Wild, wild West.
Southwest Division. Projected order of finish and record.
San Antonio Spurs (60-22)
After playoff disappointments in each of the past two years, the Spurs are back to elite status. Being healthy and having acquired Richard Jefferson and Antonio McDyess, they are one of two teams, in my opinion, that can win the West.
Their division is a little watered-down, and even though their injury bug might be their biggest foe, going against the Spurs’ veteran group of five and Popovich would be like going against Manu in a flopping competition. Veteran teams are always the most dangerous come playoff time, and with a pedigree like the Spurs, expect big things.
Dallas Mavericks (53-29)
The Mavericks are as talented as they’ve been in years. They add Shawn Marion to Nowitzki, Howard, and Kidd, giving them among the most talented groups in the league.
Their age issues can be a concern, but these were the pressing issues last year as well, and Rick Carlisle’s team proved all the naysayers wrong with a trip to the second round of the playoffs.
As much as their starting five will carry them, their bench is lacking in a pretty big way—one main reason why I can’t consider them among the elite teams in the conference.
New Orleans Hornets (50-32)
It is up for debate whether last year or the season before was the aberration for the Hornets, and I tend to think it was last year.
They finished seventh and were obliterated in the first round, only one season after they exceeded any expectations possible.
Chris Paul has become the clear-cut best point guard in the NBA, and is still complemented by West, and now has a new man in the middle in Emeka Okafor.
They absolutely addressed their depth concerns, but their lack of wing scoring will keep them from being a championship threat.
Houston Rockets (45-37)
The team will struggle at first without Yao, Artest, and McGrady, but as we saw two seasons ago, they can rattle off wins with anyone on the court, as long as proper chemistry is developed.
Their young core is okay, led by Scola, Brooks, and the newly-acquired Ariza, and I still believe they will make the playoffs because there aren’t any teams ready to make the jump into postseason contention.
If they get McGrady, and by a long shot, Yao, back from injury late in the season, they will be a bona fide playoff contender and threat to advance.
Memphis Grizzlies (30-52)
A team stuck in the lower end of NBA mediocrity has certainly made concerted efforts to improve by bringing in Iverson and Randolph, but they may have failed to recognize the fact that their locker room might blow come midseason.
The young core is very good, led by Gay, Mayo, and second overall pick Thabeet, but beyond their top six, the looks aren’t very good, and the team as a whole won’t be any good defensively. Memphis will have four players fighting for one ball, as it is almost certain that disaster will strike here.
(projected order of finish and record)
Portland Trail Blazers (54-28)
This is the year that the Blazers take the next step.
Their young squad finally made the playoffs last year, and winning this tough division is certainly within reach. Andre Miller is the solid point guard that they could have used for years, and the young nucleus led by Roy, Aldridge, and hopefully healthy Greg Oden, is as formidable as it gets in the Northwest.
They disappointed in their first round playoff series against the Rockets, but a young team led by a good coach will learn from those mistakes and deliver for him this year.
Denver Nuggets (52-30)
Everything broke right for the Nuggets last year as they became one of the most dangerous teams in the league. I’m a little more skeptical that things will go exactly according to plan once again, but the Nuggets have the pieces in place to be very good once again.
They didn’t make any major moves in the offseason, and they won’t get a jolt like they did with the Billups trade as they did last year, but Carmelo has become a true NBA elite, and if their veterans veer from injury problems, they can win the division, but are not quite a title threat.
Utah Jazz (48-34)
Talk about a team that is always in the mix.
They became sloppy down the stretch last year as they fell to the eighth seed and an early playoff exit, but they have to be healthier this season.
Deron Williams and the offensive options at his arsenal cause matchup problems for all opponents, and though the status of Boozer on this team is uncertain, locking up Millsap was a crucial move for Utah.
They have good size and depth, and though by no means are they elite in the conference; they sure as heck will be a playoff team this year.
Oklahoma City Thunder (37-45)
They got off to a dreadful start last season, and after making a coaching change were much improved. There had to be some adjustment period after re-locating and without a doubt I can say the Thunder is not far away from being a good team.
Durant will have a true breakout season, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he led the league in scoring. He is surrounded by good, young complements in Green, Westbrook, and Harden, and as long as Oklahoma City can get off to a good start, they will hang around for most of the year.
Minnesota Timberwolves (28-54)
They would obviously be a bigger draw if Rubio was here, and what was with drafting all those point guards this year?
They have a good and hopefully healthy young core with the return of Al Jefferson and acquisition of Ramon Sessions.
I still don’t think they’ll be worth watching, but they are well on their way to becoming a contender along with a number of other teams in the West.
The Garnett trades set them back 10 years, and still have a lot more work to do before becoming good once again.
(projected order of finish and record)
Los Angeles Lakers (64-18)
The Lakers are far and away the best team in the West.
The defending champs made some minor changes, with the one major one being Artest for Ariza. They are led by the great duo of Bryant and Gasol, a twosome complemented by secondary players like Bynum and Odom.
The only way I see this team faltering in either the regular season or postseason will be if chemistry is a problem, which is a possibility as long as you have Ron Artest on your team.
Their division is them and a bunch of doggish teams—a big year for the Lake Show.
Phoenix Suns (43-39)
Their style is worn and old, and they don’t have the pieces to run and gun anymore. Some still say that their contention window is still open. I say it shut at least a year ago.
They never won anything of value with this core, but still have a formidable team that could make the playoffs.
Nash and Stoudemire are still a solid duo, but outside of those two, and maybe Jason Richardson, their roster is ghastly.
They haven’t done a great job through the draft, and unless they discover some fresh legs, they won’t be a playoff team this year.
Los Angeles Clippers (40-42)
The Clips are much improved, but still may not be a team suited for playoff basketball.
They have a strong starting five, but injury problems have already struck Blake Griffin, and certainly are not foreign to Davis and Camby.
On paper, they’re actually not too bad, with the exception of short depth in the backcourt. I’d pick the Clippers if they weren’t associated with the franchise name, but it seems too good to be true. They’re still just the Clippers, and though they might be competitive, they won’t make the playoffs.
Golden State Warriors (36-46)
By no means do the Warriors have a subpar collection of players, it just seems like a rather volatile group.
Stephen Jackson already wants out, and others will probably follow his lead. However, their foundation is offensive, and based in their young players, some of whom are good: Randolph, Morrow, and Curry.
The West has too many good proven playoff teams and teams ready to make the playoffs that a team like this with turmoil in the front office doesn’t have much of a prayer of cracking those ever so coveted eight spots.
Sacramento Kings (24-58)
From glory to dread in just five years, the Kings have rather quickly become the NBA’s worst team.
They’ve gutted the roster of veterans and have put their stock in the future. They haven’t wound up with a franchise player, such as a Durant or Griffin, but do have a building block in Evans that they can put a lot of stock in. That lottery pick is complemented by solid players in Martin and Hawes.
They’ll be rebuilding this year and for years to come, as the Kings desperately lack the talent to compete.
All Western-Conference First Team
C-Yao Ming, Houston (injured-foot)
F-Tim Duncan, San Antonio
F-Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas
G-Kobe Bryant, LA Lakers
G-Chris Paul, New Orleans
All Western-Conference Second Team
C-Amare Stoudemire, Phoenix
F-Carmelo Anthony, Denver
F-Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City
G-Brandon Roy, Portland
G-Deron Williams, Utah
All Western-Conference Third Team
C-Pau Gasol, LA Lakers
F-David West, New Orleans
F-Rudy Gay, Memphis
G-Chauncey Billups, Denver
G-Tony Parker, San Antonio