Thank God the East is out of the way…..
Now we get to the good stuff. The west will, simply put, be insane this year. The Spurs got Lamarcus Aldridge and will surely be on their way to a sixth championship in the Popovich area. But not if the defending champion Golden State Warriors have a say about it. Deandre Jordan, after much back and forth drama, stayed in Lob City. Tyson Chandler went to Phoenix. And let’s not forget the massive deal Anthony “the Brow” Davis signed with the Pelicans (5 yr. / $145 million), who will take another step this year after their first round exodus. The Blazers and Mavs will both take steps back this year, but usher in the Utah Jazz, who could squeeze into the playoffs should things go accordingly. Whatever the case, discussing up here does this conference no justice, so here’s what I think will happen this upcoming season:
|Team||Last Year’s Record||Projected Wins 2015-2016|
|San Antonio Spurs||55-27||59-64|
|Golden State Warriors||67-15||58-64|
|Oklahoma City Thunder||45-37||50-54|
|Los Angeles Clippers||56-26||48-52|
|New Orleans Pelicans||45-37||47-51|
|Portland Trail Blazers||51-31||33-37|
|Los Angeles Lakers||21-61||22-28|
Now allow me to break it down by division.
- Oklahoma City Thunder
Key Additions: G/F Kyle Singler, Billy Donovan
Key Losses: Scott Brooks, F Perry Jones
The Scoop: Superstar F Kevin Durant should be back before the season starts, which bodes well for this team’s chances this upcoming season. The Westbrook-Durant-Ibaka trio is formulaically proven for 50+ wins and a second round berth, but I feel as if they’re destined for that year after year. Re-signing PF/C Enes Kanter was low-risk move. Even if he is a killer on the defensive end, he adds a fourth scoring option for this Thunder team. SG Dion Waiters must anchor the bench like he did last year, but this time without the help/hindrance of G Reggie Jackson. Let’s see if C Steven Adams can make a leap this year as well. The big story in OKC though will be the arrival of head coach Billy Donovan. He has had success at the college level, but can he steer this team of big egos to further success?
Final Grade: We know what this team can do, but if they’re not careful, they could slip back into the lower tier of Western Conference playoffs hopefuls. A-
- Utah Jazz
Key Additions: a Healthy G Alec Burks
Key Losses: F Jeremy Evans
The Scoop: Make no mistake, the Jazz were bad last year, but did finish a respectable 19-10 in their final 29. And all of their starters are back and better than the year before. G/F Gordon Hayward is an underrated playmaker and scorer (19.3 points, 4.9 rebounds, 4.1 assists in 34.4 minutes/game). The frontcourt looks extremely promising with C Rudy Gobert and PF/C Derrick Favors manning the middle. Utah was actually number one in the NBA in points per game allowed, so defense isn’t the issue. G Alec Burks, who went down with a shoulder injury mid last year, should help with the scoring load. Adding a shooter or two wouldn’t be a bad idea as well.
Final Grade: Although the bench is weak, the Jazz will be in the hunt for that eighth and final playoff spot. B
- Portland Trail Blazers
Key Additions: G Gerald Henderson, PF Mason Plumlee, PF/C Noah Vonleh, F Al Farouq-Aminu
Key Losses: PF Lamarcus Aldridge, G/F Arron Afflalo, G/F Wesley Matthews, GF Nicolas Batum, C Robin Lopez, SF Alonzo Gee
The Scoop: R.I.P RIP City. The Trail Blazers are starting anew. PF Lamarcus Aldridge’s departure should give PG Damian Lillard a career season. Don’t be surprised if he finishes top 3 in scoring. The other departures should give rise to the younger talent (PF/C Meyers Leonard, SG C.J McCollum and PF/C Noah Vonleh) as they attempt to forge a new identity with this team. This, however, will be a long season for Blazers hopefuls.
Final Grade: Year one of reconstruction is underway. Don’t expect more than 35 wins for this club. C
- Denver Nuggets
Key Additions: Emmanuel Mudiay
Key Losses: Nobody
The Scoop: The Nuggets are in the midst of rebuilding. This summer, the team drafted 19 year old PG Emmanuel Mudiay and retained the services of 24 year old SG Will Barton, brought over from the Arron Afflalo trade with the Trail Blazers. F Kenneth Faried must prove he is more than an athletic rebounder. What the team will do with star PG Ty Lawson (15.2 points, 3.1 rebounds, 9.6 assists per game) remains in question, but regardless, this team’s prospects are not very good. Everyone is in jeopardy of a midseason trade.
Final Grade: This season is all about grooming talent. Contention is not on the horizon. D+
- Minnesota Timberwolves
Key Additions: PF/C Karl-Anthony Towns
Key Losses: G Gary Neal
The Scoop: The biggest move of the season for the Wolves: PF Kevin Garnett signing a two year deal. Otherwise, this season is crickets for the Wolves. They are deep into rebuilding mode and could look to shop crafty but oft-injured PG Ricky Rubio at the trade deadline. Moving forward, they may roll with high flyer PG Zach Levine, G/F Andrew Wiggins and G/F Shabazz Muhammad in the backcourt. C Nikola Pekovic might be pushed by recently drafted PF/C Karl-Anthony Towns for the starting center position. If this team can stay healthy, they may exceed expectations and fluctuate a spot or two in the standings.
Final Grade: Until the Wolves establish an identity, they will continue to cry wolf. D
- San Antonio Spurs
Key Additions: PF/C Lamarcus Aldridge, PF David West
Key Losses: PG Corey Joseph, SG Marco Belinelli, C Aron Baynes,
The Scoop: What didn’t the Spurs do right this offseason? They brought back SG Manu Ginobili and F Kawhi Leonard on new contracts. They got the hottest commodity of the offseason in Second Team All-NBA PF Lamarcus Aldridge to play alongside Duncan and Leonard. They also added veteran bruiser PF David West as the first guy off the bench; he’ll be complemented by versatile F Boris Diaw off the bench as well. PG Tony Parker and G/F Danny Green will man the backcourt to round off arguably the best 8 man rotation in basketball. The team’s Achilles heel however will be the back 4, as they did lose some depth on their bench.
Final Grade: Even with the minor losses on their bench, it’s nothing Pop can’t shore up before the season begins. Expect nothing short of a sixth ring, Spurs fans. A+
- Memphis Grizzlies
Key Additions: PF Brandan Wright
Key Losses: C Kosta Koufos, SG Nick Calathes (questionable)
The Scoop: After re-signing First Team All-NBA C Marc Gasol, Memphis is set to roll out almost the exact same team they did last year. The team, we know, will be one of the best in the league defensively. After witnessing the team’s collapse in the second round of postseason play, PG Mike Conley needs to stay healthy for this team to play deep into the playoffs. It could make all the difference in this deep Western Conference. Losing backup C Kosta Koufos to the Kings could hurt the Grizzlies in more ways than they think. He was a rock in the second unit. Who that backup big will be alongside Randolph and Gasol needs to be sorted out ASAP. Will PF Brandan Wright show the grit of a true Griz?
Final Grade: The Grizzlies are an injury or two away from being pushed back a couple slots, but for now, remain a formidable playoff power and easy postseason choice. A-
- Houston Rockets
Key Additions: a Healthy G Patrick Beverley and F Donatas Montiejunas
Key Losses: SG Jason Terry (questionable), F Josh Smith (questionable), G/F K.J McDaniels (questionable)
The Scoop: The Rockets re-signed both G/F Corey Brewer and G Patrick Beverley, both integral parts of last season’s success. The rest of the roster is essentially intact. The team will continue to rely on their two star, SG James Harden and C Dwight Howard for the bulk of offense. Beverley will help a team that struggled on defense in the postseason (especially against the Clippers). Retaining F Josh Smith is imperative for this team if they want to move up in the standings. His secondary playmaking ability was key in their bout with the eventual champion Golden State Warriors.
Final Grade: If this team buckles down on D, uprooting the rival Griz in the standings should be no problem at all. A-
- New Orleans Pelicans
Key Additions: PG Norris Cole (questionable), SF Luke Babbitt (questionable), Alvin Gentry, SF Alonzo Gee
Key Losses: Monty Williams
The Scoop: Will we see the starting five fully healthy? Let’s keep our finger crossed, because it’s a fairly good one. PG Jrue Holiday (14.8 points, 3.4 rebounds, 6.9 assists, 1.6 steals per game) was having a terrific year until injuring his left tibia. SG Eric Gordon had an electric postseason last year. G/F Tyreke Evans was one of the main reasons the team snuck into the eighth seed last year, putting together his finest season to date (16.6 points, 5.3 rebounds, 6.6 assists per game). As a 3 point sniper, we all know what F Ryan Anderson can do to a team’s spacing. And last but not least PF/C Anthony Davis is a monster, last season posting the 11th highest PER in NBA history (30.9). It will be intriguing how C Omer Asik fits into this mix. F Alexis Ajinca and F Dante Cunningham are good low-risk signings off the bench. Retaining backup PG Norris Cole would be huge.
Final Grade: I may have put this team too low. Surpassing the Rockets on this list is possible, so long as this team remains healthy. A-
- Dallas Mavericks
Key Additions: G/F Wesley Matthews, F Jeremy Evans, PG Deron Williams
Key Losses: G Monta Ellis, C Tyson Chandler, PG Rajon Rondo, F Al Farouq-Aminu
The Scoop: Mark Cuban has every right to be M-A-D. Losing C Deandre Jordan is a franchise altering move, because now it’s debatable whether this team can even make the playoffs. Every team needs a reliable bruising big man, especially those in the West. They lost out on PG Jeremy Lin’s services to Charlotte. C Tyson Chandler left for Phoenix. Now the Mavs are scrounging around with Javale McGee? G/F Wesley Matthews is an upgrade over G Monta Ellis due to his defensive versatility and three point shooting. If PG Deron Williams gains a second wind from playing in his hometown, a playoff push could be salvageable but not guaranteed.
Final Grade: Expect Dallas to take a step back next year. A mid 40’s win season is reasonable. B
- Golden State Warriors
Key Additions: SF Gerald Wallace, Championship Pedigree
Key Losses: PF David Lee
The Scoop: What more do you have to do when you win the NBA championship? In fact the Warriors were so deep they had to downsize their talent by trading away PF David Lee to Boston in exchange for aging SF Gerald Wallace. With the whole crew back for another run, there’s nothing much more to be said for the boys in Oakland.
Final Grade: Proven coach. Proven formula. It’s championship or bust for Dub Nation. A+
- Los Angeles Clippers
Key Additions: G/F Lance Stephenson, G/F Wesley Johnson, SF Paul Pierce
Key Losses: C Spencer Hawes, PG Jordan Farmar, C Deandre Jordan
The Scoop: It’s only fitting that there’s drama in L.A. After much litigation, star C Deandre Jordan is staying put. Signing veteran SF Paul Pierce additionally gives the Clips a reliable option at the 3, but how much he can give is yet to be known. Moving bench spark G Jamal Crawford for a cheaper, younger contributor could be in the cards. The Clips will be good again this year. Question is, will we see any more improvement?
Final Grade: Deandre Jordan is big for this team in more ways than one. If he steps up his game offensively, it isn’t out of question to see them vying for the Western Conference crown. A-
- Phoenix Suns
Key Additions: C Tyson Chandler
Key Losses: F Markieff Morris, SG Gerald Green
The Scoop: Who plays shooting guard on this team? Will it be G Brandon Knight or G Eric Bledsoe? The Suns lost a huge chunk of their offense with the departure of F Markieff Morris and most probably SG Gerald Green. Signing veteran C Tyson Chandler should help shore up the defense and adds leadership to a youthful and inexperience team, but doesn’t help with putting the ball in the basket. Overall, this team is a part or two away from being a playoff team.
Final Grade: A playoff push isn’t out of reach, but a lot of things have to go right for these Suns. C+
- Sacramento Kings
Key Additions: PG Rajon Rondo, SG Marco Belinelli, C Kosta Koufos
Key Losses: G Nik Stauskas, PF Carl Landry, PF Jason Thompson
The Scoop: The Kings are the kings of identity crises. Who the heck are they? They sign PG Rajon Rondo after a terrible stint in Dallas, but they already have PG Darren Collison, who just came off a career year. They also gave up two solid vets in Lanndry and Thopmson to create room for the mercurial point guard. And to think he’ll mesh with team superstar C Demarcus Cousins is a little too much. SF Rudy Gay might take a dip this year if he doesn’t have the ball in his hands that much. A trade may be in his future. George Karl is a pedigreed coach, but he needs more time to get this crew back on track.
Final Grade: The Kings have attained no-man’s land, where they’re neither bad enough to tank nor good enough to contend. A high twenties-low thirties win season seems about right. C
- Los Angeles Lakers
Key Additions: C Roy Hibbert, PF Brandon Bass, G Louis Williams, a Healthy F Julius Randle, PF D’Angelo Russell
Key Losses: PF Carlos Boozer, G/F Wesley Johnson
The Scoop: There are some things for Lakers to cheer about. The bench will be better with reigning Sixth Man of the Year G Louis Williams joining the team. This gives the team another scorer and alleviates pressure from team star G Kobe Bryant. The Lakers also traded for a legitimate big in 7’2” C Roy Hibbert. He will certainly ameliorate the Lakers’s 29th ranked defense. F Julius Randle is a mystery right now, but there are some good things being said about him. If PF Brandon Bass can give the team good minutes, 30+ wins isn’t out of the question for the once mightier L.A team.
Final Grade: While the Lakers won’t make the playoffs this year, they definitely took a step in the right direction. D+