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NBA Power Rankings: Can Any Team's Starting Five Best the L.A. Lakers?

Bryan ToporekFeatured ColumnistAugust 31, 2010

NBA Power Rankings: Can Any Team's Starting Five Best the L.A. Lakers?

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    Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

    Now that the free-agent storm has largely died down (sorry, Allen Iverson), the NBA's landscape looks radically different than it did a few months ago.  Cleveland and Toronto may hate basketball forever now, while the Miami Heat will have the biggest sports bandwagon outside of the New York Yankees. 

    One thing's remained consistent, though: With Kobe Bryant on their side, the two-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers are still the team to beat.

    The Lakers assembled the best starting five in the NBA this past season, prayed their bench could come together when it counted, and eked out a championship over the Celtics largely by virtue of their starters.

    So, with the new super team down in Miami, do the Lakers still have the best starting five in the NBA?  Or is the newest L.A. dynasty—that of the Kobe and Pau Gasol era—about to meet its premature end this coming season?

    Here's one man's ranking of every NBA team's projected starting five, from worst to best.

30. Toronto Raptors

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    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    Projected starting lineup:
    PG: Jose Calderon
    SG: DeMar DeRozan
    SF: Linas Kleiza
    PF: Amir Johnson
    C: Andrea Bargnani

    This is what happens when you don't listen to the winds and trade your disgruntled star before he can leave in free agency.  By not trading Chris Bosh for anything more than a trade exception, the Raptors' already thin roster was stretched even further.

    On the bright side, they still have 2006 No. 1 pick Andrea Bargnani to anchor their front line, and the Raptors could do far worse than PG Jose Calderson.  That's not to mention that the starting shooting guard, DeMar DeRozan, looked like he's ready to take a huge sophomore leap based on his play in this year's summer league.

    On the other hand, due to the void at power forward that Bosh created, the Raptors had to shell out their full mid-level exception to Amir Johnson, who's constantly in foul trouble.  The Raps also signed Linas Kleiza, who spent his last year in Greece, but given that he's averaged 19 minutes per game over the course of his four-year NBA career, there's not much reason for optimism there.

29. Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Projected starting lineup:
    PG: Mo Williams
    SG: Anthony Parker
    SF: Jamario Moon
    PF: Antawn Jamison
    C: Anderson Varejao

    The Cavaliers are the NBA's other cautionary tale about letting your superstar walk for basically nothing (Denver, take notice…), as a trade exception and some future first-round draft picks couldn't possibly make up for the loss of the league's two-time defending MVP, LeBron James.

    The Cavs still have talent—Mo Williams should pick up more of the scoring load this season, Antawn Jamison has a pair of All-Star appearances under his belt, and the frenetic Anderson Varejao should continue his streak of frustrating any and all of his opponents with his high-energy playing style.

    Anthony Parker and Jamario Moon are the Cavs' two biggest question marks, as neither has proven to be more than a spot starter or solid bench player throughout the course of their NBA careers.  If they can take their game to the next level, the Cavs could weather the loss of LeBron as well as they could have hoped; if not, Cleveland could easily be competing for the No. 1 pick in the 2011 draft.

28. Detroit Pistons

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    Projected starting lineup:
    PG: Rodney Stuckey
    SG: Rip Hamilton
    SF: Tayshaun Prince
    PF: Jonas Jerebko
    C: Ben Wallace

    The Pistons are a team in complete disarray, and their starting five reflects it.  The Pistons find themselves caught between the remnants of their 2004 championship team and the ultimate rebuilding effort, which resulted in a 27-win season last year.

    In Rip Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince, they've got two of their last three championship survivors, although Prince, on the last year of his contract, figures to be playing in a different city next season.  Hamilton, despite having three years and $36 million left on his deal, will face daily competition from Ben Gordon—who the Pistons signed to a five-year, $55 million deal last summer —for the starting shooting guard spot.

    Ben Wallace, the remaining title winner, won't figure to be much more than a stopgap for Greg Monroe, the seventh overall pick from the 2010 draft.  Jonas Jerebko should start the year as the starting power forward, but you'd have to imagine the Pistons would like Charlie Villanueva to ultimately seize the spot, after signing him to a five-year, $35 million deal last summer as well.

27. Golden State Warriors

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    Projected starting lineup:
    PG: Stephen Curry
    SG: Monta Ellis
    SF: Dorell Wright
    PF: David Lee
    C: Andris Biedrins

    Yikes.  Well, on the bright side, Stephen Curry emerged as one of the rookies with the highest upside last season and has continued to build upon his game with Team USA this summer.  Curry also proved he could co-exist in the backcourt with Monta Ellis; granted, it's doubtful that the Warriors have Ellis in mind for their long-term plans.

    The Dubs' prize acquisition of the summer was the sign-and-trade with the Knicks for David Lee, who will give Golden State a legitimate big man for the first time in years.  Lee already averaged a 20-10 this past season with Mike D'Antoni's breakneck offense, so he should have no problem fitting with the Warriors' always-offense, never-defense mentality.

    On the other hand, Dorell Wright can't inspire confidence in the heart of any Warriors fan.  And considering Biedrins' last season—you know, when he averaged 5.0 points and 7.8 rebounds in only 33 games—there's no telling what the Warriors will get out of 40 percent of their starting lineup.

26. Philadelphia 76ers

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    Chris Chambers/Getty Images

    Projected starting lineup:
    PG: Jrue Holiday
    SG: Evan Turner
    SF: Andre Iguodala
    PF: Elton Brand
    C: Marreese Speights

    As a Sixers fan, it pains me to put my hometown team down this low.  I'm just trying to be honest with myself here.

    Jrue Holiday broke out towards the end of last season, after the Allen Iverson, Vol. 2 experiment ended, and looked like he could emerge as a long-term option at the point for Philly.

    Marreese Speights is another young guy on the Sixers with potential, assuming he's continued to focus on his defensive ability…and hopefully learned to pass the ball, too.  Elton Brand, on the other hand, is a three-year albatross for the Sixers; at this point, if Brand averages 13 points and seven rebounds a game, we're satisfied.

    The real question for the Sixers this year comes at the two and the three, as Evan Turner and Andre Iguodala, on the surface, appear to have the same offensive strengths and limitations.  If Iguodala can carry over his Team USA role of being the defensive stopper and a facilitator (NOT a long-range shooter), then Turner should easily slide into the starting five.  If not, it will be another long year for Sixers fans.

25. Sacramento Kings

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Projected starting lineup:
    PG: Tyreke Evans
    SG: Francisco Garcia
    SF: Omri Casspi
    PF: Carl Landry
    C: Samuel Dalembert

    When the Kings drafted Tyreke Evans fourth overall last year, they took their first step back towards relevance.  Drafting DeMarcus Cousins fifth overall this past year, despite the fact he'll likely start the year on the bench, should only propel the Kings forward towards their championship goals.

    The Kings' strength, beyond Evans, will assuredly be their frontcourt.  Samuel Dalembert redefines the term "offensively challenged," but he's unquestionably solid in terms of defensive rebounding and shot blocking.  Carl Landry, on the other hand, has the potential to develop into a monster at the four, as he's only entering his fourth NBA season and started averaging 18 ppg for the Kings last year.

    In the backcourt, Francisco Garcia won't wow anyone, but he'll be able to stretch the floor with his long-range shooting.  If Omri Casspi can maintain his hot start from last season this year, the Kings could end up challenging for one of the last playoff spots in the West; if he flames out like he did in the second half, the Kings won't have the firepower to keep up with their Western Conference counterparts.

24. Minnesota Timberwolves

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Projected starting lineup:
    PG: Jonny Flynn
    SG: Corey Brewer
    SF: Wesley Johnson
    PF: Michael Beasley
    C: Darko Milicic

    After drafting three point guards last year and landing four small forwards this summer, who'd ever believe the Timberwolves roster would be so far down on this list?  Oh, wait, that's right.  Everyone.

    Until Ricky Rubio, Minnesota's fifth overall pick from the 2009 draft, comes over from Spain, the T'Wolves have little to no shot at the playoffs.  Jonny Flynn and the triangle offense are a square peg into a round hole, and Corey Brewer hasn't fared much better with it.

    Wesley Johnson has the potential to develop into a solid NBA player, but keep in mind, he's already 23 years old—only a year younger than Rudy Gay.  In Michael Beasley and Darko, David Kahn found himself two reclamation projects–the No. 2 pick from the 2008 draft, and the infamous No. 2 pick from the 2003 draft, respectively. 

    There's a reason both were so easy to acquire.  Neither have lived up to expectations yet, and there's no reason to think they'll suddenly put it together for one of the more dysfunctional organizations in the NBA.

23. Indiana Pacers

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Projected starting lineup:
    PG: Darren Collison
    SG: Mike Dunleavy
    SF: Danny Granger
    PF: Josh McRoberts
    C: Roy Hibbert

    The Pacers landed one of the steals in the summer when they acquired Darren Collison in the four-team, five-player deal a few weeks ago.  After openly shopping for a point guard all summer, the Pacers somehow managed to find a young PG who stepped in for Chris Paul last season and didn't miss a beat (and no, David Kahn was not involved in this trade, amazingly enough).

    The team's playoff hopes will live and die with Danny Granger, who's busy representing the United States at the FIBA World Championships in Turkey.  If Granger can become the 20-ppg, Rudy Gay-esque SF for the Pacers, they've got a shot at one of the final two playoffs seeds in the East.

    Center Roy Hibbert, only entering his third year in the league, has been working with Hall-of-Famer Bill Walton this summer, focusing most on his defensive abilities.  While Josh McRoberts and Mike Dunleavy are veritable question marks going into the season, the Collison-Granger-Hibbert trio could give Indiana a true Big Three core to build around in the coming years. 

22. New Orleans Hornets

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    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    Projected starting lineup:
    PG: Chris Paul
    SG: Marcus Thornton
    SF: Trevor Ariza
    PF: David West
    C: Emeka Okafor 

    Before the Carmelo Anthony trade rumors started kicking up, Chris Paul made some headlines earlier this summer after reportedly requesting a trade from New Orleans.  Looking at his starting lineup, it's not difficult to see why. 

    While Marcus Thornton emerged as one of the most surprising rookies last season, there's no guarantee he can maintain his hot stroke from downtown over the course of his career.  And while the Hornets just added Trevor Ariza in a four-team, five-player trade a few weeks back, Ariza's already proven that he's not much more than a sixth man on a championship team.

    CP3 and David West have developed some legitimate chemistry, making West the Hornets' clear No. 2 option, but he's not exactly well-renowned for his defensive play.  Emeka Okafor, his frontcourt partner, can block shots and rebound well, but Okafor's per-game averages won't be winning him any awards any time soon.

21. New York Knicks

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Projected starting lineup:
    PG: Raymond Felton
    SG: Kelenna Azubuike
    SF: Danilo Gallinari
    PF: Amar'e Stoudemire
    C: Ronny Turiaf 

    No team's starting five, short of the Miami Heat, underwent more renovations this summer than the New York Knicks'.  Unfortunately for N.Y. fans, LeBron and Co. decided to take their talents to South Beach, leaving the Knicks picking at the free agent scraps.

    The Knicks landed Amar'e Stoudemire as the prize of their free agent crop, but Stoudemire's injury history has to trouble any half-sane Knicks' fan.  Beyond STAT, the Knicks landed Raymond Felton from Charlotte to lead their team, praying he's an upgrade over Chris Duhon (Uh, who isn't an upgrade over Duhon?).

    Danilo Gallinari promises to continue building upon his long-range shooting ability, proving to be one of the league's deadliest long-range bombers last season, and Ronny Turiaf will likely be his solid-but-not-spectacular self, even in Mike D'Antoni's 'roided-up offense.  The real question lies at shooting guard, as Kelenna Azibuike isn't guaranteeing he'll be healthy for the start of the regular season.

20. Phoenix Suns

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Projected starting lineup:
    PG: Steve Nash
    SG: Jason Richardson
    SF: Grant Hill
    PF: Channing Frye
    C: Robin Lopez 

    The Suns have gone from the Western Conference finals last year to a possible lottery team this season, all due to the loss of Amar'e Stoudemire, their All-Star power forward.  What STAT lacked on defense, he more than compensated for on offense, and alongside PG Steve Nash, the two created one of the most terrifying inside-outside duos in the league. 

    Alas, Amar'e left for New York's guaranteed $100 million, leaving Phoenix with a guard-heavy roster anchored by the 37-year-old Nash.  Next to him will be Jason Richardson, whose long-range shooting ability really came into play later in the season, and the 37-year-old Grant Hill, who will largely be relied on as Phoenix's defensive specialist. 

    The frontcourt for Phoenix will be a huge question mark with Stoudemire's departure, as Robin Lopez was recently forced to withdraw from Team USA with the same back injury that limited him during last year's playoffs.  Starting in Amar'e's PF spot will be Channing Frye, the Suns' surprising three-point bomber from last season; what Frye brings in outside shooting, he'll lack in the post strength that Stoudemire brought to the team.

19. Washington Wizards

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    Al Bello/Getty Images

    Projected starting lineup:
    PG: John Wall
    SG: Gilbert Arenas
    SF: Josh Howard
    PF: Andray Blatche
    C: Javale McGee 

    The John Wall era begins in Washington this year, and the Wizards' starting five will look to put last year as far behind them as possible.  With Wall and former All-Star Gilbert Arenas in the backcourt, the two could become one of the most offensively explosive backcourts in the league if they figure out how to coexist.

    The Wizards re-signed Josh Howard, another former All-Star, for dirt cheap this summer, after Howard tore his ACL four games into his Wizards career this past February.  If Howard can revert to even 75 percent of his former self, the Wizards will have a steal at SF.

    Washington's biggest question likely comes in the frontcourt, with the young pair of Andray Blatche and Javale McGee, but the Wizards' frontcourt has unbelievably high upside.  If Blatche calms himself down and McGee continues developing his post skills, the Wizards could end up much higher on this list by the middle of the coming season.

18. New Jersey Nets

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    Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

    Projected starting lineup:
    PG: Devin Harris
    SG: Terrence Williams
    SF: Travis Outlaw
    PF: Troy Murphy
    C: Brook Lopez 

    Yes, the Nets won 12 games last season, but their starting lineup had way more talent than that of a 12-win team.  After this summer, they've got even more talent in their starting five. 

    The biggest addition to the Nets' lineup came through a trade, not free agency, as they shipped Courtney Lee to Houston in a four-team, five-player trade that netted them Troy Murphy.  Murphy will take pressure off Derrick Favors, the Nets' third overall pick from the 2010 NBA draft, and should form one of the East's tougher frontcourts alongside Brook Lopez. 

    Terrence Williams could be the surprise of the Nets' lineup, considering how hot he came on towards the end of last season.  And while Travis Outlaw won't inspire the fear of God in too many teams, if Devin Harris reverts to his 2008 All-Star form, the Nets could legitimately add 30 wins to their last season's win total this year.

17. Utah Jazz

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    Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

    Projected starting lineup:
    PG: Deron Williams
    SG: C.J. Miles
    SF: Andrei Kirilenko
    PF: Al Jefferson
    C: Mehmet Okur

    The Jazz lost Carlos Boozer this summer, but in his stead, they persuaded Timberwolves GM David Kahn to ship over Al Jefferson for pennies on the dollar.  The inside-outside combo of Deron Williams and Jefferson easily has the potential to exceed the Steve Nash-Amar'e Stoudemire combo on the offensive end.

    On the other hand, outside of those two, the Jazz have question marks at every position.  They traded Ronnie Brewer away in February, and the Portland Trailblazers stole the Jazz's replacement shooting guard, the undrafted Wesley Matthews, in free agency this summer.

    Andrei Kirilenko hasn't justified his massive contract in years, although he does give the Jazz a solid defensive stopper on the wing.  And given the questions surrounding Mehmet Okur, who tore his Achilles tendon during the Jazz's first round playoff series this past season, it's not difficult to see why the Jazz will have an upwards battle for a playoff spot in the West.

16. Charlotte Bobcats

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    Projected starting lineup:
    PG: D.J. Augustin
    SG: Stephen Jackson
    SF: Gerald Wallace
    PF: Tyrus Thomas
    C: Erick Dampier 

    After earning their first playoff berth in franchise history last season, the Bobcats appear to have only regressed this summer by losing Raymond Felton to free agency and Tyson Chandler in a trade with Dallas for Erick Dampier's completely non-guaranteed contract (business trumps basketball, always).

    Dampier, assuming he stays on the team through the year, won't be that much of a downgrade from Chandler, and his frontcourt mate Tyrus Thomas finally started putting together the promise that made him the fourth pick in the 2006 draft.  Add Gerald Wallace, who averaged 10 rebounds per game at small forward last season, and the Bobcats should remain one of the NBA's best defensive teams.

    The question, as became evident in last year's playoffs, is who beyond Stephen Jackson will consistently score for the Bobcats each night?  Unless D.J. Augustin makes a huge leap in consistency with his elevation to the starting lineup, the Bobcats have major questions offensively with their starting five.

15. Denver Nuggets

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    Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    Projected starting lineup:
    PG: Chauncey Billups
    SG: Arron Afflalo
    SF: Carmelo Anthony
    PF: Al Harrington
    C: Nene 

    Of all the lineups on this list, the Nuggets' spot is most subject to change, because, well, as you may have heard, Carmelo Anthony wants out of Denver.  Fast. 

    Without Anthony, the Nuggets have virtually zero shot at the playoffs, despite having Chauncey "Mr. Big Shot" Billups at the point.  Al Harrington may be able to pour in points as the starting four for Denver, but his apathy on the defensive end will hurt the Nuggets just as much as his scoring will help. 

    Throw in Nene and Arron Afflalo, who aren't much more than average NBA players, and you've got a lineup that doesn't appear to have a realistic shot at a championship this year. 

    The Nuggets future rests squarely on Anthony's shoulders, and at this point, all indications would suggest Denver should start looking elsewhere for a savior.

14. Los Angeles Clippers

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    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    Projected starting lineup:
    PG: Baron Davis
    SG: Eric Gordon
    SF: Ryan Gomes
    PF: Blake Griffin
    C: Chris Kaman 

    If not for Ryan Gomes, the Clippers would easily break into the top 10 of this list; in other words, they should be calling Denver for Carmelo Anthony any time now… 

    In the frontcourt, they're pairing Chris Kaman, who averaged nearly a 20-10 this past year, and Blake Griffin, the No. 1 pick from the 2009 draft, who missed all of last year with a broken kneecap.  If Griffin can become half as dominant as he was in college, the Clips suddenly have a frontcourt that could hold its own against their cross-town rivals. 

    Now that we know Baron Davis hasn't swelled up to 260 pounds, there's always the chance he reverts to his Golden State Warriors form, where he led one of the greater upsets in playoff history over the Dallas Mavericks in 2007.  Throw in Eric Gordon, who's proving to be the outside shooting threat for Team USA in Turkey, and you've got 4/5 of a hyper-talented starting lineup. 

    But, again, then there's Gomes.  

13. Atlanta Hawks

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Projected starting lineup:
    PG: Mike Bibby
    SG: Joe Johnson
    SF: Marvin Williams
    PF: Josh Smith
    C: Al Horford 

    Atlanta gave Joe Johnson the richest deal in free agency this summer (let that one sink in, Hawks fans) to keep together a starting five that got swept in the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs this past season.  That said… 

    With the ultra-talented Josh Smith and Al Horford anchoring the Hawks' frontcourt, there's a reason they ended up as the No. 3 seed in the East last season.  Smith learned to stop jacking up threes and start putting up triple-doubles, while Horford, despite playing out of position (he's a natural four), earned his first All-Star berth this past season. 

    The Hawks' backcourt, beyond Johnson, is more of a question mark.  At this point in his career, Bibby could legitimately be a walking skeleton; meanwhile, the Hawks will go into another year hoping that Marvin Williams does something to justify his selection as the No. 2 pick in 2005 (ahead of two guys named Deron Williams and Chris Paul).

12. San Antonio Spurs

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Projected starting lineup:
    PG: Tony Parker
    SG: Manu Ginobili
    SF: Richard Jefferson
    PF: Tim Duncan
    C: Antonio McDyess 

    Every year, someone starts predicting that the Spurs' inevitable decline will finally begin.  Maybe Tim Duncan, at 34, will start slowing down, maybe Tony Parker gets traded, or maybe Manu Ginobili can't stay healthy and battles nagging injuries all season? 

    If they do stay healthy, they've got three three-time NBA champions in their starting five.  On the other hand, the 28-year-old Parker will be the youngest of the Spurs' starting five, with the other four already on the wrong side of 30. 

    If Richard Jefferson can acquaint himself with the Spurs' offense better in year two, the Spurs could prove that their championship window hasn't completely closed yet.  The Spurs almost certainly need Tiago Splitter to wrestle the starting five position from Antonio McDyess to make another deep playoff run, however.

11. Memphis Grizzlies

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    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    Projected starting lineup:
    PG: Mike Conley
    SG: O.J. Mayo
    SF: Rudy Gay
    PF: Zach Randolph
    C: Marc Gasol 

    The Grizzlies made sure to lock their starting lineup in place by signing Rudy Gay to a five-year max extension this summer.  Gay, who's been playing on Team USA this summer, will have to continue upping his game to justify his huge contract, but at just 24 years of age, he's got the potential to become one of the league's more dominant scorers. 

    Memphis hasn't been sold on Mike Conley as the long-term solution at PG; then again, they did draft him No. 4 in 2007 largely based on his three-week NCAA Tournament performance (never a good sign).  Their draft-day trade of Kevin Love for O.J. Mayo in 2008 has proved wise thus far, as Mayo has already been a prolific scorer, with the potential of developing point guard skills in his future. 

    The Grizzlies' frontcourt will be their backbone this season, with Zach Randolph, the human 20-10 machine, and Marc Gasol, who's not as far off from his brother's talents as the casual NBA fan once thought.  With their strength down low, they can lean on Randolph and Gasol to anchor the defense, Gay and Mayo for the scoring, and they'll pray Conley evolves into the solution at the point.

10. Milwaukee Bucks

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Projected starting lineup:
    PG: Brandon Jennings
    SG: John Salmons
    SF: Corey Maggette
    PF: Drew Gooden
    C: Andrew Bogut 

    The Milwaukee Bucks should become a sexy preseason favorite in the Eastern Conference, largely due to their acquisitions in the past eight months.  By adding John Salmons, Corey Maggette, and Drew Gooden, the Bucks have significantly upgraded three of their five starting positions, giving their two budding franchise stars great players to work around. 

    With Michael Redd sidelined until at least February, Salmons gives Jennings a backcourt mate capable of scoring 20 ppg. Maggette, who's one of the best in the league at getting to the free throw line, will improve upon the Bucks' dismal number of FT attempts they had last season.  Gooden could finally find a permanent home after being the definition of an NBA journeyman in his first eight seasons. 

    The Bucks expect Brandon Jennings and Andrew Bogut to develop into their two centerpieces, and early results from last season supported the Bucks' optimism.  Jennings challenged for Rookie of the Year all season, topped with a 55-point game in November, and Bogut finally displayed the game that justified his No. 1 selection in the 2005 NBA draft. 

    In other words, there's legitimate reason to "fear the deer" this year.  And it starts with their suddenly talented starting five.

9. Houston Rockets

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Projected starting lineup:
    PG: Aaron Brooks
    SG: Kevin Martin
    SF: Shane Battier
    PF: Luis Scola
    C: Yao Ming 

    With the imminent return of 7'6" Yao Ming, the Rockets don't figure to be on the outside of the playoffs looking in, unlike their ninth-place finish in the Western Conference last season. 

    The backcourt of Aaron Brooks, last year's Most Improved Player of the Year, and Kevin Martin, who the Rockets pilfered from Sacramento this February in the T-Mac deal, have the potential to form one of the most explosive backcourts in all of the NBA (don't sleep on Martin especially this year…IMO, he's due to have a huge year).

    Throw in Shane Battier, one of the better wing stoppers in the league, and Luis Scola, the blossoming 30-year-old PF with only three years of NBA experience, and you can't find a single weak spot in the Rockets' lineup.  Well, that is, assuming Yao's healthy and can stay upright for 82 games.

8. Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Projected starting lineup:
    PG: Russell Westbrook
    SG: Thabo Sefolosha
    SF: Kevin Durant
    PF: Jeff Green
    C: Nenad Krstic 

    Last season's NBA darling will come back this year surprising nobody, but with the NBA's scoring leader starting at small forward, the Thunder have a legitimate shot at another 50-win season as long as he stays healthy. 

    The Thunder's question marks come in the frontcourt, as the combo of Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic got routinely shredded by the Los Angeles Lakers in their first round playoff matchup this past season.  With another year of experience, and Krstic's newfound chair-throwing ability, Green and Krstic should perform better but will still need assistance from backups Serge Ibaka and Cole Aldrich. 

    The guard play of OKC, on the other hand, will be a strength, with Russell Westbrook manning the point and Thabo Sefolosha starting as the two guard.  Westbrook's slashing ability perfectly complements Durant's penchant for long-range scoring, and Sefolosha's defensive talents give the Thunder one of the toughest defensive backcourts in the league.

7. Chicago Bulls

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Projected starting lineup:
    PG: Derrick Rose
    SG: Ronnie Brewer
    SF: Luol Deng
    PF: Carlos Boozer
    C: Joakim Noah 

    Besides the Miami Heat, the Chicago Bulls made the biggest upgrades to their lineup this summer in free agency, adding Carlos Boozer and Ronnie Brewer to the starting lineup and bringing in Kyle Korver and C.J. Watson to score off the bench.  

    Boozer, a two-time All-Star, brings the low-post scoring threat the Bulls have lacked since Elton Brand, and will combine with Joakim Noah to form one of the more dominant frontcourts in the NBA.  

    The combo of Ronnie Brewer and Luol Deng should be able to stretch opposing defenses with their three-point shooting, opening up driving lanes for the ever-dangerous Derrick Rose.  If Rose continues his elevated play from his Team USA experience, and/or shows off the new three-point shot he's been reportedly working on this summer, the Bulls will be right in the thick of the Eastern Conference race.

6. Orlando Magic

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    Jim Rogash/Getty Images

    Projected starting lineup:
    PG: Jameer Nelson
    SG: Vince Carter
    SF: Mickael Pietrus
    PF: Rashard Lewis
    C: Dwight Howard 

    The Magic have the game's best center in Dwight Howard, and structured a 4-outside, 1-inside lineup around Howard's strengths in the post. 

    All four of the Magic's other starters shot over 36 percent from long-range last year, as the Magic rely on Rashard Lewis' versatility to compensate for the size he gives up at power forward.  Vince Carter proved to be a shade of his former self in the playoffs, but hey, when the games don't matter, he'll give you 20 ppg still!

    After his incredible 2008-09 season, Jameer Nelson returned to Earth this past year, but he's still one of the league's top 10 point guards.  And while Mickael Pietrus isn't going to grab your attention like Dwight or V.C., Pietrus' defensive ability on the wing will dampen the blow of losing Matt Barnes to the Lakers this summer.

5. Dallas Mavericks

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    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Projected starting lineup:
    PG: Jason Kidd
    SG: Caron Butler
    SF: Shawn Marion
    PF: Dirk Nowitzki
    C: Brendan Haywood 

    By signing Dirk Nowitzki to a four-year extension this summer, the Mavericks ensured that they'll be in the championship conversation for the next few years.  Their contender status largely stems from the talent in their starting lineup. 

    The Mavs have two sure-fire Hall-of-Famers in their starting five with the 32-year-old Nowitzki and the 37-year-old Jason Kidd, who's still managing to drop triple-doubles despite his age.  

    When you add the defensively minded, do-it-all Shawn Marion and Caron Butler, who happily played third fiddle to Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison during the Wizards' heyday back in the mid-2000s, you've got four guys who can easily create shots and pour in points. 

    Brendan Haywood won't inspire fear in the hearts of opponents like the other four, but Haywood's a legitimate 7-footer that will give the Mavs a defensive backbone in the post.  From top to bottom, the Mavs easily have one of the top-five starting fives in the league.

4. Portland Trail Blazers

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Projected starting lineup:
    PG: Andre Miller
    SG: Brandon Roy
    SF: Nicolas Batum
    PF: LaMarcus Aldridge
    C: Greg Oden 

    The Blazers had one of the most chronically injured lineups last season – from Greg Oden fracturing his patella to a torn labrum for Nicolas Batum, to Joel Przybilla's season-ending foot injury to Brandon Roy's torn meniscus in his right knee—but still battled to a 50-win season and the No. 6 seed in the West. 

    With Roy, Batum, and Oden theoretically healthy and back in the starting lineup, the Blazers have one of the most talented starting fives in the league.  Roy doesn't get the hype of Dwyane Wade or Kobe Bryant, but you'd be hard pressed to think of another shooting guard (besides those two) you'd rather have.  

    An Aldridge-Oden frontcourt has the potential to be offensively dominant, and Oden's defensive talent should mask some of Aldridge's marshmallow softness on D.  With Miller and Batum's ability to create shots, the Blazers have legitimate scoring options at every position in their starting five.

3. Boston Celtics

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    Jim Rogash/Getty Images

    Projected starting lineup:
    PG: Rajon Rondo
    SG: Ray Allen
    SF: Paul Pierce
    PF: Kevin Garnett
    C: Shaquille O'Neal/Jermaine O'Neal

    The Celtics shocked even the most ardent Boston fans this year, pushing the Lakers to a four-point Game 7 in the NBA Finals after being in complete cruise control from January through April.  When you take one look at their lineup, it's less of a surprise.

    Assuming Shaquille O'Neal earns the starting nod at center, the Celtics would be starting four guaranteed Hall of Famers, with Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, and Kevin Garnett at the two, three, and four alongside Shaq. 

    That's not to mention Rajon Rondo, the fifth-year PG from Kentucky who's played well enough these past three seasons that he could realistically enter the Hall of Fame conversation some day.  Rondo averaged a hair below a triple-double in the 14 games of the Celtics' 2008-09 postseason, and his scoring and assist statistics have only increased each year of his career.

    The Celtics' bench play helped their charge back to the Finals last season, but when push came to shove, they largely rode the shoulders of the Big Three and One of Pierce, Allen, Garnett, and Rondo.  If all four stay healthy this year, the Celtics should prove to be contenders once more.

2. Miami Heat

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    Marc Serota/Getty Images

    Projected starting lineup:
    PG: Mario Chalmers
    SG: Dwyane Wade
    SF: LeBron James
    PF: Chris Bosh
    C: Joel Anthony

    On one hand, after the most successful free agency period in NBA history for a single team, the Miami Heat immediately have the best Big Three in the league with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh.  On the other, they've got Joel Anthony and Mario Chalmers in their starting lineup; thus, ranking them first on this list would be an affront to the NBA.

    The LBJ-Wade-Bosh trio instantly makes the Heat a contender for as many NBA championships as years they have on their contracts.  Add a two-time MVP/30-7-8 player to a 20-10 power forward and a 27-5-6 guy who happened to be MVP of the 2006 Finals, you're automatically a favorite to win.  No questions asked.

    That said, the Heat will have some questions to answer this season, starting with the less heralded members of their starting lineup.  Will Chalmers turn into a mini-Rajon Rondo, handling the load effectively while balancing the egos of supremely talented teammates, or will he force Spoelstra to play LBJ or D-Wade at point?  Will Anthony provide anything?

    The Heat have three incredible starters, but their guys starting at the one and the five hold them back from the top spot on this list.

1. Los Angeles Lakers

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    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    Projected starting lineup:
     PG: Derek Fisher
    SG: Kobe Bryant
    SF: Ron Artest
    PF: Pau Gasol
    C: Andrew Bynum

    There's a reason the Lakers are back-to-back NBA champions, and let's just say it's not the bench.  In their first championship season, the starters formed the second most efficient starting lineup in the league, only trailing Phoenix; the bench ranked 25th most efficient of the 30 teams in the league.

    Sure, Derek Fisher may be on the decline, but there's a reason the Lakers brought in Steve Blake as their No. 1 free agent priority this summer.  And oh, those other four starters are something else.

    In Kobe, you're getting the best shooting guard in the league, the guy with the most vicious killer instinct on a basketball court since Michael Jordan.  With Ron Artest, the 2003-04 Defensive Player of the Year starting at the three, the Lakers have two veritable lockdown wing defenders…and doesn't the saying go, "defense wins championships?"

    Then, on the front line, the Lakers come out firing with complementary 7-foot giants in Pau Gasol, the finesse player, and Andrew Bynum, the Lakers' next Shaq.  Every team in the league has been gearing their starting lineup towards eventually trumping the Lakers in June, and for good reason.

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