NBA Preseason Power Rankings: Who Stands in The Way of Kobe and a Three-Peat?

Bob Evans@@TheRealBobEvansCorrespondent ISeptember 24, 2010

NBA Preseason Power Rankings: Who Stands in The Way of Kobe and a Three-Peat?

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 17:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers moves the ball in Game Seven of the 2010 NBA Finals against the Boston Celtics at Staples Center on June 17, 2010 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    It's almost that time again.

    We are less than a week away from the beginning of training camp, but it feels like the season never ended.

    For those of you who may have forgotten while paying attention to all of the off-season movement, drama, and storylines: the Los Angeles Lakers are the reigning NBA Champions.

    Kobe Bryant and the Lakers fought their way to their second consecutive NBA Championship, and quickly fixed their eyes on a three-peat in the 2010-2011 season.

    But the road to regaining the Larry O'Brien trophy won't be as easy as the last two for the Lakers after all of this season's player movement.

    LeBron James and Chris Bosh headed south to join forces with Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat in order to create the NBA's latest "big three" and a potential dynasty.

    The Boston Celtics bolstered their front court by adding Jermaine O'Neal and Shaq.

    And Carmelo Anthony could soon be on the move to the Chicago Bulls, New York Knicks, New Jersey Nets, or another surprise team.

    And that was only a small portion of this summer's movement.

    All of this player movement has created a change in the way the NBA looks from when the season ended just a few months ago, and there could still be more movement on the way very soon.

    Teams have been dismantled, recreated, and bolstered this off-season.

    And those changes have led to some restructuring that needs to be done from the last time the power rankings were released.

    Some of you won't be happy, some will be confused, but in the next few months, we will all see just how the NBA will shape up this season.

    So as usual....sit back, relax, and don't forget to comment!

30. Minnesota Timberwolves

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    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    2009-10 Record: 15-67

    Key Additions: Wesley Johnson (draft), Michael Beasley (Miami), Martell Webster (Trailblazers)

    Key Losses: Al Jefferson (Utah), Ramon Sessions (Cleveland), Ryan Hollins (Cleveland)


    Minnesota General Manager David Kahn has struck again.

    Just one season removed from drafting three consecutive point guards in the first round, I didn't think that Kahn could upstage his 2009 NBA Draft performance.

    But then he did.

    To start the off-season, he gave Darko Milicic four years and $20 million. 

    And then he went and traded the center piece to the Kevin Garnett deal, Al Jefferson, for a box of rocks and future draft picks.

    I'm not sure if Kahn understands how to build a basketball team, but trading a walking 20 point, 10 rebound guy for next to nothing is not the way to go.

    Now Minnesota has to go into the season with Kevin Love as their team's leading scorer.

    And just to put the cherry on top, Kahn went out and acquired Michael Beasley and his baggage from the Miami Heat.

    Some fans feel they got a steal, and some of us think that the long winter nights in might tempt Beasley to go back to his old ways a little too quickly.

    The T-Wolves are years away from competing in this league, and it might take the removal of Kahn to get them started.

    Let the countdown until Kahn trades Ricky Rubio to New York for two future first round draft picks begin....

29. Toronto Raptors

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    DALLAS - FEBRUARY 13:  DeMar DeRozan #10 of the Toronto Raptors goes up for a dunk during the Sprite Slam Dunk Contest on All-Star Saturday Night, part of 2010 NBA All-Star Weekend at American Airlines Center on February 13, 2010 in Dallas, Texas. NOTE TO
    Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

    2009-2010 Record: 40-42

    Key Additions: Ed Davis (Draft), Linas Kleiza (Denver), Leandro Barbosa (Phoenix)

    Key Losses: Chris Bosh (Miami), Marco Belinelli (New Orleans), Hedo Turkoglu (Phoenix)

    It's not very often a team goes from 40 wins to the bottom of the NBA, but that will be the Toronto Raptors this season.

    The Eastern Conference has gotten stronger, and the Raptors suddenly don't have a feared offensive threat.

    Yeah, Andrea Bargnani showed off the skills to be a strong scorer for the team, but will he be able to handle the entire load now that the focus is on him?

    DeMar DeRozan should blossom with increased playing time this season, but the rest of the team is filled with question marks.

    There has been a lot of talk about Jose Calderon being traded before the season starts, which would mean that Jarrett Jack will be running the team.

    I can't see the Raptors doing much more than developing the young Ed Davis out of North Carolina this season, which could mean it will be a long year in Toronto.

28. Washington Wizards

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    NEW YORK - JUNE 24:  John Wall of Kentucky stands with NBA Commisioner David Stern after being drafted with the first pick by the Washington Wizards at Madison Square Garden on June 24, 2010 in New York City.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and
    Al Bello/Getty Images

    2009-2010 Record: 26-56

    Key Additions: John Wall (Draft), Krik Hinrich (Chicago), Yi Jianlin (New Jersey)

    Key Losses: Randy Foye (Clippers), Javaris Crittenton (Charlotte), Mike Miller (Miami)


    The Washington Wizards stuck gold when they landed the No. 1 overall pick and the right to draft John Wall out of Kentucky this year. 

    But that doesn't mean things are going to get better in Washington.

    Yes, John Wall will put fans in the stands, but this team is far from the playoff teams of a few years ago.

    Nobody has a clue what you are going to get out of the former franchise player Gilbert Arenas, and if he will be able to accept no longer being the leading man.

    And the Wizards don't have much depth behind Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee in the post.

    If they can get free agent acquisitions Mardy Collins, Sean Marks, Hilton Armstrong, and Adam Morrison to provide sort of depth, things could be different.

    But as they stand right now, I think the Wizards are in for a season full of learning experiences for John Wall.

27. Charlotte Bobcats

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    CHARLOTTE, NC - APRIL 26: Stephen Jackson #1 of the Charlotte Bobcats on defense against the Orlando Magic at Time Warner Cable Arena on April 26, 2010 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  The Magic defeated the Bobcats 99-90 to complete the four game sweep.  N
    Brian A. Westerholt/Getty Images

    2009-2010 Record: 44-38

    Key Additions: Kwame Brown (Detroit), Shaun Livingston (Washington), Javaris Crittenton (Washington)

    Key Losses: Raymond Felton (New York), Alexis Ajinca (Dallas), Tyson Chandler (Dallas)


    When your three key additions came from teams who didn't win 30 games last season, and your floor general left for New York: things aren't looking good for your franchise.

    Just a few months removed from making their first appearance in the playoffs, the Charlotte Bobcats are in for a reality check.

    That reality check is that without the leadership and passing skills of Raymond Felton, the road back to the playoffs is basically non-existent.

    I understand that a Larry Brown-coached team will always play solid defense, but when Stephen Jackson is now the most important player to your team, problems are on the horizon.

    I'm not sure if you remember the last time Stephen Jackson didn't have a pure point guard on his team, but I do and it wasn't pretty.

    Captain Jax, as the players call him, is a great vocal leader, but not a floor leader.

    Combine that with the fact that the Bobcats have D.J. Augustin, Shaun Livingston, and Sherron Collins all attempting to win the starting point guard job, and it could be a long year for the Bobcats.

    Any takers on Larry Brown's resignation before January?

26. New Jersey Nets

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    BOSTON - FEBRUARY 27:  Marquis Daniels #7 of the Boston Celtics heads for the net as Brook Lopez #11 of the New Jersey Nets defends at the TD Garden on February 27, 2010 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Nets defeated the Celtics 104-96.  NOTE TO USER: User e
    Elsa/Getty Images

    2009-2010 Record: 12-70

    Key Additions: Derrick Favors (Draft), Troy Murphy (Indiana), Anthony Morrow (Golden State), Jordan Farmar (Lakers), Travis Outlaw (Clippers)

    Key Losses: Tony Battie (Philadelphia), Courtney Lee (Houston)


    New coach Avery Johnson was expecting Chris Bosh, LeBron James, David Lee, or Carlos Boozer.

    Instead he got Troy Murphy, a 19-year-old rookie, and a bunch of role players.

    I doubt this is what Avery Johnson signed up for.

    Things could get A LOT better if the Nets are able to land Carmelo Anthony in a blockbuster trade, and that would make all of these off-season moves perfect.

    But adding a ton of role players to a team lacking a true starting shooting guard, small forward, and power forward was not what the doctor ordered for the Nets.

    Now don't get me wrong, the combination of Derrick Favors and Brook Lopez will be a dominating one in the future.

    But it doesn't do much for the team in the terms of this season.

    They will have a healthy Devin Harris to combine with those two, but I think that rotating role players in and out of the starting lineup will take its toll on this team.

    Keep your fingers crossed for Melo.

25. Sacramento Kings

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    DALLAS - FEBRUARY 12:  Tyreke Evans #13 of the Rookie team holds MVP trophy after defeating the Sophomore team during the T-Mobile Rookie Challenge & Youth Jam part of 2010 NBA All-Star Weekend at American Airlines Center on February 12, 2010 in Dallas, T
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    2009-2010 Record: 25-57

    Key Additions: DeMarcus Cousins (Draft), Samuel Dalembert (Philadelphia), Antoine Wright (Toronto)

    Key Losses: Spencer Hawes (Philadelphia), Andres Nocioni (Philadelphia), Jon Brockman (Milwaukee)


    All right, let me stop something real quick.

    Sacramento seems to be the trendy pick around the web to take their game from 25 wins to the playoffs in the Western Conference this season.

    Um, why?

    I understand that Tyreke Evans is going into his second season after averaging 20 points, 5 assists, and 5 rebounds in his rookie of the year campaign.

    But how much better do you expect Evans to be in year two?

    I know that the Kings got perhaps the steal of the draft in DeMarcus Cousins falling to No. 5, but he could also prove to be a distraction that doesn't manifest to anything in his rookie year.

    Don't forget that the Kings acquired Samuel Dalembert, a player that even the 76ers couldn't get to put in much effort last season.

    I just don't see the recipe for a 25-win jump this season.

    The team could be improved, but I think until they solidify the scoring at their shooting guard and small forward positions, the Kings will find themselves in the bottom of the league.

24. Philadelphia 76ers

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    NEW YORK - MARCH 19:  Jrue Holiday #11 of the Philadelphia 76ers dribbles the ball against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on March 19, 2010 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or us
    Nick Laham/Getty Images

    2009-2010 Record: 27-55

    Key Additions: Evan Turner (Draft), Andres Nocioni (Sacramento), Spencer Hawes (Sacramento)

    Key Losses: Samuel Dalembert (Sacramento), Willie Green (New Orleans), Rodney Carney (Golden State)


    It looks like the wheeling and dealing has just begun in Philadelphia.

    After finding a taker for Samuel Dalembert's $12 million contract earlier in the off-season, they have now found homes for Willie Green and Jason Smith today.

    After acquiring rookie Craig Brackins and veteran big man Darius Songalia, it looks like the 76ers are looking to move any veteran large contract for some cheap or expiring ones.

    That could spell the end of Andre Iguodala, Louis Williams, and Elton Brand very soon in Philadelphia.

    In turn, it could mean that the 76ers are in for a very long transitional season as they hand over control of the team to youngsters like Jrue Holliday and Evan Turner.

    Philadelphia could be much higher than this if they can get the right pieces in return for those guys, but as of now, I'm saying they won't be much better than the 27-win team from a year ago.

23. Los Angeles Clippers

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 24:  Rasual Butler #45 of the Los Angeles Clippers is congratulated by Baron Davis #1 after scoring a basket in the closing minutes of the second half against the Detroit Pistons at Staples Center on February 24, 2010 in Los Ang
    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    2009-2010 Record: 29-53

    Key Additions: Al-Farouq Aminu (Draft), Eric Bledsoe (Draft), Randy Foye (Washington), Blake Griffin (Injury)

    Key Losses: Drew Gooden (Milwaukee), Travis Outlaw (New Jersey), Steve Blake (Lakers)


    The whole NBA is waiting for the Clippers to take a step forward, but it won't be this season.

    Losing veteran players and replacing them with youngsters generally means growing pains for a team.

    Hey, that's nothing new for the Clippers.

    They will be getting the high-flying No. 1 overall pick in the draft from last season back in Blake Griffin.

    And they did add Randy Foye and Ryan Gomes to provide veteran scoring on the wing.

    But when you aren't sure how Griffin's knee is going to hold up, and your next line in defense after starting point guard Baron Davis is a guy who barely played in college (Eric Bledsoe), this team is one injury away from fighting Minnesota for worst in the league.

    Now there is an upside for the Clippers this season.

    Starting shooting guard Eric Gordon looked good for team U.S.A, and they finally have a big name to keep their team on the map at the Staples Center in Blake Griffin.

    I think this team will have its ups and downs this season, but will learn a lot and contend for the playoffs in 2011-2012.

22. Detroit Pistons

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    BOSTON - MARCH 15:  Tayshaun Prince #22 of the Detroit Pistons takes a shot as Paul Pierce #34 of the Boston Celtics defends on March 15, 2010 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downlo
    Elsa/Getty Images

    2009-2010 Record: 27-55

    Key Additions: Greg Monroe (Draft), Tracy McGrady (New York), Terrico White (Draft)

    Key Losses: Kwame Brown (Charlotte)


    Detroit Pistons' fans are probably thinking this is their chance to take back the Central Division from the Cleveland Cavaliers.

    I'm sorry, but that won't happen this season.

    Sure, the Cavaliers won't win the division after losing LeBron James, but the Pistons are no closer to winning the division this season than last.

    They are still stuck between their championship team of a few years ago, and the rebuild they should have started after trading Chauncey Billups.

    Veterans Richard Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince are blocking Ben Gordon's big contract and Austin Daye.

    Charlie Villanueva's soft game is blocking rookie Greg Monroe and Jonas Jerebko's progressions.

    And blast from the past Ben Wallace is their starting center.

    Someone send Joe Dumars a tweet, an email, or a Facebook message and let him know that you have to pick a direction for your franchise.

    And just to make matters worse, they are bringing in Tracy McGrady to help him recreate his career.

    Hopefully Dumars finds a taker for Hamilton, Prince, and Villanueva fast, or else the Pistons could be in for a long season of losing, and no progression for their youngsters.

21. New Orleans Hornets

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    NEW ORLEANS - MARCH 31:  (EDITORS NOTE: Image was created using a variable planed lens) Chris Paul #3 of the New Orleans Hornets shoots the ball over Shaun Livingston #2 of the Washington Wizards at New Orleans Arena on March 31, 2010 in New Orleans, Loui
    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    2009-2010 Record: 37-45

    Key Additions: Quincy Pondexter (Draft), Trevor Ariza (Houston), Marco Belinelli (Toronto), Willie Green (Philadelphia)

    Key Losses: Darren Collison (Indiana), Morris Peterson (Oklahoma City), James Posey (Indiana), Julian Wright (Toronto)


    For an organization committed to keeping Chris Paul in New Orleans, they sure do have a funny way of showing it.

    They traded emerging rookie star Darren Collison to the Pacers in a three way deal that brought them swing-man Trevor Ariza, and threw in three-point James Posey to make the salary figures work.

    Then today they traded rookie big man Craig Brackins and veteran power forward Darius Songalia to Philadelphia for shooting guard Willie Green and fourth-string power forward Jason Smith.

    Now they have absolutely zero insurance behind All-Star David West, no veteran depth after Peja Stojakovic (whom they are shopping in a trade), and no appeal to Chris Paul.

    Not to mention they have very little cap flexibility with Emeka Okafor's massive contract for the next four seasons.

    Even with all of those negatives, I couldn't bring myself to put the Hornets too low because they do have a healthy Chris Paul, and he can win games by himself.

    But if they trade Peja for a box of rocks and a future draft pick, I just may have to lower them a spot or two.

20. Golden State Warriors

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    MINNEAPOLIS, MN - APRIL 7: Darko Milicic #31 of the Minnesota Timberwolves guards against Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors in the second half of a basketball game at Target Center on April 7, 2010 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Warriors defe
    Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

    2009-2010 Record: 26-56

    Key Additions: David Lee (New York), Charlie Bell (Milwaukee), Louis Amundson (Phoenix), Ekpe Udoh (Draft)

    Key Losses: Kelenna Azubuike (New York), Corey Maggette (Milwaukee), Anthony Morrow (New Jersey), Anthony Randolph (New York), Ronny Turiaf (New York)


    If I wouldn't have finished these power rankings yesterday, I may have dropped the Warriors two spots just for letting Coach Don Nelson go today.

    The Warriors basically gutted their team in the off-season, leaving only Stephen Curry, Monta Ellis, and Andris Biedrins as the recognizable names after the dust settled.

    I'm not sure if the Warriors will be trying to build a slower offense around the newly acquired David Lee, but this team looks like it has a lot of question marks moving forward.

    They essentially have no depth after dealing some of their more veteran players in order to acquire David Lee.

    And they have to integrate seven new players into their rotation, while deciding whether they want to "run and gun" or slow it down.

    Let's just hope the Curry-Ellis-Lee-Biedrins group can put up enough points to last when they get their breaks on the bench.

19. Indiana Pacers

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    CHICAGO - FEBRUARY 24: Danny Granger #33 of the Indiana Pacers drives to the basket between Kirk Hinrich #12 and James Johnson #16 of the Chicago Bulls at the United Center on February 24, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bulls defeated the Pacers 120-110.
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    2009-2010 Record: 32-50

    Key Additions: Paul George (Draft), Darren Collison (New Orleans), James Posey (New Orleans)

    Key Losses: Troy Murphy (New Jersey), Earl Watson (Utah)


    Finally!

    The Indiana Pacers have a starting point guard they can commit to.

    Acquiring Darren Collison solved a lot of problems for the Indiana Pacers, and they even got veteran James Posey as a salary cap filler in the deal.

    But here's the problem: they have no starting power forward.

    In order to acquire Collison, the Pacers gave up Troy Murphy and his walking double-double tendencies.

    There's an old saying that you don't trade a big for a little, and that's just what the Pacers did in this deal.

    I know it was hard to pass up on a point guard of Collison's impressive rookie season and upside, but Indiana now put the starting power forward duties in the hands of Josh McRoberts and Tyler Hansbrough.

    Not to mention, it means teams can now focus more attention on the game's most underrated superstar: Danny Granger.

    The Pacers will have a potent duo in Collison and Granger, but just may have a few problems when it comes to scoring in the post.

18. Cleveland Cavaliers

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    BOSTON - MAY 13:  Glen Davis #11 of the Boston Celtics is called for a loose ball foul on this play as Anderson Varejao #17 of the Cleveland Cavaliers falls to the floor during Game Six of the Eastern Conference Semifinals of the 2010 NBA playoffs at TD G
    Elsa/Getty Images

    2009-2010 Record: 61-21

    Key Additions: Ramon Sessions (Minnesota), Christian Eyenga (2009 Draft), Joey Graham (Denver), Ryan Hollins (Minnesota)

    Key Losses: LeBron James (Miami), Zydrunas Ilgauskas (Miami), Shaquille O'Neal (Boston), Delonte West (Boston)


    Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

    At the end of the last regular season, the Cavaliers were No. 1 in the power rankings and eying an NBA Championship.

    After an early exit to Boston, the Cavaliers faced a summer of uncertainty with their franchise player LeBron James.

    And as we all know, he "took his talents" to South Beach.

    LeBron transformed the franchise, built a basketball brand in Cleveland, and the loss of these things will be tough to come back from.

    But the Cavaliers won't fall to the bottom of the league thanks to a core of veterans that was built around LeBron.

    Antawn Jamison knows how to score on teams without a superstar, and Mo Williams is much better than people think.

    Add in one of the game's best defenders in Anderson Varejao, young, budding star J.J. Hickson, and veteran three point assassins Daniel Gibson and Anthony Parker: and the Cavaliers will be much better than people think next season.

    The team's biggest problem is at the small forward position, where they go from having the most unstoppable player in the league to a huge question mark.

    Welcome to a new era, Cleveland; hopefully new coach Byron Scott can get this thing figured out before it gets ugly.

17. New York Knicks

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 14:  Amar'e Stoudemire of the New York Knicks poses in press room during the 2010 ESPY Awards at Nokia Theatre L.A. Live on July 14, 2010 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images)
    Jason Merritt/Getty Images

    2009-2010 Record: 29-53

    Key Additions: Amar'e Stoudemire (Phoenix), Raymond Felton (Charlotte), Ronny Turiaf (Golden State), Kelenna Azubuike (Golden State), Anthony Randolph (Golden State)

    Key Losses: Chris Duhon (Orlando), Al Harrington (Denver), Tracy McGrady (Detroit), David Lee (Golden State)


    Welcome back to NBA relevancy, New York.

    No, you did not get LeBron James or Chris Bosh.

    And you haven't acquired Carmelo Anthony or Chris Paul....yet.

    But your team underwent one of the top three facelifts of the NBA off-season, and in a good way.

    The Knicks made one of the most underrated moves of the off-season in prying Raymond Felton away from the Bobcats.

    Felton was the catalyst in that Charlotte team last season, and you will see how much he meant to them this season.

    Add youngster Anthony Randolph, who has been waiting for his chance to get out of Golden State and shine, and some All-Star by the name of Amar'e and you have a team ready to fight for the playoffs.

    Not to mention the fact that the Knicks added depth to their bench through the draft and trades.

    Now only if they could find a way to snag a certain former Syracuse star from Denver so I could elevate them much higher than this.

16. Memphis Grizzlies

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    BOSTON - MARCH 10:  O.J. Mayo #32 of the Memphis Grizzlies celebrates his three point shot in the second half against the Boston Celtics  on March 10, 2010 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. The Grizzlies defeated the Celtics 111-91. NOTE TO USER:
    Elsa/Getty Images

    2009-2010 Record: 40-42

    Key Additions: Xavier Henry (Draft), Greivis Vasquez (Draft), Tony Allen (Boston)

    Key Losses: Ronnie Brewer (Chicago)


    Remember how the Oklahoma City Thunder finally burst onto the playoff scene in the west last season?

    That could be the Grizzlies this year.

    If you can add, you will be able to see in a little bit that I have Memphis as the No. 10 team in the west right now, but if this group progresses like they have been: it could be much higher in a few months.

    Memphis has a solid, young core of O.J. Mayo, Rudy Gay, Mike Conley, Marc Gasol, and Hasheem Thabeet.

    And they also have former problem child turned silent assassin in Zach Randolph.

    I know we are used to Z-Bo's outbursts and league problems, but did you know he averaged 21 points and 11 rebounds last season?

    It seems that Zach has finally figured things out in the NBA, and that's a great thing for a team that needs veteran leadership.

    Add in Tony Allen's championship experience from the Celtics, and two rookies ready to contribute, and things could be looking really good in Memphis this year.

15. Phoenix Suns

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    PHOENIX - MAY 29:  Steve Nash #13 of the Phoenix Suns puts up a shot during Game Six of the Western Conference finals of the 2010 NBA Playoffs against the Los Angeles Lakers at US Airways Center on May 29, 2010 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Lakers defeated the
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    2009-2010 Record: 54-28

    Key Additions: Hedo Turkoglu (Toronto), Josh Childress (Atlanta/Greece), Hakim Warrick (Chicago)

    Key Losses: Amar'e Stoudemire (New York), Leandro Barbosa (Toronto), Louis Amundson (Golden State)


    The 2010-2011 NBA season will finally answer the question many people have wondered for years.

    Did Steve Nash make Amar'e Stoudemire look good, or did Amar'e make Nash look good?

    The divorce that has been in the works for two seasons finally came to fruition this off-season when Amar'e left for the Big Apple.

    And it seems that the Phoenix Suns aren't too worried about losing him.

    Instead of panicking and attempting to grab a big name to pair with Nash, the Suns are taking the power forward by committee approach.

    They acquired Hakim Warrick, re-signed Channing Frye, and have Earl Clark to rotate in at the position.

    They also took a chance on former Orlando stand-out Hedo Turkoglu after a very poor season spent north of the border.

    The Suns should still make the playoffs under the direction of Nash, and could even surprise a few people if Hedo and Josh Childress can make a big impact.

14. Milwaukee Bucks

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    ATLANTA - MAY 2:  Guard Brandon Jennings #3 of the Milwaukee Bucks gets set to shoot a free throw during Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Atlanta Hawks during the 2010 NBA Playoffs at Philips Arena on
    Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

    2009-2010 Record: 46-36

    Key Additions: Larry Sanders (Draft), Drew Gooden (Clippers), Corey Maggette (Golden State), Jon Brockman (Sacramento)

    Key Losses: Luke Ridnour (Minnesota), Charlie Bell (Golden State), Dan Gadzuric (Golden State), Kurt Thomas (Chicago)


    After an impressive first playoff impression under rookie Brandon Jennings last season, the Milwaukee Bucks are determined to become that sixth "lock" in the Eastern Conference.

    After re-signing their late-season catalyst John Salmons, the Bucks only added to their depth by acquiring Drew Gooden, Corey Maggette, and Jon Brockman.

    Not to mention they went out and got my dark horse rookie of the year candidate in Larry Sanders from VCU.

    Things are looking bright in Milwaukee as the Cavaliers get ready for their transition period in Cleveland.

    However, there is one thing that could deter Milwaukee from their "lock" playoff spot.

    The injury bug.

    The Bucks will be depending on big contributions from players who have a history of injuries.

    Corey Maggette, Andrew Bogut, Drew Gooden, and Michael Redd have all spent extended periods of time out with injuries over the last few seasons.

    The Bucks are counting on these guys (maybe not Redd) to be in there day in and day out in their run to the playoffs.

    An injury to one or two of these guys could spoil the Bucks run, and let's not mention what would happen if Jennings went down.....

13. Houston Rockets

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 06:  Kyle Lowry #7 of the Houston Rockets drives by Sasha Vujacic #18 and Andrew Bynum #17 of the Los Angeles Lakers using a screen by Yao Ming #11 of the Rockets in Game Two of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2009 NBA P
    Harry How/Getty Images

    2009-2010 Record: 42-40

    Key Additions: Patrick Patterson (Draft), Brad Miller (Chicago), Courtney Lee (New Jersey), Yao Ming (Injury)

    Key Losses: Trevor Ariza (New Orleans), David Anderson (Toronto)


    Look out Western Conference, a 7'6" impact player is coming to a basketball court near you.

    The Houston Rockets will be better than ever with Yao Ming returning this season, even if it is only for 24 minutes per game.

    Yao is the type of presence down low that alters shots, game plans, and playoff entrants.

    Without Yao last season, the Rockets still banged out 42 wins.

    With Yao, you can probably increase this number to 50-54.

    Add in the growth of Aaron Brooks, a full year of Kevin Martin, more depth in the forms of Courtney Lee and Brad Miller and you have a group poised for a playoff run.

    Oh, and did I hear they are trying to get Carmelo Anthony from the Nuggets?

    A basketball team could be taking flight this season in the Lonestar State, and that team is the Houston Rockets.

12. Denver Nuggets

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    SALT LAKE CITY - APRIL 30:  Carmelo Anthony #15 of the Denver Nuggets stands on the court during their game against the Utah Jazz in Game Six of the Western Conference Quarterfinals of the 2010 NBA Playoffs at EnergySolutions Arena on April 30, 2010 in Sa
    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    2009-2010 Record: 53-29

    Key Additions: Al Harrington (New York), Shelden Williams (Boston)

    Key Losses: Joey Graham (Cleveland), Linas Kleiza (Toronto), Johan Petro (New Jersey)


    If I could put a huge asterisk on this page, I would.

    The Denver Nuggets as the No. 12 team is entirely dependent on whether Carmelo Anthony is wearing that uniform come opening day.

    If Carmelo Anthony is traded, the Nuggets will probably fall way out of playoff contention unless they get a big package back for him.

    Right now, it doesn't look good for Denver, as Anthony's camp has stated they would like him traded before the season begins.

    But if Carmelo does stay in Denver, the Nuggets have a solid group ready for a playoff run.

    But that's a big if, and until something happens, all I can say is stay tuned...

11. Chicago Bulls

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    CLEVELAND - APRIL 27:  Derrick Rose #1 and Luol Deng #9 of the Chicago Bulls react late in the game while playing the Cleveland Cavaliers during Game Five of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2010 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on April
    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    2009-2010 Record: 41-41

    Key Additions: Carlos Boozer (Utah), Kyle Korver (Utah), Ronnie Brewer (Memphis), C.J. Watson (Golden State)

    Key Losses: Kirk Hinrich (Washington), Hakim Warrick (Phoenix), Brad Miller (Houston)


    I can guarantee this will be one of the most complained about rankings in this list.

    So many people are ready to put the Chicago Bulls at the top of the Eastern Conference after the fall of the Cleveland Cavaliers and the acquisition of Carlos Boozer.

    I hate to break it to you, but the Bulls aren't quite there yet.

    Obviously, like so many other teams, their ranking will go higher if they acquire Carmelo Anthony.

    But the team didn't get the "big name" they were looking to with all that cap room this off-season.

    They missed out on LeBron and Bosh, and couldn't lure Dwyane Wade out of Miami.

    Instead, they settled for Carlos Boozer's 20 points and 11 rebounds per game.

    Now don't get me wrong, I like Carlos Boozer.

    I'm still salty from when he left Cleveland all those years ago, but there's a glaring problem.

    Boozer takes touches away from Joakim Noah, and the less rebounds and points that Noah scores will take away from his effectiveness.

    Yeah, he will still be the hustling, energy-filled player that he has always been, but it won't be the same as last year.

    Oh, and they Bulls still don't have a REAL starting shooting guard, they have a committee.

    Those two problems are exactly why the Chicago Bulls are sitting right where they belong at No. 11.

10. Utah Jazz

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    SALT LAKE CITY - MAY 10:  Deron Williams #8 of the Utah Jazz in action against the Los Angeles Lakers during Game Four of the Western Conference Semifinals of the 2010 NBA Playoffs on May 10, 2010 at Energy Solutions Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah. NOTE TO
    Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

    2009-2010 Record: 53-29

    Key Additions: Al Jefferson (Minnesota), Raja Bell (Golden State), Gordon Hayward (Draft)

    Key Losses: Carlos Boozer (Chicago), Kyle Korver (Chicago), Wesley Matthews (Portland)


    Normally when you lose a guy that averages 20 points and 11 rebounds per game your team is in trouble.

    Not when you are the Utah Jazz.

    Instead, you replace him with a younger guy that averages 17 points and 9 rebounds per game whose numbers will only go up playing alongside one of the best point guards in the game in Deron Williams.

    The Al Jefferson-for-Kosta Koufos and future draft picks move was probably the biggest steal of all this off-season.

    I know Jefferson has had conditioning problems, but word on the street is he is a new man since joining the Jazz.

    I guess when you go from a cellar team to a playoff team you get motivated.

    Add in the scoring abilities of rookie Gordon Hayward, and the increased playing time for Paul Millsap and the Jazz are going to be a lethal team this season.

9. San Antonio Spurs

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    SAN ANTONIO - MAY 07:  Tim Duncan #21 of the San Antonio Spurs in Game Three of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2010 NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center on May 7, 2010 in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that,
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    2009-2010 Record: 50-32

    Key Additions: Tiago Splitter (2007 Draft), James Anderson (Draft)

    Key Losses: Roger Mason (New York), Keith Bogans (Chicago)


    Every year is supposed to be the year that Tim Duncan and San Antonio fade away from the playoffs.

    And then something happens.

    The core of Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and Tim Duncan take over.

    And then those diamonds in the rough that the Spurs front office stole in the draft begin to shine.

    Last season it was DeJuan Blair and George Hill, this season it will be Tiago Splitter and James Anderson.

    The Spurs are that team that won't go away, and that's not changing this season.

    Tiago Splitter will provide the post presence that will take pressure off Tim Duncan and allow him to get breaks.

    If you look at what George Hill did for Tony Parker, multiple that times three if you want to know what the acquisition of Splitter will do for Duncan's longevity over the course of the season.

    And don't overlook rookie James Anderson, that kid can score at will and will be scary when left alone on the outside.

8. Atlanta Hawks

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    ATLANTA - MAY 08:  Joe Johnson #2 of the Atlanta Hawks against the Orlando Magic during Game Three of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2010 NBA Playoffs at Philips Arena on May 8, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowl
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    2009-2010 Record: 53-29

    Key Additions: Jordan Crawford (Draft), Josh Powell (Lakers), Etan Thomas (Oklahoma City)

    Key Losses: Joe Smith (New Jersey)


    In the summer of LeBron, Bosh, and Wade, it was Joe Johnson that scored the biggest contract.

    Whether it was the Atlanta Hawks way of telling the league "we aren't going anywhere," or it was an overreaction to the pending super team in Miami: the Hawks kept a good thing in tact.

    Atlanta won 53 games last season before being embarrassed by the Orlando Magic in the playoffs.

    Joe Johnson disappeared, but has vowed to not let that happen again.

    But overall, the young core of this team has not changed, which is why the Hawks are not going any where any time soon.

    One thing they needed to address was getting big men capable of putting a body on Dwight Howard.

    This is why they went out and got Josh Powell and Etan Thomas, who will be primarily used to slow down Mr. Howard.

    They aren't Shaq, but they will do.

    Expect pretty much the same regular season from Atlanta, with hopefully better results in the playoffs.

7. Portland Trail Blazers

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    PORTLAND, OR - APRIL 29:  Brandon Roy #7 of the Portland Trail Blazers in action against Jason Richardson #23 of the Phoenix Suns during Game Six of the Western Conference Quarterfinals of the NBA Playoffs on April 29, 2010 at the Rose Garden in Portland,
    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    2009-2010 Record: 50-32

    Key Additions: Wesley Johnson (Utah), Luke Babbitt (Draft), Elliot Williams (Draft)

    Key Losses: Martell Webster (Minnesota), Juwan Howard (Miami), Travis Diener (Italy)


    A healthy Brandon Roy, the return of Greg Oden, and the addition of Wesley Matthews have the Trail Blazers ready for another playoff run.

    The only problem is that Rudy Fernandez is threatening to not play and nobody has a clue how many games Greg Oden will last in this attempt at a season.

    Those two question marks are the only negatives that mare a possible breakout season for superstar Brandon Roy.

    If Greg Oden can become the impact player that people have expected since he dominated at Ohio State, Roy and the Trailblazers could challenge the Lakers on their quest for a three-peat.

    But until we see Oden playing regularly, I'm going to leave the Blazers right here at No. 7 for their fearless leader, Brandon Roy.

6. Oklahoma City Thunder

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    LAS VEGAS - JULY 24:  Kevin Durant #5 of the 2010 USA Basketball Men's National Team holds up a Tiffany & Co. player-of-the-game cup after a USA Basketball showcase at the Thomas & Mack Center on July 24, 2010 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Ethan Miller
    Ethan Miller/Getty Images

    2009-2010 Record: 50-32

    Key Additions: Cole Aldrich (Draft), Morris Peterson (New Orleans), Daequan Cook (Miami)

    Key Losses: Etan Thomas (Atlanta), Mustafa Shakur (New Orleans), Kyle Weaver


    How does the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference playoffs end up at No. 6 on my power rankings?

    Kevin Durant.

    Well okay, it's more than just Durant, but mostly him.

    Fresh off his world dominance at the FIBA Championships, Durant and his boys are poised for a big 2010-2011 season.

    His young core is a little bit older and more experienced after that thrilling six-game series against the Lakers.

    And they went out and addressed their need for scorers/shooters off the bench by snagging Cook and Peterson in the off-season.

    Not to mention they traded for rookie Cole Adlrich to add more front-court presence next to Jeff Green and Nenad Kristic.

    Oh and did I forget to tell you that they have one of the best up and coming point guards in Russell Westbrook and second year man James Harden is about to have a breakout season?

    Yeah, things are looking good for Oklahoma City, and I have a feeling they won't be seeing the Lakers until the second or third round of this year's playoffs.

5. Orlando Magic

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    BOSTON - MAY 28:  Dwight Howard of the Orlando Magic looks on against the Boston Celtics in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2010 NBA Playoffs at TD Garden on May 28, 2010 in Boston, Massachusetts.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowl
    Jim Rogash/Getty Images

    2009-2010 Record: 59-23

    Key Additions: Chris Duhon (New York), Quentin Richardson (Miami), Malik Allen (Denver)

    Key Losses: Matt Barnes (Lakers), Adonal Foyle (Retirement)


    People seem to believe that Orlando's "window" has closed.

    No offense, but these people are idiots.

    They have the best center in the world in Dwight Howard, who is only 24 years old.

    They have an All-Star caliber point guard in Jameer Nelson and a starting caliber one backing him up in Chris Duhon.

    They have former superstar Vince Carter who is still able to give you 16 points per night, and they have Rashard Lewis creating mismatches for teams all over the league.

    Oh, and they have one of the deepest benches that features J.J. Redick, Marcin Gortat, Ryan Anderson, and many others.

    No, the window has not closed in Orlando, it's not even close to being on the way down.

    As long as Dwight Howard is wearing a Magic uniform, this team will be a title contender every year.

    What's that I heard about Carmelo Anthony looking good in a Magic uniform?

    If that trade happens, I'm moving to Florida and getting a place directly in between Miami and Orlando so that I can watch LeBron, Wade, Bosh, Anthony, and Howard any time that I want and not have the boredom of it being the All-Star game.

4. Boston Celtics

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 17:  Rajon Rondo #9 of the Boston Celtics moves the ball while taking on the Los Angeles Lakers in Game Seven of the 2010 NBA Finals at Staples Center on June 17, 2010 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknow
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    2009-2010 Record: 50-32

    Key Additions: Shaquille O'Neal (Cleveland), Jermaine O'Neal (Miami), Avery Bradley (Draft)

    Key Losses: Tony Allen (Memphis), Shelden Williams (Denver), Rasheed Wallace (Retirement)


    When I think of all the people who doubt the Boston Celtics every year that Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett get older I only think of one thing.

    That song "All I do is win."

    Okay, well they fell short of winning a championship to the Lakers, but this team just wins when it counts.

    During the regular season they did enough to guarantee them the No. 4 seed in the east by winning their division.

    And then they turned up the defense and strangled Eastern Conference teams to death in the playoffs.

    I know the "big three" is getting older, but this year they added depth and youth to that age.

    Delonte West, Shaq, Jermaine O'Neal, Von Wafer, and rookie Avery Bradley will provide enough depth options for the "big three" to get rest during the regular season.

    And rest is the key to their playoff runs.

    Don't let the South Beach Super Team fool you, the Boston Celtics are still alive and well when you are talking about the NBA Championship.

3. Dallas Mavericks

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    SAN ANTONIO - APRIL 29:  Dirk Nowitzki #41 of the Dallas Mavericks in Game Six of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2010 NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center on April 29, 2010 in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agree
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    2009-2010 Record: 55-27

    Key Additions: Tyson Chandler (Charlotte), Dominique Jones (Draft), Alexis Ajinca (Charlotte)

    Key Losses: Matt Carroll (Charlotte), Erick Dampier (Charlotte), Eduardo Najera (Charlotte)


    After winning 55 games a season ago, I am expecting big things out of this Dallas team.

    I was reading an article that said the Mavericks are over the hill and on their way down this season.

    Um, how?

    The Mavericks have now had more time to integrate mid-season acquisitions Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood into their rotation.

    They got a high-flying scoring rookie in Dominique Jones in the draft.

    And they have perennial sixth man candidate Jason Terry still coming off the bench.

    I think I'm forgetting something.......

    Oh, they do have NBA superstars Jason Kidd and Dirk Nowitzki leading their team as well.

    On their way down? Let's be serious!

    This team has the depth, the experience, and the scoring options to contend with the Lakers night in and night out.

    Not to mention they have the right guys to match-up against any and every team in this league.

    No, the Mavericks are not going anywhere this season, unless you count a possible trip to the NBA Finals as going somewhere.

2. Miami Heat

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    MIAMI - JULY 09:   LeBron James #6, Dwyane Wade #3 and Chris Bosh #1 of the Miami Heat speak after being introduced to fans during a welcome party at American Airlines Arena on July 9, 2010 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)
    Doug Benc/Getty Images

    2009-2010 Record: 47-35

    Key Additions: LeBron James (Cleveland), Chris Bosh (Toronto), Mike Miller (Washington), Zydrunas Ilgauskas (Cleveland),

    Key Losses: Jermaine O'Neal (Boston), Quentin Richardson (Orlando), Michael Beasley (Minnesota), Daequan Cook (Oklahoma City)


    I remember going into the summer of 2010 thinking that the Miami Heat were gambling with their franchise's future.

    As Pat Riley will tell you in his upcoming book "He Had No Plan B."

    The Miami Heat went all in for the opportunity of keeping their superstar franchise player Dwyane Wade, and came out of the pot winning the new "big three."

    And this "big three" is much larger than what Boston got a couple years back.

    The Miami Heat remade their franchise, changed the landscape of the NBA, and created a possible new trend in the NBA in one off-season.

    Gone are the days of D-Wade having no options to dish the ball off to; he may just have too many options.

    The Miami Heat have the star power, the outer-worldly talent, the veteran leadership, and the right coach to manage it all.

    And the only reason this team is not No. 1 in the power rankings is because the Lakers still have Kobe Bryant.

    This Heat team will have a lot to prove this coming season.

    Anything short of winning an NBA Championship is a failure for this squad after everything that had to happen to have this team.

    The Heat also loaded up on veterans and rookies this off-season, because after the trades it took to give LeBron and Bosh more money: they won't have a meaningful draft pick for a while.

    The Heat are the new top dogs in the Eastern Conference, now let's see how they handle the big target on their back.

1. Los Angeles Lakers

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 21:  Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant (L) waves to the crowd while riding in the victory parade for the the NBA basketball champion team on June 21, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. The Lakers beat the Boston Celtics 87-79 in 7
    Noel Vasquez/Getty Images

    2009-2010 Record: 57-25

    Key Additions: Matt Barnes (Orlando), Steve Blake (Clippers), Theo Ratliff (Charlotte)

    Key Losses: Jordan Farmar (New Jersey), Adam Morrison (Washington), Josh Powell (Atlanta)


    Winning one NBA Championship is tough, winning back-to-back is even tougher, and attempting to accomplish a three-peat: nearly impossible.

    This is the task that the Los Angeles Lakers have ahead of them going into the season.

    And their front office didn't waste much time bulking up for the long haul through the additions of veterans Matt Barnes, Steve Blake, and Theo Ratliff.

    For a team with limited cap flexibility, the Lakers did an excellent job responding to the loss of Jordan Farmar, while keeping their strong, deep team intact.

    The Lakers are the team to beat in the NBA until further notice or Kobe Bryant leaves the team.

    If anyone can handle the task of defeating LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade's Miami Heat it is Kobe Bryant and his Lakers.

    The Lakers hold the advantage of experience playing together, everyone knowing their roles, and those back-to-back shiny rings on their fingers.

    The Miami Heat will challenge the Lakers this season for the top spot in the power rankings, and they might take it over at some point.

    But when it comes to winning championships, you have to beat the best to be considered the best.

    And until someone dethrones Kobe and the Lakers, they are my No. 1.

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