Playoff Picture for the West during the 2010-2011 NBA Season

Andrew Wallock@andrewwallock8Contributor IJuly 31, 2010

Playoff Picture for the West during the 2010-2011 NBA Season

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    I see a lot of talk on the Eastern Conference next season, but I have yet to find people's opinions on the Western Conference. This may be due to the fact that a few of the talented free agents in the West booked it to the East this past offseason.

    Carlos Boozer left the playoff contending Utah Jazz for a deep Chicago Bulls team. Joining him on that team were two other past Jazz players, Ronnie Brewer and Kyle Korver.

    Amar'e Stoudemire finally ditched the Phoenix Suns and got a nice payday in New York.

    One of the main reasons the Western Conference is now looked down upon is obviously because of the new look Lebron-Wade-Bosh Miami Heat.

    In my opinion, the Western Conference is still extremely talented and contains a few teams that can give the Miami Heat a run for the money. It may be a bit early to predict, but this is my outlook on the playoff contenders in the Western Conference for this upcoming season.

    Keep in mind, this is only an opinion, so there is no need to tear me apart if I made a few mistakes. Give me some good feedback and I will tweak this a bit if I hear some good things.

    Anyway, let's just get started....

8. San Antonio Spurs

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    It hurts me to put this team so low in the Western Conference. I have always highly respected Gregg Popovich and his Tim Duncan-led squad and what they have been able to accomplish in the past decade. But I would be lying to myself if I didn't acknowledge the fact that this team is vastly declining. They may only have two more years of solid playoff contention left before they will be forced to rebuild.

    Projected starting lineup
    PG- Tony Parker
    SG- Manu Ginobili
    SF- Richard Jefferson
    PF- Tim Duncan
    C- Tiago Splitter
    Key reserves- DeJuan Blair, George Hill, James Andersen, Matt Bonner

    Tim Duncan is still as consistent as ever, but he is getting old. His supporting cast is getting old as well, but they still have enough experience and are savvy enough that they should still make the playoffs for a few more years.

    This team has a few promising pieces that make the future a bit brighter. PG George Hill had a coming out party last year and rookie DeJuan Blair surprised a lot of people with his emergence. Next season, these two players should continue to improve and Hill might possibly steal the starting point spot, especially with the fear that Tony Parker might now book it for New York. Blair will most likely be losing minutes to foreign import Tiago Splitter, whom the Spurs are expecting to come in and contribute immediately.

    Rookie James Andersen is a great draft pick for them and fills in the void left with the likely departure of Roger Mason. Andersen was probably one of the most polished offensive threats in the draft.

    The Spurs also addressed a daunting need by bringing Richard Jefferson back, who underperformed and was a bit a of a disappointment last season. The 3 spot is a huge weakness going into next season, and Jefferson needs to really step it up. Hopefully, the Spurs can get a little more depth at this spot before the season begins.

    With all these things in mind, the Spurs should still contend for a spot in next year's playoffs before they begin a major rebuild on their roster. Look for this consistent team to once again win at least 45 games and achieve a postseason bid.

7. Houston Rockets

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    There will be a lot of people keeping on an eye on this team next season—for many reasons. The biggest one would have to be the return of Yao Ming from a possibly career-ending injury. Yao has said recently that he could retire if his injury continues to hamper him. In my opinion, Yao will have a massive resurgence next season and will lead this deep Houston Rockets team back to the postseason.

    Projected starting lineup
    PG- Aaron Brooks
    SG- Kevin Martin
    SF- Trevor Ariza
    PF- Luis Scola
    C- Yao Ming
    Key reserves- Shane Battier, Kyle Lowry, Brad Miller, Patrick Patterson, Chase Budinger

    When you look at that starting lineup and the deep bench, you can see how talented of a team the Rockets are. After dumping Tracy McGrady last season and bringing in Kevin Martin, they improved dramatically. Yao Ming is the key here. If he is 100 percent, this team will definitely make the playoffs. If not, than I think next season will look exactly like last season. They do have a bit more depth after bringing in Brad Miller, but his best years are behind him and he is a backup at best.

    Aaron Brooks, in my opinion, is one of the best point guards in the NBA and should continue to improve as the floor leader of this team. I see him contending for an All-Star spot next season. If Luis Scola re-signs (which he definitely should), I see him losing some minutes to Patrick Patterson. Patterson is a great pickup for this team and is a rookie that WILL contribute immediately. But still, Scola is a beast and will retain the starting spot.

    Houston also addressed a need by retaining the services of valuable backup point guard Kyle Lowry. He is great insurance if Brooks goes down with an injury. Other key pieces on this team include surprising rookie Chase Budinger and valuable sixth man Shane Battier with his valuable work ethic and amazing perimeter defense.

    This team (with Yao Ming) will be a contender in the Western Conference next season. But without him, the road will be rough.

6. Portland Trailblazers

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    Ah, the Trailblazers...what to say about them? On one hand, they are a very talented team with lots of depth and great young talent. On the other hand, they tend to be cursed with injuries every year. Greg Oden has yet to play a full season and Brandon Roy went down at a critical time for the team (the playoffs). If Roy had been at full health, they should have knocked off the Suns in the first round.

    Projected starting lineup
    PG- Andre Miller
    SG- Brandon Roy
    SF- Nicholas Batum
    PF- LaMarcus Aldridge
    C- Greg Oden
    Key reserves- Marcus Camby, Wesley Matthews, Jerryd Bayless, Luke Babbitt

    There is talk out there that Chris Paul could make his way to Portland. If this happens, I see Portland being even higher on this list. Without him, they still are a very talented team. It all depends on Greg Oden. In order to avoid being labeled as a bust, Oden must come back next season and play like we all thought he would. He's good when he's healthy, but he tends to always be injured.

    It's possible that Bayless may start to steal some minutes from Andre Miller, possibly becoming the starter. This guy is a fan favorite and should continue to blossom under the veteran leadership of Andre Miller.

    Brandon Roy should have another All-Star caliber year, which is obvious. One key piece of this roster is Nicholas Batum. In all honesty, I think him and Wesley Matthews should battle it out pretty hard for minutes. Batum has the nod over Matthews for now, but Matthews really showed up in the playoffs for Utah last year and should continue to impress. Otherwise, the Blazers wouldn't have spent so much money on this second year undrafted player out of Marquette.

    Portland took a couple of good rookies in the draft in Elliot Williams and Armon Johnson and traded Martell Webster for another rookie, the sharpshooter Luke Babbitt. Babbitt could join the race for minutes with Batum and Matthews, but I don't see him posting huge numbers next year.

    This team is fantastic. With Oden back, and another great year out of LaMarcus Aldridge and Roy, this team has the potential to jump a few spots in the West.

5. Oklahoma City Thunder

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    I LOVE this team. I may be a bit biased putting this team so high in my rankings, although it seems a lot of people have jumped on the bandwagon and have them contending for a championship next year. That's how impressive they were last season. I definitely did not expect them to be even close to the playoffs. They are just so young. But they surprised me, as well as the entire basketball world. The Thunder are for real, and last year was not just a fluke. This young team will continue to rise and impress.

    Projected starting lineup
    PG- Russell Westbook
    SG- James Harden
    SF- Kevin Durant
    PF- Jeff Green
    C- Nenad Krstic
    Key reserves- Thabo Sefolosha, Serge Ibaka, Cole Aldrich, Daequan Cook, Eric Maynor, Nick Collison

    Kevin Durant will win MVP next year. Yes, you heard it here. With LeBron and Wade siding together, their numbers should decline, whereas I believe Durant's will continue to rise as he grows and matures to the NBA game. Durant, along with Russell Westbrook are both hot and up-and-coming players (Durant's pretty much past the up-and-coming part) that will do damage in this league for years to come. Look for Russell Westbrook to contend for an All-Star spot. He is a top 10 point guard in this league for sure and really gave Derek Fisher a headache in the playoffs.

    This team addressed a daunting need in the postseason by trading for Cole Aldrich in the draft, which should gave them lots more depth down low along with Nenad Krstic. I don't see Aldrich starting right away, as he needs time to adjust to the NBA, but he should be seeing significant minutes on this team along with Nick Collison off the bench.

    I foresee James Harden taking over the 2 spot from Thabo Sefolosha this year, as he poses more of an offensive threat, but Sefolosha should see plenty of minutes. His defensive abilities are highly coveted on this team along with surprising Serge Ibaka. Serge surprised lots of people last year with his emergence as a legit NBA player. I like this kid and he should share valuable minutes with Jeff Green at the 4.

    The Thunder have a fantastic starting lineup and a deep bench with recent pickups of Daquan Cook and Morris Peterson. Eric Maynor is also a valuable part of their rotation. This team will make the playoffs again and do a lot more damage this year. I believe they could have gone farther into the playoffs if they weren't sentenced to face off against the Lakers in the first round. Keep your eyes on the Thunder for years to come. I sense a dynasty forming in OKC...

4. Denver Nuggets

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    There's just something about the Denver Nuggets I have never been able to understand. This is such a talented team but they never seem to live up to their hype, despite the depth of their roster. My point was proven in last year's playoff match-against an injury-riddled Utah Jazz squad in the first round. The Denver Nuggets struggled mightily and did not look like the same team we saw in the regular season or in the playoffs the year before. Some may attribute this to the fact that they didn't have their beloved coach George Karl in the post-season. Karl has been struggling with cancer this summer and this may have been a huge reason why the team didn't perform up to par. The playoff series was a slight embarrassment and interim coach Adrian Dantley did not seem to ever have a handle on this team. There was zero chemistry and many of the players (JR Smith mostly) acted quite selfish on the court, firing up shots and arguing with the refs at every call.
    When George Karl returns to the sidelines, don't expect the same thing to happen again...

    Projected starting lineup
    PG- Chauncey Billups
    SG- JR Smith
    SF- Carmelo Anthony
    PF- Kenyon Martin
    C- Nene
    Key reserves- Al Harrington, Ty Lawson, Arron Afflalo, Shelden Williams, Chris Andersen (injured)

    In my opinion, the Nuggets will return to form next year and by just about as good as they were last year. Don't expect them to be vastly improved as they have pretty much the same roster, with the addition of Al Harrington and Shelden Williams. Carmelo Anthony is heading into a contract year, so his numbers will be up and he will be playing his heart out. Once the offseason hits, I expect him to bolt for NYC to team up with either Chris Paul and Stoudemire or Tony Parker and Stoudemire.

    Chauncey Billups is getting older, but yet much wiser. He will continue to be the leader for his team and the positive influence in the locker room. The 4 spot should be a battle between oft-injured Kenyon Martin and newly acquired Al Harrington. Al Harrington should win the spot before the season's out. They are pretty deep down low with Nene, Shelden Williams, Brian Butch, and Chris Andersen.

    I think their weak point is at the 2 spot, with inconsistent JR Smith. After watching his selfish play in the playoffs last year, I was a bit turned away. Denver needs to get themselves a better option at shooting guard, so I sure hope they trade him for someone a little less about himself. Arron Afflalo quite possible could steal the starting gig from him pretty quick into the season.

    Ty Lawson was quite a surprise last season as well (it seems like we say this about all the rookies...). He showed some real flashes of brilliance during the season and against Utah in the playoffs. He should see more minutes this next season as Billups gets older. He is their point guard of the future.

    If this team can get some positive chemistry going and get rid of some of the distractions in the locker room, they will be good. We can only wait and see.

3. Utah Jazz

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    I may come across a bit biased in this slide, so forgive me. I am a lifelong diehard Utah Jazz fan. My mood during most days can be attributed to whether or not the Jazz won or lost that day. I live for the Jazz. But I will attempt to take a non-biased look on this, my favorite team. If you'd like more details about why I like this team next season, check out a slideshow I dedicated specifically to them :

    Projected starting lineup
    PG- Deron Williams
    SG- Raja Bell
    SF- Andrei Kirilenko
    PF- Paul Millsap
    C- Al Jefferson
    Key reserves- Mehmet Okur, Ronnie Price, CJ Miles, Gordon Hayward

    Some may say that this team looks pretty much exactly the same as it did last year with Bell being Matthews, Jefferson being Boozer, and Hayward being Korver. These people are sadly mistaken. This team is and will be better than they were last season.

    First of all, Al Jefferson is an improvement on the vastly overrated and oft-injured Carlos Boozer. He is younger and fits Jerry Sloan's system a little better. Teaming up with Deron Williams, his number should improve from what they already were in Minnesota- fantastic. Plus, the guy has only ever played on a Boston Celtics team that was rebuilding and the Timberwolves (enough said). He will bring lots of heart and a thirst for victory to a team that rarely misses the postseason.

    The Jazz were smart in picking up Raja Bell as a replacement, rather than overpaying for Wesley Matthews. Matthews did come out of nowhere and played a pivotal role on the roster, but he still has lots to prove. Instead, the Jazz picked up an already-proven three point threat and a fantastic defender in Raja Bell.

    Rookie Gordon Hayward was also a nice draft pick, one that I did not expect. He is a hard worker, and a Jerry Sloan type of player. The guy got where he is by working hard and defying the odds. Sure, he looks like a 17-year-old farmer's boy, but when you watch him play, you can see he's vastly different. He is a terrific defender, has a decent outside shot, and does a lot of the little things that don't show up on the stat sheet. He may take a little time to adjust to the NBA game, but once he does, he will be a good player for years to come.

    The Utah Jazz will do some damage in the postseason and I believe they will match up against the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals. They are that good, with Deron Williams at the helm.

2. Dallas Mavericks

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    I may not take too much time on this slide, because I am not a huge fan of this team. But I will admit that this is a talented team that somehow managed to get even better in the offseason. They are returning this year with some vengeance after an unexpected early playoff exit at the hands of the seventh-seeded San Antonio Spurs. Dallas will be better next year and fans should breathe a sigh of relief that Dirk Nowitzki stuck around town...

    Projected starting lineup
    PG- Jason Kidd
    SG- Jason Terry
    SF- Caron Butler
    PF- Dirk Nowitzki
    C- Brendan Haywood
    Key reserves- Rodrigue Beaubois, Tyson Chandler, JJ Barea, Shawn Marion, Dominique Jones

    Look at that roster....that is one deep roster. They are deep at every single position and I really don't understand how they weren't better than they were last season. On paper, this team looks even better than LA. Jason Kidd is the Brett Favre of the NBA and continues to play as if he's ageless. Behind him, you have Beaubois, who may become the starting point, with Kidd becoming his valuable mentor. Terry and Barea will probably also both see starting gigs throughout the season.

    At the 3 spot, you have Caron Butler who looked to come back to form after the trade to Dallas. Moving into a backup role, we have Shawn Marion who still has a few more years left in his tank. Sure, he's not what he used to be in Phoenix, but the guy can still play with the best.

    Down low, we have Brendan Haywood, Tyson Chandler, Dirk Nowitzki, and Ian Mahinmi (who was devastatingly underused in San Antonio). Dirk just signed a big contract to stay in Dallas and looks to prove all of his doubters wrong and finally achieve some postseason success. Haywood signed a contract that was worth more than he really is, but he has played well in Dallas and they have insurance with Tyson Chandler on the bench.

    All in all, this team is a studly team. I like them as the second best team in the West, but I do not see them in the NBA Finals next year. The spot belongs solely to my number 1 team who obviously is....

1. Los Angeles Lakers

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    The Los Angeles Lakers.

    The picture says it all. Kobe Bryant with 5 rings, Phil Jackson with 11, Pau Gasol with 2 since joining their ranks. This team is fantastic. I am and always have been a Lakers-hater, but I would be wrong if I didn't give them the respect they deserve. This team is in a great position to do a three-peat next season and somehow managed to improve their depth even more in the offseason.

    Projected starting lineup
    PG- Derek Fisher
    SG- Kobe Bryant
    SF- Ron Artest
    PF- Pau Gasol
    C- Andrew Bynum
    Key reserves- Lamar Odom, Steve Blake, Shannon Brown, Matt Barnes, Theo Ratliff

    Not much needs to be said about Los Angeles.

    They have Kobe Bryant, the best player in the league.

    They have Phil Jackson, a guy who knows how to coach superstars and has won 11 rings (he can fill up both hands and even one toe...).

    They have Pau Gasol. He is a huge threat in the inside and most teams struggle to guard him. Case in point: Boozer vs. Gasol in the playoffs last year...sad.

    They have Lamar Odom, a guy who can play any position. When he shows up, this team rarely loses. Same goes for Ron Artest. Their last championship happened largely due to some huge plays on his part.

    They have a deep bench. The Steve Blake signing is vastly underrated and a huge improvement over Jordan Farmar. Matt Barnes hustles and gives his all when he's on the court. Theo Ratliff brings some great veteran presence to the locker room. Shannon Brown is a great guy to have on the floor when Kobe needs to rest. He's explosive.

    Look for the Lakers to earn a third straight championship this next year. Not many teams can beat them when it counts.

Wild Card Teams

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    It took a little bit of time for me to decide who I believed would be capable of making the playoffs this next year. I had to edit and redo and switch teams in and out, but I finally came to a formula I liked. It may not be perfect, but it's my opinion so no haters please. Here's a few teams that I really couldn't decide on and each of them held the 8th seeding at one point in time during the making of this slideshow.

    1. Memphis Grizzlies--> Deep, young, and talented. They could quite possibly earn a playoff berth if Zach Randolph keeps to form, OJ Mayo continues to improve, and if they get a better point through a trade for Mike Conley.

    2. Los Angeles Clippers--> When you look at the roster, it seems like this team should be a lot better than they are. But the Clippers curse continues to live on. If Blake Griffin is 100 percent and the rest of the roster shows up, it would be preposterous for this team not to at least have a 40- win season.

    3. Phoenix Suns--> I really don't know how good this team is going to be next year. They could surprise me. But when I look at their roster, I don't see much. Hakim Warrick doesn't seem to be much of a replacement for Amare Stoudemire and Nash continues to get older. Nash will still be the best player on their team, but can he lead them to the playoffs yet again?

    4. New Orleans Hornets--> This all depends on what the front office can do for Chris Paul. To be honest, I don't think much is going to happen and Chris Paul will be traded before the season starts, which makes this team's postseason future look pretty bleak. But, who knows, maybe they can surround their franchise player with some talent.

    5. Sacramento Kings--> This team is up-and-coming. Tyreke Evans is a superstar and DeMarcus Cousins should be a RoY contender. They may be a year or two away from doing serious damage in the league, but we should all keep our eyes on them. With a few more roster tweaks and a little patience from the front office....oh man...scary...

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