NBA: Projecting the 2012-13 Final Northwest Division Standings
As the 2012-2013 NBA training camps are set to begin, perhaps no division in basketball carries as much potential as the Northwest.
Already carrying three playoff teams from last season, the other two have made dramatic offseason improvements and have their eye on a postseason berth as well.
While the Jazz and Nuggets both made the playoffs last season, it was the Timberwolves who were making the most noise of the three early last year and were in position for the postseason before the injury to Ricky Rubio.
The Trail Blazers also have reason for optimism, adding two of the NBA's top 11 picks in last June's draft to an already talented core.
So with the new season looming, how will the Northwest division shake out this year? Which teams will stay in playoff contention and which will fall into the lottery?
Here's a closer look at the Northwest Division, with full record and standing predictions.
5th Place: Portland Trail Blazers
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Key Additions: Damian Lillard, Meyers Leonard, Will Barton, Jared Jeffries
Key Losses: Raymond Felton, Jamal Crawford
2011-2012 Record: 28-38, 4th in Northwest
2012-2013 Projected Record: 34-48
One of the most disappointing teams of the 2011-2012 season, the Blazers crumbled under poor point-guard play.
Trading off Gerald Wallace and Marcus Camby signaled a rebuilding in Portland, as in turn they landed the sixth overall draft pick from the Brooklyn Nets and cap space for the future.
Portland did have what looks to be a successful draft, landing dynamite point guard Damian Lillard and athletic big man Myers Leonard with the No. 6 and 11 overall picks.
Lillard tore up the NBA Summer League to a tune of 26.5 points and 5.3 assists per game. Leonard only started one year at Illinois and is still very raw, but has the size (7'1") and potential to be the answer at center the Blazers have been searching for for years.
Combine the two rookies with returning veterans LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews and Portland has a starting five they can build around.
Unfortunately, the roster is supermodel thin at the moment, with no proven backup at point guard, shooting guard, small forward or center.
Leonard will likely need a few years to develop even though Lillard could easily win Rookie of the Year.
If given a year or three to add depth and experience, this could be a real good team in the West. For now, expect some rebuilding pains.
4th Place: Utah Jazz
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Key Additions: Mo Williams, Marvin Williams, Randy Foye
Key Losses: Devin Harris, C.J. Miles, Josh Howard
2011-2012 Record: 36-30, 3rd in Northwest
2012-2013 Projected Record: 36-46
The Jazz snuck into the playoffs last year despite inconsistent point-guard play, and have arguably gotten worse at the position this offseason.
A team that's loaded with frontcourt talent, the Jazz now face the uncertainty of roster changes with Al Jefferson, Paul Milsap and Mo Williams all set to enter free agency after the season ends.
This uncertainly coupled with no real answer at the NBA's most important position may mean a step back in Utah this season.
Last year's starting point guard, Devin Harris, was traded to the Atlanta Hawks for Marvin Williams, a career disappointment since being taken second overall in the 2005 draft. Now set to take over the starting job is shoot-first Mo Williams, who has never averaged more than 6.6 assists per game in any of his nine pro seasons.
Utah has a fair amount of talent; it's just mostly stacked into only two positions.
Look for Utah to struggle a bit as the Jazz figure out the future of their talented big men and a true answer at point guard.
3rd Place: Minnesota Timberwolves
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Key Additions: Andrei Kirilenko, Brandon Roy, Chase Budinger, Alexsey Shved, Greg Steimsma
Key Losses: Michael Beasley, Anthony Randolph, Wes Johnson, Darko Milicic
2011-2012 Record: 26-40, 5th place in Northwest
2012-2013 Projected Record: 44-38
Minnesota has finally gotten Kevin Love some help, and a playoff berth should be in order for 2013.
The Timberwolves had a very active offseason, seeking help from overseas, trades, free agency and even retirement.
Of all the moves that Minnesota made, the biggest difference will just be getting Ricky Rubio back from a torn ACL. The second-year man from Spain was averaging over 10 points and eight assists before going on injured reserve for the season.
Love is the best power forward in the game, and adding Kirlenko and Budinger will provide a mean three-headed monster at the small forward position with last season's No. 2 overall pick, Derrick Williams.
If Brandon Roy has anything left in those knees, Minnesota won't just sneak into the playoffs; it may just win a series or two.
2nd Place: Denver Nuggets
Harry How/Getty Images
Key Additions: Andre Iguodala, Evan Fournier, Anthony Randolph, Quincy Miller
Key Losses: Arron Afflalo, Al Harrington
2011-2012 Record: 38-28, 2nd in Northwest
2012-2013 Projected Record: 50-32
Already the highest scoring and arguably most exciting team in the league, Denver added one of the best overall players this offseason in Iguodala.
A solid draft coupled with the low-risk signing of Randolph has Denver looking like an early favorite for home-court advantage in the Western Conference playoffs. Ty Lawson is a tremendous young point guard and Kenneth Faried is, well, an animal on the boards.
Add in the sharp-shooting of Danilo Galinari, shot-blocking of JaVale McGee and veteran leadership of Andre Miller and the Nuggets have one of the best, most well-rounded rosters in all of basketball.
Losing Afflalo hurts, as he was the teams best defensive player, but adding someone of Iguodala's pedigree was just to good to pass up.
Denver may not be at the level of the Lakers or Thunder, but it's not too far off either.
1st Place: Oklahoma City Thunder
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Key Additions: Perry Jones III, Hasheem Thabeet
Key Losses: Derek Fisher, Nazr Mohammed
2011-2012 Record 47-19, 1st in Northwest
2012-2013 Projected Record: 60-22
The Thunder's greatest improvement this offseason may have to come from within, as they were without a major free-agent signing or trade.
That could be just fine, however, as Kevin Durant , Russell Westbrook and James Harden were all part of the USA men's Olympic gold-medal-winning basketball team and bring an extra summer of experience and knowledge to OKC.
Picking up one of the most athletic players in the draft won't hurt either, as concerns over his knee led to Perry Jones III falling all the way to the Thunder with the 28th overall pick.
With as well as the Thunder have drafted over the years, one can't help but think that Jones III could easily turn into yet another young star on OKC's already-loaded roster.
If one thing could deter from another successful season, it could be the contract situation of James Harden. Harden is set to be a restricted free agent this offseason and the small-market Thunder already have Durant, Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins inked to multi-year deals.
The Thunder have to be careful that Harden's contract situation doesn't become a distraction and that they can continue to build on what may be the best team in the entire NBA.