Fresh off their 2009 NBA championship, the Los Angeles Lakers will be the team to beat next season, and FOXSports.com NBA editor John Galinsky lists six teams that appear capable of doing just that. Since this was originally posted in mid-June, the Rockets were removed from the list because of the uncertainty regarding Yao Ming, Ron Artest and Tracy McGrady. The rankings also have changed as contenders have added stars in trades. John will continue to update the list pending offseason moves. But for now, sorry Heat, Hornets, Jazz, Mavs, Hawks, Bulls and the other 17 teams with no real shot at a title. If someone's going to dethrone the Lakers in 2010, it'll be one of these six.
Portland Trail Blazers
Why they'll beat the Lakers: Their first playoff experience, however disappointing, should further the progress of the young Blazers, most of whom are under 25. Brandon Roy (pictured) is developing into the kind of star who can battle Kobe. In Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla, they have the big bodies to bang with Gasol and Bynum. LaMarcus Aldridge is long, lean and versatile like Odom. Plus the Lakers can't seem to win at the Rose Garden (eight straight losses). Why they won't: With their extreme youth, the Blazers are probably still several years away from contending for a title and that depends on Oden becoming a dominant center, which remains very much in doubt. Ultimately, they also need a better point guard than Steve Blake, and they must show more mental toughness on the road. Think they can win a big playoff game at Staples Center? Probably not in 2010.
Why they'll beat the Lakers: Carmelo Anthony (pictured) played Kobe to a draw in the first few games of the Western finals before fading. If he continues to mature, he may be a legit superstar who can lead a team to a title. Chauncey Billups, 32, should remain an enormously positive influence for several more years in Denver. Nene, 26, emerged as a top-five center last season and still has room to improve. J.R. Smith, explosive but inconsistent, also may be a marquee player if he ever grows up. Why they won't: The frontcourt will take a big hit if Chris "Birdman" Andersen leaves as a free agent. Kenyon Martin may be breaking down and can't defend the Lakers' big men anyway. Kobe and Co. also exposed and demoralized the Nuggets by dominating the final two games of their series, highlighting the gap that exists between L.A. and the rest of the West. It's unlikely that gap will close much, if at all, next year.
San Antonio Spurs
Why they'll beat the Lakers: If Manu Ginobili returns with two good ankles, the Spurs will still have the core of their 2007 championship team. Tony Parker, 27, is in his prime and his speed always gives the Lakers fits. Duncan, 33, and Ginobili, 31, remain elite players when healthy. With the trade for Richard Jefferson, the Spurs got what they've lacked for years a forward who can both score and defend. Why they won't: Duncan's knees and Ginobili's ankles may never be the same. And even with the addition of Jefferson, the Spurs still need another big man to help Duncan battle Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum.
Why they'll beat the Lakers: Almost all great teams have to pay their dues before they win a title. The Lakers taught the Magic some harsh lessons in the Finals, but Orlando should come back next season stronger and tougher. Dwight Howard (pictured) ought to be less confused by L.A.'s defenses. Most importantly, Jameer Nelson, who tore up the Lakers in the regular season before tearing up his shoulder, should be back in All-Star form. The addition of Vince Carter gives Orlando a dynamic scorer with something to prove after years of playing on bad teams. Why they won't: If Hedo Turkoglu splits town, Carter's addition becomes a wash. Even if he's back, the Magic will still have problems matching up with L.A.'s frontcourt since Rashard Lewis showed he can't defend Gasol or Bynum. And let's face it: Kobe was too good for them this time. Why wouldn't he be again next year?
Why they'll beat the Lakers: In LeBron, they have the only superstar who shares the same stratosphere as Kobe. And at 24, he's still improving, which is a scary prospect. Mo Williams and Delonte West also are entering their primes, unlike, say, Derek Fisher. But the wild card is Shaq, who joins a 66-win team and will undoubtedly be motivated to take down the Lakers should they meet in the Finals. Why they won't: The Shaq experiment could easily end in failure. He'll be 38 by next year's playoffs and may not be in championship form. There's also no guarantee he'll mesh with LeBron, who needs open space in the middle for his drives. The Lakers still present matchup problems for the Cavs with their length, and Kobe will be just as motivated to beat Shaq as vice versa.
Why they'll beat the Lakers: Have things changed that much since the Celtics whipped the Lakers in the 2008 Finals? Sure, Boston's Big 3 is getting older, but none of them are washed up. (Ray Allen, who will be 34 next season, is the oldest.) Meanwhile, Rajon Rondo is emerging as a star in his own right, while Kendrick Perkins and Glen Davis keep getting better. If Kevin Garnett can come back at full force, he may be able to deliver on his promise of two more championships. Even with the Cavs getting Shaq and the Magic picking up Vince Carter, the Celtics are best positioned to challenge L.A. as long as they stay healthy. Why they won't: It's hard to expect good health of a team whose three stars will be 32 or older next season. Odds are, at least one of them won't last through the playoffs, as happened with KG this year. While the starting five is formidable, the bench appears to be weaker than two years ago, barring any significant move