L.A. Lakers - Undisputed power of the west surprisingly couldn’t take care of business against the Celtics in the finals, and now the question becomes, how much better are they with Bynum? They lost out on a few prized free agents, they finally pay the real price of acquiring Gasol last year by not drafting in the 1st round of a deep draft, and bench leader Turiaf bolts to GS.
San Antonio - Age seems to be catching up with them, though Parker & Ginobli are still in their prime. Not what once was, but still an acid test for whoever they play.
New Orleans – Much like the Suns go as Steve Nash goes, so do the Hornets with Chris Paul, and Paul just might turn out to be better than Steve if he can continue to build on his stellar 07-08 campaign. Posey is a nice addition, which should help them do a better job of tackling the Spurs & Lakers this year.
Houston – Outside of the top 3, things become a bit of a jumble, though a talented one from 4-6. With T-Mac still having been unable to get out of the first round, Yao Ming’s persistent injuries, and Artest being the wildcard he is, I don’t see how they will live up to their potential, but the possibility of this team getting along and having some luck is scary.
Phoenix – No doubt a lesser team with the loss of Marion and father time catching up with Steve Nash, but you can’t forget they seem to go down to the wire with Spurs every year. They’re the Dark Horse of the West yet again.
Utah – Got to love Deron Williams, but got to question if the talent level around him is good enough to threaten the top seeds. They were totally outclassed against the Lakers in the 2nd round of the playoffs, but they still have all the pieces to make them a tough match-up, especially (as we all know), on their home court.
Dallas – A not so distant history of brutal post-season disappointments and a “soft” front court have haunted this team. They get a nice addition here at head coach, but this team looks under-manned to me. Vulnerable
Portland – Talk about a team rebuilding through the draft. Brandon Roy was the key first step, and among others, LaMarcus Aldridge, Greg Oden, and now Jarred round out this core of young talent. They’ll need a healthy Oden and a more consistent Aldridge to make noise this year.
L.A. Clippers – Massive off-season overhaul gives them the look of a yahoo fantasy team put on auto draft. They are left with a proven point guard and front court along with a mix of capable veterans to go along talented sophmore Al Thornton, and recent top draft picks Eric Gordon and DeAndre Jordan. Perhaps the most unpredictable team, along with Portland coming out of the west, anywhere between 30 and 50+ wins seem possible.
It’s hard to imagine any other team challenging for a playoff spot. On paper, Golden State would seem the next most likely, but I don't think they have enough. Minnesota could be a little interesting with a front court of Love and Jefferson and a healthy Randy Foye.