On the brink of entering the season, there are a handful of teams that are already beginning to doubt they have what it takes to contend. None of the three major contenders have had any death blows, but the Lakers are still concerned about Dwight Howard's back (more on this), while the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder are without major injuries.
Nonetheless, there are five teams touched upon outside the Lakers who are fighting injuries. Without the lineup recovering to full health, there's no chance they can play to expectations—never mind contend.
Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers just injected the heist of the 2012 offseason into their lineup in Dwight Howard, and now, all systems are go. It's always a precarious thing to bet on a player with a back problem, but Howard's work ethic and talented teammates will balance his workload, and his offensive usage should slightly decrease from his time with the Magic. The Lakers still have the best starting five on paper in the league. Some are quick to discredit the Lakers because of Howard's back, but from all indications this preseason, he's ready to go.
Los Angeles Clippers
The L.A. Clippers have a banged-up roster now. Their veterans are in dire straits, with Chauncey Billups still recovering from surgery, Lamar Odom out of shape and nursing a knee injury and Grant Hill day-to-day for undisclosed reasons. The Clippers have a lot of depth, but only if that depth stays healthy.
Andrew Bynum had precautionary surgery on his knee and still isn't ready to go. That's a pity for the 76ers, since they did get the best of the four-team Dwight Howard trade. Receiving Bynum as payment for Andre Iguodala and spare change was brilliant, but only if Bynum is able to play. Until he regains form, the Sixers aren't a playoff team.
There's no new news on Derrick Rose, but the rest of the Bulls are healthy. The fact that there is no new news on Rose, however, is enough to keep the Bulls out of contention discussions. Rose may sit out the season. No one knows at this point. But it's hard to take a team seriously that relies so heavily on one player, at least while said guy is out. Until there is an update that Rose is ahead of schedule, there's no reason to buy on the Bulls as anything more than a seventh or eighth seed.
Dallas went from a team with slim hopes to almost no hope. Dirk Nowitzki is the team in no uncertain terms, and now he is out for six weeks following arthroscopic surgery on his knee. He's able to ride an exercise bike right now, but that's hardly a reason for optimism in Dallas. Having a perpetually injured Chris Kaman starting at center doesn't inspire much confidence either.
Minnesota is now in serious trouble, with their best two players in Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio set to miss the first month or more of the season. Their talent level drops from that of a 50-win team to that of a lottery squad with those two ailments. The Wolves' title hopes weren't sky high to begin with, but with Kevin Love breaking his hand doing knuckle pushups, it takes an even bigger hit. The Wolves will struggle to be anywhere near .500 until Love and Rubio return to the fold—fully healthy.