by: Eric Pincus
1 Los Angeles Lakers 0-0 On paper they're the team to beat with center Andrew Bynum finally healthy to join guard Kobe Bryant and forwards Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom. Other than losing big man Ronny Turiaf (who left for Golden State), the Lakers are returning almost the exact same roster that got six games into the NBA Finals. Coach Phil Jackson has some serious rotation questions to resolve - specifically moving Odom from starting power forward to either the three or even the one - but depth is a Laker strength.
2 Boston Celtics 0-0 From HOOPSWORLD's last ranking (6/28/08) - "Obviously there are some concerns that James Posey might leave. He was the one bench player on the squad that truly made the difference against the Lakers in the NBA Finals. That's a guy you've got to bring back." Boston aficionados might not agree - but can any of their newcomers bring it like Pose on the big stage? The Celtics won't get fat on their success - remaining in excellent position to defend their title.
3 Detroit Pistons 0-0 For a moment it sounded like the Pistons were going to rebuild but in the end they just swapped out Coach Flip Saunders for Michael Curry. There's a tendency to sleep on Detroit but they won 59 games last year. Kwame Brown will help but not as much as the Pistons would like.
4 New Orleans Hornets 0-0 Did the Hornets play above their heads last year or are they legitimately part of the elite? Boston's loss is New Orleans' gain in role player James Posey. The key will be maintaining health for a squad that historically had trouble staying on the court - that is, until last year's stunning breakout.
5 Houston Rockets 0-0 Houston is the big climber. As always, the worry is durability - center Yao Ming has struggled to stay on the court and guard/forward Tracy McGrady already has some shoulder issues. Before landing forward Ron Artest, the Rockets were already a powerful defensive unit. Artest has a few personality quirks but he loves playing for Coach Adelman. In a contract year, he should be a serious boost in Houston.- and shouldn't be a problem in a contract year.
6 Cleveland Cavaliers 0-0 Cleveland only won 45 games last year but the roster was in flux with contract hold-outs and a major trade. The summer acquisition of point guard Mo Williams will help, giving the Cavs a little more offensive balance. Regardless, the team's success rides firmly on the shoulders of forward LeBron James. The Cavaliers are built for playoff basketball but should have a better regular season than they did a year ago.
7 Utah Jazz 0-0 As great as the Jazz were at home (37-4), they were a poor road team (17-24). If they want to return to the Western Conference Finals and beyond, they'll need to find a way to win games consistently outside of Salt Lake City. Sometimes having multiple players in contract years (forward/centers Carlos Boozer and Mehmet Okur - forward/guard Kyle Korver) can hurt a franchise but the Jazz are well-disciplined. The Northwest Division should be theirs for the taking.
8 San Antonio Spurs 0-0 The absence of forward/guard Manu Ginobili for the first two months of the season is obviously a serious concern. San Antonio looked older in the playoffs but it's easy to forget they advanced to the Western Conference Finals. Incoming guards Roger Mason, George Hill and Salim Stoudamire should have the chance to develop in Manu's absence. If Ginobili can return truly healthy, the Spurs will have a chance to continue their "title every other year" crusade.
9 Phoenix Suns 0-0 The Suns are playing on borrowed time as the clock winds down on some of the most celebrated players of the past two decades. Center Shaquille O'Neal, point guard Steve Nash, forward Grant Hill and the rest should have enough for another 50+ win season. The bigger question will be the transition from Coach Mike D'Antoni to the more conservative Terry Porter.
10 Orlando Magic 0-0 Center Dwight Howard didn't overwhelm on the international stage but in the NBA he's still an absolute beast. The Magic have shooters and athletes - and the continuing dilemma at the point. Jameer Nelson doesn't have as much support behind him as he did a season ago. Orlando needs Nelson to bring it every night