By Matt Dollinger
October 23, 2012

It was about this time last year that the dark reality was beginning to set in that there might not be an NBA season in 2011-12. The first two weeks of the regular season had already been canceled, and the prospect of a lost season -- coming off one of the NBA's most scintillating -- seemed more inevitable than preventable.

Much to the delight of NBA fans, this offseason has been a lot less stressful. Rather than hang on the every word of a well-dressed Derek Fisher, we've hung on every move of one of the league's signature franchises, the Lakers, who acquired two of the league's premier players, Dwight Howard and Steve Nash. We've watched the Nets go from horrific to hip overnight with a move to Brooklyn and an influx of talent. And we've seen a slew of elite teams -- including the Heat, Thunder, Celtics and Spurs -- keep their contending cores intact and improve already-formidable rosters.

Call it a breath of fresh air after a year that featured bickering and an onslaught of sluggish back-to-back games. More than anything, this offseason has set us up for a delectable 2012-13 season, one that features a half-dozen contenders and superstars teaming up to make title runs.

With the regular season just a week away, it's time to examine how all 30 teams stack up. Here's the preseason edition of's NBA Power Rankings.

NBA Power Rankings
1 Miami Heat
Miami Heat (Last season: 46-20)
The Lakers were hands down this offseason's biggest winners, but let's not forget the Heat were last season's actual winners. And they've gotten better. Miami's five-game thumping of Oklahoma City was a watershed moment. LeBron James was already a three-time MVP and the most dominant player in the league -- imagine how good he'll be now with the burden of winning a title off his shoulders. We also might see a revamped version of LeBron as he wholeheartedly embraces the challenge of playing power forward. That move will allow the Heat to play more of the small-ball lineups that ultimately won them the title. Factor in the addition of Ray Allen, who could see the most open three-pointers of his career, and you've got a recipe for a team that will run away with the East and possibly a second straight championship.
2 Los Angeles Lakers
Los Angeles now boasts an embarrassment of riches after pulling off one of the most stunning offseason hauls in NBA history. Consider this: It could be argued that two-time MVP Steve Nash is the Lakers' fourth-best player. Fourth. Los Angeles not only landed the elite pass-first point guard it has always wanted to pair with Kobe Bryant, but it also parlayed a moody Andrew Bynum into the most dominant center in the league, Dwight Howard. The Lakers now sport the best Big Four in the league and represent the biggest threat to the Heat. Said Sacramento's Chuck Hayes after playing down low against the new duo of Howard and Pau Gasol in the preseason: "They're like the Avengers out there. They're huge."
3 Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder might be a snub at No. 3 considering they kept their insanely talented core together and will benefit more than anyone from another year of experience. Don't underestimate the pain caused by losing in the Finals either. The Heat, Mavericks and Lakers all won titles in recent years with a Finals loss fresh in their memory. Oklahoma City locked down Serge Ibaka in the offseason, but still faces the extension dilemma with James Harden. Either way, the Thunder's tight-knit group is unlikely to be affected by contract talks and should be as motivated as ever.
4 Boston Celtics
Boston's original Big Three broke up this summer as Ray Allen took his sweet-shooting stroke to South Beach. Fear not, Beantown. Boston replaced the future Hall of Famer with Jason Terry and Courtney Lee, two shooting guards who actually represent an upgrade thanks to their versatility. The Celtics add a healthy Jeff Green and rookie Jared Sullinger to the Kevin Garnett-led front line, but their success could come down to an aging Paul Pierce's ability to muster another All-Star season and Avery Bradley's ability to co-exist with Rajon Rondo when the third-year guard returns from shoulder surgery.
5 Los Angeles <a href=Clippers" title="Los Angeles Clippers">
Los Angeles' little brother is all grown up. While the Lakers addressed their needs with two swift moves of the hand by GM Mitch Kupchak, the Clippers went to work by carving out a series of unheralded acquistions. The team lacked depth at forward, so it landed Lamar Odom and Matt Barnes. With Chauncey Billups recovering from an Achilles injury, the team added insurance in Jamal Crawford and Willie Green. And the Clips beat out a number of contenders to sign 40-year-old Grant Hill, a shadow of his former self but an invaluable contributor as a role player and leader. Now the Clippers might be the deepest team in the league. If Vinny Del Negro can find the right combinations and keep his veteran-laden team happy, Staples Center could be the exclusive home of the Western Conference finals.
6 San Antonio Spurs
Another year, another Spurs team tough to poke holes in. We all know Tim Duncan (36), Manu Ginobili (35) and Tony Parker (30) aren't getting any younger, but San Antonio's supporting cast is. Second-year forward Kawhi Leonard (21) is expected to make a huge leap this year and French import Nando De Colo (25) will add depth and shooting to the backcourt. Gregg Popovich is likely to preserve his aging core during the season once again, but don't sleep on the Spurs. They could have another run left in them.
7 Denver <a href=Nuggets" title="Denver Nuggets">
The Nuggets are going to surprise some people this year. Andre Iguodala was the glue of Team USA this summer and that's the role the Nuggets are hoping he'll play in Denver. With Ty Lawson, Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler, the Nuggets don't lack options on offense; they just need someone to push them over the hump into the second round of the playoffs. Denver will be as balanced as any team in the league and one of the most entertaining to watch on a nightly basis.
8 Brooklyn Nets
Brooklyn Nets (22-44)
No, the Nets didn't get Dwight Howard, but the consolation prize of Joe Johnson and a re-signed Deron Williams, Brook Lopez and Gerald Wallace isn't too shabby. Williams probably feels like he's on the '92 Dream Team compared to the mish-mash of talent he played alongside last season. But how good can the Nets actually be? They have a strong shot at being the best team in New York (cherished bragging rights) and a top-three team in the East if all goes to plan. But they'll have to dedicate themselves on defense, something they've yet to do in the preseason.
9 Indiana <a href=Pacers" title="Indiana Pacers">
Indiana opened its small-market pockets to pay big-market bucks and re-sign George Hill (five years, $40 million) and Roy Hibbert (four years, $58 million). But the team's biggest decision this summer was to shake up its bench, a unit that ultimately cost it a winnable second-round series against the Heat. Out are Darren Collison, Dahntay Jones and Lou Amundson. In are D.J. Augustin, Gerald Green and Ian Mahinmi. Does the line change make the Pacers better? Marginally, yes. Enough to beat the Heat? Not so much. Indiana is deep, but its lack of a true superstar puts it just outside the upper echelon.
10 76ers/">Philadelphia 76ers
The 76ers might have gotten the best value out of the summer's biggest blockbuster, giving up Andre Iguodala for a once-in-a-lifetime bounty: a franchise center. Andrew Bynum might fancy himself a stretch 4, but he is, in fact, the second-best center in the league, regardless of what Shaq says. Philadelphia also did a nice job of replacing Iguodala on the wing with Jason Richardson, Nick Young and Dorrell Wright. If Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner can live up to their potential in the backcourt, the 76ers will be near the top of these rankings by the end of the season.
11 New York <a href=Knicks" title="New York Knicks">
The Knicks haven't reached the Finals since 1999, which is too bad considering most of their offseason additions were in their prime that year. New York added Jason Kidd (39), Kurt Thomas (40), Marcus Camby (38), Rasheed Wallace (38) and Pablo Prigioni (35). It's a debatable strategy to stock your roster with over-the-hill veterans, but the Knicks are hoping it gives them the toughness and grit they've lacked since their '90s heyday. With Jeremy Lin out of the equation, the focus shifts back to the annual experiment of playing both Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire, who will likely miss the season opener with to a knee injury. New York goes as far as they do.
12 Memphis <a href=Grizzlies" title="Memphis Grizzlies">
It might be addition by subtraction for the Grizzlies, who lost O.J. Mayo but gained flexibility in their rotation. Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Rudy Gay will carry the load, but Mike Conley, Josh Selby and newcomers Jerryd Bayless and rookie Tony Wroten will get plenty of chances. Memphis will need strong seasons from at least two of its backcourt players to follow up on a fourth-place finish in the West last season.
13 Chicago <a href=Bulls" title="Chicago Bulls">
Chicago Bulls (50-16)
With Derrick Rose out indefinitely, we likely won't see the true Bulls until the spring. But even without its superstar, Chicago will be one of the toughest outs in the league. With Tom Thibodeau at the helm, the Bulls are guaranteed to boast one of the stingiest defenses. The question is, Can they score without Rose at the point? To tide them over, the Bulls brought back Kirk Hinrich and signed Nate Robinson. It's a duo that doesn't exactly strike fear in opponents' souls, but you can bet Thibs will squeeze out every ounce of talent from the replacement tandem.
14 Dallas Mavericks
The Mavericks were spurned by Deron Williams and others this offseason, but their biggest loss came last week when it was announced Dirk Nowitzki would undergo knee surgery and miss six weeks. As's Rob Mahoney points out, that absence could lead to an excruciating stretch for Dallas. All of a sudden the Mavericks' quartet of complementary offseason pickups -- Chris Kaman, Elton Brand, O.J. Mayo and Darren Collison -- has become the foundation of the team. Mayo (career scoring average of 15.2 points) is finally freed from his sixth-man shackles in Memphis, but he's not fully equipped to be a go-to-scorer on any NBA team. And let's not get into his defense. The Mavs did an admirable job of piecing together a roster before gearing up for another free-agency run next year, but the injury to Nowitzki could doom their season. Their success hinges entirely on Nowitzki's ability to recover from arthroscopic surgery and play like the Dirk who has powered Dallas the last 13 years.
15 Atlanta <a href=Hawks" title="Atlanta Hawks">
Atlanta Hawks (40-26)
Like most people with a vague familiarty of the NBA, new GM Danny Ferry realized the Hawks weren't going to win a championship with Joe Johnson, Josh Smith and Al Horford. So he did something about it. Ferry unloaded the least valuable of the three in Johnson and his albatross contract (four years, $90 million left). The Hawks didn't get much in return from the Nets, but they gained much-needed cap flexibility, which will help them get better in the long term. In the short term, they added Devin Harris, Lou Williams and rookie John Jenkins. That makes for a crowded backcourt, but it also gives Atlanta plenty of shooters to compensate for the void left by Johnson.
16 Utah <a href=Jazz" title="Utah Jazz">
Utah Jazz (36-30)
Coming off a surprising playoff berth last season, the Jazz have kept their frontcourt logjam of Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, Jeremy Evans intact. Utah's biggest problem is it has no one to get its bevy of big men the ball. The score-first Mo Williams and veteran backups Earl Watson and Jamaal Tinsley are the only point guards on the roster. Third-year forward Gordon Hayward could be on the brink of a breakout year, but until the Jazz decongest their front line and land a premier guard, their ceiling is limited.
17 New Orleans Hornets
Eric Gordon's declaration this summer that he wanted to play in Phoenix raised more than a few eyebrows, but it was in his best interest to stick with The Unibrow. If Gordon is smart, he'll spend the next 10 years in New Orleans playing alongside No. 1 pick Anthony Davis, who looked like he belonged on Team USA in London and represents the most dominant big man prospect to enter the league in years. New Orleans is young, but its future is bright. GM Dell Demps made two more good moves this summer by drafting Austin Rivers at No. 10 and trading for Ryan Anderson.
18 Minnesota <a href=Timberwolves" title="Minnesota Timberwolves">
It's easy (and fun!) to make fun of David Kahn, but it's starting to get tough to argue with the collection of talent he's piecing together in Minnesota. Unfortunately for the Wolves, they'll have to start their season without the two best pieces from that group. Knuckle pushups, of all things, will keep Kevin Love out 6-8 weeks, and Ricky Rubio is still perhaps two months away from returning from a knee injury. Luckily for Minnesota, Kahn scoured the globe this offseason to improve a lackluster roster. He signed Brandon Roy out of retirement and poached Andrei Kirilenko and Alexey Shved from Russia. He also added bench stalwarts Chase Budinger (Rockets), Greg Stiemsma (Celtics) and Dante Cunningham (Grizzlies), the last of whom will be thrust into action right away. The Wolves showed last season that the duo of Love-Rubio can produce .500-ball. Can they stay afloat until their stars return? Chances are no, but at full strength the Wolves will be the real deal.
19 Milwaukee <a href=Bucks" title="Milwaukee Bucks">
Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis give the Bucks a potent one-two punch in the backcourt, but the team's group of bigs, highlighted by Ersan Ilyasova, Drew Gooden and Samuel Dalembert, leaves much to be desired. Then there's the issue of whether coach Scott Skiles can get the defense back on track despite having undersized guards who are known for their offense. Milwaukee finished ninth in the East last year and appears headed for a similar result with another ill-fitting cast of players.
20 Golden State <a href=Warriors" title="Golden State Warriors">
No team's training staff is more critical to its success than Golden State's. Its two best players, Stephen Curry and Andrew Bogut, are returning from season-ending injuries, and Carl Landry, Jarrett Jack and David Lee all missed significant portions of last year, too. So far, it's been a rough start. Curry was shut down for the preseason after rolling his ankle and Bogut still doesn't have a timetable for his return. One thing the Warriors will do well, regardless of health, is score. Second-year guard Klay Thompson has one of the best strokes in the league and rookie Harrison Barnes might have been the best shooter in the draft. Now, if only Mark Jackson can get this bunch to play some D.
21 Portland <a href=Trail Blazers" title="Portland Trail Blazers">
Portland might have gotten the steal of the draft at No. 6 with Damian Lillard, who was the co-MVP of the Las Vegas summer league after averaging 26.5 points, 4.0 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game. With LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum, the team is set at forward. Can rookie Meyers Leonard develop into the center they hoped Greg Oden would be? Either way, he'll play. The only other proven big men on the roster are J.J. Hickson and Jared Jeffries, neither of whom is suited for the center position.
22 Cleveland <a href=Cavaliers" title="Cleveland Cavaliers">
Kyrie Irving earned plenty of buzz this offseason when he starred for the USA Select team and more than held his own against the Team USA big boys. His crossover of Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant and James Harden was arguably the highlight of the summer. The 20-year-old, last year's NBA Rookie of the Year, already appears ready to carry the Cavs. But how far? Cleveland has only three players who have been in the league at least seven years and Anderson Varejao is the only one who will play big minutes. That means the team's trio of current and former lottery picks, Dion Waiters, Tyler Zeller and Tristan Thompson, will have to play immediately.
23 Toronto <a href=Raptors" title="Toronto Raptors">
The Raptors benefited from the Rockets' point guard clearance sale, stealing Kyle Lowry for a future first-round pick. Lowry averaged 14.3 points, 4.5 rebounds and 6.6 assists for Houston last season and gives Toronto a dynamic backcourt combo with DeMar DeRozan to build around. Landry Fields is an interesting (and overpriced) option on the wing, but the Raptors really need former No. 1 pick Andrea Bargnani (who looked good early last season before injuries derailed his year) and last year's No. 5 pick, rookie big man Jonas Valanciunas, to pan out if they are going to be relevant. That's a big if.
24 Detroit <a href=Pistons" title="Detroit Pistons">
The Pistons are going big, literally, by building around Greg Monroe (6-foot-11) and rookie Andre Drummond (6-foot-10). Brandon Knight showed promise at point guard last season, but this season will likely be determined by the play of Rodney Stuckey. Some expected Stuckey to make the jump last season but the guard plateaued, averaging 17.8 points per 36 minutes for a second straight season. Detroit needs the 26-year-old Stuckey to break out if it wants 2012-13 to count for anything more than a rebuilding year.
25 Phoenix <a href=Suns" title="Phoenix Suns">
Phoenix Suns (33-33)
This summer, the Suns finally said farewell to Steve Nash, the longtime face of the franchise. It's not quite clear who will replace him in that sense, but it is apparent who Phoenix will turn to at point guard. The Suns apparently suffered from a case of trader's remorse, signing Goran Dragic to a four-year, $30 million deal after dealing him to the Rockets in 2011. They also drafted Kendall Marshall as his backup, giving them depth at at least one position. Phoenix also took a chance on former No. 2 pick Michael Beasley, who gets another chance to live up to his vast, untapped potential. With Marcin Gortat and Luis Scola, the Suns are respectable in the post, but their lack of a go-to-scorer will make it tough for them to keep up in the West.
26 Houston Rockets
It seems like the Rockets were involved in just about every rumor this summer. It's unfair to call the past few months an offseason for GM Daryl Morey, considering Houston boasts 14 new players on its current roster. Among them are a trio of first-round picks no one expected Houston to keep in Royce White, Terrence Jones and Jeremy Lamb. They also added Jeremy Lin, giving them the point guard they preferred over Lowry and Dragic. Houston has the most eclectic roster in the league, leaving Kevin McHale a pu-pu platter with which to work. But with 15 of its 18 players in camp having played three years or fewer, there's no telling how this season will shake out in Houston.
27 Washington <a href=Wizards" title="Washington Wizards">
The Wizards have something special in the backcourt duo of John Wall and rookie Bradley Beal. They just won't get to see it right away. Wall will likely miss the first month of the season. His knee injury puts Washington's underdog postseason chances at risk, but with a veteran front line of Emeka Okafor, Nene and Trevor Ariza, the Wizards can still fight for a playoff spot if they can manage to get healthy. The team's prospects boil down to the success -- and health -- of its young injured point guard. Wall has averaged at least 8.0 assists per game in his first two seasons, but in doing so last year he also led the NBA in turnovers (255). The former No. 1 pick shot a mind-boggling 3-of-42 from the three-point line last season, resulting in a shooting percentage (7.1) so bad it looks like a typo. Wall has to improve in those areas for the Wizards to move forward as a franchise.
28 Orlando <a href=Magic" title="Orlando Magic">
Orlando Magic (37-29)
First-year GM Rob Hennigan didn't have many options when it came to unloading Dwight Howard, but the group of players he got in return leaves the Magic with even fewer. There's no doubt Hennigan is trying to re-create in Orlando what he contributed to in Oklahoma City, but Kevin Durants and Russell Westbrooks don't just grow on trees. With a 2012-13 team built around Arron Afflalo, Hedo Turkoglu, Glen Davis and Al Harrington, Magic fans wouldn't be wise to look forward to anything this season besides the lottery.
29 Sacramento <a href=Kings" title="Sacramento Kings">
The Kings had to be pleased when Thomas Robinson fell to them at the No. 5 pick in the draft. The pairing of Robinson and center DeMarcus Cousins gives the Kings an identity, and strength, for the first time in years. Sacramento's backcourt is more complex. The Kings would love it if former first-round picks Tyreke Evans and Jimmer Fredette could carry the load, but both were outplayed last season by former second-round pick Isaiah Thomas and swingman Marcus Thornton. The addition of Aaron Brooks, a former Sixth Man of the Year who played in China last season, only clutters things further.
30 Charlotte <a href=Bobcats" title="Charlotte Bobcats">
The Bobcats finished with the worst winning percentage in NBA history last season (.106) and lost their final 23 games. But with Michael Jordan handing over the basketball decision-making to GM Rich Cho, the Bobcats have at least admitted they have a problem. But it's going to take a lot more to fix this team. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was the right pick at No. 2, but it'll take time for the 19-year-old to develop. Charlotte added two veterans, Ben Gordon and Ramon Sessions, to play alongside Kemba Walker, but it has very little inside. First-year coach Mike Dunlap has quantity over quality at center in Bismack Biyombo, Brendan Haywood, Byron Mullens and DeSagana Diop. Tyrus Thomas remains an enigma at power forward. The Bobcats have a long way to go, but at least they're embracing rebuilding wholeheartedly.

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