1. Orlando - They lost Hedo, Lee, and Alston...They gained Nelson, Carter, Bass, Anderson. How anyone can think they didn't get better is beyond me.
Contrary to what you have seen and think you know, Hedo was very expendable. Nelson is the primary ball handler in the offense.
Do you recall the two regular season games that Orlando had with L.A. when Nelson hit big shot after big shot and controlled the ball at the end of the game, playing the pick-and-roll with Howard to perfection.
Howard's continued growth will also be key. Every year he has improved his game on offense and defense, and expect this progression to continue.
Key Player: Jameer Nelson
2. Boston - If healthy, why can't they be up there with L.A. and Orlando as the top teams in the NBA? Especially considering one of L.A.'s most important players, Bynum, has a history of injuries that far pre-dates these wily old veterans.
Without Odom, L.A. drops to third and in a seven-game series, I believe they would lose to Cleveland.
Back to Boston though, of course the potential for injury for six players older than 30 is great and their depth is not good. But they still have one of the best starting lineups in the NBA and with the growth of Rondo, and the return of K.G.—Watch out!
Key Player: Kevin Garnett
3. Los Angeles - You lose two of the teams key pieces that were key in the title run. Yes, Ron Artest is a good defender but does he play passing lanes the way Ariza does? Ariza doesn't give you as good on-the-ball defense (it's close though) but he gives you more game changing defensive and offensive plays.
Artest might be an upgrade but you still dive into the question that if they lose Odom, then that hurts the most as Bynum would be asked to take a larger role and translate that to the playoffs. Foul trouble and injuries would have to be a lot less.
All in all, they lost two pieces and gained one piece that is talented yet has never put it together to win big.
Key Player: Andrew Bynum
4. Cleveland Cavaliers - They are fourth but if they make it to the Finals they would have the best chance to beat L.A.
Seriously, think about it: I know Kobe is good and they now have Artest but LeBron would foul out Bynum in 15 minutes every game. Then what are you left with? Mbenga or Powell?
Shaq is still better then Bynum and Andy matches up with Gasol great. Still, they are at No. 4 because they still have weaknesses that Boston and Orlando can and will exploit.
Key Player: Shaquille O'Neal
5. San Antonio - Honestly they have improved but how much? They have the experience and with playing time together they may be able to jump as high as No. 1. But will they? Doubt it.
The only reason I don't put any of the other three teams in the honorable mention above S.A. is because of the experience factor and the fact that I couldn't envision Portland, Denver, or Dallas winning the 'ship.
Honorable Mention: Portland, Denver, Dallas