While much attention is focused on the MLB playoffs, the NBA season is sneaking up on us. Despite its typical offseason lethargy, the Western Conference has been shaken up this offseason. Players shuffled teams more than usual, giving the West even more flavor this season than in the past (and that is saying something).
With all the competition this season, one does not know what to expect from the NBA’s premier conference. Realistically, any of 12 teams have a shot to make a run toward the playoffs.
How will the standings end up? I have the answer.
1. San Antonio Spurs
There will come a point when age will catch up with the seemingly ageless Spurs. That point will arrive this season. Yet, the Spurs will still take the Western Conference title. They have more depth than they have had in the past. The acquisition Marco Belinelli along with the emergence of Danny Green gives them a dual sharp-shooting threat. Boris Diaw and Tiago Splitter are more than capable in the paint and Kawhi Leonard will continue his rapid improvement on both sides of the ball. Of course, the championship trio of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili is still in tact. The Spurs might be better than they were last year, and that is some feat.
2. Los Angeles Clippers
There is no team in the NBA with more depth than the Clippers. They were deep last year. This offseason they brought in J.J. Redick, Darren Collison, Jared Dudley, Byron Mullens and Antawn Jamison, giving them depth unknown to mankind (and the NBA). They have much talent from last year returning to the squad, making them look great on paper.
However, the Clippers were not amazing last year. This offseason, they did not find amazing players to sign. They opted for quantity over quality. New head coach Doc Rivers will improve the team, but not enough to get the conference championship.
3. Golden State Warriors
The Warriors have the best starting lineup in the Western Conference. Stephen Curry is the superstar but the signing of Andre Iguodala cannot be overlooked. Iguodala gives the team a veteran prescence in the backcourt and a defensive enforcer, the keys to the Warriors success this season. They also have a great bench. A great starting lineup along with a great bench breeds success.
4. Oklahoma City Thunder
With Russell Westbrook healthy, the Thunder are the best team in the Western Conference. The problem: Westbrook will miss the first four to six weeks of the season. The Thunder will struggle early, but Westbrook will return and help them climb the standings. They will only manage to finish fourth in the regular season, but that won’t stop them from going to the NBA finals.
5. Memphis Grizzlies
The Grizzlies showed last year that they could play with the big boys. This season, they return the core of the team, Mike Conley, Zach Randolph and best center in the league, Marc Gasol. They will be just as good as they were last year, competing with the top teams in the Conference. However, there is simply too much talent in the Western Conference for them to make a deep playoff run.
6. Houston Rockets
The Rockets concluded the Dwight Howard saga, giving them a one-two punch of Howard and James Harden. The combo has tons of potential, but, with Howard involved, there is also the potential to fail. Harden is ideal for Howard to play with because he is an unselfish teammate and can take a back seat at times. After struggling early in the year, the Rockets will bounce back and possibly make some playoff noise.
7. Denver Nuggets
The Nuggets were one of the best teams in the Western Conference last season. They lost Andre Iguodala and Corey Brewer, creating questions about the perimeter defense. Other parts of the team look very solid. Looking at the roster, no real individual weaknesses pop out at you, but strengths don’t pop out either. Remember that the Nuggets were a great team last season. Their offseason losses will hurt, but the Nuggets are still good enough to take a playoff spot.
8. Dallas Mavericks
Dirk Nowitzki is back and, unlike last year, he has help. The Mavericks now have competent point guards in Jose Calderon and Devin Harris, acquired this offseason. Also joining the Mavs is Monta Ellis, a pure scorer who will give Dirk some much needed scoring help. Nowitzki will be able to keep his 35 year-old body fresh with depth in the post: Samuel Dalembert, DeJuan Blair and Brandan Wright.
Who Misses Out?
Not all 15 Western Conference teams can make the playoffs. Sacramento, Utah and Phoenix do not have the talent to threaten a competitive Western Conference.
The Los Angeles Lakers have Kobe Bryant, so anything is possible, but if his Achilles injury lingers, the Lakers will be in for a long season.
The Portland Trail Blazers have some great pieces in place with Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge, but they do not have playoff caliber depth.
The New Orleans Pelicans (yes, Pelicans … ) made some great offseason moves, adding Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans, but the chemistry will not be there in the first half of the season. However, the future looks very promising in New Orleans.
If the Minnesota Timberwolves can stay healthy they are playoff worthy. That may be too much to ask.
The Western Conference is up for grabs this year. There are too many good teams competing for a boring season to exist. Fans: Sit back, relax (unless your team is playing) and enjoy the wild ride.