Most experts predict that the Heat and Thunder are going to meet in the NBA Finals. Does that mean they have the most talented rosters? Let's examine.
1. Which NBA team has the best roster?
Danny Chau, Hardwood Paroxysm: Oklahoma City Thunder. Scott Brooks has the luxury of being able to play a 10-man rotation every game without ceding much in terms of talent or production. The team has two elite shot-creators/-makers in the starting lineup in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, with another in James Harden waiting in the wings off the bench. Few, if any, other teams can boast this.
Zach Harper, Daily Dime Live: Chicago Bulls. The frontcourt depth running four deep, Luol Deng and Kyle Korver on the wing, Ronnie Brewer's inexplicable jumper
put all of those things around Derrick Rose and you're only missing two pieces from this being a complete roster. If Richard Hamilton can be healthy and even average, they've filled one of those holes and just need a good backup point guard to spell Derrick for 12 minutes per game.
Rob Mahoney, The Two-Man Game:
The Miami Heat. One could certainly make the argument that Oklahoma City has the most complete roster, but Miami's top-level talent compensates well for the team's weaknesses. In my eyes, this question is the same as asking who is the NBA's best team, and even after their recent string of tough losses, the Heat are the NBA's creme de la creme.
Michael Wallace, ESPN.com: Oklahoma City. The Thunder legitimately go two-deep at every position, and then some. If you could build a team from scratch and cover all of the elements you'd need on a roster, it would look a lot like the Thunder's. There's star power in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. There's interior athleticism and toughness with Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka. And they are complemented by shooters such as James Harden. There's even a veteran presence or two to guide them along the way.
Royce Young, Daily Thunder: Miami Heat. It's the only team in the league with two of the top five players in the league and the Heat have a third guy that's top-15 and one of the five best power forwards. They've got one of the best perimeter defenders in Shane Battier and some promising young point men. They're a bit top-heavy, but it's hard to deny that kind of talent.
2. Which NBA team has the worst roster?
Danny Chau, Hardwood Paroxysm: New Jersey Nets. Even the brilliance of Deron Williams can't turn this Nets team into anything more than an eyesore. The team is stockpiled with ineffective big men and alleged shooters who can't shoot. Words can't describe how badly the Nets miss you, Brook Lopez. Get better soon.
Zach Harper, Daily Dime Live: Washington Wizards. John Wall is as talented as JaVale McGee is tall. However, the rest of this roster fits so ineptly together that it's easy to see why they've been the worst in the league so far this season. Andray Blatche is the captain and watching him try to run a system with Nick Young, McGee, Jordan Crawford and others has to make Wall wonder if he should call in sick.
Rob Mahoney, The Two-Man Game:
The Cleveland Cavaliers. Kyrie Irving should be a strong player, and Tristan Thompson is off to an impressive start. But those two are the only serious prospects on a team lacking both young depth and immediate production. Omri Casspi has fallen off, Antawn Jamison has squandered his trade value, Ramon Sessions has never drawn all that much interest on the open market, and Anderson Varejao isn't on the same timeline as the team's young stars. Cleveland's on the right path toward a slow rebuild, but at the moment the roster is kind of a mess.
Michael Wallace, ESPN.com: Phoenix. Beyond the lifetime achievement awards that go to Steve Nash and Grant Hill, is there much else there for this team? When you're stocked with these type of veterans, usually, it means you're trying to contend for a deep playoff run or even a championship. The Suns are stuck in no-man's land. They're not yet rebuilding, and they're not built to win now. They're just sort of playing out the string. That's what gives them the edge in my book over Charlotte, Detroit or Cleveland.
Royce Young, Daily Thunder: New Orleans Hornets. After Eric Gordon, there really isn't a lot. Chris Kaman is past his time, Emeka Okafor is just a role player and Jarrett Jack isn't starting material. They've got guys named Squeaky Johnson and Gustavo Ayon in the rotation, for crying out loud. Which is the idea, I guess, seeing as the higher draft pick they get, the better.
3. Which sub-.500 team is in the best position moving forward?
Danny Chau, Hardwood Paroxysm: Minnesota Timberwolves. They are one of the most exciting teams in the NBA, and thanks to a number of factors, one of the most promising too. Kevin Love has grown into his superstardom, and Ricky Rubio has the potential to be the best two-way player on the team. They might only be a consistent perimeter scorer away from legitimacy.
Zach Harper, Daily Dime Live: Memphis. This team wouldn't be anywhere near sub-.500 if Zach Randolph's knee was OK. Short-term, they're set up to be a big heaping bowl of chaos if they find their way back into the playoffs. Nobody will want to match up with them and play their physical style in the first round. Long-term, they're locked in to be near the top of the West for a few years.
Rob Mahoney, The Two-Man Game:
The Minnesota Timberwolves. The Wolves have already claimed their throne as the rulesr of NBA League Pass, and the same skills and draws that make them a fan favorite could eventually push them toward serious contention down the line. They have great prospects, movable pieces and a great coach. Aside from a GM likely to derail the whole thing, what's not to like?
Michael Wallace, ESPN.com: Memphis. The combination of Zach Randolph's knee injury and a tough early schedule are largely responsible for the Grizzlies' stumble from the gate. But the team's top four players -- Randolph, Rudy Gay, Mike Conley and Marc Gasol -- are locked up contractually for the next several years, and this squad is on the rise, as it proved with last season's stunning run to the Western Conference semifinals. Now if they could only get -- and stay -- healthy for an extended stretch.
Royce Young, Daily Thunder: I continue to be a believer in the Wolves, despite the fact that it's hard to trust David Kahn's judgment. Ricky Rubio, Kevin Love, Derrick Williams and Wesley Johnson is a nice quartet and there's room for that roster to grow. It's not perfect and I don't necessarily think they're playoff material even next year, but there's a chance for that group to grow into a quality team long-term.
4. Which above-.500 team is in the worst position moving forward?
Danny Chau, Hardwood Paroxysm: Orlando Magic. If they lose Dwight Howard, everything crumbles. The team has a litany of multiyear contracts remaining, so any type of rebuilding process will be a molasses-slow crawl. The team will still have enough talent to somewhat compete if Howard leaves, which is unfortunate. The Magic may fall, but they won't free-fall, and that'll cripple their future.
Zach Harper, Daily Dime Live: Atlanta. You can't trust the Hawks. Ever. Just when you think they're regressing to a middling team, they go on a hot streak. When you think you're ready to anoint them as capable of contending in the East, they fail hilariously. If you want to believe the Hawks and their ever-growing salary commitments can move forward, go ahead. I don't trust them.
Rob Mahoney, The Two-Man Game: The Orlando Magic. Dwight Howard is gone, and if the Magic aren't able to shed some contracts in a potential deal for him, they'll be stuck footing the bill for Hedo Turkoglu, Glen Davis and Jason Richardson in a hopeless season next year.
Michael Wallace, ESPN.com: Orlando. The D12 era will end soon. And it won't be pretty. Dwight Howard and the Magic already have some impressive victories on the resume this season. But it's a fleeting feeling when you know that sooner or later, the trade of all trades is going to go down. And since there's virtually no way the Magic can get anything close to market value for Howard, they're going to take a hit. And they'll still be locked into the new overpriced contracts of Glen Davis and Jason Richardson.
Royce Young, Daily Thunder: Orlando Magic. Unless they somehow figure out how to talk Dwight Howard into staying, that team is about to drop off hard. I suppose they can salvage it with a trade that brings back a little talent, but that doesn't sound like it's the direction the Magic want to go right now.
5. Which team should be the most active buyer at the trade deadline?
Danny Chau, Hardwood Paroxysm: L.A. Lakers. Kobe is issuing his grand statement of dominance, torn ligaments and all. Andrew Bynum is becoming the player everyone thought he'd be. This is their time to strike. It doesn't have to be a blockbuster move, especially if they find a suitor for their trade exception, but their championship window will close unless they prop it back up.
Zach Harper, Daily Dime Live: Don't know how they pull it off, but the Lakers need someone. If they can flip one of their bigs for two high-quality players, or trick a team into being the harbinger of World Peace (do you see what I did there?), they'll be set up well for the playoffs. You just can't expect Kobe to have to carry this load in this type of a season.
Rob Mahoney, The Two-Man Game: I'll call a tie between the Los Angeles Clippers and the New York Knicks. Both should actively be looking to buy as a means of upgrading their benches, but that doesn't mean any potential trade partner would be all that interested in what these two teams are selling. Neither team has too many trade assets at present, though they could be able to scrounge up a deal if they're desperate or creative enough.
Michael Wallace, ESPN.com: Indiana. When you factor in a team's available assets and the ability to part with something decent in order to get something even more complementary in return, the Pacers are at the top of the list. Indiana has a nice collection of talent, but there's still a piece missing that can make it a serious contender in the East. Maybe an upgrade at point guard or a perimeter finisher would do the trick, because Darren Collison and Danny Granger leave plenty to be desired right now.
Royce Young, Daily Thunder: Los Angeles Lakers. Howard is right there for them, if they want him. And the closer it drags to the deadline, the less the Lakers might have to give up. It's just hard to believe the Lakers didn't trade Lamar Odom to an active competitor without a reason.