Since it's now September, I thought it would be a goodtime to get this rolling. I know the complexion of things may yet change with impending trades, preseason injuries, etc., but I'm going to go ahead and do a Top 10 as if the season were about to begin. As always, feel free to post your own rankings.
1) - If not for the Lakers' last hurrah, the Wolves would likely have been in the Finals last year. With pretty much the entire cast returning this year, only the Spurs stand in the way of Minny taking the West.
2) - If the Wolves fail to come out of the West, you can practically guarantee that San Antonio will be representing the conference for the third time in seven seasons. They, too, return a cast that was, also, stopped short by the now-disassembled Lakers.
3) istons: - The reigning champions managed to reinstall the old cliche of "defense wins championships," and also did so without the benefit of a bona-fide superstar. However, the completely revamped bench, relying on young rookies and aging veterans, may not be enough to allow Detroit to repeat. Of course, they've already beaten the odds once.
4) acers: - If Bender can step into Al Harrington's former role as sixth man, and Stephen Jackson turns out as good as advertised, it's very reasonable to expect the Pacers could finally get over the hump and send Reggie Miller into the sunset with a ring.
5) - With a slimmer Shaq now in the East, coupled with rising star Dwayne Wade, the only thing stopping the Heat are a better supporting cast and bench. That could be rectified before the start of the season, which could propel the Heat to favorites in the suddenly-rejuvenated East.
6) - After tallying a 50-win season and playoff appearance last year, there's no reason to believe that Hubie's bunch won't at least match that performance in what will likely be Brown's final season.
7) - Although Shaq has been replaced by Vlade Divac and Payton was shipped out for Chucky Atkins, the one-two punch of Odom and Kobe should be enough to keep the Lakers in the playoff race, though likely not strong enough to overcome the Wolves or Spurs.
8) - Like the Heat and Lakers, the Rockets have a powerful one-two punch in Yao and TMac, though this one is more unporven, with even less surrounding it. In time and with the right acquisitions, however, Houston could once again move to the forefront of championship contenders.
9) - Carmelo didn't have the best Olympics, and his attiude definitely has fans in Denver worried about team chmistry going into the season. But if they can keep it together, the Nuggets should make a return appearance to the playoffs.
10) - In just one season, Utah has gone from preseason last-place finishers to a solid playoff team. They added Okur and Boozer and lost...Ostertag. However, the big bucks spent on these unproven players could hamstring the Jazz for years to come when looking to build upon their foundation.
WORST) - With the exception of Okafor, who's a rookie, you'd be hard-pressed to find a team with fewer players least likely to make another NBA team's roster.