1. Oklahoma City Thunder
Last season: 47-19, lost in NBA Finals. Coach: Scott Brooks.
Starting five: Russell Westbrook, Thabo Sefolosha, Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins.
Outlook: Without the recently traded James Harden, the Thunder may take a few steps back until they build chemistry with Kevin Martin, who will come off the bench and score, which is his forte. If Kendrick Perkins is healthy and Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook continue to flourish, there’s no reason the Thunder can’t return to the Finals.
2. Denver Nuggets
Last season: 38-28, lost in first round. Coach: George Karl.
Starting five: Ty Lawson, Danilo Gallinari, Andre Iguodala, Kenneth Faried, JaVale McGee.
Outlook: The Nuggets have put together an athletic roster that can score. The question is whether a team that’s essentially starless can overcome the Thunder and Lakers. Iguodala is a perfect fit here because he won’t be depended on as the savior, and Lawson is an effective guard. If McGee can stay focused and become a defensive stopper, the Nuggets will be formidable.
3. Utah Jazz
Last season: 36-30, lost in first round. Coach: Tyrone Corbin.
Starting five: Mo Williams, Gordon Hayward, Marvin Williams, Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson.
Outlook: It’s taken time but the Jazz are geared for a serious playoff run. They have experience, talent, and youth, and the underrated Corbin can take Utah to new heights. The bench is strong with Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, and Randy Foye along with long-strider Jeremy Evans. Utah lacks a superstar but has plenty of contributors.
4. Minnesota Timberwolves
Last season: 26-40, missed playoffs. Coach: Rick Adelman.
Starting five: Luke Ridnour, Brandon Roy, Andrei Kirilenko, Derrick Williams, Nikola Pekovic.
Outlook: Playoff talk would have filled the chilly streets of Minneapolis, but Kevin Love broke his hand while training and will miss two months. Minnesota still has enough talent to grab the eighth seed but will need Roy and Kirilenko, both of whom did not play in the NBA last season, to return to vintage form.
5. Portland Trail Blazers
Last season: 28-38, missed playoffs. Coach: Terry Stotts.
Starting five: Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, LaMarcus Aldridge, J.J. Hickson.
Outlook: The Trail Blazers will need time to build chemistry but there is talent there, just not overwhelming talent. Lillard is a Rookie of the Year candidate with speed and star potential while Aldridge has become the franchise cornerstone. Stotts, in his third stint as a head coach after failures in Atlanta and Milwaukee, was an interesting choice.
1. San Antonio Spurs
Last season: 50-16, lost in conference finals. Coach: Gregg Popovich.
Starting five: Tony Parker, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Tim Duncan, Boris Diaw.
Outlook: There is no reason to think the Spurs can’t do this one more time. They are ushering their younger pieces, such as Green and Leonard, into bigger roles to reduce the pressure on Duncan and sixth man Manu Ginobili. But the Spurs were exposed by the Thunder in the playoffs and their core is a year older.
2. Memphis Grizzlies
Last season: 41-25, lost in first round. Coach: Lionel Hollins.
Starting five: Mike Conley, Tony Allen, Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol.
Outlook: The Grizzlies essentially stayed the same besides adding Jerryd Bayless and letting O.J. Mayo go, which will keep them right where they were — not quite good enough to run with the Thunder and Lakers. For them to avoid such fate, Gay and Conley will have to turn in career years and Randolph will have to show his knees are completely healthy.
3. Dallas Mavericks
Last season: 36-30, lost in first round. Coach: Rick Carlisle.
Starting five: Darren Collison, O.J. Mayo, Shawn Marion, Dirk Nowitzki, Chris Kaman.
Outlook: The Mavericks, desperately fighting age and insignificance, are hoping to make one final run. Nowitzki will miss a chunk of the season after knee surgery, so the question is, who will do the scoring? Marion? Mayo? Vince Carter? For the Mavericks not to shrink into oblivion, someone has to help Nowitzki.
4. Houston Rockets
Last season: 34-32, missed playoffs. Coach: Kevin McHale.
Starting five: Jeremy Lin, James Harden, Chandler Parsons, Patrick Patterson, Omer Asik.
Outlook: This team is considerably different with the acquisition of James Harden, who will be the team’s immediate go-to player and franchise cornerstone. The question is whether he can adapt to such a prominent role and blend with Jeremy Lin, who will begin his first season as a starting NBA point guard.
5. New Orleans Hornets
Last season: 21-45, missed playoffs. Coach: Monty Williams.
Starting five: Greivis Vasquez, Eric Gordon, Al-Farouq Aminu, Ryan Anderson, Anthony Davis.
Outlook: The Hornets are going to struggle for a while; that’s the way it is when you integrate two lottery picks. Austin Rivers will take time to assume point guard duties, so Vasquez is the man for now. Gordon, who campaigned to leave in the offseason, will need to get his head back into playing for New Orleans. He will be relied upon to score a lot.
1. Los Angeles Lakers
Last season: 41-25, lost in conference semifinals.Coach: Mike Brown.
Starting five: Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard.
Outlook: Well, the Lakers weren’t going to stay a second-tier contender for long. They ramped up for another title run by acquiring Nash, 38, and Howard, who is in the final year of his contract. The Lakers have a Hall of Fame-caliber starting lineup, but the bench is the question. What happens when Nash and Howard get tired? Kobe doesn’t get tired.
2. Los Angeles Clippers
Last season: 40-26, lost in conference semifinals.
Coach: Vinny Del Negro.
Starting five: Chris Paul, Jamal Crawford, Caron Butler, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan.
Outlook: Bizarre to say that a second-round elimination was a disappointment for the Clippers, but it was. With Paul healthy after a full training camp, Los Angeles should compete for the second or third seed . Griffin has to develop more of a face-up game and Jordan has to stay out of foul trouble. But this team is deep.
3. Golden State Warriors
Last season: 23-43, missed playoffs. Coach: Mark Jackson.
Starting five: Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, David Lee, Andrew Bogut.
Outlook: No more excuses for the Warriors. If they are healthy, they have a shot at the fifth or sixth seed. Thompson could be a future star, and while Barnes may not have been the sexiest pick, he was the right one. It all depends on whether Curry and Bogut (ankles) hold up for an entire season. The Warriors should be a factor.
4. Phoenix Suns
Last season: 33-33, missed playoffs. Coach: Alvin Gentry.
Starting five: Goran Dragic, Jared Dudley, Michael Beasley, Luis Scola, Marcin Gortat.
Outlook: Not sure what direction the Suns are headed. They acquired the aging Scola and the mercurial Beasley to begin the post-Nash era. There are so many new players and question marks, you wonder what type of expectations management has. Gentry is a solid coach with an up-tempo style. Phoenix should win some games, but playoffs are far away.
5. Sacramento Kings
Last season: 22-44, missed playoffs. Coach: Keith Smart.
Starting five: Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Thornton, Tyreke Evans, Jason Thompson, DeMarcus Cousins.
Outlook: It’s likely back to the lottery for the Kings, who are playing in the league’s worst arena and are unsure how long they will remain in Sacramento. But the intriguing part is the young talent: Cousins is a potential All-Star and rookie Thomas Robinson a rugged addition. Evans has to produce this season after two disappointing ones.