How does the Western Conference look now that NBA free agency is just about over? There was much more change in the East, which we covered yesterday. The West now appears a solid 11 deep, and that’s excluding Kobe Bryant’s Lakers.
1. San Antonio. Tough not to have the Spurs here, given their demolition of the Heat in the lopsided finals. This is a team that’s gone Benjamin Button on us – weren’t they supposed to be over-the-hill like three years ago? Everyone’s back, the second unit will play heavy minutes to keep Parker/Duncan/Ginobili fresh for the playoffs. Will this be Duncan’s final year? Another title and he’s got to be a Top 5 player all-time, with Jordan/Magic/Russell/Jabbar, right? 60-22.
2. Oklahoma City. Could supplant the Spurs as No. 1 in the West if the young guys – Jeremy Lamb, Steven Adams, Mitch McGary, Perry Jones – start to look like the stars they did in college. Just try not to think about Kevin Durant leaving in two years. It’s like dating that girl way out of your league – yes, she’ll eventually leave you, but enjoy it while you can. 59-23.
3. Golden State. Yes, I’m overly bullish on the Warriors (again). Had them in the Finals last year, but this is the year! Maybe Bogut doesn’t get injured! I’m glad they didn’t break up the Splash Brothers. There isn’t a more fun team to watch in the NBA. I actually typed this while wearing my Stephen Curry t-shirt, thus: 55-27.
4. LA Clippers. Added Spencer Hawes, but otherwise, were capped to the point they couldn’t do anything. Pinning their Western Conference hopes on Doc Rivers in year two, the continued growth of Blake Griffin, and hopefully, guards JJ Redick/CP3 remain healthy. 53-29.
5. Portland. Probably the most-improved team in the NBA last season, and I think there’s still room for growth. We haven’t see what CJ McCollum and Meyers Leonard can do (respectively: Something? Nothing?), Damian Lillard is rapidly becoming one of the NBA’s best point guards, and … they’re going to settle the LaMarcus Aldridge contract situation, right? 52-30.
6. Houston. Came so close to having the 2nd best offseason in the NBA, but then Chris Bosh said no, and they lost Chandler Parsons. Is Terrence Jones the Stretch 4 Dwight Howard needs him to be? Trevor Ariza is a serviceable replacement for Parsons. Don’t sleep on the Patrick Beverley/Isaiah Canaan point guard combo, and the Rockets have sneaky-good depth at shooting guard with Troy Daniels/Nick Johnson. Everyone’s selling Houston stock. I’ll double down. 51-29.
7. Dallas. Took the Spurs to 7, then added Tyson Chandler and Chandler Parsons and they’re this low? Well, the West is that good. In the East, they’re a Top 4 seed! If Jameer Nelson can rebound from two poor seasons, and Monta Ellis can grasp the fact he’s not the 1st or 2nd option … 49-33.
8. New Orleans. It’d be too boring to have the exact same playoff teams from last year, so the optimist in me says Omer Asik is just what Anthony Davis needs to become a Top 10 player in the NBA in just his 3rd year as a pro. Hard to believe, but at 20, he averaged 20.8 ppg, 10. rpg, 2.8 bpg. Obviously skittish about the Holiday/Gordon/Evans trio, all of whom like to shoot. College all-stars all over the bench: Russ Smith, Jimmer Fredette, Austin Rivers, Patric Young. 45-37.
MISSING THE PLAYOFFS
9. Memphis. Trotting out the same team that could have been better last year if not for injuries. And maybe beat the Thunder in the 1st round if not for this Zach Randolph punch. Marc Gasol’s final year in Memphis?
10. Denver. They’ll be healthy (Gallo! McGee!), added a nice player in Arron Afflalo, and draft pick Gary Harris looked good this summer. Problem? It’s the WEST.
11. Phoenix. Lost Channing Frye to Orlando, and their four best players are guards. Fun team, but deficient at the 4/5, though I like Plumlee.
12. LA Lakers. Tough to imagine a Kobe Bryant team being this bad. There’s decent talent – Randle, Ed Davis, Xavier Henry, Jeremy Lin, Jordan Clarkson – but can Kobe/Nash stay healthy? Reminder: If they don’t finish in the bottom five, their lottery pick will go to Phoenix.
13. Sacramento. The playoff drought will continue. Poor Nik Stauskas. Trade him East, please!
14. Utah. Well, I’m excited to see Gordon Hayward and Dante Exum. Hello, Top 5 pick.
15. Minnesota. When Kevin Love is traded, they’ll look like a 15-win team.