Los Angeles Lakers — Kobe Bryant is still the most competitive and cold-blooded winner in the league. He appreciates NBA history and desperately wants a second threepeat and to tie Michael Jordan in rings – Done and done.
Boston Celtics – Last season’s oldest team got even older in the off-season by adding Shaq  and Jermaine O’Neal . But this team is battled-tested – We get a Finals rematch in 2011.
Miami Heat – You can’t just throw together a team of stars and think the title is a wrap. This isn’t an NBA2K video game. It takes time to gel talent – LeBron may average a triple-double this season but he there’s no ring in the King’s future this season.
Oklahoma City Thunder – They finished eighth last season in the western conference and gave the eventual champ Lakers all they could before falling in the first round – Kevin Durant and Co. are a year older and better and will face Kobe and Co. again. This time in the conference finals.
Orlando Magic – They took a step back following their 2009 Finals appearance, after jettisoning Hedo Turkoglu for Vince Carter and falling the Celtics in the ’10 Conference Finals – They won’t even get that far with the Heat and Celtics in the way.
Chicago Bulls – This is perhaps the most intriguing team in basketball, as they added frontcourt depth with the signing of Carlos Boozer. — When he returns from injury [hand], the former Utah Jazz will be great addition to young Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah.
Dallas Mavericks – Another quirky bunch with one great player [Dirk Nowitzki], an aging crafty vet [Jason Kidd], and nice spare parts [Shawn Marion, Jason Terry, Roddy Beaubois] – They’ll challenge in the west but won’t get past either LAL or OKC.
Phoenix Suns – They lose Amar’e to the Knicks but get even more perimeter-oriented with the addition of Turkoglu – Long a bridesmaid, they’ll have to settle for their obligatory role because they will not surpass the Lakers in the Pacific Division.
San Antonio Spurs – Ol’ Reliable. They’ll sleepwalk their way to 50 wins, get a solid four seed, and then make life hell for whomever they play – Unfortunately, Tim Duncan has logged thousands of miles and you won’t advance far in the playoffs when your starting center is only 6’7 [DeJuan Blair].
Houston Rockets – Another gritty team that never goes away quietly – Yao Ming is having his minutes monitored but he may no longer be best option anyway, as scoring machine Kevin Martin will be crunchtime guy — Nice playoff run and that’s it.
Utah Jazz – They lost Boozer but gained Al Jefferson, who is an even better scorer if not rebounder – A Jerry Sloan-coached team will always be a tough out in playoffs – Too bad they keep running into the Lakers, though.
Portland Trailblazers – An intriguing team because of its versatility, yet the fly under the radar in the west because they’re not glamorous, a reflection of its best player, Brandon Roy – If they were in the east, they’d be a four-seed. Out west, they’re a tough early exit.
Atlanta Hawks – They overpaid for their lone alleged superstar, Joe Johnson but had to if they wanted to contend in the top-heavy east – It won’t matter because they’re not as good as the top four and too many players are in contract years.
Milwaukee Bucks – A young scrappy bunch, built in the mold of their coach Scott Skiles. They were the team no one wanted to face come playoffs until they lost center Andrew Bogut for the season – Their poor man’s “Big Three” of Bogut, Brandon Jennings, and John Salmons will be a tough out.
New York Knicks – This is finally a playoff season for the Knicks. Amar’e Stoudemire [and possibly Carmelo Anthony] will make them a tough out — And that’s something that hasn’t been seen in the city since the 1999 Finals team.
Charlotte Hornets – They had their best season ever last year, making the playoffs for the first time – Despite losing Raymond Felton to the Knicks via free agency, they still have enough to fight for a 7th or 8th seed.
Denver Nuggets – They rank this low, despite having Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups on its roster, only because Anthony is as good as gone — And when they do trade ‘Melo, the purging will begin, relegating them to lottery status.
New Orleans Hornets – Getting back a healthy Chris Paul is huge. There’s not much surrounding him, though, and he plays in an arena as desolate as the Nets – But when the best point guard is healthy and motivated, he can almost will his team into playoff contention.
New Jersey Nets – Only one way to go is up, following last season’s 12-win albatross – They have the pieces in place to shock some teams and are only a star away from contending for a 7th or 8th seed [‘Melo, anyone?].
Memphis Grizzlies – This team may play in front of high-school crowds but they have talent – Their core of Zach Randolph, Rudy Gay, Marc Gasol, and O.J. Mayo has the ability to stay in any ball game.
Indiana Pacers – Another team with lots of young talent, led by All-Star Danny Granger – They won’t challenge just yet but by teaming point guard Darren Collison with Granger, they’re building a nice nucleus.
Los Angeles Clippers – They could actually sneak into the playoffs if not for that whole ‘Clipper Curse’ and all — With pieces like Baron Davis, Chris Kaman, and Blake Griffin the Clips have the horses but can they overcome such a negative history.
Golden State Warriors – An NBA League Pass late-night favorite because of their run-and-gun style – They’re heading in the right direction by giving the keys to the franchise to Stephen Curry and adding David Lee but they’re still years away.
Washington Wizards – Adding number one overall pick John Wall was a no-brainer – It may put fannies in the seats early but once they get a whiff of the same ol’ Wiz, they’ll go back to irrelevancy.
Sacramento Kings – Reigning Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans is a beast but he’s all alone – Once one of the most exciting all-around teams in the league, the Kings will be bottom-feeders for a while.
Philadelphia Sixers – Drafting Evan Turner, arguably the most talented player in the draft, was a great move – Too bad they have so much money tied into the Elton Brand contract that it’ll be years until the 76ers become relevant again.
Toronto Raptors – Losing Chris Bosh is tough. Then compounding that by trading Turkoglu for 50 cents on the dollar was tougher – They’ll suffer the fate that all franchises do after losing the franchise player.
Minnesota Timberwolves – Ricky Rubio isn’t walking through those doors. And even if he could, he still couldn’t help this team – Outside of Kevin Love, there’s really no hope.
Detroit Pistons – This team is in shambles. It’s weird that president Joe Dumars lost his mojo so quickly, as that 2004 title is a distant memory – When Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva eat up so much of your cap space, you’re in for a long season.
Cleveland Cavaliers – Is there any team [city?] that suffers as much as Cleveland? Losing LeBron will set this franchise back for years because no free agent wants to call Cleveland home – 2011 Playoffs will be the first of many early vacations for Mo Williams, Anderson Varejao, and Antawn Jamison.