1. San Antonio Spurs (last season's record: 62-20)
The Spurs' back-to-back NBA Finals runs were capped off with a Larry O'Brien trophy, so there's no reason to unseat them from the top just yet. Even with another year in the bucket for Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, that's another year for NBA Finals' Most Valuable Player Kawhi Leonard to develop.
More on the Spurs: Pounding the Rock
2. Los Angeles Clippers (last season's record: 57-25)
Doc Rivers, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and the Clippers get to put Donald Sterling behind them and set their sights on taking the Western Conference crown from San Antonio. Griffin's development is key to the Clippers' standing as a strong No. 2 to start the year. Rivers laid the foundation last season. Now, let's see if they can build upward.
The negatives: there's still a noticeable hole at small forward, and losing Darren Collison -- who did a good job of filling in for Paul last season -- hurts.
More on the Clippers: Clips Nation
3. Chicago Bulls (last season's record: 48-34)
The Eastern Conference's leading representative, for now, is the Chicago Bulls. Derrick Rose is back, Nikola Mirotic has finally arrived from overseas, Pau Gasol is chasing a ring in Chi-town and Carlos Boozer met the amnesty hammer. Chicago leads the way out East because it has more experience together as a group than ...
More on the Bulls: Blog a Bull
4. Cleveland Cavaliers (last season's record: 33-49)
It's easy to crown LeBron James, Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving and the Cavaliers as the best team in the East or even in the entire league, but let's give them a chance to get cooking first. The pizza's in the oven, but the dough is still .... well .... dough. Let it get golden and crispy. Besides, if LeBron's going to give the Bulls the nod for now, we'll do the same until proven otherwise.
More on the Cavaliers: Fear the Sword
5. Golden State Warriors (last season's record: 51-31)
The Warriors kept their core intact, placing belief in the flaming-hot hands of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. Steve Kerr steps in as a first-time coach, replacing Mark Jackson, and has a great opportunity in front of him with a team primed to burst through the West. Golden State has been together long enough to be ready to take the "next step" after a disappointing playoff exit last year. Let's see how they respond, and if Thompson earns himself that maximum contract he desires.
More on the Warriors: Golden State of Mind
6. Toronto Raptors (last season's record: 48-34)
The Raptors surprised many last season, putting the league on notice that basketball is brewing over the border. DeMar DeRozan burst onto the scene, putting up career-high numbers while managing Toronto's scoring load. Kyle Lowry has always been a talented all-around point guard, but he'd never put up numbers like he did last year. Lowry averaged 17.9 points, 7.4 assists and 4.7 rebounds while shooting 38 percent from beyond the arc, all career highs.
More on the Raptors: Raptors HQ
7. Houston Rockets (last season's record: 54-28)
The Rockets were low-key losers this summer, shedding salary and losing assets only to strike out on finding a superstar to form a "big three" with Dwight Howard and James Harden. Still, they have arguably the best center and shooting guard in the NBA, which is enough to keep them in the top 10.
More on the Rockets: The Dream Shake
8. Memphis Grizzlies (last season's record: 50-32)
The Grizzlies will always be in the mix with the trio of Marc Gasol, Mike Conley and Zach Randolph, but this is a big year for Grit N' Grind because Gasol is on an expiring contract. This could be the last stand for a team that hasn't been able to get over the hump. A healthy Quincy Pondexter and newcomer Vince Carter could be big for the Grizzlies this year, but is that enough in the stacked West?
More on the Grizzlies: Grizzly Bear Blues
9. Dallas Mavericks (last season's record: 49-33)
After being dismantled for future cap flexibility, the boys are all coming home. The Mavericks traded to bring Tyson Chandler back and appear to be on the road to re-signing J.J. Barea. Toss in Chandler Parsons and Monta Ellis, and this team looks primed for a big push. This roster is definitely better than it was last year and could even be better than it was in 2011. Rick Carlisle has plenty to work with.
More on the Mavericks: Mavs Moneyball
10. Portland Trail Blazers (last season's record: 54-28)
The Trail Blazers caught lightning in a bottle last year, with Damian Lillard unleashing all that energy onto the Rockets when he eliminated them in buzzer-beating fashion. Still, the Spurs dispatched Portland with ease, and the front office stood pat to give this group another chance. Lillard put up huge numbers in his second year, but the Blazers' defense was still mediocre.
More on the Trail Blazers: Blazer's Edge
11. Oklahoma City Thunder (last season's record: 59-23)
The Thunder's fall in the power rankings ends here. Kevin Durant is out for something in the neighborhood of 20 games, and newcomer Anthony Morrow went down with an ACL sprain last year. Oklahoma City's wing depth has been cut down to Andre Roberson, Perry Jones III and Jeremy Lamb, which is a significant downgrade from the reigning Most Valuable Player.
Let's see how this team fares when Russell Westbrook has the steering wheel all by himself.
More on the Thunder: Welcome to Loud City
12. Washington Wizards (last season's record: 44-38)
This might be a little high for the Wizards, who will struggle without Bradley Beal shooting from deep, but they had a good season last year. Losing Trevor Ariza and replacing him with an older Paul Pierce is a step in the wrong direction, but Pierce is still useful as a three-point shooter. Washington will certainly climb the rankings, but it probably won't happen until Beal comes back.
More on the Wizards: Bullets Forever
13. Charlotte Hornets (last season's record: 43-39)
The Hornets were one of the best defensive teams in the NBA last season, and they doubled down on it by signing Lance Stephenson to a three-year contract worth $27 million that also happens to have a team option attached on the final season. The Hornets should be good this season. Just how good is the question.
More on the Hornets: At the Hive
14. Phoenix Suns (last season's record: 48-34)
All point guards everything. The Suns eventually ended their standoff with Eric Bledsoe and now have an insane amount of depth in their backcourt with him, Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas. On the other hand, losing Channing Frye was a blow to their floor spacing and overall offense. Marcus and Markieff Morris will be put to the test this season.
More on the Suns: Bright Side of the Sun
15. Miami Heat (last season's record: 54-28)
All the kudos in the world to Pat Riley and the Heat for doing as good a job as they could recovering from LeBron James' decision instead of falling into the abyss. They managed to retain Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, and signed Luol Deng to help fill James' shoes. Still, the Heat have a lot of work to do before climbing back up the ladder.
More on the Heat: Hot Hot Hoops
16. Atlanta Hawks (last season's record: 38-44)
Please stay healthy this season, Al Horford. The Hawks still crept into the playoffs without their leading big man, partly thanks to a strong season by newcomer Paul Millsap (career-high 17.9 points per game). That success was particularly impressive considering Mike Budenholzer was in his first stint as a head coach.
More on the Hawks: Peachtree Hoops
17. New York Knicks (last season's record: 37-45)
Carmelo Anthony is back with the Knicks, and the team has a new direction under the leadership of Phil Jackson and rookie head coach Derek Fisher. The Knicks should improve from where they were last year, if only because they'll have consistent philosophies. Trading Tyson Chandler for Jose Calderon, however, is a big loss for their defense.
More on the Knicks: Posting and Toasting
18. Brooklyn Nets (last season's record: 44-38)
Paying $97 million for a team that has little-to-no chance of contending for an NBA title is an expensive hobby, so it's not all that surprising that Mikhail Prokhorov might be ready to invest that kind of money elsewhere. Brooklyn is going to be a "different" team with Brook Lopez returning and Lionel Hollins as the new head coach, but "different" doesn't necessarily mean better.
More on the Nets: Nets Daily
19. Denver Nuggets (last season's record: 36-46)
Danilo Gallinari is back and Arron Afflalo found his way back to Denver! Kenneth Faried had a good run with Team USA and earned himself a four-year extension! Brian Shaw got his first year as head coach out of the way! This high altitude is making me type with exclamation points!
Denver should be better than last season, but for now the Nuggets don't stand out as one of the teams that can sneak into the Western Conference playoff picture. They might dip their toes into the piranha-infested waters, but they'll get ankle-deep at best.
More on the Nuggets: Denver Stiffs
20. New Orleans Pelicans (last season's record: 34-48)
It's hard to remember that Anthony Davis is only 21 and has just two years of NBA experience to his name, but his improvement from his rookie year to his sophomore campaign was impressive. If he can have another year of marked development, the Pelicans could be a dark horse to sneak into the playoffs with Davis and Omer Asik anchoring their defense.
The big problem in the Big Easy, however, is the health of Eric Gordon, Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans, and Ryan Anderson. If everything -- everything -- goes right for New Orleans, watch out.
More on the Pelicans: The Bird Writes
21. Detroit Pistons (last season's record: 29-53)
The Pistons are loaded with talent up front and Stan Van Gundy should work wonders in getting the best out of Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond. Still, this roster is funky, and the team's "big" free agency acquisition, Jodie Meeks, is expected to miss approximately two months because of a back injury. The Pistons are establishing a new identity and found a presence in Van Gundy who should help immediately, but turning it all around by the start of the season? We don't see it.
More on the Pistons: Detroit Bad Boys
22. Indiana Pacers (last season's record: 56-26)
All it takes is one injury to change everything for a team. The Pacers losing Paul George for the season, shortly after losing Lance Stephenson in free agency, is just too much. They struggled offensively even with their two playmakers on the team. Without either of them? At least they own their 2015 first-round draft pick.
More on the Pacers: Indy Cornrows
23. Utah Jazz (last season's record: 25-57)
The Jazz put their eggs in the Gordon Hayward basket, rewarding their franchise perimeter player with a four-year, $63 million contract. Utah's roster is brimming with talent across the board. Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter are a physical frontcourt, with 7'1 Rudy Gobert spelling them. Trey Burke and Dante Exum can split point guard duties or play together. Rodney Hood might be the steal of the 2014 NBA draft, dropping to No. 23 for Utah. All that means the Jazz should be significantly better this year under the care of new head coach Quin Snyder.
More on the Jazz: SLC Dunk
24. Minnesota Timberwolves (last season's record: 40-42)
The Timberwolves were granted the rarest of rarities in the NBA -- a chance to reset after trading their franchise player. Kevin Love is gone, but this is a brand new Minnesota team under new leadership both on and off the court with Flip Saunders. They might lose a lot of games, but Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine and Ricky Rubio will be YouTube All-Stars together.
More on the Timberwolves: Canis Hoopus
25. Sacramento Kings (last season's record: 28-54)
The Kings are all about DeMarcus Cousins. The big man is talented enough to keep them from the bottom of the Western Conference, but not good enough on his own to do much else. The loss of Isaiah Thomas might be remedied by the duo of Ramon Sessions and Darren Collison, but Thomas was a big part of their offensive success last season. The key to an improved record will have to come from two places: Ben McLemore taking a leap forward, and their team defense improving significantly.
More on the Kings: Sactown Royalty
26. Boston Celtics (last season's record: 25-57)
The Celtics have one weird roster, with Rajon Rondo returning after Boston drafted Marcus Smart with the No. 6 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. Jared Sullinger could legitimately lead the Celtics in scoring this season. Boston is still deep in rebuild mode, which should mean another long season is on it's way for Celtics fans.
More on the Celtics: Celtics Blog
27. Los Angeles Lakers (last season's record: 27-55)
The Lakers are not in a good position and are already one of the most battered teams in the NBA. Steve Nash has already been ruled out for the year, and Nick Young, one of their lone bright spots, won't be spreading the Swag until near the end of November. Kobe Bryant is back, sure, but what he's come back to is a team that just isn't good right now, with a head coach who hasn't been good lately.
More on the Lakers: Silver Screen & Roll
28. Milwaukee Bucks (last season's record: 15-67)
The Bucks will be better than they were last year by virtue of drafting Jabari Parker. Milwaukee has been tinkering with the idea of playing Giannis Antetokounmpo as their primary ball-handler in stretches, and Jason Kidd is in his second coaching gig in as many years.
There's still some soul-searching to be done in Milwaukee, particularly with Larry Sanders. He's played in 23 games since signing a four-year, $44 million contract to stay with the Bucks, and he played poorly in the rare instances when he was actually on the court.
More on the Bucks: Brew Hoop
29. Orlando Magic (last season's record: 23-59)
The Magic have been stockpiling first-round talent, but they're still a long way away from competing. Victor Oladipo missing about a month won't make things any easier in Orlando. It's all about the long haul for the Magic, and this is going to be one long haul of a season.
More on the Magic: Orlando Pinstriped Post
30. Philadelphia 76ers (last season's record: 19-63)
With draft reform being put on hold for at least another season, this is right where Sam Hinkie wants his 76ers. If these were draft lottery power rankings, they'd sweep the season as the top team. At least Nerlens Noel will start his NBA journey in his de facto rookie season, which might be enough reason to check out what the 76ers are up to every now and then.
More on the 76ers: Liberty Ballers
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