The results aren't there yet, sure. But many NBA observers expect the Celtics to take another step forward this season, and last year's surprise run to the playoffs is proof of just how solid this organization is from top to bottom. President of basketball operations Danny Ainge (left) has stockpiled assets and draft picks, and Brad Stevens is one of the top coaches in the league. There isn't a star player on the roster, and it's kind of difficult to see how the Celtics get more talented from here. But there's reason for the Boston faithful to be quite optimistic.
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It wasn't that long ago that people questioned just what general manager Daryl Morey (left) was doing in Houston. Before the James Harden trade and before Dwight Howard, the Rockets were a math-obsessed team with a questionable roster stuck in the bottom of the West's playoff race. Now, Houston is an annual title contender. Owner Leslie Alexander deserves credit for what too many owners in professional sports seem incapable of doing: hiring the best people and letting them do their job. You probably don't know Alexander's name, and that anonymity from ownership is a big part of the Rockets' success.
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Never underestimate Pat Riley, Erik Spoelstra and the rest of the crew in southern Florida. The loss of LeBron James was about as big of a blow as a team can suffer, yet Miami is back after just one season of semi-rebuilding. Riley's trade for Goran Dragic was a coup that took advantage of Phoenix's overcrowded backcourt, and the Heat handled Dwyane Wade's contract situation with aplomb. Miami owner Micky Arison is a known commodity throughout the league, and he gives Riley the resources he needs to build the best teams possible. And the "Heat Lifer" mantra helps keep everyone on the same page.
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Golden State Warriors
Remember when the Warriors were at best a fun, lovable bunch that lost a lot of games outside of an unlikely playoff run here or there? Neither do we. A complete franchise overhaul over the past half-decade started with an ownership transition that changed the culture, and the team seems to have nailed its important decisions. GM Bob Myers (left) is the perfect mix of front office executive and diehard fan -- he attended games as a boy and is a lifelong Warriors supporter -- who didn't hesitate to make a coaching change that elevated the team to the highest level. And we hear that Steve Kerr guy is pretty good at his job, too.
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San Antonio Spurs
They're not perfect. No one is. The Spurs have missed on player transactions, they've misused draft picks, and there was the time GM R.C. Buford (left) was charged with DWI. None of that can -- or should -- be swept under the rug. But the Spurs do their level best to build a winning culture. Potential Spurs have to be able to laugh at themselves, and they have to be willing to pitch in on jobs that might otherwise be beneath them. It's what coach Gregg Popovich asks. Of course, it helps to have a star such as Tim Duncan who buys in and sets an example of that approach. But it takes a total team effort to become the gold standard in professional sports.