by Lang Whitaker / @langwhitaker

When I spoke to CWebb to get his opinions on every team in the NBA, he spoke a lot about the importance of having a system in place; how each team needs to have some sort of reliable structure that gives them the best chance of being successful, so that no matter the circumstances, they have that system to fall back on.

To me, this season the NBA breaks down into a couple of categories, and the teams at the top all have their respective, clearly defined systems. There are the teams at the bottom with a lot of promising young players (teams like N’awlins, Charlotte, Cleveland, Sacto); there is a huge middle class of teams just hoping to advance into that upper echelon; and then there is the one percent, the very few franchises that have a legitimate claim to being immediate title contenders (Heat, Celtics, Thunder, Lakers, Spurs).

It’s easy to forget that the two teams with the best records in the NBA last season were the Bulls and the Spurs; both finished the regular season 50-16, but neither team made it to the NBA Finals. While I think both teams will be tough again this season, Derrick Rose is still working to get back on the floor, and Boston’s going to figure out how to work in their new guys. Meanwhile, Miami’s still the class of the East. As the Playoffs wore on they seemed to perfect their outside-in approach, and this season, adding Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis only gives them more floor-stretchers to create room for Bron and Wade to dive to the basket, and for Bosh to work down low.

Out West, the Thunder and the Lakers seem to be the two teams best suited for long Playoff runs. While the Lakers will have a lot of figuring out to do on the fly—how do they fit all these new pieces together?—the Thunder can keep on keeping on, doing what they’ve done for a few seasons now, trying to improve from within. I kept waiting for the Thunder’s relative youth to catch up with them last season, but the only time the Thunder looked overwhelmed/inexperienced was in the Finals. They’ll learn from that experience and will surely progress, but if the Lakers do manage to make these parts into a whole, it should be a dynamic, terribly impressive basketball machine.

That leaves us with Miami and the Lake Show. And as deep as this Lakers team is, and as hard as it is to ever pick against Kobe, I just can’t overlook that LeBron James guy, who’s coming off his third MVP and second Gold medal. He just keeps improving, and he’s still just 27 years old. If the Heat can stay healthy, who knows, maybe Bron was right? “Not one,” is down. “Not two” is on deck.