Last season: 47-35
Key newcomers: LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Eddie House, Mike Miller, Zydrunas Ilgauskas
Coach: Eric Spoelstra (3rd season)
In adding LeBron James and Chris Bosh as playmates for Dwyane Wade, the Heat may have one of the most talented threesomes in NBA history. The question isn’t how good they can be, but who can beat them — the Lakers with their skill and harmony, the Celtics with their stonewalling defense and Orlando if Dwight Howard has refined his post game.
Last season: 50-32
Key newcomers: Shaquille O’Neal, Jermaine O’Neal
Coach: Doc Rivers (6th season)
Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett may not have the talent they had when they were younger, but each plays with the intelligence and discipline of a champion. If any team can knock off the Lakers or Heat, it’s the old reliable Celtics.
Last season: 59-23
Key Newcomers: Chris Duhon
Coach: Stan Van Gundy (3rd season)
The Magic are loaded with talent and depth, but they’ll only go as far as Dwight Howard takes them. At worst, they’re a second-round team, but if Howard ever develops the back-to-the-basket game he’s capable of, the Magic could win it all this year.
Last season: 41-41
Key Newcomers: Carlos Boozer, Ronnie Brewer, Kyle Korver
Coach: Tom Thibodeau (1st season)
While Boozer’s offense will grab all the headlines, the Bulls will be known for their defensive renown. Ronnie Brewer, Luol Deng and Joakim Noah are an fine defensive trio, and Thibodeau has long been launded as a defensive mastermind. They’re short on shooters, though.
Last season: 46-36
Key newcomers: Corey Maggette, Drew Gooden, Chris Douglas-Roberts
Coach: Scott Skiles (3rd season)
The Bucks overachieved in 2010 with a lot of hustle and a lot of heart. Can they succeed with higher expectations but without a significant influx of new talent?
Last season: 53-29
Key newcomer: Jordan Crawford
Coach: Larry Drew (1st season)
The Hawks have hit their plateau as to how good they can be. They have the talent to make the playoffs and perhaps win a series, but their collection of isolation-oriented scorers and undisciplined defenders leave them ripe for contending teams to rip apart.
New York Knicks
Last season: 29-53
Key newcomers: Amar’e Stoudemire, Raymond Felton, Anthony Randolph
Coach: Mike D’Antoni (3rd season)
Stoudemire is the most talented player the Knicks have had in more than a decade, which should be enough to propel the Knicks to the playoffs, especially if Felton can hit his jumpers. There’s not enough defense or versatility to expect much more than a playoff berth, though.
Last season: 44-38
Key newcomers: Kwame Brown, Shaun Livingston
Coach: Larry Brown (3rd season)
The Bobcats work hard enough on defense to make the playoffs a possibility, but they don’t have enough juice to win a postseason game.
Last season: 27-55
Key newcomers: Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes, Andres Noccioni
Coach: Doug Collins (1st season)
Andre Iguodala has difficulty creating offense because he has trouble hitting long jumpers off the dribble. As long as he’s the Sixers’ best offensive player, Philadelphia will have trouble making the playoffs.
Last season: 26-56
Key newcomers: John Wall, Kirk Hinrich, Yi Jianlian
Coach: Flip Saunders (2nd season)
Gilbert Arenas’ ego and ball-centric game will curtail John Wall’s development. The quicker Arenas is traded, the quicker the Wizards can usher in their future.
Last season: 32-50
Key newcomers: Darren Collison, James Posey, Paul George
Coach: Jim O’Brien (ninth season, fourth with Indiana)
There aren’t enough guys on the Pacers who can create their own offense, or defend, and there isn’t one who’ll do both.
New Jersey Nets
Last Season’s Record: 12-70
Key newcomers: Derrick Favors, Travis Outlaw, Jordan Farmar, Anthony Morrow
Coach: Avery Johnson (1st season)
If Devin Harris doesn’t go through the motions like he did last season, the Nets can be somewhat respectable. If he does, the Nets will again be hard-pressed to win 20 games.
Last season: 40-42
Key newcomers: Leandro Barbosa, David Andersen, Linas Kleiza
Coach: Jay Triano (3rd season)
The Raptors have been soft and defenseless for a while now, and they no longer have Chris Bosh’s scoring to make up for it. Andrea Bargnani won’t be efficient as the focal point of opposing defenses, and he’s Toronto’s best scorer. Expect a dismal season north of the border.
Last season: 61-21
Key newcomers: Ramon Sessions, Joey Graham
Coach: Byron Scott: (1st season)
We’ll see just how valuable LeBron James was to Cleveland as the Cavs will lose 30 to 40 more games this year than last year. They have a roster of role players, but Mo Williams and Antawn Jamison are the only guys who can create their own shots. How will the franchise react after being spurned so coldly by LeBron?
Last season: 27-55
Key newcomers: Tracy McGrady, Greg Monroe
Coach: John Kuester
The Pistons have a mishmash of players who need continuity and players who just want to isolate, and few of their players can score near the basket. Plus, with few talented youngsters, the Pistons are worse than a bad team — they’re a bad team with no upside.