OUR ANNUAL RANKING OF TEAMS BY MOST OOOHS AND AAAHS (AND BOOS AND BLAHS), THE KEY DATES TO CIRCLE AND WHO WILL WIN THE HARDWARE
Just how much fun will each team be to watch this season?
The Warriors' 2015 title run was a breakthrough for fans of beautiful basketball. Golden State proved that an offense built outside-in could withstand the rigors of the playoffs. The Warriors also showed that an undersized defense without a traditional center could force bigger opponents to adapt, and they demonstrated that an up-tempo team could be versatile and disciplined enough to defeat fast and slow opponents alike.
Now, here come the imitators. This season the NBA will feature smaller lineups and a faster style that emphasizes ball movement, spacing, three-point shooting and interchangeable positions. Even traditional, defensive-minded teams such as the Bulls and the Pacers devoted their summers to restyling their rosters.
Here's how the league shapes up in terms of entertainment value, from "Must-see TV" to "What's on Netflix?" Criteria include projected success, style of play, potency, age, health, coaching and star power.
Golden State's freewheeling, explosive offense, built around MVP Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, perfected the captivating blowout, in which the entertainment lies in spectacular dominance. The Warriors led the league with 45 double-digit victories last season.
Kevin Durant was exquisite in 2013--14; Russell Westbrook was ferocious in '14--15. Oklahoma City can match Golden State's electricity if both MVP candidates stay healthy.
Come for the scoring, stay for the dunks. Wild cards Josh Smith and Lance Stephenson will enhance the NBA's most efficient attack—or derail it.
Early-season chemistry issues, midseason trades and postseason injuries kept Cleveland from fulfilling its showtime potential in 2014--15. LeBron James, still the NBA's most spellbinding player, won't let that happen again.
Rarely does a team with two superstars such as James Harden and Dwight Howard also go two-deep at every position. New point guard Ty Lawson will supercharge these speed demons.
The league's most intriguing talent (Anthony Davis) now has an offensive guru as his coach (Alvin Gentry). It's like starting a dessert recipe with chocolate and peanut butter.
While San Antonio's ceiling is sky high, Gregg Popovich will earn his paycheck managing LaMarcus Aldridge's assimilation, Kawhi Leonard's ascent and Tony Parker's decline.
Early injuries to Derrick Rose and Mike Dunleavy are familiar wet blankets, but relentless Jimmy Butler and outside shooting will help Chicago find a better flow.
Don't be fooled by the weak point guards: Utah is the NBA's best-kept secret, thanks to a stingy defense and a loaded frontcourt (with Rudy Gobert, Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors).
Regression is normal after a 60-win season, but don't dismiss a team with four All-Stars and a heady five-man approach at both ends.
Will Coach Randy Wittman follow through on his pledge to improve shot selection and exploit John Wall's open-court ability?
There's not a Bird or a Pierce on this roster, but Boston compensates with hardworking, coachable contributors and a young, fierce backcourt.
Miami's roster is among the league's five most entertaining. But Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh missed a combined 58 games in '15, and absences this season would curtail the team's firepower.
Leading a collection of big egos and brash personalities, the overpowering DeMarcus Cousins is one of the NBA's most watchable stars. His legendary impatience only adds intrigue.
They've been dismantling opposing offenses for a half-decade. Despite a suffocating style and shooting struggles, their veteran core can be a joy to watch.
By dumping tall ball for small ball, Larry Bird transformed his team more than any other executive. Paul George's return will boost last year's 24th-ranked offense (97.3 ppg).
Behind point guard Kyle Lowry, Toronto occasionally thrills, but two straight postseason collapses make it hard to embrace these paper tigers.
Built for the Vine generation, Milwaukee plays 48 minutes of lockdown defense and subpar offense, with occasional eye-popping dunks.
19 TRAIL BLAZERS
The off-season seriously diminished Portland's talent, but the rebuilding Blazers will focus on friskiness: Damian Lillard will be unleashed, and eager young bigs will chip in.
Tune in for the nostalgia of Kobe Bryant's turnaround jumpers and the promise of D'Angelo Russell and Julius Randle. Try to forget about the muddled present.
They may top this list in, say, 2020, but for now No. 1 picks Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns will sparkle amid the team's growing pains.
Even if Eric Bledsoe has an All-Star season and Markieff Morris survives without his twin, Marcus, Phoenix will struggle in the West. Blame the front office for shipping out too much talent.
They can field a starting five composed of top 20 picks from the last four drafts, but the youngsters haven't yet scored consistently or stopped anybody.
The good news: Phil Jackson signed actual NBA players, and No. 4 pick Kristaps Porzingis is no mere curiosity. But Carmelo Anthony's supporting cast still isn't deep enough.
Rookie point guard Emmanuel Mudiay is flashy and powerful, but Denver still lacks a team identity.
The reversal of free agent DeAndre Jordan forced the Mavs to surround aging Dirk Nowitzki with castoffs and injury-prone players.
Stan Van Gundy's spread offense is taking shape around Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson, but the defense is still a disaster.
The team lost forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to a shoulder injury. Nicolas Batum has been asked to spark a feeble offense, but don't get your hopes up.
Jahlil Okafor's Blue Devils won 35 games last season, but will his Sixers be able to match that before 2017? Center Joel Embiid is out with a foot injury.
The boom days of the team's move to Brooklyn have gone bust. At least Deron Williams isn't their problem anymore.
GAMES TO WATCH
Mark these dates in your calendar now
Calling all haters! DeAndre Jordan and the Clippers visit Dallas, followed by LaMarcus Aldridge's return to Portland.
Santa brings five games, starting with Chris Bosh and the Heat against the Pelicans and ending with a battle for L.A.
The NBA returns to ABC prime time as the Cavaliers host Chicago. Will Derrick Rose be healthy? Will it even matter?
CHRIS MANNIX'S AWARD PICKS
The 5'9" playmaker averaged 19.0 points in 26.0 minutes off Boston's bench.
His quick-paced offense will help turn the Pelicans into contenders.
The Spurs' forward is the perennial favorite until further notice.
The Duke big man will put up huge numbers on another terrible 76ers team.
He'll thrive alongside Dwight Howard in the Rockets' frontcourt.
GREG NELSON FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (WARRIORS)
WAY UP HIGH Led by MVP Stephen Curry (left) and Finals MVP Andre Iguodala, the supremely watchable Warriors look to defend their title in a league that's being molded in their image.
JOHN W. MCDONOUGH FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (JORDAN, ROSE)
ANDY LYONS/GETTY IMAGES (BOSH)
MELISSA MAJCHRZAK/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES
JAZZ RUDY GOBERT
GARRETT ELLWOOD/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES (THOMAS)
LAYNE MURDOCH/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES (GENTRY)
GREG NELSON FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (LEONARD)
NATHANIEL S. BUTLER/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES (OKAFOR)
ROCKY WIDNER/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES (MOTIEJUNAS)