The key ingredients for must-see basketball are indisputable. Winning teams are almost always a better watch than losing ones. Offensive-minded teams are generally more thrilling than the defensive outfits. Attacks built on ball movement, up-tempo play and three-point shooting – preferably some combination of those attributes – usually trump ground-and-pound, half-court play. Star power deservedly merits a premium, as do up-and-coming players and teams boasting compelling new additions.
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With those factors in mind, here’s a ranking of the NBA’s 30 teams by entertainment value, arranged from “appointment viewing” to “cut the cable.”
1. Cavaliers:The “Wine & Gold” will be the gold standard for fun, intrigue and drama. The union of LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving promises highlights and wins galore.
2. Clippers: Lob City ranked No. 1 in offense in 2014 despite a host of injuries. With better health, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin could lead the NBA’s most efficient attack since the 2010 Suns.
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3. Thunder: MVP Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are the league’s most reliably electrifying duo – when healthy. Still, the Thunder might be must-see TV even with only one of them on the floor.
4. Warriors: In three years, Mark Jackson never constructed an elite offense around Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. Former sharpshooter Steve Kerr should make that happen.
5. Mavericks: The irresistible Dirk Nowitzki will again serve as the centerpiece for what should be a top-five offense. The Chandlers (Tyson and Parsons) give Dallas its most formidable roster since 2011.
6. Spurs: No team was as entertaining as the champs during the 2014 playoffs, but minute restrictions on everyone – even Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard – dampen the regular-season festivities.
7. Bulls: Although grinding has been Chicago’s M.O. for years, Derrick Rose’s return and Pau Gasol’s arrival should revitalize what has been a zombie-like offense.
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8. Trail Blazers: Terry Stotts’ creative offense and Damian Lillard’s clutch shooting will get you out of your seat, but keep a blindfold handy for whenever the impotent second unit checks in.
9. Suns: A stocked backcourt delivers on Jeff Hornacek’s vision for two-way relentless pressure. If the NBA instituted a 6-foot-5 height cap, the Suns would win the title.
10. Wizards: Slam Dunk champion John Wall and Bradley Beal form the NBA’s premier under-25 backcourt. A host of veteran additions, headlined by Paul Pierce, ensure that the future is now in Washington.
11. Rockets: Many fans find James Harden and Dwight Howard to be off-putting personalities, but Houston’s offense manufactures dunks and threes like widgets on an assembly line.
12. Heat: It will take months to fully process the ramifications of LeBron James’ departure. Eventually, Miami’s reshaped roster should be among the East’s best, assuming Dwyane Wade stays healthy.
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13. Pelicans:Anthony Davis is the NBA’s hottest stock, but New Orleans will still only appear on ESPN and TNT once each. The networks are sleeping on what could be the West’s biggest upstart.
14. Nuggets: Denver will play fast thanks to Ty Lawson and fly high with Kenneth Faried and JaVale McGee. There might not be a true All-Star on the team, but there’s plenty of action.
15. Raptors: What Toronto’s roster lacks in household names, it makes up for in determination (Kyle Lowry), aerial feats (DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross) and appealing old-school post play (Jonas Valanciunas).
16. Lakers:Kobe Bryant remains as watchable as it gets, even after major injuries at age 36. The same can’t be said for his anonymous supporting cast, who would do well to simply stay out of the way.
17. Timberwolves: If Flip Saunders fully embraces a youth movement led by Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota could be captivating. If not, prepare for another year of uninspired wheel-spinning.
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18. Knicks: The curiosity factor helps make up for a decided lack of talent, as Derek Fisher looks to revive the Triangle Offense and one-man show Carmelo Anthony tries to stay sane.
19. Grizzlies: A bruising, familiar Memphis roster loaded with All-Defensive types doesn’t paint masterpieces that you would hang above your fireplace. They would rather demolish your living room.
20. Hornets: A name change and the arrival of Lance Stephenson, one of the league’s more notorious characters, adds some pop. Still, Charlotte wins on defense and effort, rather than jaw-dropping plays.
21. Pistons: “Committed to indifference” should have been Detroit’s motto last season. New czar Stan Van Gundy won’t allow a talented core to badly underachieve again.
22. Bucks: Jason Kidd was out of gas when he retired in 2013, but Milwaukee’s 41-year-old coach could still outplay half of his roster. Lottery picks Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker are the main attractions.
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24. Kings: Owner Vivek Ranadive was overjoyed to win the Las Vegas Summer League, which says it all. Sacramento is going nowhere fast in the loaded West yet again.
25. Hawks: Even a super-spread offense and the return of Al Horford can’t help Atlanta shake its longstanding reputation as the blandest competent team in the league.
26. Nets:Joe Johnson has a knack for fireworks in the final 10 seconds of regulation. With Paul Pierce and Shaun Livingston gone and Kevin Garnett on his last legs, just fast-forward through the other 47:50.
27. Celtics: Fans of horrific interior defense and choppy offense will be outraged by this ranking. Rookie guard Marcus Smart is the best reason to tune in. Did you know Gerald Wallace is still in the league?
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28. Magic: It’s been 26 months since the Dwight Howard trade, and Orlando has yet to find a new alpha dog. Another season of dreadful offense is in the cards.
29. 76ers: The debut of hyper-athletic center Nerlens Noel, a 2013 lottery pick who sat last season with a knee injury, is the only thing keeping these no-namers out of the basement.
30. Pacers: Unless you’re a blood relative of Roy Hibbert, there’s no reason to tune in until Paul George returns from a leg injury.