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1.Miami Heat: This is painful to write, but the Heat have actually improved this off-season. The pickups of Shane Battier and rookie Norris Cole and the health of Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem makes this team even more dangerous. They have to be the favorite to gain the best record and win the championship at this point.
2.Los Angeles Lakers: No, the Lakers did not trade for Chris Paul and for now they have not traded for Dwight Howard and yes, they lost Lamar Odom but they are still quite dangerous. They still have Kobe, Gasol and an actually healthy Bynum, which is one of the top threesomes in the league. Add to this an angry and motivated Kobe because of losing Odom and his divorce and you get another title shot for the Lakers.
3.Chicago Bulls: The Bulls had the best record in the league and have newly re upped MVP Derrick Rose at the helm, so there is no reason to think that they will regress. With a healthy Noah and Boozer and a new starting shooting guard in Hamilton they should be a more complete team. They should win between 50-55 games.
4.Boston Celtics: The Celtics are hard to gauge. They have their big three still all producing and still have Rondo playing at a very high level. They have lost Jeff Green and Glen Davis, and missed out on David West and Chris Paul. However, it is difficult to count them out after all they have accomplished.
5.San Antonio Spurs: The Spurs are basically the same team as last year, minus Antonio Mcdyess and George Hill but have added talented rookies, Kawhi Leonard and Cory Joseph along with TJ Ford. Also expect a bounce back year of sorts from Tim Duncan and an improved Tiago Splitter and the Spurs should still be one of the best teams in the league and a true contender.
6.Oklahoma City Thunder: Oklahoma City could easily be much higher than this at the end of the year. Durant and Westbrook are obviously studs, but expect better seasons from Harden and Ibaka. Add to this a healthier and well adjusted Kendrick Perkins along with fantastic role players such as, Nick Collison, Eric Maynor, Daequan Cook, Nazr Muhammad and Thabo Sephalosha. No team has a better mix of young talent and solid veterans.
7. Dallas Mavericks: Yes the Mavericks just won the championship and yes they deserve respect, however they lost their defensive captain in Tyson Chandler, lost sparkplug JJ Barea and are a year older. This is a solid playoff team, but it will be hard to match last season as it was a team playing to their absolute potential and had all the stars align. It was a magic postseason, but it should not be expected to repeat.
8.Orlando Magic: Any team with Dwight Howard is going to be in the playoffs and they have some talented players next to him. If Howard stays for the season then they will remain in the top ten. If he is traded they will fall and this may even be too high for them as is.
9.New York Knicks: The Knicks have great talent in their lineup but little overall depth which may hurt them. Stoudemire and Anthony are two of the best offensive players in the league but struggle on defense, but the acquisition of Tyson Chandler will help make up for their deficiency. They are quite lacking at point guard depth and will have to rely on Toney Douglas, Iman Shumpert and sadly, Mike Bibby until Baron Davis is ready to play. They will definitely make the playoffs, but their young talent must step up for them to be anywhere near contender status.
10.Memphis Grizzlies: .The Grizzlies, are a rising team in the west, after beating the Spurs in the first round last year and almost making the Western Conference Finals’. They have gotten better this off-season just by getting Rudy Gay back after injury. Also, resigning Marc Gasol keeps the core of Randolph, Gay, Conley and Gasol together for years.
11.Atlanta Hawks: The Hawks are coming in to this season with less depth and bench talent than in previous years but they should still make the playoffs quite easily. Hinrich is out for a few months and they lost Crawford to the Blazers but they have emerging point guard Jeff Teague ready to take the reigns and Tracy Mcgrady signed for a fraction of the cost of Crawford. They still have an excellent trio of all-star talent in Joe Johnson Johnson, Al Horford and Josh Smith as well as solid role players in Marvin Williams, Zaza Pachulia and Jason Collins. Expect another average season, with a disappointing somewhat early playoff exit. Sadly, unless Al Horford and Josh Smith improve dramatically it seems that they have reached their ceiling.
12.Portland Trailblazers: The Trailblazers are a true dark-horse to be near the top of the standings since everyone keeps harping on the loss of Brandon Roy and the further delay of Greg Oden. Still they have an all-star level big man in Lamarcus Aldridge, an underrated point guard in Raymond Felton, a still solid center in Marcus Camby and a plethora of wing talent with Gerald Wallace, Nicolas Batum, Jamal Crawford and Wesley Matthews. They also have a stable of young talent in Luke Babbitt, Elliot Williams, Armon Johnson and Nolan Smith. The X-Factor may be Raymond Felton whose faster style of play will speed the offense up from the stagnant pace of Andre Miller and Brandon Roy, and their youth will thrive from this style.
13.Denver Nuggets: The Nuggets are quite hard to project. They played great after trading Carmello Anthony and performed well in the playoffs, but they are a team with many good players but no superstars. They have a mid-2000’s Pistons look as they have quite a few borderline future all stars and solid veteran talent. Their go to guy in the post will be the recently resigned Nene, their perimeter scoring will start with Danillo Galianari and they have a promising young point guard in Ty Lawson running the show. At the very least they will be a fun, fast-paced team. Also recently resigned and up and coming guard Aaron Afflalo will be their perimeter stopper as well as a viable offensive threat. Also reliable veterans in Chris Anderson, Andre Miller and Al Harrington add up to a solid playoff team with the potential to surprise later on.
14. Los Angeles Clippers: A lot of people will disagree with how low the Clippers are, because most people are too wowed by Chris Paul and Blake (KIA) Griffin. People forget that they have little depth, are starting two point guards, have no shooting guard or wing depth beyond Randy Foye and Ryan Gomes and their top backup big man may be Brian Cook. Also add in that their coach is Vinny Del Negro, who has no clue how to run an offense and their owner is Donald Sterling. This could mean that they will struggle more than most people think. However they could move way up these rankings but for now a glass half empty approach is the best way to look at this.
15. Indiana Pacers: The Pacers are a team on the rise and will be much improved, however it is hard to see them jumping over any of the six east teams in front of them. They will be way over their .500 mark of last year, but they are still a year or two away from moving into the top 5. They definitely have a bright future, but it is not their time just yet.
16. Golden State Warriors: Few teams are more intriguing then the Warriors. No backcourt has more scoring potential than Stephen Curry and Monte Ellis and along with David Lee, Dorell Wright, and rookie Klay Thompson their offense will be great. However defensively they will continue to struggle unless they put forth more effort. Coach Mark Jackson will demand better play on that end which will help. What will really make the difference is if Andres Biedrins starts playing like he is capable of again, Kwame Brown actually plays well and if they get a huge boost from sophomore Epke Udoh. Also there is a great chance that Ellis gets traded this season and if they get a solid two-way player for him, then they could make the playoffs. For now they seem to be on the outside looking in.
17. Houston Rockets: It is very hard to predict how the Rockets will do, without any superstars, but they have an interesting collection of young players and solid veterans which could make them better than expected.
18. Philadelphia 76ers: After the Nets lost Brook Lopez for a few months, the 76ers have since been bumped up to take their place in the playoffs. The 76ers could actually rise quite far in these rankings, mainly because of the improvement of Jrue Holliday and Evan Turner. Both of these players are young, have great overall games and near all-star potential. They also have perennial near-all-star Andre Iguodala and the still solid game of former all-star Elton Brand. All of this could add up to a surprising season.
19. New Jersey Nets: The Nets were higher on this list and it was thought that they would be sneaking into the playoffs, but that was before losing Brook Lopez for two months. And no, Mehmet Okur will not replace what Lopez brings. The Nets do have a superstar in Deron Williams who will give them wins, but without their second best player for half the season, the playoffs may be out of reach. This will all be wrong of course, if they end up trading for Dwight Howard, which is looking to be a strong possibility.
20.Phoenix Suns: The Suns are in a word average. Without Steve Nash they would probably be one of the worst teams in the league. They wont make the playoffs, but along with Nash and fellow elder Grant Hill there is some promising talent. Center Marcin Gortat is easily a top ten center in the league, Jared Dudley is a budding sixth man star and rookie Markieff Morris has looked promising in preseason. If Nash is traded this season, then they will fall very far in these power rankings.
21.Milwaukee Bucks: The Bucks are yet another team who could rise up these rankings but as of right now they are out of the playoffs and are looking in. Top five center Andrew Bogut should be further recovered from his horrible elbow/shoulder injury and Brandon Jennings should recapture some of his rookie year magic and their defense should still be very good. Besides their two “stars” they have a collection of promising youngsters and peaked veterans. Among the kids are underrated rookie Tobias Harris, sophomore Larry Sanders and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. The solid veterans include, Carlos Delfino, Beno Udrih, Drew Gooden, Mike Dunleavy and Shaun Livingston. Add in the aging yet still great Stepehn Jackson and the Bucks could definatley sneak into the playoffs this season.
22.Utah Jazz: The Jazz have built themselves a solid young core with two first round picks in the last two drafts. They are well set for the future with center Enes Kanter, forwards Derrick Favors and Gordon Haywood and guard Alec Burks. It would be wise to play the young players and move either Paul Millsap or Al Jefferson. They may struggle this season but the future is definately bright.
23.Washington Wizards: The Wizards are rebuilding from the Butler/Arenas/Jamison days but they have acquired a future superstar in John Wall, which is the first step in any rebuilding process. They also have talented younger players with great potential in Javale Mcgee, Jordan Crawford and rookie Jan Vesely. The next step is waiting for Rashard Lewis’s massive contract to expire in a year and trade one-dimensional ball-hogs Nick Young and Andre Blatche in order to let the young players grow. They have also acquired young role players in Trevor Booker, Kevin Seraphin, Shelvin Mack and Chris Singleton. They may be bad for a few years, but they have definitely built a solid foundation for the future.
24.Toronto Raptors: The Raptors are the worst defensive team in the league, but they do have talent on the roster. Demar Derozan has all star potential, Ed Davis and Amir Johnson are both talented big-men with potential and center Jonas Valanciunas will be able to come over in a year and could become one of the best centers in the league eventually. They will look even better if former number one pick Andre Bargnani will finally learn to play defense and rebound. New coach Dwayne Casey will push them to play defense and if they start playing two way ball they could be a playoff team within two or three years.
25. Detorit Pistons: The Pistons have talent, however they refuse to admit that it is time to completely rebuild. Resigning Tayshaun Prince to a long-term contract was unneccsary and they gave Rodney Stuckey way too much money. They have some talented young players and will not make the playoffs anytime soon, so they should start over and play their young players as much as they can handle.
26 Charlotte Bobcats: The Bobcats are bad. It is quite simple. However they have a proud coach, a solid amount of young talent and a few good veterans. They will win more games then they ought to, but will not be as bad as others think.
27.Sacramento Kings: The Kings have a lot of exciting young talent and are a very solid offensive team, however they have two main weaknesses. First is that they have a team full of me-first ball hogs in Tyreke Evans, Marcus Thornton, Demarcus Cousins, John Salmons, JJ Hickson and Jimmer Fredette and therefore will have the fewest assists in the league. Also not one of these players is even a decent defender and that will cause them to be one of the worst defensive teams in the league.
28.New Orleans Hornets: The Hornets have decided to revamp their roster and traded Chris Paul and lost David West to free agency. This really wasn’t their decision, but they intelligently realized that Paul was leaving anyways and there was no sense spending too much money on an older player coming off a serious injury, when the playoffs were out of reach. However, they did receive a great haul in the Chris Paul trade, which will help them rebuild faster than most would think. Eric Gordon is going to be a star, Al Farouq Aminu has a lot of potential, Chris Kaman is two years removed from being an all-star and has a massive expiring contract and the unprotected Timberwolves pick could be the number one pick in the draft.ow
29.Minensota Timberwolves: Minnesota is extremely hard to pinpoint. They have collected a lot of great pieces, but the trick is how they are going to fit together. Rick Adelman, as their new coach will certainly help with that and will make his players try on defense. Wesley Johnson came into the NBA as a small forward but with so many forwards on the roster he will have to man down the shooting guard spot. Word is he saw this coming and worked on his guard skills during the off-season. Star Kevin Love has been a bad defender over his three years in the league, however as advanced stats have shown, he was actually a passable defender at center. Improvement from Michael Beasley would be welcomed and if he can become anything near what his potential states, then he could become the team’s much needed second star. The X-factors are the two top five picks coming into the league; Ricky Rubio and Derrick Williams. Rubio has struggled in Europe for the past few years but has offensive abilities that few can match and Williams has all-star potential. If all of these pieces come together then they will surprise some people, however the playoffs are out of reach. Minnesota does have the pieces to be a playoff team in the future and with Adelman as their coach this could happen sooner rather than later.
30.Cleveland Cavaliers: The Cavs will most likely be the worst team in the league for the second straight year and they are still rebuilding after losing Lebron. However rookies Tristan Thompson and Kyrie Irving, especially Irving should speed up the rebuilding faze. Irving, the first pick in the draft has immense potential and will be looked on as the franchise player. The Cavs have some other young intriguing pieces but the next step is unloading veterans Anderson Varajeo and Antawan Jamison. This will bring them more assets and cap space and will help them go into a state of full-on rebuilding. However things are looking much brighter then they were a year ago overall.