FanPost

ranking all the teams....spurs come in 12th


i cant belive the bulls are in the top 6 but the spurs are 12 this list is crap...


 

30. Minnesota Timberwolves

The more things change: Losing the best player on a 15-win team is no big deal, so bye-bye Al Jefferson. Now, the Wolves' most talented player, though perhaps not their best, is Michael Beasley, who's already had a duffle bag's worth of controversy in his disappointing two-year career. While you hope Beasley can turn it around in Minny, it just doesn't seem like the place to build a problem child into a professional. Elsewhere on the roster, Luke Ridnour replaces Ramon Sessions. Ho-hum. Both are truly backups.

 

 

The more they stay the same: The Timberwolves remain, undisputedly, the worst team and franchise in the league. Since Kevin Garnett left for brighter days in Boston three years ago, the Timberwolves have become a joke. They're overstocked at point guard, yet all of them are mediocre, and perhaps the best of the bunch (Ricky Rubio) refuses to play for them, choosing instead to remain in Europe. The one bright spot is Kevin Love, but even he's not bright enough to overcome the darkness covering this club.

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29. Detroit Pistons

The more things change: Years ago, when Tracy McGrady was healthy and in his prime, the Pistons tried and failed to trade for him. Well, they finally got McGrady, signing him as a free agent this summer for the veteran's minimum of $1.35 million. But the 31-year-old McGrady is such a shell of himself that the Pistons were perhaps the only team that wanted him. McGrady will get a chance to shine in Detroit, though, which is an opportunity he would not have received in most places. The Pistons also finally got a skilled big man, happily drafting Georgetown's Greg Monroe. Monroe has great talent, but his toughness and determination have been questioned, as he underachieved in NCAA ball.

 

 

The more they stay the same: Detroit's three best players may still play largely the same position. Point guard Rodney Stuckey may be more like a shooting guard, a position that's already stocked with Richard Hamilton and Ben Gordon. The three are too small to start in a three-guard lineup, but the Pistons' front line is too offensively challenged to put up big points without those three on the floor.

 

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28. Toronto Raptors

The more things change: The Raptors played the Chris Bosh situation all wrong. It seems that every single individual in the league knew Bosh was leaving Toronto except those working in Toronto. Why else would the Raptors hold onto him until the summer, when they would have been far better off trading him before last season's deadline? In the end, Toronto was left to take whatever it could get in the form of draft picks and a huge trade exception for its best player. The Raptors were able to get rid of the disgruntled Hedo Turkoglu, bringing in another international player in Leandro Barbosa, and they also added free agents Amir Johnson and Linas Kleiza and draft pick Ed Davis. Those are decent players, but this was, without question, a lost summer for the Raptors.

 

 

The more they stay the same: The Raptors organization has to begin seriously wondering whether it can get an American-born star to stay in Toronto. McGrady left as a free agent years ago, then Vince Carter forced his way out of the country and now Bosh has followed suit. If talented second-year guard DeMar DeRozan blossoms into a star, will he eventually bolt, too? You can't help but think "probably."

 

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27. Indiana Pacers

The more things change: The Pacers added a potential star in Darren Collison, who put up big numbers while filling in for Chris Paul last season in New Orleans. James Posey also came along in the trade that cost Indiana Troy Murphy, and he brings championship pedigree and leadership. For all their struggles on the court, the Pacers are beginning to manage their cap well and could be players in free agency next summer.

 

 

The more they stay the same: Second-round pick Lance Stephenson's recent altercation with the mother of his child, in which he allegedly pushed her down a flight of stairs and slammed her head against a step, brings back despicable memories of the havoc wreaked by Ron Artest, Stephen Jackson and Jamaal Tinsley a few years ago. Indiana, in an effort to win back its fan base, has brought in nothing but "good guys" the past few years, but diverted from that strategy in drafting Stephenson, whose troubled past is well-documented. They got burned for it.

 

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26. Washington Wizards

The more things change: There's a new leader off the court, in new owner Ted Leonsis, and one on the court, in new point guard John Wall. Wall has explosive talent and is expected to become a superstar, and the Wizards acquired Kirk Hinrich to give Wall a veteran sounding board to help him maximize his potential. There's been a ton of team turnover, both at last February's trade deadline and over the summer, including a minor move that brought Yi Jianlian over from New Jersey. The Wizards are now a young team with big talent.

 

 

The more they stay the same: Gilbert Arenas is back, but back in a different role. When Gilbert left the team after being suspended because of his foolish gunplay with Javaris Crittenton, he was the face of the franchise, on and off the court. Now both of those titles belong to Wall, and no matter what he says, Arenas will have a hard time accepting that. The Wizards would love to trade him but his baggage and the four years and $80 million left on his contract make that awfully hard to do. Arenas helped ruin last season; the Wizards are determined not to let him ruin this one, as well.

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25. New Jersey Nets

The more things change: Rod Thorn and Kiki Vandeweghe are out, and Billy King, Avery Johnson and celebrity Russian owner Mikhail Prokhorov are in. Johnson was one of the league's most successful coaches during his tenure in Dallas and will whip the talented but young Nets into shape. Free agency was a failure, pure and simple, since the Nets missed out on all the big names, but they added some quality in Travis Outlaw (though they overpaid him with a five-year, $35 million deal), Jordan Farmar and Anthony Morrow. No. 3 pick Derrick Favors has a world of potential, and the Nets smartly brought in Troy Murphy to hold down the power forward spot until Favors learns the ropes.

 

 

The more they stay the same: The Nets are still stuck in a sort of limbo. While they've left the Izod Center in the New Jersey swamps, they're still not in their permanent digs yet. They'll spend the next two years in Newark, playing at the Prudential Center, before moving to Brooklyn for good in 2012. The failure to reach Brooklyn earlier, which was the initial plan, certainly cost the Nets a legitimate shot at LeBron James and the other big-name free agents this summer. Some would say it was fitting for a franchise that, despite its back-to-back trips to the Finals in 2002 and 2003, is still largely regarded as backward

24. Cleveland Cavaliers

The more things change: Well, what can you say? The King is gone. And not just The King, but the GM (Danny Ferry) and the coach (Mike Brown), too. It's an entirely new day in Cleveland. Actually, it's a return to life before LeBron James, when the Cavaliers were a doormat and an afterthought. The past few years they've been on national TV the maximum amount allowable by the NBA. This season? Two times -- once when LeBron and Miami make their first trip to Cleveland and again when new coach Byron Scott faces his former club, the New Orleans Hornets. While Cleveland would have given anything to have heard LeBron say, "I'm keeping my talents in Cleveland," new GM Chris Grant and crew are looking forward to rebuilding the franchise from scratch and proving the Cavs weren't just LeBron and a bunch of bums.

 

 

The more they stay the same: Owner Dan Gilbert's immature tirade against James, while panned nationally, was well received in Cleveland, and many believe it was a ploy to get the fans to continue supporting the team. It may work for a few months, or maybe even most of the season, but if the Cavs pack Quicken Loans Arena this season, that'll be one of the few things that's the same. Some of James' old teammates are still there -- Mo Williams, Anderson Varejao, J.J. Hickson and others -- but needless to say, the whole dynamic of the operation will change without LeBron.

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23. Sacramento Kings

The more things change: The Kings got a potential star in the draft, selecting 6-foot-11 power forward DeMarcus Cousins with the fifth pick. All the concerns surrounding Cousins related to his perceived lack of maturity. The Kings hired Cousins' high school coach, Otis Hughley, as an assistant to help the 20-year-old make the transition to pro ball and, perhaps more importantly, pro living. If Cousins matures and avoids trouble, the Kings have the makings of a potential contender in him and reigning Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans. It typically takes a great big man and a great perimeter player to contend in the NBA; Cousins and Evans could fit the bill. Athletic shot-blocker Samuel Dalembert could be a nice complement to Cousins inside, and the Kings also drafted 7-foot Hassan Whiteside. Whiteside is a project, but his upside -- again if he matures (and he may have further to go than Cousins) -- is high.

 

 

The more they stay the same: If Evans and Cousins both become legitimate stars, the Kings already have the role players in place: Dalembert, Jason Thompson, Carl Landry, Beno Udrih, Omri Casspi and Donte Greene. If the Kings don't implode -- if maturity reigns -- their future is bright.

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22. Los Angeles Clippers

The more things change: The long-awaited debut of last year's top pick, Blake Griffin, is what everyone's waiting for, but the Clippers' new look won't end there. Vinny Del Negro, who took a young Chicago team to the playoffs in two straight seasons, takes over on the bench, and he's got plenty of talent to work with. The Clippers had a strong draft, getting small forward Al-Farouq Aminu and point guard Eric Bledsoe. Throw in Randy Foye from the Wizards and solid role player/citizen Ryan Gomes, and the Clippers have tons of depth and ability.

 

 

The more they stay the same: For all the new faces, the Clippers will go only as far as veteran Baron Davis takes them. Davis, a Hall of Fame talent who's spent half his career underachieving, can put L.A. in the playoffs if he's engaged or in the dumpster if he loafs. Midsummer reports weren't good, as sources said the 6-3 point guard was up to 260 pounds, 45 pounds above his listed playing weight.

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21. Golden State Warriors

The more things change: The most significant change here may be the ownership transfer from Chris Cohan to Joe Lacob. Lacob, who previously held minority ownership in the Boston Celtics, is a no-nonsense guy who's vowed to put an end to the Warriors' recent history of dissension and dysfunction. He is evaluating the front office and coaching staff and might replace Don Nelson on the bench. On the court, Golden State moved Anthony Randolph, Ronny Turiaf and Kelenna Azubuike to New York in exchange for David Lee. Lee is a legitimate double-double guy who should play well alongside Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis, because he can be productive without having plays run for him. They also sent Corey Maggette to Milwaukee for reserves Dan Gadzuric and Charlie Bell.

 

 

The more they stay the same: Lacob is being patient before making changes, but he needs to get rid of Nelson. Nelson has hampered the Warriors' young talent for years and his gimmick offenses are played out. In Curry, Ellis and Lee, Golden State has a promising nucleus that needs to be honed by a serious coach. A few years ago, Nellie would've been the man for the job. That's not the case anymore. If Nelson's not replaced, expect some fun, highlight-quality moments from the Warriors' young guns, but lots of losses.

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20. Charlotte Bobcats

The more things change: It's likely that the Bobcats will waive Erick Dampier and his non-guaranteed contract, but if they keep him, he's basically replacing Tyson Chandler. Since Chandler spent so much time on the injured list, and Dampier could be in a contract year, that could be a good thing. Dampier's last strong season -- the best of his career -- came when he was playing for a contract in Golden State. Eduardo Najera is a bruiser who could add some necessary toughness, and the once-wildly-promising Shaun Livingston will be given a chance to resurrect his career, which was derailed in 2007 by a brutal knee injury.

 

 

The more they stay the same: The Bobcats experienced a bit of prosperity last season, and we all know how crazy that makes Larry Brown. There have long been rumblings of tension between Brown and the Bobcats' front office, so unnecessary Brown-caused drama would not be surprising.

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19. Philadelphia 76ers

The more things change: League lifer Rod Thorn, who worked lots of magic in New Jersey, moves two hours south to become the president of the Sixers, rejoining his old Nets partner, Ed Stefanski. Doug Collins, a former Sixers star, is the new coach, replacing Eddie Jordan and his Princeton offense. Center Samuel Dalembert was shipped to Sacramento for Andres Nocioni and Spencer Hawes, a trade that sacrifices athleticism for grit. No. 2 pick Evan Turner is hyped but was underwhelming in summer league.

 

 

The more they stay the same: The Sixers' biggest problem is that highly paid power forward Elton Brand is a slow, halfcourt player who doesn't fit with the Philly speed demons (Andre Iguodala, Lou Williams, Thaddeus Young), who are better suited for playing up-tempo basketball. You have to wonder if the Sixers are going in an even slower direction with the hiring of Collins, who has a history of playing deliberate, plodding basketball. If that's the case, how will Iguodala, Williams et al. fit into Collins' scheme? In other words, there was confusion last season and there will be confusion this season.

18. New York Knicks

The more things change: New York didn't get the man/men they wanted in free agency, but they definitely improved by adding Amare Stoudemire, Raymond Felton, Anthony Randolph, Roger Mason, Ronny Turiaf and Kelenna Azubuike. Obviously, the addition of Stoudemire makes up for the loss of David Lee, and Randolph is a diamond in the rough, a versatile youngster with star potential. There's no guarantee he'll reach full bloom, especially under the pressure-packed bright lights of NYC, but if he does, he'll be special. Of course, the talk of Carmelo Anthony wanting to join the Knicks has made this once-proud-but-recently-embarrassing franchise feel loved again.

 

 

The more they stay the same: Mike D'Antoni still loathes defense, sometimes going days without mentioning the subject in practice last season, according to one former player. Unless that changes -- and there's little reason to think it will -- the Knicks will be an inconsistent team. In the past, the Knicks have brought in talented, big-name power forwards, paraded them around Madison Square Garden as saviors and then watched them fail miserably (Antonio McDyess and Zach Randolph, anyone?). Many believe it'll be a case of déjà vu with Stoudemire, who has such bad knee problems his contract could not be insured.

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17. Houston Rockets

The more things change: Of course, the biggest change is that the biggest man in the league, Yao Ming, will return from his foot injury. But his days of playing 30-plus minutes a game (not to mention averaging 20 and 10) could be over. The signing of Brad Miller will give Houston a nice one-two punch at center, even if Yao's minutes are limited. Courtney Lee was acquired in a trade for Trevor Ariza, which is at best a lateral move; Lee's no better than Ariza and probably a bit worse. Draft pick Patrick Patterson is a promising talent.

 

 

The more they stay the same: The good news is that Luis Scola and Kyle Lowry were re-signed, and one would expect the high-scoring Kevin Martin to be better acclimated to his teammates after playing a half-season with them last year. In Martin and Aaron Brooks, the Rockets could have one of the highest-scoring backcourts in the league.

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16. Memphis Grizzlies

The more things change: The free-agent signing of Tony Allen was a nice move, giving the Grizzlies much-needed depth off the bench. And while Allen is not exactly known as a leader, he spent the last three years under Kevin Garnett's wing and in the professional, title-contending culture of the Celtics. If he can transfer some of those lessons learned to the Grizzlies, that will be a benefit in Memphis.

 

 

The more they stay the same: The Grizzlies brought back Rudy Gay to the tune of $82 million. A bit high? Without question, but it keeps the young nucleus of Gay, O.J. Mayo and Zach Randolph together -- at least for another year. Throw in Marc Gasol and that's a nice young foursome. Problem is, Mike Conley continues to be a weak link at point guard, and last year's lottery pick, Hasheem Thabeet, still seems to be in the "project'' stage.

 

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15. Atlanta Hawks

The more things change: The biggest change was the move from Mike Woodson, who improved the team's record in each of his six seasons, to longtime assistant coach Larry Drew as the head man. Drew was the players' choice, which could be a good or a bad thing. What we do know is that he will try to get more movement in the Hawks' offense, nixing Woodson's iso-exclusive philosophy. Besides that, the Hawks added a couple of nondescript bigs in Jason Collins and Josh Powell. They're hoping Jeff Teague can wrestle the reins away from veteran Mike Bibby, but that may be too big a jump for the second-year point guard. Rookie draft pick Jordan Crawford gained fame for dunking on LeBron James, but can he play?

 

 

The more they stay the same: For all the excitement over the return of Joe Johnson, fact is, the Hawks have hit their ceiling. They may win 50 games but they are a second-round playoff team at best, a step below the real EC contenders: Miami, Boston, Orlando and probably Chicago. Collins and Powell won't improve Atlanta's fate against real bigs like Dwight Howard. The Hawks will be good again, but no way they threaten to win the East.

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14. New Orleans Hornets

The more things change: First and foremost, Chris Paul, who missed 37 games because of injury last season, is back, though he's not necessarily happy about returning to New Orleans. The point guard wants to play for a contender, and new GM Dell Demps and new coach Monty Williams have tried to make moves to appease their superstar. They traded away his backup, Darren Collison, to bring in Trevor Ariza and sent Julian Wright to Toronto for Marco Belinelli. Ariza and Belinelli are young and full of potential. The hope is that with Paul getting them open looks, they'll finally tap their upside with the Hornets.

 

 

The more they stay the same: If Marcus Thornton can improve on his pleasantly surprising rookie year, in which he averaged nearly 20 points over the last three months of the season, the Hornets could have their best backcourt in recent memory. That would make the already-solid big-man tandem of Emeka Okafor and David West that much better, and with Ariza aboard, Peja Stojakovic can perhaps fill the role of sniper off the bench. Basketball-wise, it doesn't look as bad as many might think. But off the court, it's a mess, as the ownership transfer from George Shinn to Gary Chouest continues to hit stumbling blocks. Closure for this club won't come until Chouest is running the team.

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13. Milwaukee Bucks

The more things change: Reigning NBA Executive of the Year John Hammond was at it again this summer, making moves for the surprising Bucks that should leave them just a tier below the elite. Trading for Corey Maggette was the big move, and while Maggette has made the playoffs only once in his 11-year career, he is a big-time scorer who gets to the foul line as well as anyone else in the league. The Bucks were 29th out of 30 teams in free throws attempted last season, and Maggette can cure that deficiency all by himself. If he buys into coach Scott Skiles' hardcore defensive philosophy -- bottom line, he won't have much choice -- the Bucks could surpass Atlanta and maybe (maybe!) challenge Chicago or Boston for the third seed. Drew Gooden adds toughness and is an upgrade over the power-forward-by-committee system the club employed last season.

 

 

The more they stay the same: The last image we saw of Andrew Bogut was a harrowing one, with the 7-footer writhing on the floor in pain after suffering a gruesome elbow injury. Bogut's rehabbing now, but missing the start of the season is not out of the question. Beyond that, the Bucks are hoping that when he returns he comes back as the All-Star-caliber player he was last season (15.9 ppg, 10.2 rpg and 2.5 blocks). Also, expect point guard Brandon Jennings to build on his excellent rookie season, mainly by improving his .371 field goal percentage. He thinks the added talent can enable him to average a double-double (points/assists). Re-signing John Salmons was huge. And on a sad note, injury-plagued former All-Star Michael Redd, who's missed the better part of the last two seasons, is on the shelf again and not expected back until February.

12. San Antonio Spurs

The more things change: Tiago Splitter, the 25-year-old Brazilian center San Antonio drafted in 2007, is finally a Spur. If the 6-foot-11 Splitter, a Spanish League MVP and all-Euroleague player, is as good as advertised, he'll give Tim Duncan some much-needed help up front and slow the aging process of this proud, once-great team. The Spurs have a great draft history, and they appear to have snagged another player to watch in shooting guard James Anderson, who was a straight-up scoring machine at Oklahoma State. There's been noise about Tony Parker going elsewhere, particularly New York, but the three-time champion remains in San Antonio for now.

 

 

The more they stay the same: The Spurs' time has passed, simple as that. They'll win 50ish games and be regarded as dangerous come playoff time, but they're just too old and banged up to go all the way anymore. Only a young stud or two could stave off Father Time, and while good, Anderson and newly minted starter (it seems) George Hill aren't of that caliber.

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11. Phoenix Suns

The more things change: He was sometimes a hero, sometimes a headache. Now, he's just a memory. Amare Stoudemire, a mainstay second only to Steve Nash in the Suns' fun-ball run, signed with the Knicks as a free agent. But Phoenix doesn't think it'll miss a beat. The Suns have always played well when injuries sidelined Stoudemire, so they think the additions of Hedo Turkoglu, Hakim Warrick and Josh Childress will render Amare forgettable. There's a new front office to boot, with former star player agent Lon Babby taking over as president and Lance Blanks leaving the rubble that is now Cleveland to become the Suns' GM. Turkoglu, who cost the Suns Leandro Barbosa, hopes the change of scenery brings back the All-Star level of play he displayed in Orlando but lost last season in Toronto.

 

 

The more they stay the same: Even if the Suns don't miss Amare, they'll miss the Finals. The defense has gotten better under Alvin Gentry, but it's still not stellar enough to win three Western Conference playoff series. At some point, the 36-year-old Nash is going to start acting his age. (He already does on the defensive end.)

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10. Denver Nuggets

The more things change: The Nuggets have long had one of the strangest front-office schemes in the league, with opposing teams wondering whether Mark Warkentien, Rex Chapman or Bret Bearup was running the show. Now, Warkentien and Chapman are gone, but we'll have to wait and see if the situation gets any clearer. On the player front, the free-agent signing of Shelden Williams is, well, underwhelming.

 

 

The more they stay the same: For the past few years, the D in Denver has stood for dysfunction, and that's one thing that hasn't changed. Only this time, it's more serious than ever, as star forward Carmelo Anthony is subtly forcing his way out. Anthony's dream is to get the Nuggets to trade him to New York, where he could sign the three-year, $65 million extension he's thus far refused to sign in Denver. But Orlando, Chicago, Houston and New Jersey could also be acceptable destinations. Oh, and as usual, Kenyon Martin is apparently going to miss some time this season with knee injuries; same goes for Chris Andersen.

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9. Dallas Mavericks

The more things change: Change has become the norm in Dallas, as owner Mark Cuban keeps searching for that perfect mix to put around superstar Dirk Nowitzki. In that vein, the Mavericks replaced Erick Dampier with Tyson Chandler, a younger, more athletic, albeit injury-prone center. Dazzling second-year guard Roddy Beaubois, a Frenchman who conjures visions of Parker, could signify a changing of the guard, but first he'll have to get healthy: He's expected to miss training camp with a broken left foot.

 

 

The more they stay the same: Let's just cut to the chase: As has been the case since 2006, when the Mavericks blew their greatest opportunity ever to win a championship, they have a very good team that's still a notch below the true title contenders. Rebounding was a problem last season, and will be again if Chandler can't stay healthy.

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8. Utah Jazz

The more things change: Carlos Boozer and his 19 points and 11 rebounds are gone, but the Jazz brought in reinforcements. First, there's Al Jefferson, the stat-producing big man Utah got from Minnesota for two future first-round picks and one past one (Kosta Koufos). For Jefferson, this is a test to prove whether he's the real deal or a fraud: If he passes, he'll prove he can do more than put up pretty numbers -- namely, win. Failure will come if he's unable to lift the Jazz to another level. Utah also drafted NCAA wonder boy Gordon Hayward, who most think will be a good fit. He's definitely got promise, and with the Jazz needing help on the wing, he'll get a chance to prove himself.

 

 

The more they stay the same: Paul Millsap is another reason Utah's not fretting the loss of Boozer, and with the two-time All-Star now in Chicago, Millsap could be headed for his best season yet. Elsewhere, the position that's plagued the Jazz for what seems like eons -- shooting guard -- could still be a question mark. Veteran Raja Bell was signed and could be the starter by default. (Anyone ever heard of Othyus Jeffers, a backup in the mix?) But how much does the soon-to-be-34-year-old Bell, who played just six games last season, have left?

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7. Portland Trail Blazers

The more things change: Besides their draft picks, headlined by promising forward Luke Babbitt, the Blazers haven't done a ton this offseason. They added 2-guard Wesley Matthews, who made a name for himself with his surprising rookie play last season in Utah, and they're likely to lose Rudy Fernandez, the athletic wing who's demanding a trade or a return to Europe (anything but another year in Portland!). Those additions/subtractions mean little and won't move the Blazers' needle up or down much. But there's another addition coming in the form of 7-footer Greg Oden. After missing all but 21 games last season with yet another major injury, Oden is expected to be healthy for the start of this campaign. If he can play a whole 82 games -- and play them well -- the Blazers could be the best of the rest (besides the Lakers) in the West. Oh, and there's been a shake-up in the front office, with Rich Cho leaving Oklahoma City to replace Kevin Pritchard as GM. Cho hired the capable Bill Branch (formerly of OKC) and Steve Rosenberry (formerly of Atlanta) as his assistant GMs.

 

 

The more they stay the same: Head coach Nate McMillan is one of the best in the league. He and veteran point guard Andre Miller clashed early last season before eventually making peace. Despite that well-publicized beef and all the injuries, the Blazers still won 50 games. With McMillan and Miller on the same page, the Blazers, if healthy, will be dangerous.

6. Chicago Bulls

The more things change: For weeks, the Bulls appeared to be the front-runners in the LeBron Sweepstakes, but they had to settle for Carlos Boozer, Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer and Kurt Thomas. It's not as bad as it sounds, though. Boozer gives the Bulls what they haven't had since the days of Bill Cartwright -- a big man who's a bona fide low-post scorer. And Korver is the knockdown 3-point artist Chicago has been longing to put next to Derrick Rose. Brewer brings more athleticism, and longtime banger Thomas, one of the last of a dying breed, adds toughness. Ballyhooed Celtics assistant coach Tom Thibodeau takes over on the sidelines, assuring that the Bulls will be much stronger defensively. The longtime assistant also has experience on the offensive side of the ball, but questions remain about his game management, multitasking and player relations skills, all critical components for a head coach. Moving the 12 inches between the assistant's chair and the head man's chair is a huge leap. We'll see if Thibodeau is up to the challenge.

 

 

The more they stay the same: The Bulls missed shooting guard Ben Gordon, now a Piston, last season, and they'll miss him again. Fact is, the Bulls don't have anything close to a 2-guard to be feared. Brewer would seem to be the starter, but he'll be outclassed most nights. Korver is a specialist who will be a defensive liability. Clearly, Chicago's hope is that the team is so strong at the other four positions that it can get away with a middling shooting guard. But that position has become a powerhouse around the league, so the Bulls' lack there could hurt.

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5. Oklahoma City Thunder

The more things change: The Thunder like their first-round draft pick, Cole Aldrich, believing he can become something akin to Kendrick Perkins. We don't agree; Aldrich is very likely to be a stiff. But that still won't halt the Thunder's rise. We like the addition of Daequan Cook a bit more. Though he took a major step back last season, Cook is a legit 3-point threat who should strengthen OKC's bench. Ditto for Morris Peterson.

 

 

The more they stay the same: Conventional wisdom says the Thunder are just too young to reach the Finals, so they're probably one year away from being a legitimate Western Conference contender. All this team needs is time. How much Serge Ibaka improves and builds on last season's strong playoff performance is huge for the Thunder. If Ibaka can become a legitimate starter, he could emerge as the big man OKC will undoubtedly need to be capable of competing for a ring in the future.

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4. Orlando Magic

The more things change: Wildly busy last season, the Magic have done only small-scale tinkering this summer. But it could have large-scale implications. The loss of hard-nosed wing defender Matt Barnes will hurt, pure and simple. And the addition of backup (third-string?) point guard Chris Duhon will have minimal impact. Rookie Daniel Orton has promise, but he's a major project.

 

 

The more they stay the same: Vince Carter's wishy-washy play will only get more disappointing and inconsistent after a summer's worth of aging; Rashard Lewis' pattern of declining productivity in each of his three seasons in Orlando should continue; and summer spies say Dwight Howard hasn't been diligent about adding post moves to his sub-par offensive arsenal, so there's not much reason to believe the Magic will improve this season.

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3. Boston Celtics

The more things change: Shaq is in, Sheed is out, which should bolster the Celtics' front line, particularly with the addition of Jermaine O'Neal and with Kendrick Perkins missing the first few months of the season due to a knee injury. But the athleticism and defensive tenacity of reserve guard Tony Allen will be missed. Defensive architect Tom Thibodeau is also gone, having become the head coach of the Chicago Bulls, and it remains to be seen if Boston's vaunted defense will be as strong without him.

 

 

The more they stay the same: Head coach Doc Rivers decided to return after nearly walking away and Nate Robinson's second season with the club could go even better than his first, since he'll be better acclimated to the Celtics' system and culture. But each member of Boston's Big Three will, of course, be a year older, and you have to wonder if a 35-year-old Ray Allen, a 34-year-old Kevin Garnett and a 33-year-old Paul Pierce can muster another title run. Rajon Rondo's improvement will need to be even greater to make up for the likely decline of the three stars.

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2. Miami Heat

The more things change: What's new? There's not a soul on Earth who couldn't answer that question. In what could prove to be the most successful offseason in NBA history, the Heat turned themselves into not only an absolute contender but a potential (perhaps even likely) dynasty. Besides landing big fish LeBron James and Chris Bosh to run with Dwyane Wade, Miami did a tremendous job, with virtually no money to work with, of surrounding its three stars with solid role players: Mike Miller, Udonis Haslem, James Jones, Eddie House, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Juwan Howard. If the Heat are smart (and who can doubt them after this summer), they will put LeBron at point guard and unleash him as the reincarnation of Magic Johnson. Bottom line: If James is as good as he's been advertised throughout his career, there's no excuse not to win the title this season.

 

 

The more they stay the same: Even though they added the 6-foot-10 Bosh, one of the best big men in the league, the Heat are still likely to be soft up front. That's fine against most teams but could be a problem against the Lakers, the Magic and maybe even the Celtics. Of course, that's been the problem in South Beach ever since 2007. Jamaal Magloire was once a roughneck, but for the past three years, he's been about as durable as a pair of Chuck Taylors, even though he's only 32 years old. Joel Anthony? He's only 6-9 -- and that's just one of his deficiencies.

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1. Los Angeles Lakers

The more things change: For the second straight summer, the Lakers came off a championship and refused to rest on their laurels. Give them major credit; the additions of Matt Barnes and Steve Blake were excellent. Barnes will pay huge dividends if the Lakers meet Miami in the Finals, because he gives them another tough, hard-nosed defender (along with Ron Artest and Kobe Bryant) to throw at LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Blake is similar to Derek Fisher, only -- and this is huge -- younger. And finally, the league's biggest team got bigger, adding the fragile, but very capable shot-blocker, Theo Ratliff. The two big questions facing the Lakers are: (1) will Andrew Bynum be/stay healthy; and (2) will Kobe, in his 15th season, lose another step?

 

 

The more they stay the same: For a while, it looked like the Lakers would have to adjust to a new coach, but the most accomplished coach in NBA history, Phil Jackson, decided to come back for one more season (at least) and a shot at a fourth three-peat. The Lakers hope Bynum's history of injuries doesn't remain the same. If he can stay healthy, he'll be a beast and perhaps the difference in the Finals matchup we all want to see: Lakers versus Heat.

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