Tip-Off Timer: 14 Teams Without a Title
For everything the NBA has done to level the playing field -- the draft lottery, the salary cap, the dollar-for-dollar luxury tax -- only a select handful of teams have a legitimate chance to win the championship in any given year.
I know optimism is supposed to reign supreme in October, but here's a harsh dose of reality: in the past 26 years, only seven different organizations have hoisted the Larry O'Brien, and six of those teams have won more than once. In fact, in a league where fluke success is rare and dynasties are the norm, there are 14 teams that have yet to win a title.
Will any of these perennial losers buck their unfortunate losing streaks in the near future? While the Lakers, Spurs and Celtics (winners of nine of the last 11 titles) would disagree, it's a very real possibility.
While many expect the Lakers to repeat -- and at least one Celtic has predicted Boston will win 72 games -- the Magic and Cavaliers have re-tooled through trades and free agency after finishing last season as the two strongest teams in the East.
In fact, this might be Cleveland's last chance in a long time -- if LeBron James can't close the deal this year, he might bolt via free agency (surely you've heard, right?), adding a sense of desperation to their usual motivation. If the Cavs can't separate from the pack early, don't be surprised to see Danny Ferry make wholesale changes by the trade deadline.
The Magic are somewhat better positioned for long-term success, although they mortgaged their future by swapping the promising Courtney Lee in a package for the aging Vince Carter. It also remains to be seen how they perform with the expectations of being an elite team now that they're no longer able to play the underdog role, although you can never accuse a Stan Van Gundy team of being unprepared.
But if Cleveland and Orlando fall short, are we destined to watch yet another dynasty stamp their name in the NBA record book? The Denver Nuggets, who took the eventual champion Lakers to six games in the Western Conference finals last year, beg to differ, as do fellow non-champions like the Dallas Mavericks, Utah Jazz and New Orleans Hornets.
As for the Clippers, Grizzlies and Timberwolves? They all fall into the never-were and never-will-be categories (or at least not-anytime-soon). Same goes for the Suns, who don't seem to know if they're building for the future or playing for today, as well as the Nets and Pacers, who have some interesting building blocks but not much else.
The Raptors and Bobcats hope their rebuilding process is nearing completion, but they'll be considered a success if they simply reach the playoffs, let alone win a game or two in the first round. And if there's anything we can learn from past champions, it's that the real winners are built to last and are never content to simply be there.