The NBA lockout has forced us to shelve the thought of considering what team the 2011-12 champion might be, but now it's time for basketball.
With the Dallas Mavericks hoping to repeat and successfully defend their crown, there are going to be a number of other competitive teams looking to rob them of that chance and prove that it's time for a new group to be crowned as the top dog.
There are a number of teams on the rise, and the balance of power could certainly be shifted once again in the league, and it would certainly be exciting to see how it all shakes out.
The Hawks have an intriguing group of young talent on the roster, but the team has been stuck in the middle for the last few seasons and seem unable to get over the hump.
If Atlanta is serious about a shakeup and wind up trading Josh Smith, there's no chance the team will even sniff title contention, despite consistently making the postseason.
The Celtics are getting old, and the team's championship window is closing.
However, it's not closed just yet.
Pierce, Allen and Garnett showed that the trio still have a fire burning strongly in their belly last season, and with a healthy Rajon Rondo, the C's could certainly compete.
But it's worth noting that a compacted campaign isn't the best idea for veteran teams.
The Bobcats added Corey Maggette to anchor the team's scoring charge, and that should be illustrative of exactly how far away this team is from contending.
Kemba Walker will look to make a splash during his rookie season, but Charlotte is multiple seasons away from even being in the conversation to take it all.
How close are the Bulls? One player away.
If Chicago can find a player who suits the team, and more importantly, can co-exist with Rose in the same backcourt, the Bulls are going to be a serious force to be reckoned with no matter who the opponent.
A healthy frontcourt of Noah and Boozer will also go a long way toward achieving the goal.
The Cavs have no shot to win it in 2012, and don't have a prayer for 2013, either.
This isn't an attempt to rain on the Cleveland parade, but this team is rebuilding right now in every sense of the word.
The franchise did a great job of adding talent on the wing in Omri Casspi, but outside of him, Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson, there's just not a lot to get excited about on this roster.
If Dallas is going to repeat as champions, it's imperative that the team re-signs Tyson Chandler.
Should the Mavericks fail to make that move, it's going to create a sizable hole in the middle of their lineup, and that is one that won't be filled by signing someone else.
While the club has most of its talent returning, in addition to Chandler, Caron Butler is also set to hit the free-agent market, and Dallas doesn't have a lot of depth behind Shawn Marion at the position.
The Nuggets have already lost both Wilson Chandler (restricted free agent) and J.R. Smith (unrestricted free agent) to China, and although Kenyon Martin wasn't expected back, he's gone to the Chinese Basketball Association as well.
Although the team brought in veteran Andre Miller to play alongside the young and promising Ty Lawson, the team's front-line depth is going to be its Achilles' heel unless it's addressed with emphasis.
Danilo Gallinari showed promise as a lead scorer, but if the club fails to re-sign Nene in free agency, the size problem may be one from which Denver doesn't recover.
The Pistons were a mess under former head coach John Kuester last season, and promising rookie Greg Monroe was the lone bright spot that emerged from the 2010-11 season.
Detroit drafted Brandon Knight, who is loaded with talent, but it's going to take a complete overhaul of this roster before the club can even think about challenging for a postseason spot, let alone even consider a legitimate run at a title.
The Warriors have a really intriguing combination of talent on the roster, and it will be fun to watch how the team fares under new head coach Mark Jackson.
Jackson has stressed a commitment to defense, something that this team has not seen in a long time.
Although Golden State definitely could turn the corner in the foreseeable future, it's going to take an addition of some serious size and talent along the front line before we're talking about a potential championship run.
Houston was on the edge of making the postseason last season, but the team is going to need more help before it is considered a legitimate contender for a title.
Although the club added some size through the draft, there just isn't enough on this roster as currently constructed to make a viable case for their emergence over the favorites from the Western Conference.
Indiana has arguably the most tantalizing group of youth on its roster throughout the NBA, but unfortunately, it takes far more than that to compete for a title.
The team has to get another impact player alongside Danny Granger, but it's not crazy to think that this franchise has a promising future if the talent continues to develop as expected.
The Clippers have two players who can both turn into franchise players in Blake Griffin and Eric Gordon, and that's an awfully good start for a franchise that has been in the cellar for a long time.
There's still a lot of youth on the roster to be harbored, but it's going to take more than what we've seen from this team before they can rise up through the conference.
The Lakers will have a chance to win the title as long as Bryant is on the roster, but unlike in seasons past, he's going to need more help to do so.
That means no flailing from Pau Gasol, a healthy Andrew Bynum, and the Lakers getting significantly more from its second unit that fell flat on its face last season.
In other words, it's not as easy as it once was for this group.
The Grizzlies really surprised a lot of people with the surprising postseason run that saw the team take down the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs, and this is a group with an enormous amount of potential as we move toward the future.
If the club can bring back Marc Gasol, there's no reason that this group can't continue to build upon the success enjoyed in 2010-11.
The Heat reached the championship round last season despite several criticisms and a slow start, and there's little reason to believe this team will fade any time soon.
As long as LeBron James and Dwyane Wade remain healthy and productive, Miami has to be considered a favorite as the only team in the league with two top-five players.
Brandon Jennings, Stephen Jackson and Andrew Bogut form an intriguing trio for the Bucks, but not one likely capable of winning a championship.
Bogut needs to prove he can stay on the court long-term, Jennings and Jackson are not from the school of efficiency when it comes to taking (and making) shots, and the second unit just isn't deep enough to contend in an improving Eastern Conference.
Kevin Love probably wishes his team was more competitive, but the reality is the T-Wolves need a much more properly constructed roster.
With nothing going on inside, an unbelievably raw Ricky Rubio ticketed for major minutes and a group of young players fighting for minutes, it may be another long season in Minnesota.
The Nets need to find a way to convince Williams to sign long-term with the team, and that means this club has to be active in free agency and on the trade market.
While he's certainly a good start, Williams can't do it alone, and it's possible that the Nets could even look to explore trading Brook Lopez in an effort to improve for the future.
Outside of Chris Paul, the Hornets are an absolute mess, and there's little reason to believe in this team's future as a legitimate championship competitor.
With a rebuilding process more than likely on its way, it's really hard to imagine the Hornets vying for a title despite making the postseason last year.
The Knicks showed last season that this group still needs time to gel with the new trio of Anthony, Stoudemire and Billups, and despite the talent on the roster, it might not be enough.
Despite the excitement that the new-look Knicks team brings to the court on a nightly basis, it may not translate into a championship run as soon as some fans would like.
Oklahoma City is a team firmly on the rise in the Western Conference, but Russell Westbrook has to cede the alpha-dog role to Kevin Durant if this team is going to get serious.
The club also needs increased contributions from its big men, Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins, as it will allow for more opportunities for the team's playmakers all over the court.
This isn't going to happen with the current team as it is constructed.
Howard is a beast in the middle, there's no doubt about that, but he needs help to find success.
The supporting cast GM Otis Smith has given him is absolutely laughable, and there's just no way Howard can continue to shoulder the load by himself.
Philadelphia is another team with a some really solid young talent, but this club really needs a scorer before we can talk realistically about a championship coming to town.
Holiday and Iguodala make for a potent pairing, and if this club could get a shooting guard capable of creating his own shots and changing the game, there could be a new opinion forming about basketball in Philly very quickly.
Whether the decision makers want to admit it, the Suns are a rebuilding group, and it's going to take much longer than an extended offseason for this group to come together.
There are question marks all over the roster outside of an aging Steve Nash at point guard and Marcin Gortat at center, and that's not exactly how most teams would approach refilling the talent pool.
LaMarcus Aldridge and Wesley Matthews led the charge for a Portland team that exceeded the expectations of most last season, and there's every reason to believe that this group will continue to play well.
While anything Portland gets from Greg Oden at this point has to be considered a bonus, the team will have to look for more consistent play from the middle if it wants to truly compete for a championship.
The Kings raised some eyebrows around the league after adding J.J. Hickson and drafting Jimmer Fredette, and suddenly this is a team from which many are expecting a breakout.
A healthy Tyreke Evans will go a long way toward achieving exactly that, but it's going to take some time for this group to come together, and coach Paul Westphal is widely known for his whimsical rotations.
This is a very rapidly aging team, and it's strange to think that the Spurs are on the decline considering how prominent this franchise has been.
It's going to be tough for San Antonio to go up against younger, deeper teams with the current core, and it will be interesting to see how a shortened season impacts this particular group.
There is a lot to like about what DeMar DeRozan brings to the court, but that's about all that anyone liked in Toronto last season when it came to judging the roster.
Andrea Bargnani flopped in monumental fashion as the primary offensive option, and this front office has a lot of work ahead to turn around this franchise.
The Jazz have done a great job of building size along the front line, but not all of those players have proven themselves in the league just yet.
With a lot of youth on the wing and an inconsistent Devin Harris leading the way as the starting point guard, it may not come together all that quickly.
John Wall is an exciting talent capable of doing a lot of things, but he's going to need a lot of help in Washington to win a championship.
This team really needs help inside and a renewed commitment to defense. Before that happens, there's no reason to utter the words Wizards and championship in the same sentence.