Much has changed since the Golden State Warriors hoisted the Larry O’Brien Trophy a month ago. LeBron James came out West, the Spurs dealt a superstar, and DeMarcus Cousins dropped his “bomb” by going to Golden State. There are ten excellent teams in the Western Conference vying for eight spots. How will the offseason changes affect the dynamic of power in the varsity conference?
1. Golden State Warriors
The Warriors are the best team in NBA history and added a top 15 talent in the league. DeMarcus Cousins will not provide as much impact as most think because he likely won’t play until as late as March and will likely not be the same Boogie. Regardless, Golden State is as close to a lock for the Finals as any team ever.
2. Los Angeles Lakers
This ranking isn’t as much about the Lakers place in the Western Conference standings as it is their ability to win in the playoffs. Los Angeles started the offseason with a bang by bringing in the best player in the world in LeBron James. Subsequently, the Lakers made some questionable moves bringing in the likes of Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, and Michael Beasley among others. Regardless of the misfits brought in on one-year deals, LeBron James surrounded by young talents like Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma could be a force within the tier well-below Golden State.
3. Houston Rockets
Last year, the Rockets added Chris Paul to pair alongside James Harden in the backcourt and won 65 games. The Rockets looked like the biggest challenger to Golden State, but last year was their best opportunity. The Rockets lost two key defensive wings in Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute, and replaced them with Carmelo Anthony. Chris Paul is also another year older and coming off another injury which sidelined him in the closing games of the playoffs. Houston will be good, but they will take a step back from last season.
4. Oklahoma City Thunder
Against all odds, the Thunder not only managed to keep Paul George, but it also got him to stay for at least the next three seasons. Last year was a disappointment for OKC, as they lost in six games to the Utah Jazz. Carmelo Anthony is out and Dennis Schroder is in, which is a net positive for the Thunder. Expect improvement with another year under the belt of Russell Westbrook and Paul George.
5. Minnesota Timberwolves
This may seem high for a team that squeaked into the playoffs on the final day of the regular season, but the Timberwolves have too much talent to be dismissed. Minnesota was 37-22 with Jimmy Butler which is a 52 win pace over an 82 game season. Karl-Anthony Towns is in the final year of his rookie contract, so expect him to become a more complete player. Jimmy Butler and KAT is one of the best duos in the league, and Minnesota should be a fun team to watch.
6. San Antonio Spurs
San Antonio shipped off disgruntled superstar Kawhi Leonard, which would vault almost any team out of the playoff race, but not Gregg Poppovich and the Spurs. Leonard only played nine games last season, so bringing in DeMar DeRozan is a huge upgrade. San Antonio may have lost key players such as Tony Parker, Danny Green, and Kyle Anderson, but with Pop coaching two mid-level stars, the Spurs could easily win 50 games. Also, DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge may break the record for most mid-range jumpers attempted in a season.
7. Utah Jazz
Donovan Mitchell and the Utah Jazz were the darlings of the NBA last season as Utah turned around after losing franchise star Gordon Hayward to make the second round of the playoffs. Mitchell and Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert is a great duo, but in the Western Conference, it is tough to crack the top four. Coach Quin Snyder should be able to coach his team to a playoff berth, but it is not guaranteed.
8. Denver Nuggets
Denver barely missed the playoffs in a heartbreaking fashion on the final day of the regular season, but they look like one of the contenders to snag the final spot this year. Denver locked up franchise star Nikola Jokic this offseason while expecting the return of star Paul Millsap for the entire season. Denver also retained Will Barton and brought in Isaiah Thomas on a veterans minimum deal. Denver has a lot of talent and should squeak into the Playoffs.
9. New Orleans Pelicans
The Pelicans played well last season with and without DeMarcus Cousins and even won a round in the playoffs. Anthony Davis is a bonafide superstar in the NBA, but with the losses of Cousins and Rajon Rondo, the Pelicans could be at risk of the missing the Playoffs. New Orleans brought in Julius Randle who could fit in well in the big man rotation with Davis and Nikola Mirotic. The West is loaded and a team like New Orleans could win 48-50 games and still miss the postseason. The real question is, would Anthony Davis want out of New Orleans if they are a lottery team despite MVP-caliber play.
10. Portland Trail Blazers
Last season, Portland was the third seed in the Western Conference, but got swept in the first round by the Pelicans. Only two games separated seeds three through eight, so with teams like the Lakers drastically improving, the Blazers could easily be one of the odd teams out. Outside of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, Portland doesn’t have much firepower and might not be able to keep up in the west coast arms race.
11. Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers are a drastically different team from what they were 14 months ago. Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and now DeAndre Jordan are all gone and nothing remains of Lob City. The Clippers have a bunch of good players like Lou Williams, Tobias Harris, and Avery Bradley, but the team has no real stars. Jerry West has maintained he expects the Clipper to compete, but Los Angeles is just not good enough to legitimately contend in the Western Conference.
12. Memphis Grizzlies
After point guard Mike Conley went down for the season, the Grizzlies went into a tailspin as Marc Gasol started to show his decline. Memphis’ bad luck was rewarded as the team selected Jaren Jackson, Jr. in the 2018 NBA Draft. Memphis also added Kyle Anderson, but lost breakout performer Tyreke Evans. With Conley’s return alongside Gasol, Memphis looks to be the best of the bad teams in the West.
13. Dallas Mavericks
Three years later, Mark Cuban and the Dallas Mavericks got their man in DeAndre Jordan. Jordan is still a good player, but he has lost some athleticism and his style of play isn’t as useful in the modern NBA. Dallas also drafted star prospect Luka Doncic, who is poised to be a difference-maker out of the gate. With an aging Dirk Nowitzki still at the helm, Dallas looks to be an improved team, but will clearly be on the outside looking in on the playoffs.
14. Phoenix Suns
This low ranking is less about the Suns as it is about the Western Conference being so stacked with talent. Phoenix is finally emerging from the ashes of a long and painful rebuild after selecting DeAndre Ayton first overall. With Devin Booker and Josh Jackson, Phoenix finally has a good young core to build around. Additionally, Trevor Ariza elected to sign with Phoenix on a one year deal which should help with the development of young players such as Jackson and rookie Mikal Bridges. The Suns will be better, but it could still be a while until they are a playoff team.
15. Sacramento Kings
The Kings have gone 12 seasons without making the playoffs and don’t expect that drought to end anytime soon. Sacramento selected Marvin Bagley instead of Luka Doncic with the second overall pick in the draft, which was a questionable decision. The team struck out on Zach LaVine in restricted free agency and instead stole Nemanja Bjelica from Philadelphia. Sacramento is not a good team and will not have its own first round pick as it will land with one of the two Eastern Conference juggernauts in Boston or Philadelphia. Bring the Sonics back.
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