Point/Counterpoint: Best In The West
Are the San Antonio Spurs poised to repeat as Western Conference champions? Is it time for Los Angeles’ other team, the Clippers, to start their reign of dominance? Or could it be the Memphis Grizzlies, Oklahoma City Thunder or Golden State Warriors who end up at the top? HOOPSWORLD asked Eric Pincus, Jabari Davis and Yannis Koutroupis, three writers who cover the Western Conference, to give their choice:
The San Antonio Spurs aren’t necessarily the sexy choice to come out of the West Conference but they’re the favorite to advance to another NBA Finals.
This Spurs team is the same Spurs team that won 58 games last season, the third best record overall, advancing past the Los Angeles Lakers, Golden State Warriors and Memphis Grizzlies.
Why now would they suddenly be “too old?”
There’s no denying that Tim Duncan is 37-years old, Manu Ginobili is 36 and Tony Parker is 31. Their three stars are not young. Parker is still in his prime and while Duncan and Ginobili may be past their peaks, they’re still both high impact players. When healthy, the Spurs are the same dominant team that is almost always in the mix at the end of May and into June.
Parker is coming off a huge summer, leading the French National Team over Spain to win the European Championship — coming back to San Antonio with the MVP along with a gold medal.
The Spurs have also gotten younger in recent years with Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. Tiago Splitter, Matt Bonner Boris Diaw are solid role players.
The team picked up Marco Belinelli, who showed a knack last year for hitting game-winning shots with the Chicago Bulls. Jeff Ayers (former Pendergraph) may help as a younger backup to Duncan at power forward.
The only rotation players the Spurs lost over the offseason were Gary Neal and DeJuan Blair. Belinelli and Pendergraph should be able to step into those vacated roles.
Meanwhile the Oklahoma City Thunder traded shooter Kevin Martin are waiting for Russell Westbrook to return from a knee injury. The Los Angeles Clippers have to prove they can translate regular season success into the playoffs. Golden State has a tremendous upside and is certainly a more exciting pick than the Spurs – but San Antonio dispatched the Warriors in six games in the second round last year. The Warriors may be better than they were a year ago — but then the loss of Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry may be costly (even with the addition of Andre Iguodala).
Memphis still has the size to battle the Spurs but will there be any drop off with the coaching change (Lionel Hollins out for David Joerger).
Coach Gregg Popovich will give his players nights off throughout the season.
They’ll lose a few games they shouldn’t, possibly losing home court advantage — but the Spurs will be will be the same team that has advanced to the Western Conference Finals eight times throughout Duncan’s 16-year career.
There’s no compelling reason to doubt he’ll hit nine in year 17, with a real shot at a fifth title.
- Eric Pincus
Our writers have debated on much more than just who is the best in the Western Conference. Click here to see Joel Brigham, Moke Hamilton and Yannis Koutroupis throw down over who is going to win the Most Valuable Player award this upcoming season!
These certainly aren’t your grandfather’s Clippers or Braves, if you will. In fact, they wouldn’t even qualify as your slightly older brother’s Lamond Murray and Eric Piatkowski-led Clippers, that were the perennial, proverbial “butt” of everyone’s NBA joke.
In fact, since head coach and Senior VP of Basketball Operations Doc Rivers came strolling into town as the new sheriff (Blazing Saddles fans will appreciate me for that one), an understandably excited fan base hasn’t even been able to comfortably refer to their beloved squad as “Lob City.”
Transitioning from the justifiable laughing stock of the league into a team with a legitimate goal of finally doing some postseason damage in just a few years seems about as unlikely as if someone had told me they would one day be covering up their building-mate Lakers’ banners and retired jerseys up with the equivalent of even more over-sized Fat Heads of themselves.
The reality for these Clippers is that even though they’ve totally revamped the roster, front office, and even found a way to finally rid the headlines of lawsuits and negative press surrounding their sometimes-precarious owner, they still have yet to find a way to advance beyond the second round of the playoffs. While a 56-win season, Pacific Division title, and opening round home court advantage in a series would have been a celebrated occasion in years past, these Clippers found themselves ushering the expiring contract of Vinny Del Negro out of the door in favor of what is presumably the heftiest contract any coach has seen in franchise history in the form of former-champion Doc Rivers.
While the acquisition of Chris Paul was certainly the key to the on-court turnaround as not only did it send their cross-hallway sibling rival Lakers stumbling into a series of moves in an effort to regain balance, but it also gave the organization its first superstar talent in the history of the franchise. That, for the record, is in no way intended to be a disrespect to one Blake Griffin. Griffin is undeniable as a box-office draw and guaranteed Sportscenter highlight, but when it comes to measuring actual impact upon the team’s ultimate success, there are very few players in the league that could currently stack up to Paul.
With that well-deserved praise comes a great deal of responsibility, as Paul is now expected to take a very good team, and convert them into a great team with the help of the aforementioned Rivers. They’ll need J.J. Redick, previously sidelined throughout the preseason by a quad bruise, and Jared Dudley to slide nicely into contributing roles just as much as they’ll need Jamal Crawford to continue providing his brand of instant-offense as he (surprisingly) heads into his 14th season.
Perhaps, just as important as all of those aspects, these Clippers will need to find the type of interior toughness they’ve been lacking since they elected to let their “dirty work” crew in Kenyon Martin and Reggie Evans go prior to last season. Griffin, Jordan, and recently signed Lou Amundson will need to be consistently tough in and around the paint on both sides of the floor. Jordan, in particular, can no longer afford to be a preseason MVP, and must find a way to carry his recent success into and throughout the regular season.
It will certainly be a challenge for Rivers to put all the pieces together, but the Clippers are both literally and figuratively banking on his ability to do exactly that. While the players are responsible for what takes place on the court, Rivers knows the buck always stops at the feet of the person responsible for bringing it all together. Especially, in this current climate of blood-thirsty expectations for head coaches in Los Angeles. This seems to be a position Rivers is completely comfortable with. Why wouldn’t he be? One look at the tools he’ll be working with, and it only makes sense.
Finally, for these Clippers, the Western Conference Finals are a discussion that can actually be had beyond what lottery pick the team will decide to go with once the Finals have been completed.
- Jabari Davis
Mike Miller’s career was all but finished two years ago; now he’s a two-time defending champion looking to push the Memphis Grizzlies over the championship hump. Make sure to check out his exclusive sit down with Steve Kyler where he talks about that and more!
Let me be clear at the start that as of right now, the San Antonio Spurs are the best team in the West in my opinion. They have the experience, depth and chemistry to guide them to a second-straight Western Conference championship. There isn’t a team in the West that could beat them four times in seven nights if the playoffs were to start today. But, they don’t start today – they start five months from now.
I can’t help but feel that over the course of the season the Golden State Warriors have more room to improve and potentially a higher ceiling than the Spurs, or any other team in the West for that matter.
If you go back and look at their series against the Spurs in the second round of last year’s playoffs, the Warriors were by far their toughest competition. And, that was without David Lee playing any sort of meaningful role.
This offseason the Warriors went out and turned their expiring contracts along with a couple of future first round picks into the necessary cap space to land Andre Iguodala in a sign-and-trade deal. The fit could not be any more ideal, as Iguodala, one of the league’s most well-rounded players, fits in perfectly with the Warriors’ up-tempo attack. He’s a superstar in every sense except for points per game, but the Warriors have the firepower to easily disguise that. They don’t need Iguodala to go out and average 19+ points a game and will never ask him to do so.
There’s no question over where Iguodala will fit because his versatility will make it easy to plug him in at just about any position 1-4. The question is whose role will change because of his arrival. At first everyone assumed it would be Harrison Barnes, but perhaps it’s Klay Thompson or David Lee. Regardless, the end result will be the Warriors’ bench getting some much needed help since the arrival of Iguodala caused the departure of Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry, the captains of the Warrior’s second unit last year.
Warriors head coach Mark Jackson has all season long to tinker with different combinations and figure out which one works out best, though. It’s a problem any coach would love to have.
The recent extending of oft-injured center Andrew Bogut’s contract gets rid of the only real distraction this team was going to have going into this upcoming season. The Warriors’ pursuit of Dwight Howard this offseason admittedly bothered him, but the $42 million extension not only eliminates the possibility of becoming a free agent at season’s end for Bogut, it shows just how much the organization values him.
With all of their core players taken care of financially and locked up for the next few years, all of the pieces are in place for the Warriors to take another huge step forward this season just like they did in the last. Due to their overall youth, there’s no telling how good they could be if healthy, but they’ve shown enough up to this point for me to strongly believe they will be the best team in the West once it is all said and done.
- Yannis Koutroupis
Disagree? Tell us why and who you think will win the West in the comment section below!