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, Kevin Love, Nikola Pekovic.
Outlook: Playoff talk would have filled the chilly streets of Minneapolis, but Love broke his hand during training and will miss two months. Minnesota still has enough talent to grab that 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 take time to build chemistry but there is talent here, 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 off Duncan and sixth man Manu Ginobili. But the Spurs were exposed by the Thunder in the playoffs and it’s hard to figure that they will someone figure out younger teams.
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, have one final run toward the playoffs. Nowitzki will miss a chunk of the season after knee surgery, so the question is who is going to score? 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 now than a few days ago with the acquisition of James Harden, who will be the team’s immediate go-to player and franchise cornerstone. The questions 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.Continued...