Today I am predicting how I believe things will shakedown in the West. There are a lot of very good teams in the West and there are easily 10 to 11 teams that have a shot at the postseason. Here are my predictions starting at #15 seed and going up to the #1 seed.
#15- Houston Rockets
Someone needs to tell me what the heck the Rockets are doing. They currently have 19 players on their active roster a log jam at 3 positions, especially small forward. They gave 25 million dollars to both Jeremy Lin and Omar Asik, who are both unproven and may be busts. They also gave away Kyle Lowry, Samuel Dalembert, Marcus Camby, and let Luis Scola walk for nothing. Their front office seems to think they are rebuilding, but they confuse me by signing Carlos Delfino and not trading Kevin Martin, who is getting paid 12 million and taking away minutes from Jeremy Lamb. This team needs to find a clear direction and sort through the obscene amount of players on their roster before they can move forward. They will struggle this year for sure.
#14- New Orleans Hornets
New Orleans will be good in 2 or 3 years, but Anthony Davis, Austin Rivers, and their young core players need to develop and grow together. I love what they did this offseason because they solidified most of the starting lineup through the draft and brought in solid complementary players like Darius Miller, Brook Lopez, and Ryan Anderson. They will have great cap space for the next 4 years and will be able to afford better players in the next few free agent periods. The core lineup of A.Rivers/E.Gordon/A.Aminu/R.Anderson/A.Davis with B.Lopez/D.Miller/X.Henry/J.Smith coming off the bench, this team will improve quickly and may be a consistent playoff team sooner than many think. But not this year.
#13- Portland Trailblazers
Head coach Terry Stotts said that he thinks Portland is a playoff team…. ha. I love Damian Lillard, but he is going to take a couple years to develop as a legit PG. Portland is starting 2 rookies and don’t have much maturity on their roster outside of Aldridge and Batum. This could be a great team in 2 or 3 seasons, but they are going to struggle this year while they give Damian Lillard and Meyers Leonard time to develop in the NBA.
#12- Phoenix Suns
I think that the Phoenix Suns should have gone into a rebuilding faze after Steve Nash’s departure, but they want to try to stay competitive. They figured the way to do that would be by signing a career long backup point guard Goran Dragic, a ball hog Michael Beasley, and trade for a lottery bust Wes Johnson. They did however bring in Luis Scola for cheap after he was amnestied by Houston which was a great move. But they will be starting Dragic/Johnson/Beasley/Scola/Gortat and backing them up with K.Marshall/S.Brown/J.Dudley/M.Morris/C.Frye. None of those players play very solid defense and that will be a huge issue for this team. They may score 102 to 107 points per game, but they will likely give up 105 to 110. As a Warriors fan, I know that just trying to score as many points as you can isn’t a good formula for winning if you can’t stop your opponents from scoring all the points they can get too.
#11- Sacramento Kings
The Kings are going to surprise people this season and emerge as a legit playoff contender. They definitely will not sniff the playoffs this year, but may contend for the 8th spot for a good chunk of the year. I like their lineup apart from Tyreke Evans, who needs to be traded, but they have great big men and can outscore most teams in the league. Their big problem is similar to Phoenix because they will not play a lot of defense. They do have Jason Thompson and DeMarcus Cousins to hold the paint down, which makes them better than the Suns, but they will still need to improve defensively and upgrade at the small forward position before they will be a playoff team.
#10- Utah Jazz
I love the great depth that Utah has in the Center and Power Forward positions, but everything else worries me about this team. I think that Utah has great chance at a 7th or 8th playoff spot, but my knock on them is their talent and depth and the 1, 2, and 3 spots. I don’t have much confidence in Mo Williams at the 1, Randy Foye at the 2, or Marvin Williams at the 3. Utah is going to be a magnificent defensive team in the post as usual, but they will struggle to guards elite guards and star small forwards. They will be a .500 team or may be a couple games over that.
#9- Minnesota Timberwolves
I am really on the fence about leaving Minnesota out of the playoffs because they do look very good, but I think that Ricky Rubio being out is going to hurt this team just enough in the beginning of the season to keep them out of a 8th spot. Ricky Rubio was the key to their sucess last year and without him they are left with Luke Ridnour and JJ Barea, who are both just solid NBA backups. Their additions of Brandon Roy, Alexey Shved, Andrei Kirilenko, and Greg Stiesma were very smart, but are high-risk/ high-reward signings. Roy’s knees have to be heatlhy, Shved’s game needs to translate to the league, Kirilenko needs to prove that he is as good as he was in the Olympics, and Stiesma needs to show that last season wasn’t a fluke. Too many things need to go right for Minnesota to be a lock in my eyes, so I am giving them the spot of last team out.
#8- Dallas Mavericks
Dallas is an iffy team to me this season. They are going to rely heavily on a group of new players in the Mavericks franchise. Darren Collison, OJ Mayo, Shawn Marion, Dirk, and Chris Kaman is a solid starting unit, but this season hinges on the bench for the Mavs. There is no more Jason Terry to be the 6th man, so who will step up for them? I think the Mavs are about 9 men deep with Elton Brand, Dahanty Jones, Roddy Beaubois, and Delonte West being the main players off the bench and Jae Crowder, the rookie forward from Marquette, could be a big contributor as well. I think the Mavs will continue their consistent trend of making the playoffs.
#7- Golden State Warriors
Finally, my beloved Warriors. They obviously have big injury concerns, but so do the T’Wolves, Lakers, and Clippers. I think that this Warriors team can with stand some injuries because of their ridiculous depth. The Warriors have a top 5 bench with Jarrett Jack, Brandon Rush, Richard Jefferson, Carl Landry, Draymond Green, Charles Jenkins, and Festus Ezeli coming in for the starters. The Warriors are a better defensive and rebounding team and they increased their toughness as well as added players that are hungry to win. This will a dangerous team all season and look for them to possibly come up with another jaw dropping upset in the playoffs like they had in 2007.
#6- Memphis Grizzles
The Grizzles are a title contender, you heard it here first. They are a dangerous playoff team and they will put any team they face in the playoffs to the test. Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph form one of the best big man duos in the league and the Grizzles also have a great small forward in Rudy Gay. The only question for the Grizz come playoff time will be the inexperience of their bench, but I don’t see it being much of a problem for them. This will be a sleeper team for sure.
#5- Los Angeles Clippers
Clippers fans must be very happy to hear that Blake Griffin is ready to go for the season and will not be hampered by the knee he injured playing with team USA prior to the Olympics. Chris Paul’s finger is the only other large red flag for this team right now. They brought great bench depth this offseason by adding Jamal Crawford, Grant Hill, Lamar Odom, and Ronny Turiaf. This is a great regular season team, but am just not sold on them performing in the playoffs. They most likely face Memphis, San Antonio, or Denver and I don’t like their chances in a 7 game series against any of those teams.
#4- Denver Nuggets
Andre Igoudala has come to town and now Denver should get ready to see their Nuggets contend for a spot in the Western Conference Finals. I love this roster because they are tough, play defense, score, and have the best depth in the league. Many can make an argument for San Antonio, but just like the talent up and down Denver’s roster a little bit better. I am interested to see how JaVale McGee will grow this season, but even if he falters, there is Timofey Mozgov and Kosta Koufos to back him up. Kenneith Faried is going to continue his rise to becoming a household name this year by continuing to dominate and play at a high level.
#3- San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs are old and crusty, but they still manage to contend every year. I have learned my lesson about betting against the Spurs, so I have them in the mix in the West again this season. I think the Spurs keep sticking around because of Greg Poppavich, who in my opinion is the 2nd best coaching NBA history behind Phil Jackson. Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker will continue to lead this team to wins for a couple more years before the flame dies out in San Antonio.
#2- Los Angeles Lakers
LA is stacked, but we will see how all the pieces will fit together. Kobe needs to take a step back to allow Nash and Howard to play at their full potential. I think Kobe Bryant may be the biggest obstacle in the way of the Lakers pursuit for a title.
#1- Oklahoma City Thunder
Oklahoma City is in the last year of being Western Conference top dogs. With contract issues beginning to arise for the organization, they have to make a decision about whether to start spending the big buck or not. Hopefully they can keep Harden on and continue their run for a title, but money may force them to find a new core of bench players to help Durant, Westbrook, and Ibaka get a ring.
I will be predicting the Eastern Conference on Saturday!