Updated: September 25, 2015, 11:54 AM ET

Power Rankings: Welcome back!

By Marc Stein
Friday, September 25

You did it again. You survived the long, hot, barren, Power Rankings-less summer to make it to the start of a new season.

Four NBA teams (Boston, Charlotte, Orlando and the Los Angeles Clippers) are holding their annual media day on this magical Friday. The league's other 26 clubs all open for business Monday. The 2015-16 campaign is thus officially underway, ‎101 days since the last dribble of the NBA Finals ... and 165 days since the last edition of ESPN.com's weekly NBA Power Rankings.

This is the 14th successive season of operation for your trusty Power Rankings Committee of One, which naturally has the reigning champions from Golden State atop this camp edition of our power poll, upholding our long-standing tradition that dictates that the No. 1 spot is the least that the defending champs deserve.

But you could actually make a case for two other teams up there, as worthy as the young, potent and nearly intact Warriors are, given Cleveland's status as the biggest Eastern Conference favorite in recent memory, along with the landslide fashion in which San Antonio won the summer.

Friendly reminder: Our maiden edition of the rankings every season, on top of employing the usual calculations, always gives significant weight to a team's personnel successes (or failures) from the summer -- as well as any injuries -- when sorting the 1-to-30 ladder. More background on the order will be available, as always, on Stein Line Live, but the offseason scorecard factor is why the Clippers, for example, are all the way up at No. 4. It's also why the Portland Trail Blazers, who obviously endured a rougher summer than any team on the NBA map, have tumbled all the way down to No. 29.

We'll meet up back here every Monday during the regular season to take the pulse of all 30 teams, ranking them by weighing what's happening in the present against that team's big-picture outlook for the season, while always allowing for a dash of subjective whim.

The next edition of the rankings hits Oct. 26, on the eve of opening night, giving us a month of fresh data to consider. You can comment below on the rankings, which are compiled with the usual helpful dishing from ESPN Stats & Information and the Elias Sports Bureau.

Editor's note: The "Record" category reflects how each team finished last season.

The Dubs really shouldn't be insulted by Vegas' fondness for the Cavs as title favorites, because the advantage tied to playing in the East is that significant. Yet you can also understand why they're looking for any slight they can find, because going back-to-back is going to be that hard. As good as they are.
The NBA Finals don't start for another 250 days, but I can't find a soul who thinks LeBron James and his Cavs won't be in them. Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love and Anderson Varejao can all take it slow on their respective comeback trails if necessary, because there's not even a clear-cut No. 2 in the East to give 'em a push.
Have to admit I'm somewhat amused by the persistent fears LaMarcus Aldridge won't fit into San Antonio's share-the-wealth culture. The Spurs, folks, had the NBA's best offseason. Period. Who wouldn't want to try out Aldridge alongside Tim Duncan and then to replace him? A "gamble" you take 11 times out of 10.
Wouldn't go as far as saying Doc Rivers saved his career with DeAndre Jordan's U-turn, as Mark Cuban is claiming, but it admittedly gave him new life. Now we wonder: As much as depth issues hurt the Clips last season, does Doc really have enough PT for Paul Pierce, Josh Smith and Lance Stephenson?
There's no getting around it: Kevin Durant's uncertain future and the buzz it'll generate figure to smother Billy Donovan's debut season in the pros. Yet you can also rest assured OKC, if it relocates health to go with newfound depth, is going to make that No. 5-in-the-West peg from #ESPNForecast look foolish.
The Rockets are the reigning champs of Texas based on their playoff success. Now imagine if James Harden cedes some of the playmaking to Ty Lawson without complaint ... and if Lawson flourishes as a second playmaker ... and if Dwight Howard, Pat Beverley and Donatas Motiejunas stay healthy. Dangerous.
The Grizz are still waiting on the trade out of the West they dream about. They still need more shooting, too. But the deals for uber-athletic Brandan Wright (to complement Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph) and Matt Barnes (who was seemingly born to grit 'n' grind) look like sneaky-good moves to keep Memphis in the elite.
Something tells me the Pels will enjoy looking at the Power Rankings every Monday more than the standings. Anthony Davis and the leaps at both ends widely expected under new coach Alvin Gentry mean New Orleans is likely to spend lots of time in our top 10 even if it can't move up much from No. 8 in the West.
You heard it whispered often around the league: I don't believe in the Hawks. And that was when they were assembling a 19-game winning streak en route to a 60-22 record. So there's only louder doubt in store this season, even though they quietly answered DeMarre Carroll's exit with Tiago Splitter and Tim Hardaway Jr.
Can you be a rampant Goran Dragic fan and a Heat skeptic at the same time? Miami is the ultimate win-now team, but there's no escaping the fact that the next minute Dragic, Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng, Chris Bosh and Hassan Whiteside share the court together will be the first. So many ways this can play out.
New coach, new court design, new pressures on Derrick Rose. All of that is certainly headline stuff in the Windy City. The reality, though, is that nothing will be more key to the success of NBA coaching neophyte Fred Hoiberg than Joakim Noah. If Noah can return to an All-Star level, Chicago's ceiling instantly rises.
There will be questions about the Bucks' ability to space the floor with their iffy shooting. Skepticism about the new center's shortcomings on D, too. And the giddy Bucks will ignore it all because they need Greg Monroe's scoring badly. And because Monroe really did choose Brewtown over Madison Square Garden.
Apologies in advance for how often we're surely going to bring up how the Committee's first trip to Toronto -- since 2007 All-Star Weekend! -- is drawing ever closer. Promise you Raps basketball will also be discussed here plenty, with so much more expected from this revamped roster after a first-round flameout.
Can't say I'm as high on 'em as our own Kevin Pelton, who likes Boston's prospects better than he likes Atlanta's. But I do see Amir Johnson and David Lee, like Isaiah Thomas before them, as difference-makers who nudge the Celts up the ladder, albeit not as spectacularly as Trader Danny Ainge hoped by now.
Outside of LaMarcus Aldridge, no free-agent exit over the summer spawned the sort of gloom Paul Pierce's decision to bolt for Clipperland did. How the Wiz rebound, beyond merely turning to John Wall and Bradley Beal, depends largely on Otto Porter's progress and Jared Dudley's response to back surgery.
The Jazz are oft-mentioned as a prime candidate to make the leap into the West's top eight, which isn't the craziest idea once you remember how close they actually came last season at 38-44. The key, besides Utah's Rudy Gobert-anchored D, might well be whether Alec Burks' return can offset the loss of Dante Exum.
I'm reasonably sure Detroit won't start 5-23 again. I'm not nearly as confident Reggie Jackson, freshly furnished with an $80 million contract, is a top-15 PG. Have to give it up, though, to Stan Van Gundy, who does everything with conviction and sure didn't lack for self-belief in his recent podcast visit with Zach Lowe.
Dirk Nowitzki is 478 points shy of passing Shaquille O'Neal for sixth place on the all-time scoring list. Anything else good for the Mavs in the wake of L'Affaire DeAndre depends on fast returns to health for Chandler Parsons and Wes Matthews. And a Deron Williams renaissance. And a successful center-by-committee.
Maybe I need to ease up on the East some. With Miami, Milwaukee and the makeover Indiana is trying, it should be, at worst, more of a watchable conference than it has been lately. The small and fast Pacers? Not sure if Paul George will warm to power forward or click with Monta Ellis, but it should be good theatre.
In: Nicolas Batum, Jeremy Lin, Jeremy Lamb, Spencer Hawes and, of course, Frank Kaminsky have all been imported since we last saw Michael Jordan's Hornets. Out: Lance Stephenson. So, yes, I'd say they knew they needed more shooting, and with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist at the front of the line, have tried to address that.
Gotta go back to 2007-08 for their most recent 30-win season, but you're starting to hear some "watch out for the Kings" chatter out there. And the edgy nature of the group, with summer signee Rajon Rondo launched into the mix, makes it feel like George Karl's kind of team ... despite some of the legit question marks about fit.
Found it one of the more surprising results from #ESPNForecast: Phoenix did not so much as place in the top five in our Team Turmoil survey. Say what? Markieff Morris is openly pushing for a trade ... and Jeff Hornacek is coaching as a lame duck because the Suns refused to extend his contract. Sounds a bit bumpy, no?
Simply hiring Scott Skiles won't instantly transform Orlando into this season's Milwaukee. Immediate improvement is certainly expected, as is the impact Skiles is sure to have defensively, but a playoff berth -- even in the East -- is a lot to ask in Year 1 unless Orlando's bevy of Team USA invitees all take a real step.
Comparisons are already in circulation linking these young Wolves, with Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, to OKC in its KD-and-Russ infancy. I want to watch Kevin Garnett's swan song as much as anything we see from Minnesota's long list of intriguing kids, but well-wishes for Flip Saunders are all that matter right now.
Your favorite debate show question -- Who will turn it around faster: Knicks or Lakers? -- isn't going away anytime soon. I would argue Phil Jackson got it very right with the No. 4 pick, but Kristaps Porzingis needs time. Just like Carmelo Anthony needs more help than a Robin Lopez-led haul of free agents can lend.
Dramatically slashing its tax bill largely makes the new season a win already. What awaits on the floor, however, also will slice deeply, because Brooklyn looks headed for a slide after frankly sneaking into last season's playoffs largely on the strength of that fortuitous 10-2 mark in games decided by three points or fewer.
The Nuggets join Detroit and Philadelphia on the short list of teams with no national TV appearances scheduled. So you'll need to work, if you're not in the Denver area, to catch a glimpse of the reborn Danilo Gallinari. Or the teenage point guard (Emmanuel Mudiay) succeeding Ty Lawson. Or new coach Mike Malone.
Kobe Bryant's potential farewell. Metta World Peace mentoring Julius Randle. Nick Young and Lou Williams vying for shots on the same team as Kobe, with D'Angelo Russell likewise trying to fit and the Lakers' 2016 first-round pick headed to Philly if it falls outside the top three. Lots going on in Lakerland, as always.
Trail Blazers
It's not just LaMarcus Aldridge. The reigning Northwest Division champs were essentially forced to start over after losing four starters. And that means a steep fall in the West is unavoidable no matter what sort of damage Damian Lillard can wreak as a solo act that you're probably going to want for your fantasy team.
This is such a somber time in Philly, after the tragic losses of Darryl Dawkins and Moses Malone, and thus no time to be ranting and raving about the Sixers' polarizing approach to team-building. We've got days, weeks, months to get into all that. As a child of the '70s and '80s, I know I'm still grieving the loss of two legends.

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