Ranking the NBA Western Conference
As NBA fans glance in the distance and spot the start of preseason just on the horizon, numerous teams around the league are planning to introduce vastly different rosters come media day. This fact is especially accurate in a Western Conference that saw the best center in basketball transported out to Los Angeles and multiple stars switching uniforms searching for greener pastures.
Obviously with training camp still a few months away, it remains to be seen just how quickly some of these teams will be able to gel together to launch the season. That being said, it’s a good idea to start looking at how the Western Conference might be won with most NBA teams now featuring a full roster.
With the NBA Eastern Conference rankings already in the books, let’s take a look at how things are shaking out in the West with the dust nearly settled from the summer of 2012:
1. Los Angeles Lakers (2012: 3rd in Western Conference – 41-25)
Key Additions: Dwight Howard, Steve Nash, Antawn Jamison, Jodie Meeks
Key Subtractions: Andrew Bynum, Ramon Sessions
Key Draft Additions: N/A
The Los Angeles Lakers reaffirmed their status as the team to beat in the West in trading for both Nash and Howard this offseason after two straight second round playoff exits. In acquiring the best center in the NBA and a top-5 point guard in Nash to pair with one of the best in the business in Kobe Bryant, the Lakers have re-tooled an already explosive squad.
To go along with a lineup that resembles more of an all-star team than an NBA starting five, L.A. also solidified the weakest part of the team from just a season ago: the bench. In acquiring two starters from last season in Jamison and Meeks, the Lakers now feature a formidable reserve core to keep the pressure on opposing teams even after Bryant, Howard and company hit the bench.
It was easy to see L.A. coming out of the West BEFORE they acquired Howard, so anything less than an NBA Title at the end of this season will be a huge disappointment in Lakerland.
2. Oklahoma City Thunder (2012: 2nd – 47-19)
Key Additions: Eric Maynor (injured in 2012), Hasheem Thabeet
Key Subtractions: Derek Fisher
Key Draft Additions: Perry Jones III (28th overall)
By staying virtually intact going into next season, the Oklahoma City Thunder find themselves still standing with the best opportunity in the Western Conference to knock off the L.A. Lakers. Another year of experience for one of the youngest teams in the league will undoubtedly be a key in last year’s Western Conference Champs progression next season.
Another important factor in OKC’s evolution will be the return of a steadying force, and only true point guard on the Thunder, Maynor from injury. A clear upgrade over Fisher, Maynor will help right the ship coming off the bench and will play a vital role for the Thunder next season.
Even though the dominant trio of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden are only getting better, it’s difficult to see this team beating a healthy, new-look Lakers team in a seven-game series. The Thunder have the best shot at preventing the start of a dynasty in L.A. but it’s difficult to see that happening next season.
3. San Antonio Spurs (2012: 1st – 50-16)
Key Additions: Nando De Colo
Key Subtractions: N/A
Key Draft Additions: N/A
Featuring largely the same squad that finished first in the Western Conference standings in 2011-12, the San Antonio Spurs head into 2012-13 hoping good health and veteran savvy propel them further next season.
The team that lost in six games to the Thunder in the Western Conference Finals just a few months ago had a mostly quiet offseason aside from re-signing franchise-mainstay Tim Duncan. Banking on the aging trio of Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker along with improvement from rookie standout Kawhi Leonard; the Spurs still have hopes of holding the Larry O’Brien Trophy next June.
Even though San Antonio held their own and even forced the Thunder to make some epic comebacks in the West Finals, it’s hard to imagine this team – now a year older – challenging L.A. or OKC.
4. Los Angeles Clippers (2012: 5th – 40-26)
Key Additions: Jamal Crawford, Grant Hill, Lamar Odom
Key Subtractions: Mo Williams, Reggie Evans
Key Draft Additions: N/A
Even though aesthetically there weren’t a whole lot of changes made this offseason, the Los Angeles Clippers will benefit immensely from the return of former NBA Finals MVP Chauncey Billups. Losing Billups was a huge blow for the young Clippers last season and his return will pay dividends in solidifying the team offensively and defensively.
Along with Billups’ return, L.A. will have both Crawford and Hill next season to fortify what was a thin bench last season. Adding Odom to the mix could be disastrous but the Clippers did a solid job in dealing with the temperamental Williams last season, so Odom has the possibility of being a contributor behind Blake Griffin at power forward.
Sporting arguably the best point guard in the NBA in Chris Paul to go along with an up-and-coming power forward in Griffin, expect the Clippers to be legitimate contenders in the West next season.
5. Denver Nuggets (2021: 6th – 38-28)
Key Additions: Andre Iguodala, Anthony Randolph
Key Subtractions: Arron Afflalo, Al Harrington, Rudy Fernandez
Key Draft Additions: Evan Fournier (20th overall), Quincy Miller (38th overall)
The Denver Nuggets, with the acquisition of defensive stalwart and playmaker Iguodala to go along with an already talented cast, currently feature one of the deepest teams in the NBA. Re-signing talented big man JaVale McGee was also crucial and once again Denver looks loaded across the board.
With one of the best in the business coaching this deep and talented squad in George Karl, the Nuggets will look to get the most out of every player on this roster next season. Two-deep at every position, Denver heads into the fall continuing to try to prove that an abundance of first-rate talent can compete with the cream of the crop, super-star laden teams in the NBA.
That idea is a tough sell but expect the up-and-coming Nuggets to be better, and have a better finish, in 2013 than at the conclusion of last season.
6. Dallas Mavericks (2012: 7th – 36-30)
Key Additions: Chris Kaman, O.J. Mayo, Darren Collison, Elton Brand
Key Subtractions: Jason Terry, Jason Kidd, Ian Mahinmi
Key Draft Additions: Jared Cunningham (24th overall), Bernard James (33rd overall), Jae Crowder (34th overall)
After missing out on the sweepstakes for all-star point guard Deron Williams, the Dallas Mavericks bounced back with authority by adding Chris Kaman, O.J. Mayo, Darren Collison and Elton Brand this summer.
When healthy, the Mavericks will feature a deep and formidable team on both ends of the court next season and that should make top West teams cringe at the thought of a potential first round postseason matchup. The backcourt of Mayo and Collison will be quick, potent, and fun to watch. The combo of Kaman and Dirk Nowitzki, on paper at least, look like one of the best frontcourts offensively in the NBA. That’s not even mentioning a Defensive Player of the Year candidate from last season, the still productive and versatile Shawn Marion at power forward.
Depth is also still a key in big D; with Brand, re-signed starting guard from last season Delonte West and possible rookie standout Jae Crowder leading the way.
Atonement for the first round sweep this past postseason after winning a championship in 2011 is unlikely, but there’s little doubt that Dallas will feature a dangerous squad next season while still preserving cap space for next offseason.
7. Memphis Grizzlies (2012: 4th – 41-25)
Key Additions: Jerryd Bayless, Wayne Ellington
Key Subtractions: O.J. Mayo
Key Draft Additions: Tony Wroten (25th overall)
With a formidable starting five that features Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, Rudy Gay, Tony Allen and Mike Conley the Memphis Grizzlies look primed to be another tough out next season postseason. Memphis will undoubtedly miss the offensive abilities of Mayo and the late game heroics of the team’s former sixth man, but Memphis is still a legitimate playoff team in the Western Conference.
The biggest problem for the Grizzlies over the past few seasons has been avoiding the injury bug. Key players Gay and Randolph have missed significant time in each of the past few years and continuity has been an issue.
When healthy, Memphis is another one of those teams in the West that no one wants to face off against come playoff time. Both in the frontcourt and defensively, Memphis is one of the best in the business but remaining healthy will be key to being a true contender in the Western Conference.
8. Portland Trail Blazers (2012: 11th – 28-38)
Key Additions: Damian Lillard, Meyers Leonard
Key Subtractions: Jamal Crawford, Raymond Felton
Key Draft Additions: Damian Lillard (6th overall), Meyers Leonard (11th overall), Will Barton (40th overall)
After an injury-riddled 2011-12 produced the Portland Trail Blazers’ first lottery season since 2007-2008, the Blazers rearmed with a purpose this summer in the 2012 NBA Draft. Already featuring one of the best scorers in the NBA at power forward in LaMarcus Aldridge, the Blazers added the top point guard in the draft in Lillard and then took the second-best center on the board in Leonard.
The Portland reserves could be a little shaky but the Blazers’ starting five is going to be tough to compete with on a night-in, night-out basis. Even though it’s a difficult choice with the Minnesota Timberwolves looking much improved, it’s hard to see the revamped Blazers not returning to the postseason in 2013.
9. Minnesota Timberwolves (2012: 12th – 26-40)
Key Additions: Brandon Roy, Andrei Kirilenko, Chase Budinger, Alexey Shved
Key Subtractions: Michael Beasley, Wesley Johnson
Key Draft Additions: N/A
Minnesota has set itself up with an excellent combination of veterans and up-and-comers to make sure this team competes at a high level next season.
How he is able to play after returning from retirement is huge but the addition of Roy, along with proven vet Kirilenko, will be paramount in the Timberwolves improvement.
Combine that with the return of rookie sensation Ricky Rubio, the continued emergence of All Star Kevin Love along with third-year center Nikola Pekovic ‘s maturation, and Minnesota looks to be a formidable squad in 2013. Both the T-Wolves and Blazers will be vying for that final playoff spot in the West all season but Aldridge and Portland finish the regular season on top.
10. Utah Jazz (2012: 8th – 36-30)
Key Additions: Mo Williams, Marvin Williams, Randy Foye
Key Subtractions: Devin Harris, C.J. Miles
Key Draft Additions: N/A
Like the team before them on this list, it’s easy to see the Jazz finishing the 2012-2013 NBA season with more wins than losses. However, even after securing the final playoff spot last year and upgrading the roster this offseason it’s tough to see Utah competing in the 2013 postseason.
The trio of Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and Derrick Favors give the Jazz great size, scoring and rebounding inside but, even with the addition of Mo Williams, point guard remains a question mark. Every other addition the Jazz have made this summer have made them stronger, except for substituting Williams for Devin Harris at the point.
For the most part, there’s little doubt that Utah has gotten better this offseason. Unfortunately for the Jazz, so has the rest of the Western Conference.
11. Golden State Warriors (2012: 13th – 23-43)
Key Additions: Jarrett Jack, Carl Landry
Key Subtractions: Dorell Wright
Key Draft Additions: Harrison Barnes (7th overall), Festus Ezeli (30th overall), Draymond Green (35th overall)
Plain and simple: the Golden State Warriors feature a ridiculous amount of talent to be sitting in the bottom five of the Western Conference at season’s end. The Warriors feature a starting-five that rivals the best in the business but there’s one thing keeping this team from being playoff contenders next season.
Possibly more than any other team in the NBA, health is going to be the deciding factor as to whether or not this team competes for a playoff spot in 2013.
Key starters Andrew Bogut and Stephen Curry have each had trouble staying on the court over the past two seasons and this team simply won’t cut it in the brutal West without both of those players healthy.
Barnes jumping into the starting lineup, to go along with second-year shooting guard Klay Thompson at the wing, will be a quality pairing and the Bogut-David Lee tandem in the frontcourt is rock solid. If Curry and Bogut play in 75+ games next season, and that’s a big if, it’s easy to see the Warriors in playoff contention.
12. Phoenix Suns (2012: 10th – 33-33)
Key Additions: Luis Scola, Goran Dragic, Michael Beasley, Wesley Johnson, Jermaine O’Neal
Key Subtractions: Steve Nash, Grant Hill
Key Draft Additions: Kendall Marshall (13th overall)
After allowing Hall of Fame point guard Steve Nash to leave via sign and trade to the Lakers this offseason, the Suns have set themselves up with a young and talented nucleus going forward. Life after Nash isn’t going to be an easy transition but, with their additions this summer, Phoenix has too much talent to be laying down for teams next season.
The Scola, Gortat pairing in the frontcourt looks promising, while Dragic gets another shot at being the floor general in Phoenix – this time without Nash’s shadow draped over him. Aside from Scola, each of the Suns’ projected starting-five for the 2012-13 season will be 28 years old or younger when Phoenix opens the season on Oct. 31.
The Suns’ playoff drought is likely to continue this upcoming season but, with another possible high draft pick next summer, the future is bright in Phoenix.
13. Houston Rockets (2012: 9th – 34-32)
Key Additions: Jeremy Lin, Omer Asik, Shaun Livingston, Carlos Delfino
Key Subtractions: Kyle Lowry, Courtney Lee, Luis Scola, Samuel Dalembert, Marcus Camby
Key Draft Additions: Jeremy Lamb (12th overall), Royce White (14th overall), Terrence Jones (18th overall)
The addition of 2012-sensation Lin will certainly help the Rockets but this team still faces the conundrum of having too many hybrid forwards to accommodate in terms of playing time. Proven scorer Kevin Martin is still in the fold, and Asik could blossom into a quality center, but it seems Houston has more ill-fitting parts than anything else going into next season.
On a lighter note, first round draft picks Lamb, White and Jones all have a great opportunity to make an impact this season.
There’s no doubt that there’s plenty of talent on this roster, the only problem is that most of those players occupy the same position. Unless an unforeseen blockbuster trade is in the cards that none of us media types are currently aware of, the Rockets are lottery bound in 2013.
14. Sacramento Kings (2012: 14th – 22-44)
Key Additions: Aaron Brooks
Key Subtractions: N/A
Key Draft Additions: Thomas Robinson (5th overall), Orlando Johnson (36th overall)
Kings center DeMarcus Cousins will finish next season in the top-5 in the NBA in both points and rebounding. Not exactly going out on a limb there but the Kings’ center has the type of talent to be one of the best big men in the NBA, and soon.
In a conference that features its share of talented frontcourt combos, the tandem of Cousins and 2012 fifth overall pick Robinson may be the best of the bunch in just a few seasons.
Unfortunately for Sacramento, neither of those predictions are going to be enough to keep this team out of the Western Conference cellar next season.
15. New Orleans Hornets (2012: 15th – 21-45)
Key Additions: Ryan Anderson
Key Subtractions: Chris Kaman, Emeka Okafor, Trevor Ariza, Jarrett Jack, Marco Belinelli
Key Draft Additions: Anthony Davis (1st overall), Austin Rivers (10th overall), Darius Miller (44th overall)
Even with the addition of rookies Davis and Rivers, the New Orleans Hornets still face a difficult uphill climb back to respectability next season. Including both of those draft picks – who haven’t played a minute in the NBA thus far – this team is riddled with question marks going into next season.
The incumbent starter for the Hornets at shooting guard, Eric Gordon, is looking to rebound after missing nearly all of the 2012 season. Also, newcomer Anderson faces the challenge of trying to find open looks without former Orlando Magic teammate Howard clogging the paint.
Davis looks like a solid prospect, and Rivers may very well come into his own on the NBA stage; but as of right now, this New Orleans squad looks like it’s destined to finish at the bottom of the West for the second consecutive season.
The 2012-13 season is shaping up to be one of the most anticipated in NBA history. The two super teams in Miami and Los Angeles are set to collide on Jan. 14 of 2013 in L.A. and casual fans around the NBA will be hoping for that matchup come June.
We’re obviously evaluating basketball on paper right now, but it’s hard to dispute how the Lakers and HEAT additions this offseason wouldn’t have these teams primed for a potential NBA Finals collision course come next summer.
Who is the team to beat in the loaded Western Conference? Let your voice be heard and toss out your rankings in the comment section below.