Playoff Picture 2012: Where Does Los Angeles Stack Up with Nash on Board?
The NBA offseason is a great time for fans and executives around the league for a number of reasons, but for one in particular, it allows for speculation.
As teams are busy acquiring pieces to improve their respective rosters, management is considering how each added player will make an impact this coming season and beyond.
On the other side, fans are busy thinking about the various possible scenarios in which their team can get closer to contending for a championship.
Here are the projected teams to reach the Western Conference playoffs next season, with all of the pending signings and trades taken into consideration.
No. 8: Golden State Warriors
The Golden State Warriors might not seem like a playoff contender on the surface because they have been out of the picture for quite some time now.
However, if Golden State stays relatively healthy Mark Jackson might make his first postseason appearance in 2012.
The Warriors aced this year's draft, picking up a stud small forward in Harrison Barnes and two definite role players in Draymond Green and Festus Ezeli.
Golden State's starting lineup of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Barnes, David Lee and Andrew Bogut is definitely playoff worthy.
The big question is whether the bench will be deep enough for a stretch run.
No. 7: Portland Trailblazers
The Trail Blazers put themselves in the playoff picture when they drafted Damian Lillard with the sixth pick because it gave Portland a point guard of the future.
Portland is also attempting to fix their other major hole at center by offering All-Star Roy Hibbert a maximum contract, according to Sam Amick of Sports Illustrated.
While the Pacers can still match, it seems less and less likely with reports stating that they have considered signing cheaper options like Chris Kaman.
A frontcourt of Hibbert and Aldridge would challenge the Lakers' combination of Gasol and Bynum, while opening up more looks for shooters like Wesley Matthews.
Even if the Pacers do decide to bring back Hibbert, I would not be surprised if Portland is in the postseason next year.
No. 6: Denver Nuggets
However, these past two seasons have ended in the first round for the Nuggets.
With no impending moves for all-star-caliber players, Denver's best hope at making it past the first round lies in re-signing JaVale McGee and letting Ty Lawson continue to grow.
The Nuggets will definitely be better by having Wilson Chandler for a full season, but Denver might need to deal some of their role players for a big-time talent in the future.
No. 5: Memphis Grizzlies
Last season was supposed to be Memphis' year after taking Oklahoma City to seven games without Rudy Gay in 2011.
The Grizzlies seemed to really miss Shane Battier last season, and were all over the place in their first round matchup against the Los Angeles Clippers.
The likely loss of OJ Mayo probably won't be replaced by the addition of Tony Wroten Jr., and Memphis might take a step back with teams in front of them improving.
Don't get me wrong, the Grizzlies are talented enough to be a top-three seed in the East, but the West has proven to be much deeper.
No. 4: San Antonio Spurs
Another season, another missed trip to the NBA Finals. The San Antonio Spurs had the best record in the West, but fell to a younger and more athletic team for the second year in a row.
Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, while another year older, will still form one of the best "Big Threes" in the league.
The bench is still one of the deeper teams in the league and Gregg Popovich will keep them in the hunt.
However, it is going to be harder for the Spurs to keep up with younger teams, especially if Ginobili runs into injury issues.
I would never bet against the Spurs, but it would shock me if they made the finals next season.
No. 3: Los Angeles Clippers
Two years ago, who would have thought that the Clippers would be a top-three seed in the Western Conference?
Yet, after the Clippers added Chris Paul, and Blake Griffin exploded in his rookie season, Los Angeles became a threat to make the NBA Finals.
LA has already addressed their major need at the 2-guard, by signing Jamal Crawford for a very manageable three-year deal.
Bringing back Chauncey Billups will definitely be a step in the right direction because his veteran leadership and championship pedigree are needed.
However, the biggest acquisition was definitely bringing in Lamar Odom, who when motivated can be one of the best sixth men in the league.
No. 2: Los Angeles Lakers
For two straight seasons, the Lakers have "failed" by losing to the eventual Western Conference champion in the second round.
There have been trade talks swirling around Pau Gasol once again, but Los Angeles has been unable to find a good enough package.
With that being said, Los Angeles might now have the best frontcourt and backcourt in the league.
No. 1: Oklahoma City Thunder
Let's not kid ourselves. The Oklahoma City Thunder are much better than the Lakers at this point.
OKC demolished LA in the Conference Finals, beating the Lakers in five games. Kevin Durant was dominant and the "Lakeshow" did not seem to have an answer for him.
If Westbrook continues to grow as a point guard, look for the Thunder to once again challenge the Miami Heat for the Larry O'Brien Trophy.
The real question is whether Oklahoma City will be able to retain Serge Ibaka and James Harden.
With 2012-13 offseason questions aside, the Thunder will be the team to beat in the West.
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