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Ranking the Western Conference So Far
Posted By Eric Pincus On July 14, 2013 @ 6:00 pm In NBA | No Comments
With Dwight Howard leaving the Los Angeles Lakers for the Houston Rockets, did the balance of power shift dramatically in the Western Conference?
Below we rank each team in the West, knowing full well that plenty of changes can still take place between now and the start of the season, which is still four months away.
Every year it seems the Spurs are underrated, yet when the season ends they’re almost always close to the 60-win mark. Just a month ago they were literally seconds away from another title.
The Spurs brought the band back together, re-signing both Manu Ginobili and Tiago Splitter. Gary Neal is still an unrestricted free agent but the team added on both Marco Belinelli and Jeff Pendergraph.
Belinelli has a knack for hitting game-winning shots. Splitter and Pendergraph are solid role players.
San Antonio has been “too old” for some time and yet they’re still the same Spurs: a threat every year to win the West.
2. Oklahoma City Thunder:
When the Thunder traded James Harden to the Rockets, it wasn’t about acquiring Kevin Martin but avoiding an untenable payroll, adding on Jeremy Lamb and the draft pick that yielded young center Steven Adams.
Martin has departed for the Minnesota Timberwolves, which should open up playing time for second-year guard Lamb.
The key to the season will be the successful return of Russell Westbrook, who went down in the first round of the playoffs with a torn meniscus.
Kevin Durant and Westbrook are still nearly unguardable, but the Thunder need a steady third option to help round of the roster. Will that be Reggie Jackson, Lamb or another unexpected source?
3. Los Angeles Clippers:
The big step for the Clippers was to get Chris Paul to re-sign. Adding in Doc Rivers, one of the league’s top coaches, helped make that happen.
Rivers should be an upgrade over Vinny Del Negro, but really it’s up to the players.
To that end, the Clippers traded for shooters J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley. They re-signed Matt Barnes while adding in point guard Darren Collison, who will make up for the loss of Eric Bledsoe.
The Clippers have questionable depth up front behind Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan but are stacked with depth at the guard spots and small forward.
The team may still add Antawn Jamison, Lamar Odom and/or Metta World Peace. Something is needed behind Griffin and Jordan other than Ryan Hollins.
4. Golden State Warriors
Iguodala is an underrated playmaker and one of the league’s better perimeter defenders. He should be a great fit in Golden State. Toney Douglas was also added to help replace Jack.
Marreese Speights has somewhat of a similar game to Landry. Jermaine O’Neal showed last year with the Phoenix Suns he can still contribute.
The key for the Warriors, as always, is health. Can Stephen Curry, Andrew Bogut and David Lee stay sound?
5. Houston Rockets:
Howard changes the Rockets just like acquiring Harden changed the Rockets.
Houston has serious potential this coming season. A five ranking may be too low but this is a squad of young players.
Can Jeremey Lin, Chandler Parsons, Omer Asik and the rest of the roster jump from the underdog to the favorite? Will Howard and Asik, neither who can shoot free throws or hit shots more than a couple of feet away from the basket, be able to play together?
It could come together very quickly and powerfully for the Rockets. They’re going to be good this year; the question is how good?
6. Memphis Grizzlies:
Memphis is essentially bringing back the same team that won 56 games a year ago.
The big change is coach. Out is Lionel Hollins, replace by former assistant Dave Joerger.
Last year the Warriors were the sixth seed with 47 wins. This may be low for the Grizzlies but if they dip back even to 50, the competition level atop the West could drop Memphis as low as six.
7. Denver Nuggets:
How much will the Nuggets miss Iguodala and George Karl?
Last season the team won 57 games to finish third in the West but it’s hard to see them finishing quite so high next year.
Karl struggled to get the Nuggets past the first round of the playoffs but he managed his team well over the regular season.
His replacement, rookie head coach Brian Shaw, will have a talented roster to work with.
Danilo Gallinari is still recovering from a knee injury but Denver will still bring a formidable core to the West. J.J Hickson, Randy Foye and Darrell Arthur are the new additions brought in to offset the losses of Kosta Koufos and Iguodala.
Denver is a playoff team, but they should slip a bit from last year.
The key to the Lakers’ season is the health of Kobe Bryant. If he returns quickly to full strength, the team will be a factor in the West.
Howard will be missed, but the Lakers have added Chris Kaman, Nick Young, Wesley Johnson and Jordan Farmar (pending a buyout from his team in Turkey).
Last year the Lakers were hurt nearly the entire season and won 45 games. If they’re able to get through the next year without injury, 45 wins sounds about right.
9. Portland Trail Blazers:
LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard didn’t have much help last year but the Blazers have added on Robin Lopez, Dorell Wright, Earl Watson, C.J. McCollum and Allen Crabbe.
Portland finished with just 33 wins last season. They should climb above .500 this season. It still may not be enough to make it into the top eight.
10. Minnesota Timberwolves:
Kevin Love just wasn’t healthy last year. Minnesota had more injuries than just about any other franchise.
The team is negotiating with center Nikola Pekovic, who they need to bring back.
The additions of Kevin Martin, Corey Brewer, Shabazz Muhammad, Ronny Turiaf and Gorgui Dieng help make up for the loss of Andrei Kirilenko.
Minnesota has a real chance at a playoff run, but they have a lot to prove after years in the lottery.
11. Dallas Mavericks:
The Mavericks had grand designs for the cap room the last couple of years, but Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon couldn’t have been the goal.
Dallas is making the best with what they can. This may be another transition year while they look to shop once more over the summer of 2014.
12. New Orleans Pelicans
The Hornets have real potential this season with the acquisitions of Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans.
The chemistry with Eric Gordon needs to develop along with second-year forward/center Anthony Davis.
If everything goes right, the Hornets could push for a playoff spot — but that’s a little too ambitious a jump after a 27-win season.
13. Phoenix Suns:
The Suns scored when they acquired Eric Bledsoe from the Clippers. While he’s a nice piece to add, Phoenix still has a ways to go.
With Goran Dragic, the Morris twins (Markieff and Marcus) and Caron Butler, the Suns will be a threat on any given night but not consistently over time.
Center Alex Len is recovering from ankle surgery which may buy some time for incumbent Marcin Gortat, at least until he’s ready to take on a bigger role.
Rookie Head Coach Jeff Hornacek will learn on the job but his roster isn’t quite there yet.
14. Sacramento Kings:
The Kings have a lot of talent but it’s going to take some time for the new ownership and general manager Pete D’Alessandro to adjust the roster to their liking.
Can head coach Mike Malone get the most out of DeMarcus Cousins?
Sacramento will be competitive in stretches but they still have a lot to prove as a cohesive unit.
15. Utah Jazz:
The Jazz are all about lottery 2014. The chase will be for lottery balls, not a playoff seeding.
Utah has talent like Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, Gordon Hayward and rookies Trey Burke and Rudy Gobert.
Adding in Andrew Wiggins would quickly change the franchise for the next decade.
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