For the better part of two years the general consensus in the NBA has been the Los Angeles Lakers have the most talented roster in all of basketball, and there have been few who would dispute that claim, until now.
Due to a changing landscape which has seen a number of teams improve, the closing of the gap in the Western Conference, and a period of brief decline for the Lakers, many who previously thought Los Angeles had the best collection of talent are slowly changing their opinions.
All above-mentioned teams have three of the most important components of a championship roster which are a bonafide superstar, another player who could be considered a star, but not quite the same level as the main attraction, and a cast of talented supporting players.
In some cases, these teams have more than two players who are considered stars, and that's when attempting to compare their collective talent becomes tricky, if not impossible.
So, how does one decide which of these teams has the most talented roster, and does the most talented collective translate into success once the postseason begins?
The best place to begin the journey is with the core players of the team, and the ones who are most directly responsible for the positive or negative fortunes of the franchise.
The Lakers, Cavaliers, Mavericks, and Magic all have players on their rosters who could be considered some of the most dominant talent of their generation, and those skills are spread amongst various positions.
Los Angeles has the most dominant shooting guard in the league in Kobe Bryant, and arguably the best power forward in Pau Gasol, plus they have the luxury of bringing Lamar Odom off the bench, a player with superstar talent minus the motivation.
Cleveland can counter with LeBron James, the league's most complete player, and the recently acquired Antawn Jamison who has built an offensive resume that spans a decade.
Although Shaquille O'Neal is injured and not nearly the same force he once was, he still must be included because his presence did provide an advantage for Cleveland, and he was signed as a major piece in the quest for a Cavalier championship.
The Dallas Mavericks already had a roster which was primed to make a run in the playoffs, and the additions of Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood have made the Mavericks legitimate threats to the Lakers in the West.
Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd are two of the greatest players ever at their respective positions, and although Kidd is approaching 40, he seems to have been rejuvenated this year.
Butler can be added along with Nowitzki and Kidd as primary players because his transition has been seamless, and he has immediately assumed the role of the number two scoring threat on the team.
The defending Eastern champion Orlando Magic have the most dominant post presence in the NBA with Dwight Howard, and a couple of multiple All-Stars on the wings in Vince Carter and Rashard Lewis.
Point guard Jameer Nelson garnered his first All-Star selection last season, and the Magic are on a seven game winning streak, and are beginning to resemble the team which marched to last season's Finals.
When considering the core players of each team the Lakers appear to have a slight advantage, because they are the only team which can boast of having arguably the two best players in the league at their position.
Bryant is without question the best shooting guard in the league, and there are challenges to Gasol's worthiness as the best power forward in the league, but an argument on his behalf could be made.
No such luxury exists with the likes of Jamison, Kidd, Carter, Lewis, Butler or Nelson, who are all great players, but nowhere near the best talents at their respective positions.
Kidd has been surpassed by the legions of young point guards who permeate the league right now and Nelson has yet to propel his game to those heights.
Jamison and Butler essentially play the same position inhabited by James, who is without a doubt the best small forward in the game, although Jamison has been known to play power forward, and Butler can play shooting guard.
If you include Odom with Gasol and Bryant then a reasonable argument can be made, the three represent the best core group of players in the league, because none of the other teams can field a group of three as talented.
As attention shifts to the supporting cast, the path becomes rockier, because all of the teams mentioned have similar players with similar skills strewn throughout the rosters.
In Ron Artest the Lakers have a former Defensive Player of the Year, and a player with above average offensive skills who is only the fourth or fifth option on the team.
Andrew Bynum is a legitimate seven foot talent who has yet to realize his true potential, and even still he ranks among the top tier of centers in the NBA, and is only 22 years of age.
Derek Fisher is the old man among the perimeter players and although he has visibly lost a step there is still magic in that jump shot, and if a basket is needed in the final seconds his resume is proven.
Shannon Brown and Jordan Farmar are works in progress, and they can simultaneously bring you out of your seats with magnificence, or leave you shaking your head due to their poor judgement.
Both have the experience of helping the Lakers win a championship and that will be invaluable once the postseason starts, since the pressure of the moment is unlikely to faze them.
In Cleveland the main players in King James' court are Mo Williams, Anderson Varejao, Delonte West, J.J. Hickson, Anthony Parker, Boobie Gibson, and Jemario Moon, all of which are good, high-energy players.
None of them stand out individually, but they have learned the merits of teamwork under the watchful eye of James, and LeBron's ability to make players better has transformed his team.
Dallas uses Jason Terry as their main scoring option off the bench, and his ability to score points off the dribble or with his perimeter jump shot is a valuable asset for the Mavericks.
Haywood gives Dallas much needed size in the post, and Shawn Marion and Deshawn Stevenson provide Kidd with alternative outlets when the Mavericks are on the break.
Orlando has a plethora of role players in J.J. Redick, Mikael Pietrus, Marcin Gortat, Brandon Bass, and Matt Barnes, who recently stood toe-to-toe with Bryant in a Magic win over the Lakers.
Orlando's role players are also cognizant of what it takes to reach the NBA Finals, and are probably hungry to return there after last season's failure.
Glancing at the supporting players of each team is hard to get a true feel for which franchise has the best group of players because they are all pretty evenly matched.
All have players on their rosters who have participated in the NBA Finals, but only the Lakers and the Cavaliers can brag of personnel who actually made a difference in capturing a title.
In my opinion the championship experience of the Lakers and the slight advantage in the skills category makes them the most talented team in basketball, and the postseason will show if that is true.
I'm sure fans of the Denver Nuggets will castigate me for my failure to include them in the discussion, but the Nuggets have a fundamental flaw when it comes to the make-up of their team.
I recognize Denver's claim as a true contender, but their lack of strength in the post will more than likely prevent them from reaching the NBA Finals this year, although that is a subjective claim.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!