ON THE WESTERN FRONT
THE WESTERN CONFERENCE
The Western Conference remains the star-studded dominate monster that it is becoming even more difficult to survive with the Spurs addition of LaMarcus Aldridge, the Clippers additions of Paul Pierce and Josh Smith, and even the Mavericks additions of Wesley Matthews and Derrick Williams. Either you make moves to get better in the west or find yourself circling the bottom of the conference. Being a west coast resident has never been better for NBA fans with every game sure to be exciting and meaningful. Here are my predictions for the Western Conference teams.
15th: DENVER NUGGETS 15-67
The loss of Ty Lawson to the Houston Rockets will hurt the Nuggets in the short run, but a team this bad isn’t playing the short game, their looking years down the road and seem committed to an all-out rebuilding. In a star studded conference they have no star. A beat up Danillo Gallinari, an unwanted Jameer Nelson, and a Kenneth Faried “manimal” who may struggle without the assistance of a solid point guard, are not promising at all for a good season. I expect them to finish dead last in the west and be hoping the Ping Pong Ball Gods be kind.
14th: MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES 20-62
Hard for me to place them here because I actually think they are heading in the right direction with their draft picks. They made great additions with Karl Anthony-Towns and Tyus Jones, but they are very young and still have some moves to make. I truly believe this team needs to rid themselves of Ricky Rubio and that Zach Lavine and Tyus Jones are the future of their back-court. But that’s the future and this is now and this young team will continue to receive their learning lumps.
13th: PORTLAND TRAILBLAZERS 22-60
No team had it tougher than the Trailblazers this year as they watched 4 of 5 starters walk away and join other teams. They did their best to replace those pieces but they are definitely due for a fall from grace. Damian Lillard is a great player, but that is way too much pressure for one man to shoulder, especially when he’s busy working on rap albums.
12th: PHOENIX SUNS: 25-57
The Suns made no real acquisitions to make the team better. Adding Tyson Chandler will give you locker room presence, but not much else as he continues to age. The more concerning matter is with the Morris twins and the Suns shipping out Markice and by doing so creating a hostile Markieff. I’m predicting a big loss in team morale and chemistry and expect them to be average at best in this packed conference.
11TH: SACRAMENTO KINGS 28-54
The Kings are a tough team to place because they have all the parts to be a good team, but you just know they won’t be. George Karl is a great coach, but with Demarcus Cousins and now Rajon Rondo both being issues, he has his hands full. Rudy Gay never really was able to take a step into the next level of elite and is now a second option for scoring. I think they will start out rough and get it together somewhere around the all-star break.
10TH: LOS ANGELES LAKERS 32-50
I’m a Laker fan and a long time Kobe supporter, so nothing would make me happier than to say we are making the playoffs…..but we are not. Roy Hibbert is unreliable until proven otherwise, and the rest of the team is quite wet behind the ears. Kobe is not the teaching type, so it will be learn on the go for the young guards and they will start off slow with Kobe saving many games and later in the season I think they will begin to put it together. But not enough to make it to the playoffs in a stacked conference.
9th: UTAH JAZZ 40-42
Utah is a solid team and will have another solid season. But that is all they are, solid. There’s no star player here, Gordon Hayward is an excellent wing man but he is a sidekick at best. Good all around play and depth will put them ahead of the other teams, but out of reach of the playoffs. I’m not sure if Gobert will live up to the hype he is getting coming into this season.
8th: NEW ORLEANS PELICANS 48-34
Anthony Davis is a monster, this we all know. He has a talented cast around him, but they are unreliable at times. Tyreke Evans by now has reached his ceiling and I believe he is who he is and that’s it. But the pelicans to me have an issue they seem to not care about, and that is having too many guards that do the same thing. Tyreke Evans and Eric Gordon are the same player; Guards that drive and don’t shoot well. I expected one of them to get traded but that didn’t happen. I also thought they would start them both and play Tyreke at the SF position since he’s strong enough to guard out there, but then again having two wingman who can’t knock down outside shots would be bad for business. They need to address this before they ever begin to think about getting out the first round.
7th: DALLAS MAVERICKS: 50-32
I’d like to place Dallas higher, but we just don’t know which Derrick Williams we are getting and we can’t bet on Wesley Matthews until we see him back on the floor. Chandler Parsons had some injury issues as well and Dirk, however great, is another year older. If D-Will can find his Utah Jazz form they could climb this chart, but that is a big if. But they are talented enough to get into the playoffs and if they do so healthy could possibly make some noise.
6th: MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES 53-29
Defense, defense, and more defense. We all know the Grizzlies can play defense, but Jeff Green was supposed to be the answer to their offensive issues and add an explosive element to go alongside Mike Conley. In a talented west they did nothing to get better and will slide down a bit this season to make room for the Thunder.
5th: HOUSTON ROCKETS 55-27
James Harden will continue to live at the foul line. Ty Lawson adds another creator on the floor and Howard will work the paint if healthy. They have decent depth even with Josh Smith leaving, but this will come down to Terrence Jones and his play and remaining healthy. The three’s will rain in Houston and I actually believe Howard will have a much better year.
4th: SAN ANTONIO SPURS 58-24
Say what???? The Spurs finishing fourth?? I know, I know, but listen…. The Spurs are a veteran team and they don’t care where they finish because they know what they can do once they get into the playoffs. Other teams will be far more desperate to get seating and a four five match up favors the Spurs as they still get home court through the first round. Popovich will continue to be Pop and simply not play his key guys at times. Especially with the Additions of David West and LaMarcus Aldridge, I would now expect him to rest Duncan at a higher than usual rate. Tony Parker played summer ball in FIBA and I expect him to get plenty of rest as well. Their overall games won will not be as important as their big wins as they will go full force against the top teams and rest on days they are not.
3rd: LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS 59-23
It’s tight in the west again and the Clippers come in 3rd this year. They have a lot of new pieces to work with, but the gelling of it all may take a month or so. My major concern with this team is health, keeping CP3 healthy is going to be key, and also the continued growth of Blake Griffin as a shooter. They have all the pieces to win a championship, but there is always something about the Clippers that makes you want to not pick them to win it all. How much is Paul Pierce going to be able to contribute on and off the floor? Are you getting good or bad Josh Smith and the same can be asked of Lance Stephenson. It’s a coin toss here.
2nd: OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER 62-20
Barring a healthy Durant I expect the Thunder to come out firing on all cylinders, and if they want KD to stay in OKC they are going to have to win games. Lots of incentive here to look at; KD feels a bit slighted and he should as LeBron is broadcasted as the all-out best player in the league every year. James Harden is in the run for MVP of the league and lead his team to the Western Conference Finals last year. We all know what Stephen Curry and the warriors did as Durant was on the sideline watching helplessly. And last but not least, Russell Westbrook put on a show every night. There is plenty of motive for KD to come out this season and look to destroy on a Tom Brady level. The only good news for KD is that Westbrook really got better while he was gone at being a leader and a complete PG. Billy Donovan is the new coach here, but Steve Kerr was new last year, and I smell a trend here. They have the right pieces and solid depth at the big position and I have high hopes and expectations for them this season.
1st: GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS 64-18
Hey when you are number one, you stay number one until somebody does something about it. Easily the deepest team in the west, bringing back all their key guys makes them the front runner. No need to figure out how to play with each other, these guys have it down. Key things I am looking for is some growth from Harrison Barnes, especially defensively as he plays the very important SF position in a western conference packed with forwards. Steph and Klay will continue to knock down 3’s at a high rate and Steve Kerr knows a thing or two about what it takes to repeat as a champion. It’s their league to lose.