Five-minute guide to '12-13 season (cont.)
The Spurs: They were dealt another frustrating playoff loss last season, but the NBA's most resilient franchise always come back for more.
Vinny Del Negro, Clippers coach: He was responsible for the Clippers' second playoff series victory in 36 years -- and the rumors of his demise indicate that the organization is impatient with him to turn the team instantly into a title contender.
Mark Cuban, Mavericks owner: He has earned the benefit of the doubt, but this season of continuing transition promises to be difficult for a franchise that expects excellence.
Russell Westbrook, Thunder: No young star has improved more in a short time, and yet few stars are under more pressure. Instead of receiving credit for the meteoric rise of his team, Westbrook receives the blame when the Thunder fall short.
Rob Hennigan: If the plan is to tear down and start over, then the new Orlando general manager must unload contracts swiftly while dealing with the aftermath of Dwight Howard's exit.
Jeremy Lin: Can he fulfill the standards demanded by his new salary and last season's extraordinary performances?
Will these talents be available this season?
Jose Calderon, Raptors: The acquisition of Kyle Lowry affirmed Toronto's intention to unload the expiring $10.6 million salary of their respected point guard.
Josh Smith, Hawks: Joe Johnson was moved, and will Smith be the next to go?
Carlos Boozer, Bulls: He's viewed as an amnesty candidate, and if Rose's return is stalled and the Bulls struggle, Boozer may be moved sooner than later.
Anderson Varejao, Cavaliers: The complementary big man is guaranteed $21.4 million over the next three seasons and his defense could help a contender.
Richard Jefferson, Warriors: If Harrison Barnes and Klay Thompson turn out to be the future, where does that leave Jefferson with two years and $21.2 million on the books?
Kevin Martin, Rockets: He's in the final year of his deal at $12.4 million.
Steve Blake or Chris Duhon, Lakers: It would make sense for the Lakers to keep both of their backup point guards as insurance against injury, but they may be seeking to limit their luxury tax.
James Harden, Thunder: If OKC is unable to sign him to an extension, will this young Olympian be moved preemptively? It's unlikely. But rivals are watching closely.
Orlando Magic roster: This is a franchise of high ambition that needs to recover from the Howard fiasco as quickly as possible.
Nicolas Batum, Trail Blazers: If Portland is suffering, it would not be a surprise to find the Blazers seeking to move his expensive contract at the deadline.
Tyreke Evans, Kings: The Kings haven't extended him, so will they move him?
Paul Millsap, Jazz: Can Utah afford to keep all four of its big men (Millsap, Al Jefferson, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter)? Rivals view Millsap as the one to be dealt.
They've set themselves apart from the rest of the league:
1. Heat: The favorite until proved otherwise.
2. Lakers: An L.A.-Miami Finals would be the NBA's best since the '80s.
3. Thunder: Their underdog status vs. the Lakers will help them.
1. Celtics: Three stars 35 or older.
2. Knicks: Carmelo Anthony must elevate to title contention in year 10 of his career.
3. Nets: They won't win the title, but they should compete with the Knicks.
4. Clippers: This team has complementary experience in depth.
5. Grizzlies: A new ownership group promises change across the board -- unless the current Grizzlies prove themselves worthy.
1. Thunder: Patience should be the ultimate virtue for this young franchise.
2. Nuggets: They'll be young and fun this year.
3. Hawks: Joe Johnson's departure promises more transition for Atlanta.
4. Raptors: Toronto is developing a solid foundation.
5. Jazz: Utah has the NBA's best young frontcourt.
6. Timberwolves: Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love supply a promising foundation.
7. Hornets: Anthony Davis, Eric Gordon, Austin Rivers, Monty Williams and Dell Demps -- New Orleans has youthful energy across the board.
1. Magic: The No. 1 pick should be the goal.
2. Bobcats: The No. 1 pick should be the goal.
3. Kings: The No. 1 pick will have to be the goal.
4. Rockets: Rockets may back into the No. 1 pick.
5. Trail Blazers: They don't want to hear it, but the Blazers will be in the running.