We're less than a week from the start of the NBA's regular season, and while all 30 teams will begin the year with postseason aspirations, the reality is that only a handful of them should legitimately have their eyes on the prize.
Here are the four teams that have a serious shot at title contenton, along with a few second-tier teams that could overachieve if everything goes just right.
Photo: Bob Donnan
Golden State Warriors
The addition of Kevin Durant to a team that won a record 73 regular-season games last season makes Golden State the obvious favorites. There won't be an attempt to break records this time around, while the club uses the season to form chemistry and fine-tune its schemes in advance of what should be another deep run through the postseason.
The question heading into the season isn't whether the Warriors will win the title. The question is, can anyone stop them?
Photo: Ezra Shaw
San Antonio Spurs
San Antonio has been the most consistent NBA team over the past 20 seasons, and no other club has even come close to duplicating the franchise's insane level of sustained success. The Spurs begin a new era without Tim Duncan this season, however, and replacing him in the starting lineup with the free-agent acquisition of Pau Gasol can only translate to a significant drop off defensively.
But Kawhi Leonard is the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, and is a former Finals MVP. LaMarcus Aldridge remains one of the most consistent scorers around, and Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are trying to squeeze one last championship run out of their legendary careers. Gregg Popovich remains the league's best coach, so if anyone can creep into the title discussion with the Warriors and Cavaliers, the Spurs are the safest bet.
LeBron's chase-down block, Kyrie Irving's clutch three and Kevin Love's defense on Steph Curry sealed a Game 7 win for the Cavaliers last season, and Cleveland returns all of its key pieces from last year's championship squad.
Unlike the Warriors, who have the (admittedly great) problem of figuring out how to make Kevin Durant fit in with the existing core, the Cavaliers know who they are. Cleveland will cruise through the East once again, making sure everyone is healthy and rested when the time to defend its title comes.
Photo: David Liam Kyle
Los Angeles Clippers
L.A. is the last team on our list with any real shot at this year's title, and thanks to a veteran roster loaded with talent, this might be the best Clippers team we've seen yet.
Last season couldn't have gone more poorly for Blake Griffin and Chris Paul. Griffin, of course, missed half the regular season with a combination of a quad issue and a fractured hand injury that was embarrassingly self-inflicted. He returned in time for the playoffs, only to aggravate the quad and be forced out of action in the middle of a first-round playoff series tied 2-2 with the Blazers. Paul was done in the same game after suffering a fractured hand of his own, and L.A. was eliminated in six.
A healthy and hungry Clippers team that got a little bit deeper by grabbing the Warriors' Marreese Speights in free agency could do real damage this season.
Photo: Richard Mackson
The second tier
These teams simply aren't talented enough to realistically challenge the previous four we listed. But if disaster should strike in the form of injuries to the top contenders, teams like the Raptors, Celtics, Trail Blazers, Rockets, and even Russell Westbrook's Thunder might just be able to shock the world.