R), Wayne Ellington
Key departures: O.J. Mayo, Dante Cunningham
Skinny: Couldn’t quite build on a stunning playoff win over San Antonio, but had a strong season nonetheless. Rudy Gay apparently has taken another step forward and leads a team that gets after it defensively while still managing to score easy buckets. Should battle the Spurs for first in an iffy division, especially now that everybody is finally healthy. Former Raptor Jerryd Bayless will be called on to replace Mayo’s scoring, while Wroten is considered a poor man’s Rajon Rondo.
Burning question: Will they trade Gay or Randolph or pay luxury tax? Even with a new ownership group, the Grizz likely will have to shed some salary after breaking the bank for Gay, Randolph, Mike Conley Jr. and Marc Gasol. Randolph could be amnestied or team might look for a big package for Gay.
7. Minnesota Timberwolves (26-40)
Key adds: Andrei Kirilenko, Alexsey Shved, Brandon Roy, Chase Budinger
Key departures: Wes Johnson, Martell Webster, Michael Beasley, Darko Milicic
Skinny: Talk about an overhaul. GM David Kahn went to town remolding his roster behind stars Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio. Kahn made some bold moves, bringing Russian Kirilenko back along with his countryman, Shved, who had a spectacular Olympic tournament. Roy is also on hand, trying to resurrect a great career. The Wolves are loaded with talent and can even move solid backup Luke Ridnour for help elsewhere once Rubio is ready to play.
Burning question: How long until everybody’s 100%? Speaking of Rubio, he’s nearing a return to full-contact work, but isn’t expected back until late December. Love suffered a freak injury doing knuckle pushups and will miss November as well. If they return on time and in shape, the Wolves can cement themselves as a playoff squad.
8. Utah Jazz (36-30)
Key adds: Mo Williams, Marvin Williams, Randy Foye
Key departures: Devin Harris, C.J. Miles,
Skinny: Another team on the rise. Gordon Hayward continues to get better and the frontcourt is one of the deepest in the league. Mo Williams has always been a good starting point guard and once was an all-star and Marvin Williams gets new life away from Atlanta and is settling in nicely. This should be a playoff team or close to it, with money to spend going forward to become one of the West’s elite squads.
Burning question: Which big man gets moved? Enes Kanter looks far better and Derrick Favors needs playing time, so one of Al Jefferson or Paul Millsap might have to find a new home. Both likely have considerable trade value. Millsap is the better all-around player, thanks to his defence, but Jefferson is unstoppable down low.
9. Dallas Mavericks (36-30)
Key adds: O.J. Mayo, Jae Crowder, Darren Collison, Chris Kaman, Elton Brand
Key departures: Delonte West, Lamar Odom, Jason Kidd, Jason Terry, Brendan Haywood
Skinny: Mark Cuban and the Mavericks gambled that by letting Tyson Chandler and other members of their title-winning team go two years ago, they’d have a shot at hometown star Deron Williams or Dwight Howard down the line. That didn’t happen and the Mavs are now mediocre. Made some good moves to replace Terry and Kidd and Crowder looks like a keeper, but just can’t match up with the best of the West.
Burning question: Is Dirk Nowitzki about to fade into the sunset? Has been extremely durable over the years, but the cost of that is the mileage he has put on his body. Dirk will be 35 in June, is currently injured and is coming off his worst season since his rookie campaign.
10. Golden State Warriors (23-43)
Key adds: Harrison Barnes, Jarrett Jack, Carl Landry
Key departures: Dorrell Wright, Nate Robinson
Skinny: Barnes was a steal, Jack and Landry are steady vets and there is definitely talent in the Bay for the first time in a while. Mark Jackson’s first season at the helm didn’t go tremendously, but he’ll be better for the experience. If healthy, the Warriors are capable of mounting a challenge for 8th, especially if Barnes, once the top recruit in America, really is more suited for the pros.
Burning question: Do they have state of the art ankle treatment? Stephen Curry and Andrew Bogut are top five talents at their position when healthy. The problem is, they are rarely healthy. Bogut, coming off of ankle surgery, is about to start contact work again, but Curry always seems to be in and out of the lineup.
11. Houston Rockets (34-32)
Key adds: James Harden, Jeremy Lin, Omer Asik, Terrence Jones (R), Royce White (R), Donata Motiejunas, Carlos Delfino
Key departures: Kyle Lowry, Goran Dragic, Kevin Martin, Luis Scola
Skinny: He didn’t come cheap, but in acquiring Harden, team finally got the superstar it had been stockpiling assets to acquire. Lin-Harden backcourt should put up a ton of points, but both need the ball in their hands. Asik and Harden should boost the defence, while the three rookies all are extremely talented. A team on the rise, but not yet ready to make the playoffs.
Burning question: Is Harden ready to be the man? Had a comfy role in Oklahoma City, coming off of the bench as the third star behind two great players. Now, Harden’s the centrepiece, the guy opponents gameplan around. Is he up for the challenge? Wilted under the bright lights of the NBA finals, but injury had something to do with that.
12. New Orleans Hornets (21-45)
Key adds: Anthony Davis, Ryan Anderson, Austin Rivers (R), Robin Lopez
Key departures: Emeka Okafor, Trevor Ariza, Gustavo Ayon
Skinny: We’re not big on the Rivers pick if the Hornets insist he’s a point guard, but the team cleaned up otherwise this off-season. Davis can change games without scoring a point, as he showed at Kentucky and could have several defensive player of the year awards on his resume by the time he retires. Davis is a generational talent who will anchor the Hornets for years to come.
Burning question: When will they give up on the Rivers at point guard idea? Probably as soon as Eric Gordon goes down with his latest injury.
13. Sacramento Kings (22-44)
Key adds: Thomas Robinson, James Johnson, Aaron Brooks
Key departures: Donte Greene
Skinny: Sacramento is an extremely talented team. Unfortunately for Kings fans, there is more to NBA success than mere talent. Character and chemistry also matters, and both are lacking here. DeMarcus Cousins could be a Hall of Famer, but he also is a wildcard. Tyreke Evans, James Johnson and others also are rather mercurial individuals. The mix is simply too combustible to work. As it is, this is the team most likely to have an in-room fistfight this season.
Burning question: Will Evans be better at small forward? He isn’t a point guard. He’ll get some time at shooting guard, but the Kings think he might be best as a three. The former star will be intent on proving his worth, ahead of restricted free agency next summer.
14. Portland Trail Blazers (28-38)
Key adds: Damian Lillard, Meyers Leonard
Key departures: Raymond Felton, Joel Przybilla
Skinny: Scored in the draft with the Kyrie Irving-esque Lillard, who could win rookie of the year. The room is better without Felton, but this is one of the youngest groups in the NBA and the lack of veteran leadership will hurt. Nic Batum always seems on the cusp of breaking out and LaMarcus Aldridge claims to be the best power forward in the league. J.J. Hickson put up great numbers with the Blazers after disappointing in his previous stops.
Burning question: Will/can anybody step up off of the bench? The starters actually look like a pretty good two-way group, but the reserves don’t inspire confidence. Somebody will have to do something, or it’s going to be a long season in Portland because the starters can’t stay on the floor for entire games.
15. Phoenix Suns (33-33)
Key adds: Goran Dragic, Luis Scola, Michael Beasley Wes Johnson, Kendall Marshall, Jermaine O’Neal
Key departures: Steve Nash, Channing Frye (injured), Robin Lopez, Grant Hill, Aaron Brooks
Skinny: Life after Steve Nash wasn’t pretty for the Canadian national team and it’s not going to be much fun for the Suns either. There’s just no replacing somebody like Nash and Phoenix likely will take a step back both on the court and at the gate. On the bright side, his understudy, Dragic is back and potentially could be an above-average starting point guard. The team will still be able to put points on the board, but defending will be a different story.
Burning question: How low can they go? Beasley and Johnson are former No. 2 and No. 4 overall selections. Phoenix will be bad enough to get a shot at an even higher pick next summer.