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NBA Power Rankings: How LeBron and Kawhi change the league

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Elhassan: Celtics' identity embodied by in Smart (1:26)

Amin Elhassan thinks it was smart for Boston to sign Marcus Smart because he represents the scrappy mentality of the Celtics. (1:26)

LeBron James is in L.A., Kawhi Leonard is in Toronto and another wild NBA offseason is nearly complete.

Who are the best and worst teams heading into the 2018-19 season?

Our panel -- a group of more than 40 reporters, insiders and editors -- is looking ahead to next season with a new edition of NBA Power Rankings.

Note: These rankings take into account additional potential player movement. Voters were asked to pick the better team heading into next season in a series of head-to-head matchups featuring thousands of votes. Conference rankings are noted next to each team.

1. Golden State Warriors (1)
2017-18 record: 58-24
Result: W, NBA Finals
Previous rank: No. 1

After letting the Lakers have a day to soak in their LeBron James win, the champs set the NBA world on fire with their Thanos-like move by adding DeMarcus Cousins to their gauntlet of All-Stars, making their Death Lineup even more terrifying if the big man can return healthy from an Achilles injury. Golden State -- which also added Jonas Jerebko and drafted tough two-way forward Jacob Evans -- can afford to wait for Cousins, who should inject the Warriors with a jolt of motivation and excitement down the stretch of a fifth run to the Finals. -- Ohm Youngmisuk


2. Boston Celtics (1)
2017-18 record: 55-27
Result: L, East finals
Previous rank: No. 4

The Celtics had one of the more snooze-worthy summers in the NBA, electing to simply bring back the same core from last season by re-signing defensive tone-setters Aron Baynes and Marcus Smart. And yet, the Celtics will still emerge as one of the offseason winners because, with LeBron James heading west, and with Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward set to return from injury, Boston is the early favorite in the East. As Hayward told ESPN last week: "I'm confident that we've got everything we need to make the run at the whole thing." -- Chris Forsberg


3. Houston Rockets (2)
2017-18 record: 65-17
Result: L, West finals
Previous rank: No. 2

It has been a weird summer for the team that was maybe a hamstring away from an NBA title. Daryl Morey & Co. have earned the right for us all to assume they know what they're doing, but letting Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute go feel like significant losses -- especially if the recovery is based around signing Carmelo Anthony, who was very direct in telling the Thunder he wasn't interested in coming off the bench. They still need to resolve Clint Capela's situation, but assuming that gets settled, the Rockets will begin the season looking for production in unexpected places. That's something they do better than just about anyone. -- Royce Young


4. Philadelphia 76ers (2)
2017-18 record: 52-30
Result: L, East semis
Previous rank: No. 3

Philadelphia didn't make the big splash its fan base might have hoped for -- either on the court (no LeBron, Paul George or Kawhi) or in the front office. And, yet, much like Boston, the 76ers are still well positioned to be a conference front-runner with only minor tweaks. The Sixers brought back JJ Redick, traded for Wilson Chandler and added a pair of first-rounders in Zhaire Smith and Landry Shamet. Joel Embiid will certainly believe his team is the East favorite -- Forsberg


5. Toronto Raptors (3)
2017-18 record: 59-23
Result: L, East semis
Previous rank: No. 7

Even with LeBron James out of the East, the Raptors probably needed to shake things up beyond a coaching change. They imported Kawhi Leonard and will endure the risks associated in hopes of overcoming their playoff bugaboo. Danny Green will help as well, but the Raptors' priority has to be showing Leonard that The Six can be just as good of a home as La La Land. -- Forsberg


6. Oklahoma City Thunder (3)
2017-18 record: 48-34
Result: L, West Round 1
Previous rank: No. 14

It's not technically an addition, but re-signing Paul George really should count as one. The Thunder keeping George is their biggest moment in free agency, and it provides the franchise some much-needed stability. Sam Presti and the front office can finally evaluate the team on a long-term path, instead of rolling year-into-year with an eye on an unknown future. There might be an element of addition by subtraction with Melo, but Dennis Schroder fills a lot of needs. The Thunder have had an extremely successful summer, though we've said that about them before. Now, they've got to win some games. -- Young


7. Utah Jazz (4)
2017-18 record: 48-34
Result: L, West semis
Previous rank: No. 5

What has made the Jazz's summer a success has been the simplicity. They added Grayson Allen; they lost Jonas Jerebko. That's it. There was no homegrown star departure, no roster overhaul in an attempted recovery. The Jazz can rely on one of the most coveted words in the NBA: continuity. Get everyone healthy, let the youngsters spend the summer getting better and roll into the season as a true Western Conference threat. -- Young

  • Key addition: Grayson Allen

  • Key subtraction: Jonas Jerebko


8. Denver Nuggets (5)
2017-18 record: 46-36
Result: Missed playoffs
Previous rank: No. 9

Taking the chance on Isaiah Thomas is worth it with the low-risk elements involved -- the money is low, the commitment is short. And Thomas has a lot to prove as he searches for that Brink's truck somewhere over the horizon. The losses of Kenneth Faried and Wilson Chandler could sting more than some think, but the Nuggets have a young core that's growing and should be able to absorb, and maybe even grow, from their losses. -- Young


9. Los Angeles Lakers (6)
2017-18 record: 35-47
Result: Missed playoffs
Previous rank: No. 13

Magic Johnson got his man LeBron James, and then the Lakers proceeded to construct a curious supporting cast. It features tough veterans with playoff experience that they believe will give James multiple versatile options who can make plays and defend. Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, JaVale McGee and Michael Beasley all bring a variety of talents but also an interesting mixture of strong and even quirky personalities. The Lakers added three players to their young, growing core in the draft. Lonzo Ball (torn left meniscus) underwent arthroscopic knee surgery and the Lakers' hope is to have him ready for the season. -- Youngmisuk


10. Portland Trail Blazers (7)
2017-18 record: 49-33
Result: L, West Round 1
Previous rank: No. 15

The Blazers don't have a lot of ways to improve their roster because of a landlocked cap sheet, but the additions of Nik Stauskas and Seth Curry bolster the shooting depth of an already solid perimeter team. Shabazz Napier had a breakout season filling in for Damian Lillard and Ed Davis is a consistent energy player, but their losses can be quickly filled by other in-house options. The Blazers appeared to take a big step forward last season before a first-round face plant, and with the conservative offseason approach it looks as if the front office is betting on the finish being a fluke. -- Young


11. Indiana Pacers (4)
2017-18 record: 48-34
Result: L, East Round 1
Previous rank: No. 11

Victor Oladipo elevated his game to a new level last season, almost knocking LeBron and the Cavs out in the first round. Now the All-Star guard has to raise his level even higher while hoping he can take the rest of the young core along with him for the ride. Tyreke Evans should be able to help immediately, and rookie Aaron Holiday showed some nice flashes of promise in his summer league debut. With Oladipo and Myles Turner leading the way, the young Pacers group is poised to show that it belongs near the top of a revamped East. -- Nick Friedell


12. New Orleans Pelicans (8)
2017-18 record: 48-34
Result: L, West semis
Previous rank: No. 8

The Pelicans essentially swapped out DeMarcus Cousins and Rajon Rondo for Elfrid Payton and Julius Randle. New Orleans recovered well after Cousins took a low-money deal to join the very (super) team that bounced the Pelicans from the conference semifinals last season. Still, the lingering question is whether New Orleans has enough to make strides in a beefed-up West. Anthony Davis gives them every opportunity to keep things interesting. -- Forsberg

  • Key additions: Elfrid Payton, Tony Carr and Julius Randle

  • Key subtractions: DeMarcus Cousins and Rajon Rondo


13. San Antonio Spurs (9)
2017-18 record: 47-35
Result: L, West Round 1
Previous rank: No. 6

The Summer of Kawhi finally came to an end, delivering DeMar DeRozan and Jakob Poeltl to San Antonio in return (plus a protected first-round draft pick). The Spurs have had a major offseason of change. San Antonio managed to lose two former Finals MVPs in Leonard and Tony Parker. The Spurs also lost Swiss Army knife Kyle Anderson to Memphis. DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge are now running the show for this team that refused to rebuild, and look for rookie Lonnie Walker IV to potentially make an impact for Gregg Popovich. -- Youngmisuk

  • Key additions: Lonnie Walker IV, Chimezie Metu, Marco Belinelli, Dante Cunningham, DeMar DeRozan and Jakob Poeltl

  • Key subtractions: Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green and Kyle Anderson


14. Washington Wizards (5)
2017-18 record: 43-39
Result: L, East Round 1
Previous rank: No. 16

With no cap space to speak of this summer, the Wizards brought John Wall, Bradley Beal and the rest of the band back together for at least one more run. Swapping out Dwight Howard for Marcin Gortat might push Washington a few steps ahead of where it finished last season in the East. But it's difficult to see how the All-Star backcourt and the rest of the Wizards take a major leap forward this season, even with LeBron in Los Angeles. Trading Gortat for Austin Rivers gives Scott Brooks a strong third guard and allows him to play some smaller lineups. But the big question is how Howard -- an eight-time NBA All-Star who has changed teams four times in nearly three years -- can mesh with the Washington backcourt. -- Ian Begley


15. Minnesota Timberwolves (10)
2017-18 record: 47-35
Result: L, West Round 1
Previous rank: No. 10

The Wolves are still very young, but it strangely feels as if there's some arbitrary clock ticking on them. There are rumblings of some roster strife, but they are coming off a landmark playoff appearance and a successful regular season that would've been even better without Jimmy Butler's injury. There wasn't much room to add outside of the draft and, assuming they lose Jamal Crawford, an already thin bench will be thinner. But this season is about the young core taking another step. -- Young


16. Milwaukee Bucks (6)
2017-18 record: 44-38
Result: L, East Round 1
Previous rank: No. 12

Can Mike Budenholzer's offensive system help the Bucks get to where they want to go? The veteran coach inherits a young group that was not able to live up to expectations last season. Giannis Antetokounmpo is one of the best young stars in the game, but aside from Khris Middleton, the rest of the roster remains largely a question mark. Point guard Eric Bledsoe had some nice moments but didn't show enough consistency. Will Ersan Ilyasova and Brook Lopez provide enough of a stabilizing presence to bring out the best for a group that is high on potential but short on results? -- Friedell


17. LA Clippers (11)
2017-18 record: 42-40
Result: Missed playoffs
Previous rank: No. 20

RIP Lob City, as DeAndre Jordan became the last Clipper of Doc Rivers' former Big Three to depart. Jordan joined Dallas -- for real this time -- in free agency and now with Blake Griffin (Detroit) and Chris Paul (Houston) gone, the Clippers begin retooling with Marcin Gortat, Mike Scott and defensive forward Luc Mbah a Moute adding depth. Plus, they have the two big lottery additions: Kentucky's Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Boston College's Jerome Robinson. The Clippers are high on SGA. -- Youngmisuk

  • Key additions: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jerome Robinson, Mike Scott, Luc Mbah a Moute and Marcin Gortat

  • Key subtractions: DeAndre Jordan and Austin Rivers


18. Memphis Grizzlies (12)
2017-18 record: 22-60
Result: Missed playoffs
Previous rank: No. 23

Memphis is optimistic that with a healthy Marc Gasol and Mike Conley back in the fold, it can return to playoff prominence after a long season full of tanking. Rookie Jaren Jackson Jr. should be able to help space the floor and pay immediate dividends, and Kyle Anderson and Garrett Temple should give this proud franchise an immediate boost as well. The key for the Grizzlies will be avoiding the injuries that crushed them last season. After having the interim tag removed from his title, coach J.B. Bickerstaff has the intriguing task of trying to mix a young core with an old one. -- Friedell


19. Dallas Mavericks (13)
2017-18 record: 24-58
Result: Missed playoffs
Previous rank: No. 27

The Mavericks spent the past four weeks setting things up for next July, when they'll have Luka Doncic, Dennis Smith Jr. and -- potentially -- $50 million in cap space to sell free agents. Yes, Marc Cuban & Co. figure to be active next summer. In between now and then, Cuban says he expects Dallas to compete for the playoffs in the loaded Western Conference. Signing veteran center DeAndre Jordan to a one-year, $23 million deal should help the Mavs toward that goal. But that anti-tanking approach could cost Dallas its draft pick next June. If the Mavs' pick falls outside of the top five, it will go to Atlanta as part of the Doncic-Trae Young deal. -- Begley


20. Miami Heat (7)
2017-18 record: 44-38
Result: L, East Round 1
Previous rank: No. 18

Miami didn't have any easy avenues to upgrade its roster this offseason. The Heat had no cap space and were never going to find a strong trade market for center Hassan Whiteside So it made sense for Miami to bring back most of the roster from a team that won 44 games last season. The Heat should get back a healthy Dion Waiters this season and, maybe, Dwyane Wade if he decides to play one more season at age 36. It seems unlikely, but you'd think that the Heat would jump in these power rankings if Carmelo Anthony decided to play in South Beach instead of Houston. -- Begley

  • Key additions: None

  • Key subtractions: None


21. Charlotte Hornets (8)
2017-18 record: 36-46
Result: Missed playoffs
Previous rank: No. 21

The Hornets made several transactions since our last power rankings, but do any of them push the club forward in the East? That seems unlikely. Sure, Tony Parker gives new head coach James Borrego a solid backup behind Kemba Walker. And Bismack Biyombo should be a suitable backup center behind Cody Zeller. The addition of Miles Bridges might eventually push either Marvin Williams or Michael Kidd-Gilchrist out of the starting lineup. But none of these new faces seem likely to increase Charlotte's chances of moving into the top tier of the up-for-grabs East. That means Walker, a 2019 free agent, should have plenty to think about next summer. -- Begley

  • Key additions: Miles Bridges, Arnoldas Kulboka, Devonte' Graham, Tony Parker and Bismack Biyombo

  • Key subtractions: Michael Carter-Williams and Dwight Howard


22. Detroit Pistons (9)
2017-18 record: 39-43
Result: Missed playoffs
Previous rank: No. 19

Detroit swung for the playoffs and missed last season after dealing for Blake Griffin. The Pistons' hope is that new coach Dwane Casey will set a positive tone for a group that comes into a new season after a healthy summer. The biggest question remaining: Can Casey find a way for All-Star center Andre Drummond and Griffin to thrive in a league that has made long-range shooting more important than ever? The group never found enough of a rhythm without injured point guard Reggie Jackson last season -- if he stays healthy this time around the Pistons should be headed back to the postseason. -- Friedell


23. Cleveland Cavaliers (10)
2017-18 record: 50-32
Result: L, NBA Finals
Previous rank: No. 17

The Cavs enter a new era without LeBron James -- one which is not expected to generate a lot of wins. Kevin Love gets another chance to be the face of a franchise and should relish more opportunities on the floor, but this group lost its identity when James left for Los Angeles and will struggle as it enters another rebuild. The positive is that rookie Collin Sexton impressed on the defensive end in summer league and Cleveland still has plenty of time to deal some of its veterans for future assets. -- Friedell

  • Key additions: Collin Sexton and Channing Frye

  • Key subtractions: LeBron James, Jose Calderon and Jeff Green


24. Phoenix Suns (14)
2017-18 record: 21-61
Result: Missed playoffs
Previous rank: No. 26

The reward for having the worst record in basketball came this summer in the drafting of top overall pick Deandre Ayton, who averaged 14.5 points and 10.5 rebounds in four games at summer league. The Suns traded for rookie Mikal Bridges in the draft and surprised many by landing Trevor Ariza in free agency in hopes of upgrading their defense. They also traded for another young big with potential in Richaun Holmes. But their biggest move of the summer was signing franchise guard Devin Booker to a five-year, $158-million extension. The West is crowded, but it looks as if the Suns are trying to win now. -- Youngmisuk

  • Key additions: Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges, Elie Okobo, Trevor Ariza and Richaun Holmes

  • Key subtractions: Elfrid Payton, Jared Dudley and Alex Len


25. Chicago Bulls (11)
2017-18 record: 27-55
Result: Missed playoffs
Previous rank: No. 22

The Bulls hope they'll be able to score lots of points -- but will they be able to defend? After signing Jabari Parker for $20 million next season and locking in Zach LaVine for $78 million over the next four, the Bulls have an interesting young core in place alongside Lauri Markkanen and rookie Wendell Carter Jr., but it remains unclear if they have a core that can win lots of games this season. There will be a great deal of pressure on fourth-year coach Fred Hoiberg and his staff to find ways to make this group jell and succeed on the defensive end. -- Friedell


26. Orlando Magic (12)
2017-18 record: 25-57
Result: Missed playoffs
Previous rank: No. 28

The Magic took a few positive steps in what figures to be a long and arduous rebuild this summer by signing Aaron Gordon to a reasonable contract and drafting Mohamed Bamba. If things go as planned for Orlando and new head coach Steve Clifford, then Bamba (a potentially elite defender), Gordon and Jonathan Isaac will form one of the top young frontcourts in the NBA. Orlando is at least one year away from competing for the playoffs, so it can afford to give Jerian Grant an opportunity to earn minutes in the backcourt. The next long-term project for Orlando? Finding a point guard who can make life easier for the aforementioned front line. -- Begley


27. New York Knicks (13)
2017-18 record: 29-53
Result: Missed playoffs
Previous rank: No. 24

First-year coach David Fizdale will bring fresh energy to New York. First-round pick Kevin Knox showed at summer league that he should make an immediate impact. But the goal of the 2018-19 Knicks is simple: get Kristaps Porzingis back to full health and hope to show enough positives that big-name free agents are willing to take New York's money next summer. -- Forsberg

  • Key additions: Kevin Knox, Mitchell Robinson and Mario Hezonja

  • Key subtractions: Kyle O'Quinn, Doug McDermott and Michael Beasley


28. Brooklyn Nets (14)
2017-18 record: 28-54
Result: Missed playoffs
Previous rank: No. 25

The Nets did a bunch of wheeling and dealing this summer, but their most celebratory moment of the offseason came when Cleveland utilized the final first-round draft pick relinquished to Boston in the Kevin Garnett/Paul Pierce deal in 2013. Brooklyn's summer moves might not translate to immediate wins -- though the additions of Jared Dudley and Kenneth Faried could help a young roster -- but the Nets have positioned themselves to have ample cap space in 2019, and general manager Sean Marks has fully replenished the team's supply of future draft picks. -- Forsberg

  • Key additions: Dzanan Musa, Rodions Kurucs, Ed Davis, Kenneth Faried, Darrell Arthur, Shabazz Napier and Jared Dudley

  • Key subtractions: Jeremy Lin, Timofey Mozgov, Nik Stauskas, Dante Cunningham


29. Sacramento Kings (15)
2017-18 record: 27-55
Result: Missed playoffs
Previous rank: No. 29

The Kings passed on Luka Doncic and drafted Marvin Bagley III with the hope of the Duke big man providing an offensive impact inside immediately. Bagley joins a crowded roster full of 25-and-under talent with potential that the Kings hope to develop. Sacramento added to that group by trading for Ben McLemore and Deyonta Davis. And Sacramento was able to sign two free agents despite both coming to verbal agreements with other teams earlier in free agency in Yogi Ferrell and Nemanja Bjelica. Something else for the Kings to be excited about: Harry Giles averaged 10.8 points and 7.0 rebounds in summer league after sitting out last season. -- Youngmisuk

  • Key additions: Marvin Bagley III, Ben McLemore, Deyonta Davis, Nemanja Bjelica and Yogi Ferrell

  • Key subtraction: Garrett Temple


30. Atlanta Hawks (15)
2017-18 record: 24-58
Result: Missed playoffs
Previous rank: No. 30

The Hawks might not win many games this season, but they are well-positioned to rebuild. By trading Dennis Schroder to the Thunder, the Hawks freed more minutes for Trae Young and nearly $50 million in 2019 cap space next summer. The club also might have three first-round picks in the 2019 draft -- their own, Cleveland's (top-10-protected) and Dallas's (top-five-protected). That's a good place for the Hawks and first-year head coach Lloyd Pierce to begin climbing back up in the East. -- Begley

  • Key additions: Trae Young, Kevin Huerter, Omari Spellman, Jeremy Lin, Justin Anderson and Alex Len

  • Key subtractions: Dennis Schroder and Mike Muscala