The NBA preseason tips off in one month, and while the Playoffs are seemingly light years away, there has been a lot of movement since Miami won their championship. The free-agent frenzy wasn't all the rage this summer, but blockbuster trades were being put together seemingly every week.
The Oklahoma City Thunder will have something to say about that though.
Looking at how the teams are stacked now, here are the eight teams I believe will make the playoffs this season out West.
1. L.A. Lakers
Obviously the Lakers made the biggest moves of the offseason by acquiring future Hall of Fame players Steve Nash and Dwight Howard. The fact that they were able to add them to the roster without losing Pau Gasol is even more impressive. It may take them some time to mesh together, but they should be clicking late in the season when it matters most. They need to add some depth on the bench, but they have arguably the best starting five in the league.
2. Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder will look very similar to last year’s team, which isn’t a bad thing. After losing to the Heat in the NBA Finals, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden got a taste of gold in London. Perhaps that experience will enable them to take the next step in the upcoming season. Much like the Lakers, they have five outstanding players, but the key for them getting over the hump will be the play of their bench (not counting Harden).
Some things never change. As long as Duncan, Parker and Ginobli are there, Coach Popovich will have them prepared to make a run at a title. The collection of talent is strong across the board, and the consistent play of Blair, Diaw, Leonard, Neal, Jackson and Danny Green keeps this train moving. The Spurs are looking to make one last championship push, so the motivation is there along with the talent.
4. L.A. Clippers
The Clippers have a lot of talent on their roster, it’s just a matter of finally putting it together. Being led by the best point guard in the league helps, but unless Blake Griffin can develop a jump shot (or something other than an alley-oop dunk) the Clippers will be fairly easy to defend. The veteran leadership of Grant Hill, Lamar Odom and Billups should help Jamal Crawford find his role with this team.
The Warriors were plagued by injuries last season. Now with a healthy core of Curry, Thompson, Lee, Jefferson and Bogut, they will surely turn some heads this season. The addition of Harrison Barnes, Festus Ezeli, Draymond Green, Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry make this a top five team in the West. They have a lethal scoring backcourt, and a very deep frontcourt. In my opinion, this will be the most improved team in the league next season.
The Nuggets are one of the deepest teams in the league, and made another solid move by acquiring Andre Iguodala this offseason. The Gold medal-winning defensive stopper will only help the young Denver squad improve going forward. Denver truly has 15 guys that should be getting major minutes. They may not have a superstar, but their collection of talent will make them a very dangerous team come playoff time.
The Grizzlies didn’t do much to improve their roster from last season, especially considering they lost O.J. Mayo to the Dallas Mavericks. They still have a very solid starting five, but beyond that, there isn’t much there. Their bench next season will consist of Arthur, Bayless, Ellington, Haddadi, Kennedy, Pondexter, Selby, Speights and Wroten. The lack of quality bench play will be the reason why this team falters next season.
8. Portland Trailblazers
Another team on the rise in the West will be the Blazers. Getting back a healthy LaMarcus Aldridge will greatly improve their record next season; keeping Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews was also huge for the future of this team. The two rookies, Damian Lillard and Meyers Leonard, will get a lot of playing time next season, with Lillard being in the spotlight. The bench leaves something to desire, but they should be able to fend off the Suns and Timberwolves for the final spot in the West.