NBA fans live a team’s ups and downs. They react to every draft pick, trade and free-agent signing. They debate the merits of the 15th man. They find significance in the most insignificant stats. They simply KNOW their team. So, too, do bloggers. That’s why we sought the opinion of the league’s best blogs — one for each of the 30 teams — to break down the team they cover and, of course, the Celtics .
ON THE MAVERICKS: Dallas is still a relevant feature in the Western Conference landscape (they’ll likely be on par with the rest of the conference’s quasi-elite), but their ability to contend leans on a rather substantial “if.” The only way that the Mavericks have access to the same exclusive contender’s club that the Celtics call home is if a certain team on the West Coast experiences some kind of monumental collapse.
The Lakers aren’t just the defending champs. They’re also the most complete team in the league. They won the title last year for a reason, and that reason depends less and less on Kobe Bryant ‘s individual brilliance. Naturally, Kobe still matters a great deal to the Lakers’ success, but Pau Gasol , Andrew Bynum , Lamar Odom and Ron Artest  have never been more relevant.
It’s those players that make L.A. a transcendent team, and it’s those players that make the Lakers into the Western Conference’s seemingly unconquerable threshold. All teams in the West must go through the Lakers, and while the Mavs may have plenty of excellent pieces and a few beneficial matchups, they pale in comparison to L.A.’s grandeur.
It looks to be another successful season for Dallas. They’re shooting for their 11th straight year of 50-plus wins and seem poised to make a deep run into the playoffs. Dirk Nowitzki  is still highly productive and efficient; Jason Kidd  continues to defy time itself with every jump into the passing lanes and perfectly threaded pass; and the team has some fantastic young pieces in Rodrigue Beaubois, Dominique Jones and Ian Mahinmi to complement a deep and impressive cast of veterans (Caron Butler, Shawn Marion , Brendan Haywood , Jason Terry , Tyson Chandler ).
Put it all together, and Dallas is an awfully impressive team. Just not impressive enough to join the Lakers on their pedestal.
ON THE CELTICS: It’s tough to determine who will sit where at the top of the Eastern Conference seating chart, but the Celtics are undoubtedly among the conference’s elite teams and among the league’s true contenders. Walking into this season with last year’s roster alone would have put them near that distinction, but it’s Boston’s heavily active offseason that makes them an even more intriguing team.
The C’s are stacked at virtually every position, and that depth will certainly come into play as Boston looks to stay competitive throughout the year while still resting their veterans as much as possible. As I mentioned before, it’s still tough to pin Boston to a particular seed in the Eastern Conference race, not only due to the variance of the East’s other contenders but also because Boston’s lackadaisical run through the 2009-10 regular season provides us more reason to question their in-season motivations than ever.
Will the Celtics do more of the same, taking their time while working into a rhythm? Will they now approach the regular season with the same urgency that marked their 2007-08 campaign? No one can say for sure, and I’m not sure there’s necessarily a wrong way for them to go about it. Last year’s method turned out pretty well for Boston, as did the breakneck pace of the 2008 season, and this year should yield more of the same: A successful playoff run after a good regular season, sprint or not.
They’re probably not the best team in the East, but that doesn’t mean they can’t force their way to the Finals through the conference’s equivalent of rock-paper-scissors (Miami-Orlando-Boston). With the right matchup, Boston can be right there in June, and no one should be surprised.
ON THE ROCKETS: The Rockets, as usual, are relying on good health to prevail throughout the season, especially once May rolls around. They’ve got plenty of talent, if healthy, to make a run for a Western Conference title. They’re deep, they’re experienced and they’re capable of beating anyone.
It remains to be seen how a balanced team can proceed through the playoffs, but if there’s any team that can make it happen, it’s this squad. Yao Ming  will need to be healthy, the defense will need to actually exist (and be top-notch, at that), but it’s possible. Keep an eye on Courtney Lee : He could make a big difference. Predicted record: 51-31.
ON THE CELTICS: Last season, Boston showed everyone why winning in the playoffs is a different art than grueling it out for 82 games. With added veteran presences in Jermaine and Shaquille O’Neal , along with a presumably healthy Kendrick Perkins  and Kevin Garnett , the Celtics should be ready and able to make, perhaps, one more title run before age gets the best of everyone. I’ve got Boston in the Finals once again. They’re that dangerous. Predicted record: 52-30.
ON THE GRIZZLIES: The Grizzlies are the mirror image of the Celtics. They are young and talented with nearly no experience. Built via the draft and a few opportunistic acquisitions by former Celtic GM Chris Wallace, not one player on the team is expected to be over 28 to start the season.
Former Celtic Tony Allen  was signed in the offseason to bring experience and defensive intensity to the team. The starting five for Memphis is very strong with all-star Zach Randolph , Rudy Gay , O.J. Mayo, Mike Conley  and Marc Gasol, but the bench is full of question marks.
If Hasheem Thabeet, Darrell Arthur, Allen, Sam Young, Xavier Henry and Acie Law IV can form a cohesive enough unit to give the starters some rest during games, the Grizzlies should be a strong candidate to return to the playoffs.
If any of the starters gets hurt for an extended period or the bench fails to be able to hold onto leads for the limited minutes they play, then it will be another lottery experience for the fans of the Grizzlies.
ON THE CELTICS: The Celtics remind me of the expression: “Old age and treachery will beat youth and talent every time.”
The Celtics used this strategy to rest their stars leading up to last season’s playoffs, then unleashed the rested veterans on an unsuspecting conference before finally falling to their archrivals in the finals. The C’s are having to reload this season with some formidable challenges ahead of them.
Perkins’ injury probably cost the Celtics another NBA title last season and could cost them homecourt advantage in the second round this season. The O’Neals, Shaq and Jermaine, were dominant players in their day, but that day has long past. How this will affect the interior defense is unknown at this time.
The loss of Tony Allen as a defensive stopper on the perimeter doesn’t help, either, but the biggest loss could be Tom Thibodeau . The Celtics also added Delonte West , whose off-court issues have overshadowed his on-court play.
The roster is aging but not dead and will likely be a force in the playoffs as the game slows down to a crawl and experience takes precedence over talent.
ON THE HORNETS: The Hornets experienced one of the busiest offseasons in franchise history, no question. There was the hiring of a rookie coach, the draft-day trade, the hiring of a rookie general manager, the blockbuster four-team trade, the flirtations with the unveiling of a rookie owner, all overlaid on top of never-ending Chris Paul  drama.
And there’s reason to believe they’ve navigated it successfully. The team essentially turned Darren Collison and James Posey ‘s terrible contract into Jerryd Bayless and Trevor Ariza (while Collison’s stock is far higher than Bayless’ at this point, the disparity between the two isn’t really that huge).
They brought in competent rebounders — Aaron Gray, Pops Mensah-Bonsu — for Darius Songaila, who, believe it or not, played the second-most minutes at both power forward and center for the 2010 Hornets.
This is by no means an elite team, but via addition by subtraction (Songaila, Posey) and addition by addition (a healthy Chris Paul), it should be a middle-of-the-pack Western team at 45 to 50 wins.
ON THE CELTICS: One of the biggest keys to Boston’s success will be the team’s ability to work the O’Neals (and, to an extent, Delonte West) into the team’s defensive system, without Tom Thibodeau.
Given the ages of the team’s key contributors, the Celtics are going to need a comprehensive 1-12 effort throughout the season. I do like the team’s summer pickups (and it’s important not to overlook the re-signings, either), but whether the various new pieces will fit is another question entirely.
In the end, I think this is a middle-of-the-pack Eastern Conference team. Let’s say 45 to 50 wins — with a chance to turn it on in the playoffs, a la 2010. But at the end of the day, they’ll be a step below both Orlando and Miami.
ON THE SPURS: Hampered by the new rules surrounding technical fouls, Tim Duncan  is ejected from the first 10 games of the season. Eventually, he’s able to stay in games by training himself to replace his incredulous expression with his other one.
Manu Ginobili  signs a contract with Rogaine, and with his bald spot now completely gone, he grows out his hair again and averages 15 free throws a game as a result.
Richard Jefferson  gets engaged and considers joining the cult his fiancÃ©e belongs to. After returning from a retreat in Death Valley during the All-Star Break, he says he feels reborn and averages 18 points and nine rebounds for two months, until breaking off the engagement on the eve of the wedding and going into a slump.
Regular season record: 55-27. Third seed in the West.
ON THE CELTICS: In November, Shaq re-changes his nickname from The Big Shamrock to The Big Limerick and is fined $50,000 by the NBA when his first poetical recitation includes an off-color rhyme in the final line. O’Neal responds by mumbling something about artistic license.
December finds Justin Bieber singing the national anthem in the TD Garden on Von Wafer  bobblehead giveaway night. The singer dies in the figurine avalanche that ensues.
After a January in which Ray Allen  fails to make a single 3-pointer, he proceeds to average .850 behind the arc in February.
In the push to the playoffs, KG and Shaq convince the rest of the team to shave their heads for solidarity, but Delonte West (after spending the entire year growing out his afro) refuses, sending the team into a tailspin that lands them the second seed behind Miami.
Regular season record: 59-23.
Check back tomorrow for Parts 4-7 of this seven-part series: the Eastern Conference’s Central Division.