Under normal circumstances, the defending champions returning the vast majority of their rotation and boasting the best player on the planet would be the easy number one choice in the preseason NBA Power Rankings, but this summer was not exactly normal.
The Los Angeles Lakers, who might have been considered fringe contenders as long as Kobe Bryant is part of the plan, changed the discussion when they added two All-Stars to their roster this summer, trading for centre Dwight Howard and signing point guard Steve Nash to give Kobe all the support he needs to challenge for another title.
Even with the addition of veteran power forward Antawn Jamison, the Lakers' depth is still an area of concern, but those are top-of-the-ranking style problems: if the rotation is so strong one through six or seven, spots eight and nine aren't going make a huge difference.
The Lakers, then, sit on top, ahead of last year's representatives in the Finals, the Miami Heat and the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Injuries have already affected some other teams that are usually near the top of the rankings.
The Chicago Bulls are facing the prospect of missing superstar point guard Derrick Rose for most, if not all, of the season after he tore his ACL in last year's playoffs while the Dallas Mavericks are set to start the season without power forward Dirk Nowitzki following his recent knee surgery.
There's double trouble for the Minnesota Timberwolves as they must wait for point guard Ricky Rubio and power forward Kevin Love to recover from knee and wrist injuries, respectively. The T-Wolves haven't been contenders recently, but might have the talent, when healthy, to compete for a playoff spot, if they don't fall too far behind without their best players.
Washington is a long way from contending, but even further without point guard John Wall, who will miss a couple of months recovering from his own knee injury.
The Toronto Raptors, trying to be optimistic with a presumably healthy Andrea Bargnani, Kyle Lowry and rookies Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross joining the club, are ranked 18th, certainly higher than any recent results would indicate they deserve, but it matters who plays and the Raptors have upgraded their talent. That may not be enough to earn a playoff spot, but they should be in the discussion for al ot longer than they have been in recent seasons.
There will undoubtedly be changes as the season goes along as some players get hurt and other rise to the occasion, teams slump or go on hot streaks, but it's unusual for teams ranked too far down to make a championship bid by season's end. To that end, teams like the Lakers, Heat, Thunder, Celtics and a few others are best positioned for a championship run this season.
Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.