The economic crisis has brought a sort of a different look to the league this year, making it clear which teams are trying to compete and which teams are cutting costs. You know the teams at the top (Magic, Lakers, Spurs, Celtics and Cavs), because they've had the money to sign or trade for players, while the other end features the teams that willingly gave up their good players to save money (Bucks, Nets, Minnesota, Sacramento).
1. Orlando Magic- After coming 3 games away from a NBA championship the Magic made a commitment to staying at the top. The loss of Hedo Turkoglu is going to hurt because he was arguably the team's best playmaker and clutch performer, but Vince Carter will bring a lot of new skills to the team. He's a capable shooter who will stop opponents from doubling Dwight Howard, and can be isolated for late game scoring. The Magic are also bringing back Marcin Gortat, who plays well when Howard goes to the bench, and added PF Brandon Bass as a bruiser and rebounder who can also help Rashard Lewis move back to his more traditional 3 spot. The biggest steal though maybe Ryan Anderson who has impressed in summer league with his scoring and ability to hit the 3 ball.
2. Los Angeles Lakers- The Lakers would easily be at the top of this ranking if they are able to re-sign Lamar Odom. The team last year was fillied with the right stars (Kobe and Pau), and right complement players (Fisher and Ariza), and Odom is surely needed to be the glue guy between those players because he does everything else. The Artest signing is great in bringing a All League Defense player to throw at opponents best scorer and getting down on the post, but he won't be as willing as Ariza was to wait for the ball to find him and will probably take a bunch of unwarranted jumpshots.
3. San Antonio Spurs- Last year we were all unsure what was going to happen to the Spurs. They had previously won a champship every odd year for the last decade, but were bounced from the first round with big injuries to Ginobli and other key players. But this off season they made it clear they want to win while Duncan is around and they made some great transactions. The first was trading old and declining role players Bowen, Kurt Thomas, and Oberto for a scorer and athlete (when not injured) Richard Jefferson. Jefferson will fit in fine defensively, but he provides a necessary 3rd-4th option that the team lacked as they looked like they struggled to average the 97 points a game they did. Dejuan Blair was the steal of the draft at the 37th pick, and adding veteran Antonio Mcdyess solidifies a strong rotation for the team.
4. Boston Celtics- The 2008 NBA Championships came on strong to defend their title this past year, but an injury to Kevin Garnett was the game changer. The team is still ridiculously good and stacked with All Stars, but even the addition of Rasheed Wallace shows how old this team has gotten. Rasheed will be an upgrade to the leaving Davis and/or Powe especially with his ability to spread the floor with his 3pt shooting. In his introduction conference it seems Wallace is ready to keep his cool and be a role player (or even come off the bench) in order to win a ring. I think this is the team's last chance to win a ring and it all depends on how they mesh, and if athletic teams will continue to destroy them.
5. Cleveland Cavaliers- The Big Diesel, Superman, Big Aristotle, The Shaqtus...what now... ShOHIO? I think depending on how Shaq fits into this team, this team is championship calibur. Shaq can still hold his own in the paint and would have been the difference in containing Dwight Howard and preventing Lebron from jacking threes, and charging the paint for a turnover. On the flip side, how does Shaq fit in with Ilkauskas the jumpshooting 7'3 Center, and will his age show even more limited mobility. There are a lot of questions, but Shaq's done it with Kobe, he's done it with Wade, now he could do it with Lebron.
6. Denver Nuggets- With Chauncy Billups running the show the Nuggets became a championship contending team. With the addition of 4 year point gaurd Ty Lawson the Nuggets point position is set, but the loss of Dahntay Jones and unsigned status of Chris Anderson show me the intangibles maybe lacking from the team this next year. Losing Kleiza as well would decimate their bench productivity.
7. Dallas Mavericks- When you make big moves in the offseason you get rewarded with high rankings on predictions like this. We're not sure how Shawn Marion will actually fit in with Rick Carlise's system, but this is an athelete who can rebound well and run the fast break. The 3 year deal for Jason Kidd was a wise move for a hall of famer, and I think with him and Jason Terry pushing the ball Marion can thrive once again. The question remainging is the soft front line, that even if Gortat was signed, still wouldn't have fixed.
8. Detroit Pistons- The Detroit Pistons promised to make a splash this offseason with their capspace and proved it by going out and signing Ben Gordon and Charlie Vilanueva to 5 year contracts almost immediately. It's not 2004 NBA championship team, nor is it the Bad Boys, but there is a lot of talent when you also add in Stuckey, Hamilton and Prince. Austin Daye and Dajuan Summers have also shown they can contribute in Summer League, so the big issue is the Pistons needing to strengthen their frontline.
9. Portland Trailblazers- Because of Darius Miles' contract going back on their books Portland has room to sign just one marquee free agent this summer. Even though Milsap was matched, they'll still look to make a play at a PG or SF who can give them a strong chance of being a contender. This young team is getting older (together), and that's what makes them a potential threat this year.
10. Washington Wizards- How does the 2nd worst team in the league get into the top third of the league? The answer is Gilbert Arenas and trading their number 5 pick. The Wizards have been lost at the point position since Arenas went down, so having him back and great shooters Foye and Miller is what makes the big difference. This is probably the last oppurtunity for these guys to compete because of the age of their big 3.
11. Atlanta Hawks- Everyone important has returned under reasonable contracts, with the exception of Zaza Pachulia's contract, and ball handler/score Jamal Crawford has been added for backcourt depth. This team still lacks a solid low post threat, so I could definetely see a trade shipping out Josh Smith later this season.
12. Toronto Raptors- Orlando Magic playmaker and clutch shooter joins super athletic rookie Demar DeRozan to a pretty strong starting lineup. However, questions still linger if Barnargni can put up 20/10 numbers like he did some of last season, and who on this weak bench will be able to contribute.
13. Utah Jazz- Boozer will be out the door soon, but the team hasn't really changed, spending the off-season to resign Memo and Milsap. This is the core for the Jazz for the long hual, but really isn't going to be enough if the owner is so reluctant to spend over the salary cap.
14. New Orleans Hornets- The Hornets are in a tricky situation where even a winning team didn't pack the seats in their arena. The Hornets don't look like they have the ability to make any moves other then hopefully dumping injured Tyson Chandler somewhere. But the rest of the team is getting older, in a bad way, while Chris Paul is hitting his prime, not a good combination.
15. Miami Heat- Beasley finally came into his own in the playoffs last season, while Mario Chalmers showed why he was a 2nd round steal. If Dwayne Wade plays like an MVP again this season, and Jermaine O'Neal stays healthy, this teams definetely remains to be a first round exit playoff team. Congratulations.
16. Chicago Bulls- The loss of Ben Gordon's clutch play will hurt a lot, but for the regular season John Salmons will be able to make up for that scoring loss. Loul Deng needs to play like he deserves his contract, and Kirk Hinrich needs to go somewhere else. The front court has a lot of talent and skills, just distributed throughout 3 different players.
17. Phoenix Suns- With Shaq gone, and Gentry coaching for a full season, there is hope the Suns can get back into their old Run and Gun success ways. Grant Hill is solid as a returnee, and J Rich can provide some of that old Marion athleticism. The only problem now is there's no Boris Diaw off the bench meaning Robin Lopez might be starting? Uh oh. If Amare's eye is healed though the pick and roll Amare dunkfest will again be impossible to stop.
18. Philadelphia 76ers- Eddie Jordan's winning ways may help return Elton Brand to the 20/10 player that the 6ers signed him to be. But with the steady hands of Andre Miller unlikely to return it's unclear how well Jrue Holiday and Lou Williams will fair handling the playmaking duties.
19. Golden State Warriors- What does Don Nelson plus a team of undersized wings and scorers equal? A fast paced team that will lead the league and scoring, and in mediorcrity. The no defense type of play is far from flawless, and will be especially destructive if Curry and Ellis are sharing the backcourt at the same time.
20. Los Angeles Clippers- With two good moves this offseason, adding ready to contribute Blake Griffin, and getting rid of cancer Zach Randolph, the Clippers have definetely upgraded. The question is can Baron learn to play with Dunleavy Senior's style this season, or will Donald Sterling's wishes for Allen Iverson be the solution. This team has loads of great young talent, and loads of ready to move on veterans.
21. Houston Rockets- Two key cogs, Yao and Artest won't be playing in red this season, one because of injury and the other beacuse he signed with the Lakers. This leaves a team of solid role players and often injured Tracy Mcgrady. There is a chance the team plays well with McGrady and the hustle players Landry, Scola and Battier, but then again there is also a chance we get out of this economic recession soon. Uh, maybe not.
22. Indiana Pacers- Tyler Hansbrough could be the next Troy Murphy, and Roy Hibbert could be a solid player as well. However, no Mike Dunleavy, a shaky point guard situation, and still developing Brandon Rush means another frustrating season for Danny Granger. At the very least he'll have a chance to make the all-star team again.
23. Charlotte Bobcats- DJ Augustine may be promoted if Felton is not resigned, but the additions of Bell and Diaw really helped the team play better at the end of last season. Adding Okafor and Wallace into the mix rounds off a balanced, but not particularly good, team.
24. Memphis Grizzlies- Conley's relieved he keeps his starting spot along solid scorers OJ Mayo and Rudy Gay, and surprisingly Zach Randolph finds a good place for him to contribute. Hamed Haddadi and Hasheem Thabeet will still work on finding their games, but the other four are good enough to figure out how to win some games.
25. Oklahoma City Thunder- Durantula, Westbrook, Harden make a young solid core, unfortunately none of them play in the front court. Nenad Kristic is solid but soft and Jeff Green is really playing out of position at the 4. This team will still be able to score with the players they have, but should still look for that Tyson Chandler type player they failed to get last season.
26. New York Knicks- With the addition of Jordan Hill to a possibly returning Eddy Curry, the Knicks will probably have the softest front court in the league (marshmallow soft). David Lee needs to be resigned if this team wants to have any chance of winning games, but luckily inefficient but loves to shoot Quentin Richardson is replaced by the young and unproven Gallinari.
27. Sacramento Kings- There are solid players at every position but the team is still too young. They will make a lot of mistakes, and have trouble playing solid defense with Spencer Hawes and Jason Thompson manning the paint. Tyreke Evans will look to be a beast and possible Rookie of the Year though, however questions still remain whether he'll be able to play point guard, and if the Kings should have went with Rubio.
28. Milwaukee Bucks- They lost scorers in Vilanueva and Jefferson, and gained young and solid players Jodie Meeks and Brandon Jennings. Unfortunately these guys are guards and will play behind Sessions (if resigned) and Redd, and not much has been done to make up for the losses at the forward spots. Mbah a Moute is a role player, and while Joe Alexander played well in summer league, but again it's still just summer league.
29. New Jersey Nets- Vince Carter was the final veteran starter that needed to leave this rebuilding team. Left behind is a young solid team led by stud Devin Harris. Unfortunately with Courtney Lee, Yi Jinlian, and Brook Lopez, there are too many young players that will need to come into their own for this team to even be mediocre.
30. Minnesota Timberwolves- David Kahn's made a splash alright, a splash into quicksand. The team drafted a bunch of guards to an already guard filled roster, leaving Al Jefferson and Kevin Love likely to play heavy unfufilling minutes in the front court. Jonny Flynn will be solid his first year out, but even if Ricky Rubio does come to play the team's still unlikely to make any noise, just like the seats in their arena.