Ramon Sessions to Lakers: Power Ranking the Western Conference After Deal

Maxwell Ogden@MaxwellOgdenCorrespondent IIIMarch 15, 2012

Ramon Sessions to Lakers: Power Ranking the Western Conference After Deal

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    It was a league-wide known fact that the Los Angeles Lakers were a point guard away from re-establishing themselves as a legitimate contender. According to Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com, the Los Angeles Lakers have found their man in Ramon Sessions.

    With Sessions in Los Angeles, in addition to "intensifying" trade talks (via ESPN) that have the Lakers closing in on acquiring Michael Beasley (via Sam Amico of Fox Sports Ohio), the Western Conference just got a major facelift. The question is, who ranks where?

15. New Orleans Hornets (10-33)

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    They might have played an exceptional game against the Los Angeles Lakers, but the Hornets are still the doormat of the Los Angeles Lakers.

    While individuals have shown extraordinary value, such as point guard Jarrett Jack and center Chris Kaman, the team has been horrendous. Barring a blockbuster trade in these waning minute, that's unlikely to change.

14. Sacramento Kings (14-29)

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    The Sacramento Kings have a promising young roster filled with future stars and talented role players. Unfortunately, their inexperience outweighs all of the talent.

    While the present isn't great, the future is bright. The Kings are safe in Sacramentoextended their head coach and have two young point guards of the future. Unfortunately, 2012 just isn't their year.

13. Golden State Warriors (18-22)

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    Until Golden State has Andrew Bogut in their starting lineup, there is no way to cut it but this: the Warriors are a very weak team.

    Not only did the Warriors give up Monta Ellis, but they gave up their best shot blocker as well. Ekpe Udoh's absence is surely to be missed, and the Warriors are likely to struggle heading forward, no matter how they began the post-Ellis era.

12. Phoenix Suns (20-22)

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    As hard as it is to go against Steve Nash, I find it hard to rank a Phoenix Suns team much higher than this when they're so dependent on Channing Frye. Until they develop a more consistent scoring option, they're staying low.

    Nevertheless, this team could slip into the playoffs if Frye's scoring becomes reliable. As long as Nash and Marcin Gortat are clicking, this team is dangerous.

11. Portland Trail Blazers (20-23)

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    Many believe that the Portland Trail Blazers weakened their chances of success in 2012 by shipping Gerald Wallace to the New Jersey Nets, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports. The issue with that theory is that Portland freed up playing time for wingman Nicolas Batum.

    If Batum lives up to his potential, the Trail Blazers could turn this around a lot quicker than you'd think.

    Subsequently, with a first-round draft choice coming their way, their future certainly looks bright.

10. Minnesota Timberwolves (22-21)

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    As great as Kevin Love, Nikola Pekovic and Derrick Williams are playing, Ricky Rubio's absence is just too debilitating.

    If anyone can overcome the injuries, though, it is Love and company. A potential Jamal Crawford trade (latest from HOOPSWORLD's Alex Kennedy) could also change their fortunes...

9. Utah Jazz (20-22)

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    With Devin Harris' re-emergence as a viable scoring option, the Utah Jazz just became one of the most dangerous teams in the NBA.

    Their big-man foursome of Al Jefferson, Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter and Paul Millsap is noteworthy in it's own right. Considering Gordon Hayward is finding his groove and Harris is beginning to show a resemblance to his old self. 

    Watch out for the Utah Jazz.

8. Houston Rockets (24-20)

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    The overachieving Houston Rockets have been quite the pleasant surprise out West. Led by versatile point guard Kyle Lowry, the Rockets have found a rhythm on both sides of the ball under Kevin McHale. The issue is, Kyle Lowry will miss two to four weeks of play with a bacterial infection.

    In that time, the Rockets will remain a playoff contender; their frontcourt combination of Luis Scola and Samuel Dalembert has thrived in recent games, as has rookie Chandler Parsons. If they can go .500 in Lowry's absence, they should be able to reach the playoffs.

7. Denver Nuggets (24-19)

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    With Danilo Gallinari's return, the Nuggets are certainly a much more serious threat to win in the playoffs. With Arron Afflalo's return to form, the Nuggets are a threat to go deep in the playoffs.

    While the lack of a true closer is still a pressing concern, Gallinari's strides as a scorer have certainly eased some of the tension. His game-winner against the Hawks is certainly a promising sign...

6. Dallas Mavericks (24-20)

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    If the Dallas Mavericks are at the bottom of the West, I'd hate to be at the top. Seriously, who wants to draw Dirk Nowitzki in the first round?

    While the Mavericks haven't started as well as they'd like, they've improved their game since Jason Kidd returned from an injury. Shawn Marion's recent domination on the glass is also a promising sign that the defending champions are returning to form.

5. Los Angeles Clippers (24-17)

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    You can talk all you want about the pairing of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, but the Clippers are 9-9 since Chauncey Billups' injury. Considering the Memphis Grizzlies are playing excellent basketball and winning games without Zach Randolph, it's clear the Clippers should be lower than the Grizz.

    With that being said, the Clippers could win it all. Chris Paul is, arguably, the best point guard in the NBA and Blake Griffin is the second coming of the Human Highlight Reel. Together, along with Kenyon Martin, Mo Williams, DeAndre Jordan and company, this team could go far.

    Once they recover this from this rut.

4. Memphis Grizzlies (24-17)

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    Since returning from the All-Star Break, the Memphis Grizzlies are 5-2. That streak includes an 11-point victory against Dallas and a three-point victory at Denver. 

    Most impressively, this has all been done without Zach Randolph.

    Once one of the Grizzlies' best two players returns, I'd like to see who can stop them. Then again, who can stop them now?

3. San Antonio Spurs (28-13)

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    In my eyes, Tony Parker is the league MVP. He is averaging 20.1 points, 8.0 assists and is the driving force behind the Spurs' possession of the second-best record out West. The thing is, they're not nearly as balanced as the Lakers.

    In order to avoid the negativity, I will say this: Tim Duncan is having one of his most efficient seasons, DeJuan Blair and Tiago Splitter are developing nicely and the Spurs are winning without Manu Ginobili. As soon as the Argentine Assassin returns, the Spurs solidify their status as a championship contender.

2. Los Angeles Lakers (27-16)

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    Prior to this trade, the Los Angeles Lakers were ranked third in the Western Conference. Since the All-Star Break, they've gone 7-2 with wins over five quality opponents, including the Miami Heat.

    Now? The Lakers have their franchise point guard without giving up any players who were vital to their success.

    While the Tony Parker-led San Antonio Spurs remain a dangerous team out West, you'll be hard-pressed to find a starting lineup as balanced as the Los Angeles Lakers'.

    Well, except for...

1. Oklahoma City Thunder

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    While Ramon Sessions is certain to improve the Lakers' rhythm as a team, it's hard to argue against Russell Westbrook. It's also hard to argue against the league's leading shot blocker, Serge Ibaka. Or the Sixth Man of the Year favorite, James Harden.

    And for that matter, it's impossible to argue against MVP candidate Kevin Durant.

    While the Thunder don't have the championship pedigree of the Lakers and Spurs, they are the most promising team in the Western Conference. They're also in possession of the NBA's second-best record. So go ahead, argue all you'd like...

    The Thunder are for real.