1. GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
2016-17 finish: 67-15, first
Going: Matt Barnes, Ian Clark.
Most of the Warriors’ losses last season came when they were at less than full strength so let the 70-win watch begin again. The defending champions re-signed free agents and brought in more three-point shooting. After a smooth transition year, Kevin Durant could outscore Stephen Curry this season.
2. HOUSTON ROCKETS
2016-17 finish: 55-27, third
Going: Patrick Beverley, Sam Dekker, Montrezl Harrell.
The Rockets scored and shot amazingly well last season with James Harden at point guard. Now what will they do with Chris Paul, the NBA’s best pure point guard? Mike D’Antoni is a genius with elite playmakers and will manage the ball-sharing. More importantly, the defense improves with Paul, P.J. Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute added.
3. SAN ANTONIO SPURS
2016-17 finish: 61-21, second
Coming: Rudy Gay, Joffrey Lauvergne, Derrick White (rookie).
Going: Dewayne Dedmon, David Lee, Jonathon Simmons.
Here is the annual reminder to not sleep on the Spurs, who won 61 games and were crushing Golden State on the road in Game 1 until Kawhi Leonard was sidelined because of an ankle injury. They will be without Tony Parker until about the All-Star break and are hoping Rudy Gay can regain form after a torn Achilles tendon. Gregg Popovich usually finds a way.
4. OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
2016-17 finish: 47-35, sixth
The Thunder stayed relevant with the shocking acquisitions of Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, although the team will have to be successful to keep them from leaving next summer. George and Anthony have to adjust from leading-men roles but the Thunder now have options beyond Russell Westbrook creating everything offensively.
2016-17 finish: 51-31, fourth.
Coming: Patrick Beverley, Sam Dekker, Danilo Gallinari, Milos Teodosic, Lou Williams.
Many unproven teams are leap-frogging the Clippers in preseason prognostications, some speculating that the Clippers could miss the playoffs for the first time since 2011. That is hard to fathom with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan in their NBA primes and Danilo Gallinari joining them in the frontcourt.
6. MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES
2016-17 finish: 31-51, 13th
Going: Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine, Ricky Rubio.
The Western Conference is brutal but the Timberwolves still could jump from 13th to even higher than this. Adding Jimmy Butler’s two-way play in his prime to budding superstar Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins will do that. Minnesota has a more seasoned roster to end a 13-year playoff drought.
7. PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS
2016-17 finish: 41-41, eighth
Coming: Zach Collins (rookie), Anthony Morrow, Caleb Swanigan (rookie).
Going: Allen Crabbe.
The Trail Blazers are a blast offensively with 50 points a game from the backcourt of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. Jusuf Nurkic showed what an inside presence he can add in 20 games before an injury last season. Portland must get better defensively and that could be accomplished by fouling less and better protecting the three-point line.
8. UTAH JAZZ
2016-17 finish: 51-31, fifth
Utah is recovering from the loss of Gordon Hayward by putting together the league’s top defense, headed by Rudy Gobert. Ricky Rubio, Thabo Sefolosha and Ekpe Udoh also are strong defenders and rookie Donovan Mitchell has great potential to be a disruptive on-ball defender. Dante Exum (separated shoulder) is sidelined indefinitely again.
9. MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES
2016-17 finish: 43-39, seventh
Grit-and-grind basketball meant seven consecutive playoff trips but the streak and identity are in jeopardy with Zach Randolph and Tony Allen gone. Mike Conley and Marc Gasol remain elite but they need help, like Chandler Parsons returning to his Dallas form. After adding three-point shooters last season, Memphis now tries to catch up to NBA pace.
10. DENVER NUGGETS
2016-17 finish: 40-42, ninth
Coming: Tyler Lydon (rookie), Trey Lyles, Paul Millsap.
Going: Danilo Gallinari.
The Nuggets lost leading scorer Danilo Gallinari but have a chance to be a playoff team with All-Star Paul Millsap aboard. Denver finished last season strongly, especially on offense. The versatility of Millsap and Nikola Jokic up front is an asset but the Nuggets still need better point guard play from Emmanuel Mudiay.
11. NEW ORLEANS PELICANS
2016-17 finish: 34-48, 10th
Coming: Tony Allen, Ian Clark, Rajon Rondo.
Going: Tim Frazier.
The Anthony Davis-DeMarcus Cousins experiment went 11-14 last season but a slimmer Cousins and a point guard switch could help. Rajon Rondo was added to move Jrue Holiday off the ball but Rondo is sidelined until November because of a sports hernia. Solomon Hill is sidelined until February, adding to injuries that coach Alvin Gentry has faced for two years.
12. DALLAS MAVERICKS
2016-17 finish: 33-49, 11th
Going: Justin Anderson.
The Mavericks, trying to rebound after their worst season in 17 years, have in point guard Dennis Smith Jr. their best rookie in a long time. Though 39-year-old Dirk Nowitzki is signed through 2018-19, the Mavericks are rebuilding and showed it by using 24 players last season.
2016-17 finish: 26-56, 14th
Going: Timofey Mozgov, D’Angelo Russell, Lou Williams, Nick Young.
A true point guard, two veteran starter additions and a clearer direction make improvement more likely but the Lakers’ youth and worst-rated defense also make for another development season. Passing, tempo and expiring contracts should lead to inspired play, especially with no 2018 first-round pick and thus no reason to tank.
14. PHOENIX SUNS
2016-17 finish: 24-58, 15th.
Coming: Troy Daniels, Mike James, Josh Jackson (rookie).
Going: Leandro Barbosa.
The Suns will remain in the franchise’s worst three-year stretch ever but are committed to “The Timeline,” their answer to “The Process” in Philadelphia. The Suns remain young and have a cornerstone in Devin Booker but still need footing with a defensive culture. Brandon Knight is again sidelined because of an injury.
15. SACRAMENTO KINGS
2016-17 finish: 32-50, 12th
Coming: Bogdan Bogdanovic (rookie), Vince Carter, De’Aaron Fox (rookie), George Hill.
It would be stunning for the Kings to end an 11-year playoff drought with five rookies but they will be intriguing just for having De’Aaron Fox and seven other first-rounders from the last two drafts. They added veterans to ease the transition. Buddy Hield is the top returning scorer after only 25 games as a King.