In predicted order of finish:
2009-10 finish: 57-25, No. 1 in West.
Coming: Steve Blake, Matt Barnes, Theo Ratliff.
Going: Jordan Farmar, DJ Mbenga, Adam Morrison.
Coming off three Finals appearances and back-to-back title runs, they've barely glimpsed their potential in the few games they've had Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. Happily for the Lakers, winning a title persuaded ownership not to dump Lamar Odom, leaving them with two multi-talented bigs even if one of their three is out, as is usually the case. Kobe Bryant will be Kobe Bryant. They'll be good and if everything ever falls together, they'll be great.
2. San Antonio
2009-10 finish: 50-32, No. 7.
Coming: Tiago Splitter.
Going: Roger Mason, Keith Bogans.
Having gone through journeyman (Rasho Nesterovic) after journeyman (Fabricio Oberto, Antonio McDyess, Matt Bonner), they finally signed Splitter, their 6-11 2007 No. 1 pick. Splitter then missed the preseason because of a calf injury, dampening expectations the Spurs had already lowered.
3. Oklahoma City
2009-10 finish: 50-32, No. 8.
Coming: Cole Aldrich, Daequan Cook, Morris Peterson.
Going: No one of note.
"We won't see another team that athletic the rest of the way," said a relieved Bryant after the Thunder made the Lakers look old in last spring's first round. Now starting players with ages 24-22-21-21-21, the Thunder was No. 11 in defense and No. 1 in blocks with Durant, who just turned 22, nearing LeBron James' Year 3 numbers. With more comers (Russell Westbrook, Jeff Green, Serge Ibaka), if they're not big enough to fell titans, they're growing.
2009-10 finish: 55-27, No. 2.
Coming: Tyson Chandler.
Going: No one of note.
After not making it out of the first round in three of the last four seasons, owner Mark Cuban couldn't even get on LeBron James' list. Cuban settled for making his big, deep team even bigger and deeper ... which is good becase it's also older with Jason Kidd, 37, Dirk Nowitzki, 32, Jason Terry, 33, and Shawn Marion, 32. They'll still be tough, but at the end, it will still be Nowitzki vs. Bryant, Duncan and now, Durant.
2009-10 finish: 53-29, No. 5.
Coming: Al Jefferson, Raja Bell, Earl Watson.
Going: Carlos Boozer, Kyle Korver, Wes Matthews.
The Jazz is eternal, winning 50 with Karl Malone and John Stockton, Deron Williams and Boozer, or Williams and Jefferson. It's Jerry Sloan's 23rd season. GM Kevin O'Connor, in his 13th season, snared Jefferson, a 20-10 machine, to replace Boozer, a 20-10 machine. Unfortunately, the downside is also continuous. They're always running into the Lakers, and the missing piece is the one they've missed since Mark Eaton.
2009-10 finish: 50-32, No. 6 in West.
Coming: GM Rich Cho, Wes Matthews.
Going: GM Kevin Pritchard, Martell Webster.
So much for the young monster everyone feared. Unmoved by their heartwarming finish with Coach Nate McMillan holding them together after losing Greg Oden, owner Paul Allen's Vulcan Corp. people canned the brash Pritchard. Pritchard's real sin may have been selecting Oden over Durant, the overwhelming consensus move then, but tell that to the Vulcans.
2009-10 finish: 42-40, No. 9.
Coming: Brad Miller, Courtney Lee.
Going: Trevor Ariza.
Sentenced to a season without Yao Ming, Coach Rick Adelman's gritty crew gave everyone fits, stayed in the playoff hunt most of the way and, as a bonus, picked up Kevin Martin, the shooter it needed. With Yao, Martin, Aaron Brooks, Luis Scola, et al., getting back into the playoffs won't be a problem. Lasting two rounds would be, unless Yao's 24-minutes-a-game restriction is lifted by then.
2009-10 finish: 53-29, No. 4.
Coming: Al Harrington.
Going: No one of note ... yet.
Coach George Karl makes his heartwarming return to the wild bunch, which had the Lakers on the ropes in the 2009 Western finals ... and now faces extinction. Carmelo Anthony, who just became a franchise player, wants a bigger franchise, leaving them a last shot to show he's best off there. The Lakers once pulled it off, turning Bryant around with Bynum emerging and Pau Gasol coming in a fire sale. So, it's not impossible!
2009-10 finish: 29-53, No. 12.
Coming: Coach Vinny Del Negro, Ryan Gomes, Randy Foye.
Going: Coach Mike Dunleavy, Steve Blake, Travis Outlaw, Ricky Davis.
That's me, the Clippers fan. Hoping to change the culture, or create one, GM Neil Olshey, a Dunleavy protege, brought in young players and drew a line in the sand for Baron Davis. Happily for the new culture, Blake Griffin wowed everyone anew, giving them a huge front line with Chris Kaman in the role he prefers. Young, talented ... what could go wrong now?
2009-10 finish: 40-42, No. 10.
Coming: Tony Allen, Acie Law, Damien Wilkins.
Going: Ronnie Brewer.