Heading into the 2012-13 season, the Western Conference was thought to be a two-team race between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Oklahoma City Thunder for who would win the conference and ultimately represent the conference in the Finals.
Through the first three weeks of the season, however, the conference has proven to be much more competitive than originally thought. Several teams are making an early claim to be the conference's best team while the Lakers remain a work in progress through the early changes that have defined their early season struggles.
So while the Lakers are still a respected team who is very much capable of living up to the expectations set for them before the season, they're also not in a position to simply look down on the rest of the teams looking to take them down and claim inherent superiority.
No, there are several teams who are proving to be challengers for the Lakers now (and will be even when the Lakers do find their stride). These are teams that few were talking about when the season began but who we should definitely be talking about now. And not just us, as fans and analysts, but the Lakers themselves.
These are teams that the Lakers need to move from sleeper status to teams that need to be looked at as serious threats to their ability to advance as far as they should.