Race is wide open
It would be easy to say the Heat will be the favorite.
It would be easy to say the Mavericks will repeat because they now have the know-how.
But in reality, it will be wide open.
The Heat, if they can get over losing in the Finals and the disappearance of LeBron James, will be a favorite.
The Thunder gained experience from losing in the Western Conference finals, and will be a force again if Russell Westbrook improves his point-guard mentality and gets past the criticism.
Heat too talented
Whether the season is 82 games, 50 like the last lockout-shortened season or less, the Heat will win the championship.
Rarely has such a successful team been so scrutinized and criticized. Of course, the Heat brought some of that upon themselves. But think about it: The Heat came within two victories of a title in their first season together after landing LeBron James and Chris Bosh in free agency.
James and Dwyane Wade will figure out how to play better together. Erik Spoelstra will continue to demand them to defend. And Udonis Haslem will be healthy. James and Wade are too talented not to win a title together and certainly will be motivated by failure - if you can call winning 58 games and an Eastern Conference championship that.
Heat are favorites
The Heat should be considered the favorite if there is a 2011-12 season.
Give the Mavericks credit. The best team won this year. The Mavs played sound defense and hit shots under pressure. They deserved to win.
But let's remember the Mavs needed otherworldly play from Dirk Nowitzki and extraordinary 3-point shooting to wrest the series from Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and the Heat.
I still think the Heat are the class of the East — unless the Celtics add quality youth, the Bulls add a complement to Derrick Rose or the Magic give Dwight Howard a go-to scorer.
In the West, the Thunder may reach the Finals but probably need another year of experience to win the title.
The only thing fans should be asking is whether there even will be a season.
Last call for Celtics
The Celtics, because they know it will be their final opportunity.
Doc Rivers easily could have stepped aside. Don't for a second think he came back for anything short of a championship.
Ownership knows that. Ainge knows that. Ray Allen clearly knew that when he picked up his option for 2011-12.
This arguably remains the most complete team in the East.