Basketball

NBA WEST PREVIEW

1. Los Angeles Lakers: They have arguably the best player in the league (Kobe Bryant), plus two big men (Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum) and one of the NBA's more versatile players (Lamar Odom). What's not to like?

2. Houston Rockets: There is nothing more dicey than assuming the team that has Tracy McGrady will do anything of consequence. The guy still hasn't advanced beyond the playoffs' first round. But T-Mac, Yao Ming and Ron Artest are a scary combination.

3. New Orleans Hornets: Jeff Bowers is the most under-rated executive in the NBA. He built a deep, talented team around Chris Paul on the quick, acquiring Tyson Chandler and Peja Stojakovic.

4. San Antonio Spurs: Amazing how quickly the New England Patriots of the NBA can fall off the radar. How many teams would love to have Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili or Tony Parker? They'll cruise in the regular season, then attack another title run.

5. Utah Jazz: This epitomizes a really good, expensive team that isn't quite there as a contender. The Jazz overpaid for Andrei Kirilenko and that could cost it Carlos Boozer when it pays what it must to retain Deron Williams.

6. Dallas Mavericks: You remember these guys – the team of the future … or the past. Jason Kidd better have a great season, or this is an expensive exercise in running in mud.

7. Portland Trail Blazers: No team has been better at collecting young pieces you'd love to have: Brandon Roy, Greg Oden, LaMarcus Aldridge. The 2011 NBA Final is Sixers-Blazers.

8. Phoenix Suns: Taking Shaquille O'Neal off the Miami Heat's salary cap defines panic move. They are now a bunch of guys ready to run and one stubborn, old center jogging up the court. Good luck.

9. Denver Nuggets: If you have Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony on your payroll, you better make the playoffs. They might not, and if they don't, take it for granted Iverson is looking for a new team come July.

10. Los Angeles Clippers: Nice comeback from losing Elton Brand. They got Baron Davis and stole Marcus Camby because of the Nuggets' luxury-tax mess. They recovered just fine from losing one of the NBA's top 30 players.

11. Golden State Warriors: So you sign Monta Ellis for about $11million a season and he goes out and messes up his ankle on a scooter. They suspend him, and might go after his contract. Can you say, “season-long distraction?”

12. Memphis Grizzlies: They're a small-market team with a cost-cutting, out-of-town owner, and despite a sparkling new arena, the town isn't receiving them well. Remind you of anything back in Charlotte?

13. Sacramento Kings: This team defines transition. Ron Artest is gone and Brad Miller no longer plays up to his contract number. The Kings' best player came from Western Carolina. But Geoff Petrie is among the smarter general managers in this league.

14. Minnesota Timberwolves: Al Jefferson and … what? Kevin McHale was the guy who drafted Kevin Garnett, but what has he really done since then?

15. Oklahoma City Thunder: The best thing this franchise has going is a clean start, after escaping Seattle over an arena hassle. It will sell out no matter what this season, which will raise enough capital to chase free agents come July.

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