NBA Power Rankings: Breaking Down Every Team, Post-James Harden Trade
The Oklahoma Thunder's trade of James Harden was not something done in a vacuum that affects just the defending Western Conference champs and the Houston Rockets.
Instead, a move of that magnitude shakes the foundation of everything we thought we knew as the 2012-13 NBA season gets underway. Teams that were thought to be pseudo-contenders suddenly have an incredibly clearer road, and the already loaded Western Conference just got yet another fringe playoff team.
The move also shakes up one of my favorite NBA pastimes: the power rankings.
With that in mind, here's a look at where every team ranks heading into the tipoff of what should be a captivating season.
1. Miami Heat
It's quite simple here. The Heat are the defending NBA champions, have far and away the league's best player and a vastly improved supporting cast.
Any prognosticators who fail to put Miami atop their power rankings, quite frankly, have some explaining to do in order to recapture their credibility.
2. Los Angeles Lakers
The addition of Howard, Steve Nash and a cabal of veteran bench guys obviously makes this roster far more formidable than in 2011-12.
If there is any team that can take down LeBron James and Co. in 2012-13, that squad is the Lakers.
3. San Antonio Spurs
Everyone seems to be falling all over themselves to make the Lakers the "biggest winner" of the Harden trade.
That's simply not the case. Pre-Harden trade, the Spurs seemed destined for a Western Conference semifinal loss to either the Thunder or Lakers.
Now, depending on how far Oklahoma City falls, it could be just Los Angeles. Considering the Spurs match up far better against the Lakers than the Thunder, the championship window may have just reopened at the Alamo.
4. Boston Celtics
Unquestionably better than the team that took Miami to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals last season, there is plenty of reason for optimism in Boston.
Nonetheless, health remains an overarching concern that cannot be ignored.
5. Oklahoma City Thunder
All the doom-and-gloom talk aside, the Thunder are still led by the second-best and one of the 12 best players in the NBA.
Harden is irreplaceable, but Kevin Martin can score, and Eric Maynor's return should help mitigate the lack of ball-handlers on the second unit.
So, yes, Oklahoma is still a title contender, despite its road becoming markedly harder on Saturday night.
6. Denver Nuggets
Probably the deepest team in the league, there are still massive questions about the Nuggets' crunch-time scoring prowess.
Andre Iguodala will ostensibly be the alpha dog. However, let's just say that wasn't always the best strategy in Philadelphia.
7. Los Angeles Clippers
Right now, I'd categorize myself as "lukewarm" about the Clippers' offseason moves.
They're incredibly deep, but I can't help but question how all of these new faces will mesh together over the course of the season.
8. Memphis Grizzlies
Injuries far more than talent level prevented Memphis last season from realizing its sleeper NBA Finals team potential.
That window has likely passed with the Lakers unquestionably possessing the best one-two big-man punch in the conference, but the Grizzlies are one of a select few teams that can match up well on paper.
If the chemistry stays strong, expect Memphis to wind up as a top-six playoff seed and become the team no one wants to play in the playoffs this season.
9. Utah Jazz
They need to unclutter the frontcourt and find a reliable go-to scorer, but the Jazz are one of the more interesting teams in the league.
Utah could go nuclear and use this season as a stepping stone, or it could package some youngsters and try to contend this season. Either way, there are enough pieces on this roster that it's inevitable that a couple of guys will be on the move in 2012-13.
10. Brooklyn Nets
For all of the hoopla surrounding the team's move to Brooklyn, the Nets roster won't pack that level of excitement.
They'll be efficient and likely a top-tier Eastern Conference team, but don't expect a never-ending stream of SportsCenter's "Top 10 Plays."
11. New York Knicks
Pretty much anyone who spends time crunching the NBA numbers will tell you that Amar'e Stoudemire's injury was a blessing in disguise for the Knicks.
Actually, pretty much anything that gets Carmelo Anthony playing the power forward position is a blessing in disguise.
12. Indiana Pacers
Perhaps I'm the only one, but I look at this roster and see a team bound to fail everyone's expectations.
None of the offseason moves struck me as particularly savvy, and Danny Granger's knee injury doesn't seem like it's going away anytime soon.
Indiana is still a playoff team, but please don't try calling it a contender.
13. Philadelphia 76ers
Three things scare me to death about this team:
1. Andrew Bynum's knee.
2. Evan Turner's expanded role.
3. The fact that Bynum seemingly modeled his new look after Don King.
14. Chicago Bulls
Even without Derrick Rose, this is a team that can still compete in the top half of the Eastern Conference in the regular season.
Tom Thibodeau is one of the three best coaches in the NBA, and the Bulls did enough in terms of gathering stopgap solutions to make this work.
They're probably a 45-win squad, but that's good enough for a No. 5 or No. 6 seed at the very worst.
15. Atlanta Hawks
After being one of the Hawks' biggest doubters throughout the offseason, I've become slowly swayed by outside forces into keeping them as a playoff team.
Regardless, J-Smoove's contract season will either lead to Atlanta enjoying a career-best campaign, or he'll be traded by February. There's no real middle ground here.
16. Golden State Warriors
Health is obviously paramount, but the Warriors have quietly built one of the stronger starting fives in the NBA.
Depending on the development of Klay Thompson, who has looked phenomenal in the preseason, Golden State could become a sleeper for the eighth seed in the Western Conference.
Based on everything we've seen thus far, there is plenty of reason to be bullish. It all comes down to whether Stephen Curry and Andrew Bogut can stay on the floor.
17. Minnesota Timberwolves
For anyone who enjoys fun, lingering injuries to Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio are nothing short of massive disappointments coming into the season.
Love will be back before Rubio, but until the dynamic duo is back on the court together, the potential of this Timberwolves team is incredibly limited.
18. Dallas Mavericks
They stay here for now, but tanking the 2012-13 campaign should already be creeping into the minds of Mavericks management.
19. Milwaukee Bucks
Coming into the last season of his contract, this is undoubtedly a make-or-break year for coach Scott Skiles.
The Bucks have finished each of the past two years ninth in the Eastern Conference, and there is little reason to think they will end 2012-13 any higher.
Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings make an interesting pair in the backcourt. However, they also make a duo that could be among the most frustrating in the league for fans to watch.
20. Portland Trail Blazers
Damian Lillard could be the league's most exciting rookie not named Anthony Davis, and a healthy LaMarcus Aldridge should be a massive boon.
Still, Portland is probably two years away from being a team worthy of being taken seriously.
21. Houston Rockets
Any talk of the Rockets as an under-the-radar playoff team with Harden in the fold is misguided.
There are simply way too many players without the necessary NBA experience in Houston's rotation. The Rockets will be a fun bunch to watch, and Harden's development as an alpha dog will be intriguing, but it doesn't stretch far past that for Kevin McHale's squad.
22. Washington Wizards
Truth be told, I had the Wizards as my eighth playoff team until news came down about John Wall's injury.
So, yes, this is the part of the program where you all can feel free to mock me...heavily.
23. New Orleans Hornets
If Anthony Davis got a sponsorship with Kool-Aid and created his own brand of the product, it would fly off the shelves at a record pace.
Don't get me wrong, I'm all in on the Davis hype machine. But he still has a ton of work to do offensively to become the superstar that nearly everyone expects him to be.
Luckily for the No. 1 pick, he's surrounded by a group of solid offensive players that should help hide his deficiencies.
If Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson stay healthy the entire season, look for Davis to skate to the Rookie of the Year award.
On the other hand, if one of them goes down, don't be surprised if you start hearing under-the-radar rumblings about why Davis "doesn't pick up his offensive production."
24. Toronto Raptors
Outside of the Terrence Ross selection, there's nothing anyone can quibble with about the Raptors' offseason.
They brought over Jonas Valanciunas, who could be a stud, and traded a likely mid-lottery pick for Kyle Lowry, who is one of the more underrated point guards in the league.
It just remains to be seen whether Toronto can put it all together and actually play winning basketball.
25. Detroit Pistons
How quickly people forget that the Pistons were sneaky-good after the All-Star break last season.
Don't expect anything resembling playoff contention in 2012-13, but they aren't the doormats we've all gotten used to, either.
26. Phoenix Suns
Goran Dragic and Marcin Gortat will prevent the Suns from being the worst team in the league.
Nonetheless, this team was built to be bad and will certainly live up to its billing.
27. Cleveland Cavaliers
We may need to start preparing ourselves for Kyrie Irving's impending invite to the big-boy point guard table, but until we see anything of substance from the supporting cast, the Cavaliers will still be among the NBA's worst teams.
And by supporting cast, yes, I mean you, Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson.
28. Sacramento Kings
As individuals, the Kings have an intriguing roster full of brimming young talent.
As a team, this may be the worst constituted roster in recent memory.
29. Orlando Magic
Do we really live in a world where the Thunder got more for Harden than the Magic did for Howard?
Yes, yes we do.
30. Charlotte Bobcats
Drafting Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was the first step in the right direction for the team, and he should develop into an excellent player down the road.
Still, the Bobcats are easily the NBA's worst team and could have half a decade to go before being a reasonable contender for the postseason.
On the bright side, they shouldn't set a league record for lowest winning percentage again.
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