1. MIAMI HEAT
2011–12 record: 46–20
WHAT THEY'VE GOT: A shiny championship trophy! LeBron James finally won his first NBA title, and now he and the other members of Miami's Big Three — guard Dwyane Wade and forward Chris Bosh — need to try and defend it. The addition of guard Ray Allen gives the Heat another reliable, although aging, scoring option.
WHAT THEY NEED: Good health. James missed only four games last season, and then spent the summer leading Team USA to an Olympic gold medal, so fatigue could be a factor. And Wade, age 30, and Allen, 37, have been injury-prone.
BOTTOM LINE: Miami should return to the NBA Finals, but a repeat will depend on James's supporting cast.
[Photo Gallery: NBA stars with new teams]
2. ATLANTA HAWKS
2011–12 record: 40–26
WHAT THEY'VE GOT: The talented Mr. Smith. All-Star power forward Josh Smith blossomed last season, with 18.8 points and 9.6 rebounds per game. With Smith's high-flying attack and the return of center-forward Al Horford's imposing presence in the paint, the Hawks will be tough to defend up front. If point guard JeffTeague can have a breakout season, it will balance out Atlanta's attack.
WHAT THEY NEED: A dependable shooter. The loss of All-Star guard Joe Johnson hurts. Atlanta acquired guard Louis Williams, but he is more of a streaky scorer than a consistent threat.
BOTTOM LINE: Atlanta should make the playoffs, but the Hawks won't be able to challenge Miami.
[Video: NBA rookie photo shoot]
3. WASHINGTON WIZARDS
2011–12 record: 20–46
WHAT THEY'VE GOT: Help for lightning-fast point guard John Wall. Washington has high hopes for guard Bradley Beal, the third overall pick from Florida. A natural shooter from behind the arc, Beal could be a talented running mate to grow with Wall. With this backcourt duo, the future of the Wizards now looks bright.
WHAT THEY NEED: To grow up fast. Wall is only 22 years old, and Beal is fresh out of college. To help with leadership, the Wizards traded for experienced veterans, center Emeka Okafor and small forward Trevor Ariza, in the off-season.
BOTTOM LINE: If Wall and Beal turn the team around, the Wizards could make the playoffs for the first time since 2007–08.
4. ORLANDO MAGIC
2011–12 record: 37–29
WHAT THEY'VE GOT: A new identity. Sixth-year guard Arron Afflalo joins Orlando and will be the team's best all-around player following the departure of Dwight Howard. Young up-and-comers include rookie forward Moe Harkless, a superior athlete, and 7-foot center Nikola Vucevic, who will provide some stability in the frontcourt. And for veteran leadership, the Magic will look to point guard Jameer Nelson.
WHAT THEY NEED: Patience. You can't simply replace a megastar like Howard. Besides relying on his scoring, the Magic have also been weak on defense, knowing that Howard could bail them out.
BOTTOM LINE: Without Howard, the Magic don't have enough players who can produce right away.
5. CHARLOTTE BOBCATS
2011–12 record: 7–59
WHAT THEY'VE GOT: New faces. The Bobcats brought in head coach Mike Dunlap to try and instill an up-tempo style of basketball. Charlotte can turn its losing ways around if point guard Kemba Walker makes big improvements in his second year. Most importantly, Walker must harness the competitive fire of rookie swingman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the second overall pick of the draft.
WHAT THEY NEED: To believe they can win. It's hard to rebuild after losing 90% of your games last season. Charlotte needs to keep games slow-paced and lowscoring, then gut out some wins.
BOTTOM LINE: There's nowhere to go but up for the Bobcats after last year's nightmare season.