The draft is over, free agency is nearly complete, and it’s time to get in some very early 2010-2011 NBA predictions. Plenty can change between now and October – hopefully, nobody will pull a Monta Ellis in the coming months – but for the most part, here are our thoughts on what the West will look like next season. We evaluated the East Tuesday.
1 LA Lakers – If Bynum is healthy and Kobe doesn’t lose too much of a step at 32, the Lakers have to be the favorites to 3-peat. They should probably hope for more offense from Shannon Brown coming off the bench.
2 Dallas - Perpetually-injured Tyson Chandler is an upgrade at center (even if he’s a reserve). There’s a lot to love about streaky Roddy Beaubois. But Mark Cuban’s got an old team – Kidd, Marion, Dirk and Terry are all 32 or older – and after last year’s first-round playoff ouster, is this that group’s final shot at a title?
3 Oklahoma City – Wanted to pick the Thunder 2nd. This projection is even probably a year ahead of schedule. But the Durant-Westbrook combo should be good for 50-55 wins. If Cole Aldrich is a factor on the glass, and Daequan Cook makes all his open looks … why not 55-60 wins?
4 Denver – Were title contenders last year until Martin got hurt and George Karl had health problems. Very little has changed, with the exception of adding Al Harrington. We probably will end up sliding the Nuggets down at the start of the season if Carmelo Anthony hasn’t signed that extension (still don’t think he will).
5 San Antonio – We foolishly thought Richard Jefferson would have made a difference last year and picked the Spurs to win the West. Dumb. Even this pick is probably a silly one – will Tony Parker get traded? How much will George Hill improve? Can Manu stay healthy? How much of a factor will Tiago Splitter be? Tim Duncan will be 35 when the playoffs begin.
6 Utah - Heavy turnover, with perhaps three new starters, but we still like the Jazz to be in the 45-50 win range. The Jefferson-Millsap combo has lots of potential, but other than Deron Williams, who makes shots from beyond the arc. Also … Gordon Hayward, baby.
7 Phoenix - Losing Amare probably didn’t kill the team. The interior got significantly weaker, but the Suns added two playmakers – Josh Childress, Hedo – and could give just about everyone in the West problems in the postseason (except the Lakers, who have far too much size).
8 LA Clippers – Because of Blake Griffin. And because we think Eric Gordon is a budding star. And the bench is decent – Foye, Jordan, Gomes, Smith. And they drafted two All-Americans (Aminu, Warren). Massaging egos will be difficult, but talent certainly is there.
Wouldn’t have been fun to include Portland 8th – that would have been the exact same eight playoff teams from last season (though a different order). We do like the Blazers (assuming they’re healthy) – assuming of course, that Greg Oden starts to “like” basketball again and doesn’t get injured.
Some folks will wonder where’s Houston. Like the Rockets, but are they considerably better than the top seven in the West? No. Probably right there with the Clippers and Blazers for the last spot (unless someone like Dallas, Denver, or San Antonio suffered an injury to Dirk, Melo or Duncan).