Not Easy In The Northwest: Who Will Come Out On Top In 2010?
With the dust settling on free agency, and trade rumors calming down, we can now look ahead and start previewing this upcoming NBA season.
The talent in the Association is at a high like we haven't seen in awhile, and the always tough Western Conference just seems to keep adding elite players.
With only eight spots available come playoff time, expect four teams from the Northwest to all be gunning for home-court advantage.
One team has to emerge from this juggernaut division, and it would not surprise me in the least if any but the Timberwolves take home the Northwest crown.
The Nuggets and the Jazz made moves for bigs, the Blazers added another dynamic swingman, and the Thunder had yet another great draft.
The T-Wolves are sure gathering up a lot of young talent, but can it translate to wins? Let's take a look:
5. Minnesota Timberwolves
Sorry to say it Minnesota fans, but this is definitely not your year.
Yes, Johnny Flynn will begin to come into his own. Yes, Kevin Love will continue to establish himself as a legit NBA power forward.
But what else is there going for them?
If Beasley can keep his head on straight, and if Martell Webster can show the same talent he offered up in Portland, there might be 30 wins for this team. Maybe.
But with a roster loaded with guards and small forwards, finding a starting five and a bench with the right chemistry will take a while.
Better hope for a high draft pick next year, Wolves fans, because this season will be over long before it begins.
4. Portland Trailblazers
It's crazy to think that a team with a legit shot at the Western Conference Finals can finish fourth in their division, but that seems to be the future in front of the Portland Trailblazers.
Last year, the Blazers definitely underachieved, but with an injured Brandon Roy for the playoffs and no Greg Oden for a large portion of the season, that's no surprise.
Portland does put out a very intimidating lineup with Miller and Roy at guard, Batum on the wing, and Oden and Camby as the bigs, and it wouldn't shock me if they finished higher than this, up to and including first place.
However, with the injury bug that seems to hang around their complex, and a rookie coach, I see them finishing somewhere in the neighborhood of a seventh seed, with a first-round exit.
3. Utah Jazz
The Utah Jazz are hands down the hardest team to figure out. I could see this team ending up with anywhere from 45 to 55 wins, but they will probably come up somewhere closer to 50.
I think they have had one of the more productive off seasons so far with bringing in Jefferson and Bell. The problem is, the Jazz feed so well off of chemistry, and Boozer was a big part of that.
Can a big ego like Jefferson's find room in that locker room? If he does fit right in, you can pencil the Jazz in for a date in the second round.
I still don't see them beating out OKC or Denver for first, but it is only a few game spread between these three.
The Jazz can not afford to lose the season series with either team. Look for nothing lower than a sixth seed, but I have them at No. 5.
2. Oklahoma City Thunder
How can one team put together so many great consecutive off-seasons?
The Thunder swooping up Cole Aldrich in this past draft shows they won't stop adding young, quality depth to their already expansive arsenal.
Russell Westbrook is proving he can ball with almost any point in the league, and let's not forget the superstar in Kevin Durant.
James Harden is coming into his own, and Thabo Sefolosha has emerged as a lockdown defender.
Serge Ibaka is still pretty young but has a tremendous upside, and Jeff Green is extremely underrated.
But this still isn't their year. Just because they took the Lakers to six games, nearly seven, DOES NOT MEAN THEY ARE A TITLE CONTENDER.
Their bench still needs to develop a little bit more before they can truly think about a run through the Finals.
Give them another year to gel and improve, and then look out, because the Northwest will be theirs for many years.
This year, I think they gladly enjoy a fourth seed and home-court advantage in the first round.
1. Denver Nuggets
The Nuggets have won back-to-back division titles, and I expect them to pick up where they left off.
The addition of Al Harrington makes an already deadly offense in Denver that much more potent and difficult to defend.
Don't blow off the addition of Shelden Williams either; he has proven his worth in Atlanta and Boston, and this should be the season he becomes an asset off the bench.
George Karl is back and looking for his first title as an NBA head coach, and with that 1,000-win mark not far off, it wouldn't surprise me if the Nuggets don't tear through the Western Conference.
With a bolstered bench and free agency looming, Carmelo Anthony will again put up MVP-like numbers and lead the Nugs to their third straight Northwest title, and a two seed in the West.