We are inching closer and closer to NBA basketball.
Now that we have reached the month of August and the free agency circus has died down, it is now time to look ahead to the upcoming NBA season.
With the teams mostly finalized, we now have a good idea of the depth of all the clubs, as well as what to expect this season.
Although we have not yet seen the new-look Miami Heat or the revamped Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers, it is a certainty that these teams will reach the postseason.
But, who will join them?
Here are the 16 teams I believe will make the Playoffs, ranked in order of how likely each is to win the NBA title...
The Utah Jazz will surely feel the effects of losing several key players to free agency.
Not only did the team's only consistent low-post scorer and rebounder, Carlos Boozer, bolt for Chicago, but he was soon followed by Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer, who brought shooting and defense to the Jazz.
Overall, the Jazz, a sure-fire Playoff team over the past few seasons, will find it more difficult this time around.
It will be tough to replace what was lost.
Although there are still many valuable pieces in place, such as Deron Williams, Paul Millsap, Andrei Kirilenko, and the newly-acquired Al Jefferson, some firepower is still lacking.
It is also not clear whether or not Jefferson will even fit into Utah's pick-and-roll system.
Only time will tell.
You are not mistaken.
The Los Angeles Clippers will reach the postseason for the first time since the Elton Brand years.
Boasting a team filled with talent at all positions, the Clippers can take that next step partly because the young up-and-comers on the roster will be looking to take that next step individually as well.
Let's not forget that Blake Griffin, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 NBA Draft, will be making a full recovery, so he will now be able to join Chris Kaman in the paint.
This low-post partnership has the potential to be one of the most productive in the league. Barring injury to either Griffin or Kaman, the Clippers can be a dominant rebounding team.
Eric Gordon and Baron Davis will make sure that their team can put some points on the board as well.
It is about time that someone is talking about the Pistons again.
They have been mired in mediocrity for the past few seasons and the people of Detroit need another winning team to cheer on.
They are hoping that Greg Monroe, the big man out of Georgetown, can bring new hope and energy to an already-capable roster. Luckily for him, he will not have to do it all on his own with an ultra-young squad.
Ben Gordon, "Rip" Hamilton, and Tayshaun Prince are all proven postseason contributors who have experienced success.
Now, with Monroe, who joins the inconsistent, but talented Charlie Villanueva and relentless Ben Wallace in the paint, the Pistons have enough bodies inside to pose a threat to any team.
Be patient, Pistons fans. Your team is on its way to the top once again.
Like the Clippers, the Nets have talent at all positions.
At the center spot, they have Brook Lopez, who has established himself as a reliable scorer and rebounder and as one of the best centers in the league, if not the best.
Backing up his star center, Devin Harris is one of the most explosive guards in the league and is striving to prove himself in the postseason. He has all the ability to shine in 2010-11.
These two will provide New Jersey with inside-outside scoring, making it difficult for other teams to pinpoint who exactly to focus on.
After adding several valuable pieces, like Travis Outlaw, an athletic defender on the perimeter, and Anthony Morrow, one of the league's best shooters, the Nets have rounded out the roster and covered all of their previous holes.
Derrick Favors and Damion James, two big-name rookies, will help out as well.
I have gone on and on about talent, but this team defines it.
With Rudy Gay, O.J. Mayo, Zach Randolph, and Marc Gasol, the Grizzlies have all of the pieces to not only make the Playoffs, but to put some higher-ranked team on upset alert.
Perhaps the team's biggest strength, beside Rudy Gay, is Randolph, who is a consistent and extremely efficient scorer and rebounder.
Knowing that the Playoff teams must have an inside presence to be successful, "Z-Bo" gives Memphis just that. Anything that Gasol contributes, which includes rebounding and passing out of the post, only strengthens the front line.
Depending on Xavier Henry's contribution as a rookie, this team has the potential to reach the next round of the Playoffs, not just the first.
Oh, if only Hasheem Thabeet could actually bring something to the table this season...
This is a classic example of a talent-filled team, but also one with an unrecognized potential for greatness.
Having been swept out of the Playoffs the past two seasons, it is hard to expect bigger and better things this year, considering that the Hawks now have a new head coach and even more instability than last year.
It is still unknown whether Mike Bibby will end up starting at the point, or if he will be replaced at some point during the regular season by Jeff Teague.
Whether Teague can produce on a consistent basis, however, is another story.
The bottom line?
This team has enough talent to reach the postseason's later rounds, of course, but, as proven before, that does not mean it will happen.
In an injury-free sports world, this Portland team would definitely be considered a contender, not just a Playoff team.
However, that world does not exist.
With what we do know, the Blazers boast two of the game's best scorers in Brandon Roy, who can also handle the ball and set up his teammates, and LaMarcus Aldridge, who is similar to a younger Kevin Garnett as an athletic scorer.
Both guys are very versatile in that they can both attack the rim or settle for the mid-range jumper. Their contributions on the offensive end, for better or for worse, is the majority of the Blazers' offense.
Of course, having a scoring point guard like Andre Miller only helps in crunch time situations come April and May.
Now, if only the Blazers' bigs could stay healthy...
The picture says it all.
Even if they are banged up, overlooked, or even overmatched, the Spurs somehow always find a way to reach the Playoffs, so this year should be no different.
Even if the championship window has probably closed for good, now that Tim Duncan's production is slowly on the decline, the Spurs certainly do have one thing to look forward to in 2010-11.
Having youth on the roster is a luxury, especially when that youth is already battle-tested.
With the addition of James Anderson, a savvy college scorer, and the development of Dejuan Blair and George Hill, there is a nice balance of young and old on this roster. All three guys will log heavy minutes in the upcoming season.
Still, Dejuan Blair and George Hill are not quite on the level of Duncan and Tony Parker just yet.
The Bucks showed last season that they are for real.
With a rising star at point guard in Brandon Jennings, who has the ability to dominate games with his scoring, there is no need to worry about the other great point guards in the Eastern Conference if you are a Bucks fan.
Jennings, along with Andrew Bogut, arguably the most underrated big man in the league, will be looking to improve upon last year's successful campaign.
Adding another perimeter scorer like Corey Maggette, who can get to the free-throw line at a high rate, helps tremendously. He should complement John Salmons perfectly on the opposite wing.
Just know that the Deer should still be feared.
What happened to the Denver Nuggets' bandwagon?
One year ago, the Nuggets were one of the most explosive and unstoppable teams in the NBA. They were labeled as the only team with a real chance of beating the Los Angeles Lakers.
This team is still loaded with offensive firepower, led by Carmelo Anthony, arguably the NBA's best pure scorer, and has a surprising commitment to defense. Nothing much has changed.
With the likely return of George Karl, who has been fighting throat cancer in recent years and was forced to sit out at the end of last season, as coach of the Nuggets, the team should have a whole new energy.
There is a scary motivation for these Nuggets to get back to the top, which is very much possible.
Most of the pieces are still there for this Magic team.
Dwight Howard, the game's most dominant center on the defensive end, returns for another run at the title, and so does Jameer Nelson, who contributed with several big games in last year's postseason.
More importantly for the Magic, the team resigned their two free-agent guards, J.J. Redick and Jason Williams, so the backcourt will be the same.
However, for a team that many feel lacks mental toughness, losing a tough-minded defensive stopper in Matt Barnes was not advisable. Losing him to another contender was even worse.
While this team has the offensive firepower and defensive mentality to go far in this year's postseason, do not expect another Finals appearance anytime soon.
Hedo Turkgolu was still a better fit than Vince Carter is now.
The Bulls took a huge step to becoming contenders this summer.
They signed not only Carlos Boozer, who gives the team a legitimate low-post scorer, but also Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer, who provide shooting and toughness on the perimeter.
Consistent shooting and low-post production only opens up more space for Derrick Rose, one of the NBA's best point guards. He will have a multitude of viable options this season when it comes to giving up the ball.
With slashing from the perimeter, shooting, low-post production, offensive rebounding (via Joakim Noah), and unique quickness at all positions, it will be difficult to slow down the Bulls.
What about defense?
Well, hiring defensive mastermind Tim Thibodeau as head coach is just about enough in that regard.
Oklahoma City will not have to wait long to host an NBA Finals game.
While it may not be this year, considering that the Lakers are reigning champions, the time is quickly approaching.
With the reigning NBA scoring leader, Kevin Durant, leading the way, the Thunder are extremely well-covered at all positions at this point. From Russell Westbrook to James Harden and rookie Cole Aldrich, everything is in place.
The addition of Cole Aldrich, the center out of Kansas, should only help the team in the rebounding and physicality departments.
With scoring, team chemistry, energy on both ends, and now rebounding inside, there are very few, if any, weak areas on this Thunder team.
It is time for the rest of the league to learn just that.
Yes, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, and Chris Bosh are all on the same roster.
This alone gives the Heat not only an unprecedented amount of star-power, but also firepower on the offensive end. The team will be the league's ultimate matchup nightmare next season.
Scoring from all areas of the court will be one of the team's biggest strengths. Eddie House and Mike Miller will make sure that shooting isn't a problem.
Defense won't be either, considering that Udonis Haslem and Joel Anthony were both resigned. Juwan Howard was added as well to come off the bench.
What's missing, then?
Team chemistry is, first and foremost.
It still remains to be seen how this team will gel night in and night out, so they cannot be considered true favorites just yet.
They are back for another run.
When healthy, the Boston Celtics are the league's best defensive team, as they showed last year in the postseason.
So, until one Eastern Conference team shows that they can beat the Celtics, when they are fully healthy, in a Playoff series, then the Celtics will be the favorites to reach the Finals again.
For now, the majority of the pieces are still there, most notably Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, who both resigned with the team over the summer.
The additions of the two O'Neals, Shaquille and Jermaine, can only help the team in the rebounding department, which was Boston's one weakness last season.
With that fixed, this team might even have some room for improvement...
The Lakers are the reigning NBA champions, so they are at the top of this list.
Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, Ron Artest, and the rest of the Lakers that won the title last season are back (not including Jordan Farmar), so the team did not become any weaker over the summer.
In fact, with the additions of Steve Blake and Matt Barnes, the Lakers may have actually gotten stronger.
Blake is a more consistent backup point guard than Jordan Farmar proved to be and Barnes, similar to Trevor Ariza, is now yet another defensive stopper at Phil Jackson's disposal.
The truth of the matter is this: if anyone finds a way to beat the Lakers in the Playoffs, they will have their work cut out for them.
As of now, that does not look too likely.
It really does not matter which teams make it to the Playoffs or which can even reach the NBA Finals.
It is quite clear, judging from this offseason period and last year's postseason, that NBA fans should have a lot to look forward to when the offseason becomes the regular season.
We are clearly headed towards a high-excitement, drama-filled 2010-11 season.
What do you think about this season's likely Playoff teams?