On to part 2 of the forecast, the Western Conference... part 1 of the preview, the Eastern Conference, can be found here.
Dallas Mavericks - Something tells me there is going to be some sort of revival in Dallas this year. Dirk's dumped the baggage, Marion's back in the Western Conference and Kidd's had Favre-like productivity. With the Suns and Rockets at less than full strength you've got to believe that Dirk gives Dallas one last show before playing second-fiddle to LeBron or DWade for the rest of his career.
Houston Rockets - All the risk taking with Yao and McGrady has finally caught up to this franchise. Can't say there weren't any warning signs. However, Rick Adelman is a coach able to ween out whatever the rest of these guys can give and will have the Rockets at the edge of the playoffs come April.
Memphis Grizzlies - The Answer and his question marks. Definitely the most interesting non-championship related story of the year will be AI getting along with the pups and trying to prove he can 1) still play, 2) not be a pain in the ass, 3) not dominate the ball. If he can't he's gonna get even more of the Barry Bonds treatment next summer, if he can, then his stint in Memphis will end by February. ZBo on the other hand is probably a permanent fixture in Memphis for better or worse.
New Orleans Hornets - This team is like a subprime loan... looked great in 2007 and early 2008... then all the sudden not so much. Chris Paul is still good enough that they won 49 games, but they laid down in the playoffs. Interesting to have Emeka back on the basketball map, he could be the difference between playing LA or San Antonio or Denver/Dallas/Portland in April.
San Antonio Spurs - I screamed once when the Kings drafted Casspi in stead of Blair and had a minor stroke when they drafted Jeff Pendergraph at 31 instead of taking Blair and his supposed knee problems on a non-guaranteed contract. This guy is a BEAST and now Duncan can relax on the offensive glass and save his legs on a defensive board or two. Add Richard Jefferson, a little more Manu and the emergence of Tony Parker as a legitimate star in his own right and the Spurs have reopened their window for a couple years.
Denver Nuggets - I can't say I'm convinced that this team was as good as it showed in June. However, after a bunch of years where injuries keep them from entering the elite, they are right there with the Lakeshow and Spurs. Melo has a chance to break up that Wade, Kobe, LeBron trio in the best in league discussion, but to do that the Nuggs need to knock of the Spurs or Lakers in June.
Minnesota Timberwolves - I'll do this preview in Spanish... hay caramba! What the HELL was David Kahn thinking? This guy's really better than Bill Simmons? He couldn't have traded the 5 pick before or after it was named Ricky Rubio? You simply don't draft guys who don't want to play for you. Ask the Kings (Billy Owens) and Vancouver MovedOutOfTowns (Stevie Franchise) if that worked for them. The Wolves have two studs in the paint, but this team is the MadDog and/or Boone's of the NBA right now.
OKC Thunder - I don't see this team taking Blazer-like steps this year, and I wonder what that says about Kevin Durant. He's got the potential to be really special, but will it translate to wins the way it did for Brandon Roy or is he just breaking himself into the league the way LeBron did? It's a shame that the Tyson Chandler trade fell through for this team because Durant, Green and Westbrook need a beast to hide their defensive mistakes and sweep the boards. Byron Mullens may eventually be that guy, but they should have taken DaJuan Blair with the 24th pick and increased the toughness by a few notches.
Portland Trail Blazers - Now what? They made the leap, won 54 games, then got worked by RonRon and the Rockets in the first round. Now rookie contracts are expiring (LaMarcus for $65 million?) and a team with so much promise needs to take it up another notch. Can Miller, Martell Webster and an improved Oden get them ahead of the Nuggs and hold off the Jazz?
Utah Jazz - This team has defined standing pat. They had designs on making changes but Boozer screwed his 2nd franchise by sticking around as the PF elephant in the room. Assuming Boozer gets moved in February, AK47 and Mehmet are the reasons this team really can't lift itself to the level Deron Williams otherwise could.
Golden State Warriors - Que the circus music. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the freak show. We've got physical freaks - Ellis, Randolph, Biedrins, we've got "the-media-can't-get-off-my-jock-and-the-expectations-are-off-the-charts" freaks - Curry and don't be afraid to say what's on your mind freaks - Ellis (double freak) and Captain Jack. Simply put, teams in team sports do not succeed without a bond and it's amazing how a team with a ridiculous bond just 2 years ago is so horribly dysfunctional... wouldn't have anything to do with the leadership of their Captain would it?
Los Angeles Clippers - Speaking of horribly dysfunctional. He got hurt? Already? I can't believe there was a second summer of hype around this abysmal franchise. The Clippers won't go from 19 wins to the playoffs even if the GOAT walks through that door.
Los Angeles Lakers - Ahh... the Ron Ron show has finally moved to Hollywood. Between Ron and Odom's lady, Kobe finally isn't the only news story out of LA. Can someone explain why there was so much hype on Hedo and none on Odom? Funny that the perception is that Hedo stepped up in the playoffs while LO fell off… If you trust the more advanced numbers, Odom was far better in the playoffs. In their careers, Hedo’s best PER in the playoffs is 15.8 as a rook for the Kings (not last year), Odom’s career low was 15.9 in 07-08. How did the Blazers not make a harder push for Odom? Phoenix Suns - Someone send Steve Nash a lifeline. Don't let Nash be the ambassador on the Titanic. Amare is as good as gone and Hill is due to fall off (though if he plays another 82 games the Pheonix training staff should get the league MVP). They will still be fun to watch, but if the Suns are out of the race in February they should just cut the strings with Amare and Nash while they can.
Sacramento Kings - My squad. My miserable, no direction-taking squad. The loss of a fun "watch that crazy Spaniard go" season and 2 missed chances to get DaJaun Blair at 23 and 31 has left me bitter. Now we're Tyreke Evans, a talent and RoY front-runner to be sure, Kevin "I'm never getting you to the playoffs" Martin and a bunch of other mediocre to horrible players on a franchise that can't even afford to finally capitalize on the Kenny Thomas (finally!) expriring contract. Combine this with the realization that there is no money for a new arena and every day puts us one step closer to Las Vegas.
Tomorrow... it's time for playoff and award predictions...