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Ranking the NBA

Tim Duncan, right, and the Spurs got the best of LaBron James and the Cavaliers in last years NBA finals. Associated Press
 (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Tim Duncan, right, and the Spurs got the best of LaBron James and the Cavaliers in last years NBA finals. Associated Press (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)

The road to the NBA title could go through Texas as the San Antonio Spurs, Dallas Mavericks and Houston Rockets have the talent to win it all. In the East, the Boston Celtics, title-less since 1986, have added superstars Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to holdover Paul Pierce. But the deep, young and hungry Chicago Bulls are primed to take the next step.

USA TODAY’s David DuPree ranks the teams:

1. San Antonio Spurs (West)

No team is as dominant at both ends of the floor as the Spurs, and no three superstars play better together than Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.

Danny Sheridan’s odds – 5:1

2. Houston Rockets (West)

Rick Adelman returns to coaching after taking last season off, and his team is loaded with the acquisitions of versatile Argentine forward Luis Scola, sharpshooter Mike James and rookie point guard Aaron Brooks. Add them to superstars Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming, and the Rockets are legitimate contenders.

Sheridan’s odds – 18:1

3. Dallas Mavericks (West)

No matter what they say, their confidence has to be shaken after winning 67 games only to get ousted in the first round of the playoffs. The major change is expected to be Devin Harris replacing Jason Terry at point guard and perhaps Jerry Stackhouse moving from sixth man to starting shooting guard.

Sheridan’s odds – 5:1

4. Phoenix Suns (West)

They are hoping the addition of Grant Hill will give them that one talented veteran they need to reach the Finals, but they will miss the inside savvy of Kurt Thomas (traded to Seattle). The cloud as to whether to trade Shawn Marion could hang over the team until the trading deadline, however.

Sheridan’s odds – 5:1

5. Chicago Bulls (East)

This is a hard-nosed team that pounds opponents. There still is no consistent low-post scoring threat, but Luol Deng is a rising star and Ben Gordon is as explosive a scorer as there is in the NBA.

Sheridan’s odds – 18:1

6. Boston Celtics (East)

The Celtics went through a massive overhaul, acquiring Garnett and Allen, James Posey, Eddie House and Scot Pollard to join Pierce. The question is at point guard, however, where second-year player Rajon Rondo has been given the reins.

Sheridan’s odds – 15:1

7. Detroit Pistons (East)

Looking to shake things up without making major deals, the Pistons are planning to start Rasheed Wallace at center and move Antonio McDyess to starting power forward. Add Chauncey Billups and Richard Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince, and there isn’t a better starting five in the league.

Sheridan’s odds – 20:1

8. Cleveland Cavaliers (East)

LeBron James showed last season just how far a superstar can take a team, but he needs help. Instead of getting any, the Cavaliers took a step back as Monday they were still embroiled in contract negotiations with free agents Anderson Varejao and Sasha Pavlovic.

Sheridan’s odds – 18:1

9. Utah Jazz (West)

Led by Deron Williams, Carlos Boozer and Mehmet Okur, the experience this team gained by getting to the second round of the playoffs will be invaluable. Andrei Kirilenko apparently has ironed out his differences with coach Jerry Sloan.

Sheridan’s odds – 22:1

10. Toronto Raptors (East)

With the most international roster in the NBA, the Raptors are a solid all-around team led by power forward Chris Bosh with depth, youth and speed.

Sheridan’s odds – 60:1

11. New Jersey Nets (East)

The major moves were in not making any involving Vince Carter, Jason Kidd and Richard Jefferson. Nenad Krstic, who missed the last 56 games last season with a torn knee ligament, is back.

Sheridan’s odds – 50:1

12. Washington Wizards (East)

Gilbert Arenas is coming off knee surgery but is expected to be the same MVP candidate he was before the injury – and could lead the NBA in scoring. Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison team with him to give the Wizards a high-scoring trio, but they have little in the middle with inconsistent Brendan Haywood.

Sheridan’s odds – 75:1

13. Orlando Magic (East)

They landed perhaps the biggest free agent pickup in forward Rashard Lewis, who teams with center Dwight Howard to give the Magic one of the best inside-outside 1-2 punches in the league.

Sheridan’s odds – 125:1

14. Denver Nuggets (West)

Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony went through training camp together for the first time. That is a plus because their chemistry is vital to Denver’s success.

Sheridan’s odds – 25:1

15. Los Angeles Lakers (West)

The Lakers failed to get the big name to play alongside Kobe Bryant. Now the Bryant situation probably will be a distraction until he is traded or has a meeting of the minds with management.

Sheridan’s odds – 30:1

16. Memphis Grizzlies (West)

They acquired shooting guard Juan Carlos Navarro from the Wizards. That move, and the addition of Darko Milicic, should keep Pau Gasol happy. New coach Mark Iavaroni brings the Suns’ up-tempo approach. Rookie point guard Mike Conley Jr. should also thrive as the Grizzlies, winners of a league-low 22 games last season, could be one of the most improved teams.

Sheridan’s odds – 10,000:1

17. New Orleans Hornets (West)

If they stay healthy, a trip to the playoffs could be in order. Peja Stojakovic, who missed 69 games last season with a back injury, has returned. And with David West and Tyson Chandler at the power positions, Chris Paul at point guard and newcomer Morris Peterson, this could be an explosive team.

Sheridan’s odds – 150:1

18. Golden State Warriors (West)

The high-scoring Warriors are loaded with talent. Coach Don Nelson has given practically everybody a green light to shoot, and they live by the three-pointer, putting up a league-high 23.99 attempts a game.

Sheridan’s odds – 50:1

19. Milwaukee Bucks (East)

Rookie Yi Jianlian is progressing faster than expected. The other big move the Bucks made was re-signing steady point guard Mo Williams, the perfect backcourt running mate for high-scoring Michael Redd.

Sheridan’s odds – 400:1

20. New York Knicks (East)

They acquired power forward Zach Randolph from Portland to play alongside center Eddy Curry, giving the Knicks a solid low-post combination, but neither is a good passer or defender. A lot rides on how well point guard Stephon Marbury performs.

Sheridan’s odds – 750:1

21. Miami Heat (East)

Dwyane Wade is expected to be out until at least late November, and it’s uncertain how much Shaquille O’Neal has left. Pat Riley’s Heat went winless in the preseason for the first time ever.

Sheridan’s odds – 12:1

22. Seattle SuperSonics (West)

They might not be playing in Seattle much longer, but this team has been overhauled. With new coach P.J. Carlesimo, the Sonics have celebrated rookie Kevin Durant, and the return of center Robert Swift from knee surgery will help.

Sheridan’s odds – 1 million:1

23. Charlotte Bobcats (East)

They lost Adam Morrison and Sean May for the season with knee injuries, but the Bobcats still will be tough. New coach Sam Vincent will have them playing an up-tempo style, and the Bobcats re-signed Gerald Wallace and traded for Jason Richardson from Golden State.

Sheridan’s odds – 1,000:1

24. Portland Trail Blazers (West)

Losing top pick Greg Oden to knee surgery is a devastating blow. But this is a solid young team that plays well together, led by last season’s rookie of the year, shooting guard Brandon Roy.

Sheridan’s odds – 750:1

25. Indiana Pacers (East)

Danny Granger could very well be the best player new coach Jim O’Brien has, as Jermaine O’Neal still could be traded. Mike Dunleavy Jr. and Troy Murphy have to play big for this team to be effective, and point guard Jamaal Tinsley has to stay healthy.

Sheridan’s odds – 500:1

26. Atlanta Hawks (East)

They have two exciting performers in Joe Johnson and Josh Smith and drafted power forward Al Horford and point guard Acie Law. One of the youngest teams in the league, the Hawks are making steady progress.

Sheridan’s odds – 2,000:1

27. Philadelphia 76ers (East)

Andre Iguodala is the star of this team and could be an All-Star. But the 76ers didn’t make any major moves to keep up with the teams in the East that did.

Sheridan’s odds – 25,000:1

28. Sacramento Kings (West)

Rookie center Spencer Hawes had knee surgery but could be back by December for first-year coach Reggie Theus. Kevin Martin (20.2 points) is a big scorer, but Mike Bibby (thumb) is out for six to eight weeks.

Sheridan’s odds – 250:1

29. Los Angeles Clippers (West)

With Elton Brand out after Achilles’ tendon surgery and Shaun Livingston out indefinitely after last year’s knee injury, the Clippers could be in for a tough time.

Sheridan’s odds – 500:1

30. Minnesota Timberwolves (West)

The question will long be, did they get enough for Garnett? They got the one player they sought in Al Jefferson, but it’s going to be a long season in Minnesota.

Sheridan’s odds – 1 billion:1