The Suns aren't as good as the Lakers, Thunder, Spurs or the Clippers, and probably not as good as the Nuggets or the Grizzlies. Phoenix will compete for the final playoff spots with the Mavericks, Jazz, Trailblazers, Hornets, Timberwolves and Warriors (the Kings are a mess and this is the only mention they will get).
Starting with the Timberwolves: even if they play well after their stars return, it will be too late. The race will come down to a few games and with Kevin Love missing up to two months and Rubio out until mid-December, the T-Wolves are out before the season begins.
Houston is abuzz after they picked up the former Sun Devil and Thunder guard James Harden. The good news for the Rockets is that they picked up a good player in the trade. The bad news? They have one good player.
The Hornets are talented and on any given night might upset one of the league's best teams. But the 82-game schedule will be too much not only for the college sophomores on the roster, but also for Eric Gordon and his mending knee. The Hornets' time is coming, but not this season.
In Portland, Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge will be fun to watch, but the 'Blazers are a mediocre team. The Jazz made some off-season moves, acquiring Marvin Williams and Mo Williams, but these adds don't make the team much better. They will compete as they did last year, for the eighth, ninth or 10th slot.
The Mavericks are the most overrated team in the West. They are old, as usual. Dirk will miss a few weeks after knee surgery. They now have O.J. Mayo, but O.J. Mayo hasn't been good since high school.
That leaves Golden State. The Warriors are the sexy pick for the Western Conference this year. They have lots of interesting pieces with Curry, Thompson, Lee and Bogut. Yet the team doesn't have a true point guard, has too many shot-happy players and won't play any defense. Phoenix is better than the Warriors.
And as always, one of the teams assumed to be very good won't be. Stock is high on the Nuggets and the Grizzlies, but these teams are both candidates for the "not as good as advertised" label and one of them will take a step back. If so, the Suns will step into their backslide and up their own playoff position.
The Suns were a borderline playoff team last year, kept what made them effective and improved at nearly every position. Alongside these truths, the other teams in the conference did not do much to help themselves. Against the prognostications of most experts, come April the Suns will be competing for the sixth slot in the Western Conference, not the first pick in the draft.