These seven teams can win it all if ...
There will certainly be more significant trades and free-agent signings before training camps open in October. Even so, on the basis of changes already made and not made, here's a perusal of the league's seven most potent teams.
The champs will remain the champs until another team usurps them. Meanwhile, the Lakers are arguably the most intelligent team in the league, and Kobe Bryant's position as the NBA's best player is beyond argument.
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It's extremely rare for a defending championship squad to make dramatic personnel changes. But Trevor Ariza's signing with Houston created an opportunity for Ron Artest to fulfill his dream of playing with Kobe. By the way, there's no doubt that the Lakers deliberately set up this changeover by low-balling Ariza in their brief contract negotiations.
During the forthcoming season, look for Andrew Bynum to take a step forward after taking two steps backward during the playoffs. Also look for Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown to eat up more of Derek Fisher's minutes. And don't be surprised if Adam Morrison's leg finally heals enough for him to run full-speed and command the bounce that will enable him to attack the basket with force.
WHAT THE LAKERS STILL NEED: To re-sign Lamar Odom. To find a better backup big than Josh Powell. And, given Sasha Vujacic's erratic shooting, obtain a more reliable backcourt scorer.
The arrival of Rasheed Wallace gives the Celtics incredible depth up front. So much so that Glen Davis is just about superfluous.
Even if Ray Allen (soon to be 34) is showing signs of slippage, he still has sufficient juice to be a game-changer. Meanwhile, Paul Pierce (32 when the season commences) and Kevin Garnett (33) are still in the prime of their respective careers. Although Rajon Rondo (23) still retains the stubbornness of an adolescent, and Kendrick Perkins (almost 25) is always in foul trouble, these two youngsters have not yet approached the limits of their talents.
Boston's numerous tried-and-true scorers, along with the team's tenacious defensive mindset present formidable challenges for opponents to overcome at both ends of the floor.
WHAT THE CELTICS STILL NEED: A creative wing scorer off the bench. (Grant Hill would be a perfect fit). A pass-first point guard behind Rondo.