2014-2015 Western Conference Preview

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Denver Nuggets

NBA Titles: 0

2013-14: 36-46

Coach: Brian Shaw

Oh, Hello There: Arron Afflalo, Alonzo Gee, Gary Harris, Jusuf Nurkic.

Well, It’s Been Real: Evan Fournier, Anthony Randolph.

Nuggets Fans Should Be Excited About: The return of Arron Afflalo—one of the league’s most underrated guards—to the Mile High City, and the return of Danilo Gallinari from an injury that kept him out of action for 18 months.

Nuggets Fans Should Be Worried About: The balance of the team. As has been the case with the Nuggets since Carmelo Anthony left, there’s a lot of depth on the team at each position, but no superstar, and no real cohesion to the roster.

Prediction: With any luck, the Nuggets should be healthier than they were last season and thanks to the Denver altitude they have the best home-court advantage in the league. With Ty Lawson and Kenneth Faried leading the way, they could challenge for a playoff spot, but with the West as deep as it is, it’s going to be mighty tough. 3rd in the Northwest, 11th in the West.

 

Minnesota Timberwolves

NBA Titles: 0

2013-14: 40-42

Coach: Flip Saunders

Oh, Hello There: Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett, Zach LaVine, Thaddeus Young.

Well, It’s Been Real: Kevin Love, Luc Mbah a Moute, Alexey Shved.

Timberwolves Fans Should Be Excited About: Being an early League Pass favourite. The Wolves should be a really fun team to watch, and hopefully Flip Sanders takes advantage of the athleticism of Wiggins, LaVine and Gorgui Dieng and plays a high-tempo, push-the-ball offence. It would be a travesty otherwise.

Timberwolves Fans Should Be Worried About: Overpaying Ricky Rubio. The Spanish point guard will be coming off his rookie deal soon and although he sees the floor brilliantly and is one of the best passers in the league, his shooting and finishing around the rim are atrocious. It’s hard to be an effective point guard in this day and age when you’re a career 36 per cent shooter.

Prediction: The Timberwolves will have their moments this season—they’re certainly an intriguing team to watch—and trading away Kevin Love, a player who checked out emotionally last season, will be a relief to the rest of the team. But this team is far too young and far too raw to have any substantive success this year. 4th in the Northwest, 13th in the Northwest.

 

Oklahoma City Thunder

NBA Titles: 0

2013-14 Record: 59-23

Coach: Scott Brooks

Oh, Hello There: Anthony Morrow, Mitch McGary.

Well, It’s Been Real: Caron Butler, Derek Fisher, Thabo Sefolosha.

Oklahoma City Thunder Fans Should Be Excited About: Witnessing another season from Kevin Durant—last season’s MVP—and Russell Westbrook, possibly the league’s most exciting player. The Thunder are one of the most heavily scrutinized teams in the NBA, but once again, they’re a serious title contender.

Oklahoma City Thunder Fans Should Be Worried About: The team keeping everything ticking over while Durant recovers from injury. Westbrook is going to have to assume an even bigger role, while Serge Ibaka—already a stud on the defensive end—might have to contribute a little more offensively to pick up the some of the slack.

Prediction: The Thunder should be fine until Durant returns and when he does come back, they’ll once again challenge for a place in the NBA Finals. Last season they were one Ibaka injury away from possibly knocking off the mighty Spurs. 1st in the Northwest, 3rd in the West.

 

Portland Trail Blazers

NBA Titles: 1

2013-14 Record: 54-28

Coach: Terry Stotts

Oh, Hello There: Steve Blake, Darius Morris.

Well, It’s Been Real: Mo Williams.

Trail Blazers Fans Should Be Excited About: The return of a starting five that was one of the best units in the league last season. LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard are legitimate All-Stars, and offensively this team is a juggernaut.

Trail Blazers Fans Should Be Worried About: A lack of depth on the bench when Stotts is forced to rest his starters. The Blazers picked up Steve Blake in the off-season—a solid, if unspectacular backup point guard—but they didn’t make any substantial upgrades to their roster.

Prediction: The Blazers will once again score the basketball for fun and that should be enough to see them sneak into the playoffs, despite being a poor defensive team. However, an injury to one of their key players could expose their lack of roster depth and leave them in trouble. 2nd in the Northwest, 8th in the West.

 

Utah Jazz

NBA Titles: 0

2013-14: 25-57

Coach: Quinn Snyder

Oh, Hello There: Trevor Booker, Steve Novak, Dante Exum.

Well, It’s Been Real: Richard Jefferson, John Lucas III, Brandon Rush, Marvin Williams.

Jazz Fans Should Be Excited About: The continued development of their young players, particularly Trey Burke, Derrick Favors and the newly re-signed Gordon Hayward. The Jazz have plenty of raw talent on their roster, but up until this point it hasn’t translated into on-court success.

Jazz Fans Should Be Worried About: Whether or not Dante Exum was the right player to draft. The 18-year old Australian guard looks great on YouTube playing against borderline YMCA players, but Team Australia didn’t trust him enough in the FIBA World Cup to give him any kind of substantial minutes, and the Jazz might have been wiser to draft someone like Marcus Smart or Elfrid Payton—NBA-ready players.

Prediction: Quinn Snyder should be an upgrade in the coaching department, and hopefully Derrick Favors can build off his solid form from the end of last season. But the Jazz are a team for the future. They won’t win many games this season. 5th in the Northwest, 15th in the West.

 

Golden State Warriors

NBA Titles: 1

2013-14 Record: 51-31

Coach: Steve Kerr

Oh, Hello There: Brandon Rush, Leandro Barbosa.

Well, It’s Been Real: Steve Blake, Jordan Crawford.

Warriors Fans Should Be Excited About: Another season of watching the best shooting backcourt in the NBA. The lights-out three-point shooting of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson gives the Warriors an offensive dynamic that no other team in the NBA currently possesses.

Warriors Fans Should Be Worried About: The health of Andre Iguodala. Iggy is the Warriors’ best perimeter defender, and Steve Kerr will need to ensure that his minutes are properly managed so that he’s healthy come playoff time.

Prediction: The Warriors are a real title contender this season—they can score from all over the court and have legitimate defensive stoppers in the form of Iguodala and Andrew Bogut. Last season Mark Jackson was unable to make the most of their offensive talents, but Kerr should be able to bring out the best in this team. 2nd in the Pacific, 4th in the West.

 

Los Angeles Clippers

NBA Titles: 0

2013-14 Record: 57-25

Coach: Doc Rivers

Oh, Hello There: Chris Douglas-Roberts, Spencer Hawes, Jordan Farmar.

Well, It’s Been Real: Jared Dudley, Darren Collison, Danny Granger.

Clippers Fans Should Be Excited About: No more Donald Sterling! The biggest distraction from the end of last season is gone—the team has a new owner and should be heading for a more positive future. Oh, and the product on the court isn’t too bad, either.

Clippers Fans Should Be Worried About: Not having a shutdown wing defender. Matt Barnes does an admirable job, but the Clippers are light on guys who can corral an opposition’s scoring wing. When you play in the same conference as Kevin Durant, that could be a problem.

Prediction: The Clippers added Spencer Hawes in the off-season and he should be the perfect floor-spreading complement to Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan in the frontcourt. If Griffin can build on his MVP-calibre showing last year—and Chris Paul continues to do what Chris Paul does best—the Clippers will contend. 1st in the Pacific, 2nd in the West.

 
 

Los Angeles Lakers

NBA Titles: 16

2013-14 Record: 27-55

Coach: Byron Scott

Oh, Hello There: Carlos Boozer, Julius Randle, Ed Davis, Jeremy Lin.

Well, It’s Been Real: Pau Gasol, Jodie Meeks, Jordan Farmar, Kent Bazemore.

Lakers Fans Should Be Excited About: The return of Kobe Bean Bryant to what will hopefully be something close to full health. How far Bryant can return to the level he was at pre-Achilles tear will be one of the most fascinating subplots of the NBA season.

Lakers Fans Should Be Worried About: Everything else. The Lakers have built a short-term roster—many of the players are signed to one or two-year deals—and right now it’s heavy on power forwards and light on anyone who can play a lick of defence. Also, for some bizarre reason, coach Byron Scott doesn’t like threes.

Prediction: This will be another bad season for a proud franchise. Bryant will have license to shoot a lot and move closer to the NBA’s all-time record for points scored, but there won’t be too many other positives. 5th in the Pacific, 14th in the West.

 
 

Phoenix Suns

NBA Titles: 0

2013-14 Record: 48-34

Coach: Jeff Hornacek

Oh, Hello There: Zoran Dragic, Isaiah Thomas, Anthony Tolliver.

Well, It’s Been Real: Ish Smith, Channing Frye, Leandro Barbosa.

Suns Fans Should Be Excited About: Building off a shockingly good season last year in which they were the league’s surprise team. After a long and nasty negotiation process, the Suns finally agreed to a long-term deal with Eric Bledsoe and he and Goran Dragic should once again form the most exciting backcourt in the league.

Suns Fans Should Be Worried About: Regression to the mean. The Suns got career-best years from a number of players last season—the likes of Gerald Green, P.J. Tucker and even Dragic—and it’s unclear as to whether that’s sustainable this season.

Prediction: The Suns will be strong in the backcourt once again—they added Isaiah Thomas in the off-season to shore up the point guard position—but as mentioned, any regression from their role players on the wing and they could have a tough time making the playoffs. 3rd in the Pacific, 10th in the West.

Sacramento Kings

NBA Titles: 0

2013-14 Record: 28-54

Coach: Mike Malone

Oh, Hello There: Darren Collison, Ryan Hollins, Nik Stauskas, Ramon Sessions.

Well, It’s Been Real: Quincy Acy, Aaron Gray, Jason Terry.

Kings Fans Should Be Excited About: Boogie! DeMarcus Cousins is coming off his best year in the NBA—he averaged 22 points and 11 rebounds last season with a PER of 26.1. In the off-season he played a huge role on Team USA as they romped to victory in Spain and he looks to be a much more mature player.

Kings Fans Should Be Worried About: A real lack of quality in the backcourt. The Kings let Isaiah Thomas walk in the off-season, replacing him with Darren Collison and Ramon Sessions—which is basically like replacing a dollar with two quarters.

Prediction: Cousins and Rudy Gay—if he continues to be the Rudy Gay we saw post Raptors trade—will provide some good offence for this team, and Nik Stauskas should be able to spread the floor with his shooting. But this team is still a couple of pieces away from challenging for the playoffs in the loaded West. 4th in the Pacific. 12th in the West.

 

Dallas Mavericks

NBA Titles: 1

2013-14 Record: 49-33

Coach: Rick Carlisle

Oh, Hello There: Chandler Parsons, Tyson Chandler, Jameer Nelson, Al-Farouq Aminu, Richard Jefferson, Raymond Felton.

Well, It’s Been Real: Jose Calderon, Shawn Marion, Vince Carter.

Mavericks Fans Should Be Excited About: A team that has the ability to score 110 points a night. Seriously, the Mavericks are loaded offensively and they’re going to be one of the most fun teams to watch at that end of the floor.

Mavericks Fans Should Be Worried About: A team that might give up 110 points a night. Other than Tyson Chandler, the Mavericks are short on defence-first players, having lost Shawn Marion and Vince Carter, two of their best wing defenders, in the off-season.

Prediction: As Rick Carlisle illustrated by taking his team to seven games against the Spurs last season, he is a coaching genius. The Mavericks will be shaky defensively, but their offence will see them into the post-season—they have a core that will be able to put up points on anyone thanks to Dirk Nowitzki, Chandler Parsons and Monta Ellis. 4th in the Southwest, 7th in the West.

 

Houston Rockets

NBA Titles: 2

2013-14 Record: 54-28

Coach: Kevin McHale

Oh, Hello There: Trevor Ariza, Jeff Adrien, Ish Smith, Jason Terry.

Well, It’s Been Real: Chandler Parsons, Omer Asik, Jeremy Lin.

Rockets Fans Should Be Excited About: Watching James Harden and Dwight Howard play their second season together. Last season the superstar tandem were good in flashes, but the cohesion should be much better this time around.

Rockets Fans Should Be Worried About: A roster that lacks the depth of last year’s. General manager Daryl Morey failed to land his coveted third superstar in the summer—missing out on Chris Bosh and Carmelo Anthony—and in trying to make room for another star he shipped out some very important role players on last year’s team.

Prediction: The Rockets will regress slightly this season—they’re just not as deep as they were a year ago—but Trevor Ariza, who they picked up to replace Chandler Parsons, will give them the kind of perimeter defence they were sorely lacking last season. 2nd in the Southwest, 5th in the West.

 

Memphis Grizzlies

NBA Titles: 0

2013-14 Record: 50-32

Coach: Dave Joerger

Oh, Hello There: Vince Carter, Earl Clark.

Well, It’s Been Real: Mike Miller, Ed Davis, James Johnson.

Grizzlies Fans Should Be Excited About: The addition of savvy veteran Vince Carter, who gives the Grizzlies the kind of wing shooting and defence they’ve lacked in years gone by. They won’t feel as compelled to start the corpse of Tayshaun Prince, and that’s a good thing.

Grizzlies Fans Should Be Worried About: The weird front office/ownership dynamic in Memphis that saw Lionel Hollins forced out two seasons ago, and current coach Dave Joerger almost leave for Minnesota in the off-season. Owner Robert Pera needs to stay out of the on-court side of things and let the experts do their job.

Prediction: The Grizzlies kept their heads above water early last season despite losing Marc Gasol for a good portion of the year. If all their key pieces stay healthy they’ll once again be a very dangerous team that no one will want any part of in the post-season. 3rd in the Southwest, 6th in the West.

 

New Orleans Pelicans

NBA Titles: 0

2013-14 Record: 34-48

Coach: Monty Williams

Oh, Hello There: Omer Asik, John Salmons.

Well, It’s Been Real: Brian Roberts, Al-Farouq Aminu.

Pelicans Fans Should Be Excited About: Another year of watching Anthony Davis—quite possibly the most dynamic two-way player in the league. Davis has grown leaps and bounds as a player in just two seasons as a pro, and after LeBron James and Kevin Durant there may not be a player with the skillset to dominate basketball games quite like The Brow.

Pelicans Fans Should Be Worried About: Injuries. It’s always injuries with this team. If the Pelicans can get any kind of decent production from their oft-injured backcourt players this season they could be a threat to make the playoffs. But it’s tough to rely on guys like Eric Gordon staying healthy

Prediction: In the off-season the Pelicans snagged Omer Asik and he should be the perfect compliment to Anthony Davis in the frontcourt. Davis is good enough to take the Pelicans close to the eighth seed, but whether they actually get in will hinge on the kind of support he gets from his teammates in the backcourt. 5th in the Southwest, 9th in the West.

 

San Antonio Spurs

NBA Titles: 5

2013-14 Record: 62-20

Coach: Gregg Popovich

Oh, Hello There: Kyle Anderson,

Well, It’s Been Real: They’re bringing the band back.

Spurs Fans Should Be Excited About: Should I even answer this? Spurs fans should be excited about everything. They have the best general manager in the league, the best coach, the best team, five NBA titles in the last 15 years, and one of the best young players in the league in Kawhi Leonard. What is there not to be excited about?

Spurs Fans Should Be Worried About: Not a lot. They’re going to be very, very good once again. But if I had to pick one thing it would be the injury to Patty Mills, a key part of their rotation last season. Cory Joseph will sub in for Mills as the backup point guard and the team may see a drop in production when Tony Parker sits.

Prediction: The Spurs gave the Miami Heat an all-time ass whooping in last season’s NBA Finals and expect them to tear through the regular season once again. They go 12-deep, can score for fun and have very few weaknesses. They’re going to be the team to beat this season—good luck, everyone. 1st in the Southwest, 1st in the West.

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