Breaking Down the Best in the West
Aside from the new look Warriors, the West as per usual has the San Antonio Spurs, a team that will probably compete for a title every year until the end of time, and a whole batch of other elite teams as well as a few teams gunning for a top pick in the draft.
How does the West look this year? How does each team rank entering the season? Well, let’s take a look!
15) Los Angeles Lakers
- Projected Starting Line up: PG: D’Angelo Russell SG: Jordan Clarkson SF: Brandon Ingram PF: Julius Randle C: Timofey Mozgov
The Kobe Bryant era is officially over and it is safe to say, the Lakers will be a far different team moving out of Kobe’s shadow. What Lakers fans do have to realize is that this team will not be good – not even close. They will be brutal. It’s a new concept, a bad Laker team with no superstar, but if the last couple of years have done anything it has prepared the fan base to be ready for this moment.
But there is good news! Every team entering a rebuild needs a core, a young and talented foundation of players to build around. With a foundation in place, it gives the fan base hope and the management a vision for the future. That is what the Lakers have centred around D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, and Ivica Zubac. First big head coaching task for Luke Walton that’s for sure!
Brandon Ingram may be the future superstar of the bunch, drawing comparisons to Kevin Durant, but Clarkson has the athleticism and the explosion that is similar to a Russell Westbrook. Russell is a stud and has that “killer gene” attitude that the team will be missing without Kobe and Randle and Zubac are two young big men with loads of potential and skill.
The rebuild process will take time and getting rid of players like Lou Williams and Nick Young will be crucial for the development of the younger players, but why on earth would the Lakers lock up Mozgov and Luol Deng long term with big contracts? I guess we will never know.
14) Phoenix Suns
- Projected Starting Line up: PG: Brandon Knight SG: Devin Booker SF: P.J. Tucker PF: Marquese Chriss C: Tyson Chandler
The abundance of guards is slowly starting to bite the Suns in the side, but it definitely does not have to be this way if the Suns management can help it.
The Suns rebuild is ongoing and they now have a nice crop of young talent, yet their development will be slowed down with veterans playing in their place.
How can you fix the problem?
Easy! Cut ties with the oft-injured Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight. Both players will have huge value on the open market, Knight probably more so the Bledsoe, but their greatest worth will be allowing the young Suns to play in their absence. NBA general managers will realize this when engaging in trade talks with the Suns and will now that the Suns will want to move their older guards to bring in their new looking back-court. Devin Booker needs time to develop and so does Tyler Ulis.
With all the hype surrounding Jamal Murray, it is very easy to forget that Ulis was the best player on Kentucky just one year ago and his skills should translate onto the NBA level. Add this young backcourt to Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender and the Suns have something brewing. Only thing left is to shift out the veterans, acquire more picks or young talent, and build the team from the ground up!
13) Sacramento Kings
- Projected Starting Line up: PG Darren Collison SG: Aaron Afflalo SF: Rudy Gay PF: Willi Cauley-Stein C: DeMarcus Cousins
With another NBA season upon us, the ‘free Boogie’ movement is stronger than ever as the Kings continue to be run aimlessly and brainlessly by a management that has little knowledge of what it takes to build a team.
This team will go as far as Cousins will take them, that is if Cousins lasts the entire season in Sac-Town. Cousins is the best big man in the game and one of the most dominant basketball players on the planet. Everything around him is a mess.
The point guard duo of Ty Lawson and Darren Collison have criminal records more extensive than their NBA resumes, the team defence is brutal, the mix of players is head scratching and the Kings in general are not even worth discussing.
The Kings are the NBA equivalent to the black hole sucking DeMarcus Cousins in, wasting away his talent.
12) Denver Nuggets
- Projected Starting Line up: PG: Emmanuel Mudiay SG: Jamal Murray SF: Danilo Gallinari PF: Kenneth Faried C: Nikola Jokic
For the optimistic Nuggets fan, Denver will be an exciting team to watch, filled with young and skilled players, lots of up-tempo offence, lots of running. For the negative Nuggets fan, Denver will play very little defence and ultimately will remain a very bad basketball team.
The common trend in teams like the Nuggets, Suns, Timberwolves, and Lakers is that although they will all be bad teams, they will be exciting teams with young cores in place. What will be vital to all four-basketball teams is how they are developed and what pieces management will put around them.
With the Nuggets, Jamal Murray, Emmanuel Mudiay and Nikola Jokic are the clear cornerstones of the franchise. Are players like Kenneth Faried and Danilo Gallinari the right pieces to place around them, I’d like to think not, but ultimately it will come down to the management. The Nuggets are still a few years away, the next few years will be of upmost importance as they hope to develop their youngsters into stars that can help an NBA team compete.
11) Minnesota Timberwolves
- Projected Starting Line up: PG: Ricky Rubio SG: Zach LaVine SF: Andrew Wiggins PF: Gorgui Dieng C: Karl-Anthony Towns
We are still waiting for the answer from the Big Ticket on whether he will retire, but whatever Kevin Garnett decides to do will not change the fact that the Wolves are one of the most interesting teams in the entire NBA.
Out of the four Western Conference basement dwelling teams who have the countlessly mention ‘young core’ in place, the Wolves look to have the brightest one of all. With Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine, Andrew Wiggins, Tyus Jones, and of course Karl-Anthony Towns, the Wolves have a very positive future to look forward to.
There will still be some growing pains, but the talent and potential is there. Players like Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic seem to be the odd men out and they will have to be moved as soon as possible to start transitioning guys like Jones and Dunn into the line-up, giving them as many minutes as possible.
What the Western Conference team has are teams at every stage of the development process. The Wolves are the young guns, filled with talent with a vision for the future, while teams like the Warriors are at the Western Conference pinnacle ready to win. To understand the cruel cycle of sports you have to look no further than the Western Conference and watching the Wolves for the next few seasons will be must-see basketball! With Tom Thibodeau now at the helm, the Wolves are more than ready to climb the NBA ladder.
10) Dallas Mavericks
- Projected Starting Line up: PG: Deron Williams SG: Wesley Matthews SF: Harrison Barnes PF: Dirk Nowitzki C: Andrew Bogut
The Dallas Mavericks are in the worst possible spots in sports. They are sitting in limbo. They do not have the young, potential superstar type player, nor are they bad enough as a team to get a top pick in the draft. On the flip side, they do not have the talent to compete for a playoff spot and are on the outside looking in.
They have the coach in Rick Carlisle who will undoubtedly get the most out of his players. Dirk Nowitzki is still a star, although not one who can lead a team into a playoff spot on his own. Deron Williams is a shell of what he once was and Harrison Barnes. Yes, Harrison Barnes is the future of this team.
If you are a fan of any basketball team, just know that the most frustrating team to watch will be the Dallas Mavericks, because where are they even going? Every team, much like any company or business has to have a vision. What is the vision in the eyes of Mark Cuban?
Once Mr. Cuban answers that one question, only then can the Mavericks start attempting to figure out how to get out of this hole.
9) New Orleans Pelicans
- Projected Starting Line up: PG: Tyreke Evans SG: Buddy Hield SF: Solomon Hill PF: Anthony Davis C: Omer Asik
For the sake of fantasy team owners, the New Orleans fan base, and the Pelicans themselves, Anthony Davis has to stay healthy for an entire season. It’s a must.
My brain may need brain surgery trying to analyze some moves that general managers make, but in all honesty, what? I have very few words! When a team is as privileged as to have one of the best players in the world that can single-handedly destroy teams when healthy why on earth would you surround him with Solomon Hill and E’Twaun Moore?
Let that sink in. Solomon Hill and E’Twaun Moore.
Jrue Holiday cannot come back soon enough. If Anthony Davis and Tyreke Evans cannot stay healthy, this Pelicans team will be a train wreck. If they do happen to remain healthy, well then they will compete for the chance to be destroyed in round one of the playoffs by the Golden State Warriors, a fate that sounds almost as bad as dropping a combined $86-million on Solomon Hill and E’Twaun Moore.
8) Utah Jazz
- Projected Starting Line up: PG: Shelvin Mack SG: Joe Johnson SF: Gordon Hayward PF: Derrick Favors C: Rudy Gobert
Who would have thought that Shelvin Mack would have been one of the biggest pick-ups at the trade deadline? Not many people that’s for sure.
As the Utah Jazz begin the 2016-17 NBA season, they are finally ready to become a playoff team. With a returning Alec Burks and Dante Exum, a great defensive unit and a very talented and young group of players, the Jazz may be a dark horse pick entering the NBA season, much like the Milwaukee Bucks are in the East.
The Jazz did their job in the offseason bringing in proven veterans like Joe Johnson, Boris Diaw and George Hill to surround their core of Rodney Hood, Derrick Favors, Rudy Gobert, and Gordon Hayward.
With another year of development for Canadian power forward Trey Lyles and the French big man, Gobert, this Utah team has a very interesting and nice mix of talent that is ready to compete and quite possibly surprise quite a few teams.
With veteran savvy, pesky defence, some good shooters, a solid coach and enough youth to play an up-tempo style of basketball, I warn you – keep an eye on the Jazz.
7) Portland Trailblazers
- Projected Starting Line up: PG: Damian Lillard SG: C.J. McCollum SF: Al-Farouq Aminu PF: Meyers Leonard C: Mason Plumlee
Much like the New Orleans Pelicans, the Portland Trail Blazers are another team that dished out questionable and pricey contracts over the summer. Most notably Evan Turner, C.J. McCollum and Allen Crabbe cashed in big in the offseason.
Although the McCollum signing was necessary, the other two were head scratchers. Did this team really get any better after a very surprising 2015-16 season?
Unfortunately not and once again this team will go as far as the duo of Damian Lillard and McCollum can take them. Judging by the top teams in the West, it is safe to assume that the results will be very similar to those of last season.
6) Oklahoma City Thunder
- Projected Starting Line up: PG: Russell Westbrook SG: Victor Oladipo SF: Andre Roberson PF: Enes Kanter C: Steven Adams
How much faith do I have in Russell Westbrook? Enough to say that the Thunder are not going to disappear off the NBA map any time soon. You can even bet that with Westbrook in the fold, Oklahoma City will be competitive against any team in the league.
Only problem is that just being competitive is not good enough, especially in the deep Western Conference.
The Thunder do have talent. Victor Oladipo will be a great fit, with Enes Kanter, Steven Adams, Joffrey Lauvergne and Domantas Sabonis the Thunder will not be lacking any size this season, but the loss of Kevin Durant will be too much to overcome.
As bad as Russ doesn’t want to accept reality, the truth is, the team is much worse than it was in year’s prior, even if Westbrook puts up video game numbers.
With Westbrook, the future is still bright and Sam Presti has proven to be a drafting genius, but it will take time for the Thunder to return to the top of the Western Conference.
5) Houston Rockets
- Projected Starting Line up: PG: Patrick Beverley SG: James Harden SF: Trevor Ariza PF: Ryan Anderson C: Donatas Motiejunas
The Houston Rockets should be a far better team coming into the NBA season then they were last year. With the thorn of drama that is Dwight Howard now in Atlanta, James Harden is ready to lead his team back to the Western Conference Finals. The Houston version of Matthew Dellavedova, Patrick Beverley is still around. So are Trevor Ariza, Donatas Motiejunas, and Corey Brewer, all of whom are exceptional role players.
What General Manager Morey did do over the offseason is bring in a couple more shooters and some more help for his star. The help came in the form of Nene, Eric Gordon, and Ryan Anderson.
All that is left for the Rockets is too put all the personalities together and to find the chemistry that was sorely missing last season. The one glaring hole that remains on the Rockets roster is the lack of a reliable point guard the can take the pressure off Harden and set up the offence. Whether or not Morey can go out and fetch a quality guard who can play the role of the floor general may be the move that can elevate Houston into contention.
4) Memphis Grizzlies
- Projected Starting Line up: PG: Mike Conley SG: Tony Allen SF: Chandler Parsons PF: Zach Randolph C: Marc Gasol
Mike Conley, Tony Allen, Zach Randolph, and Marc Gasol are the longest tenured quartet of teammates in the NBA and for good reason. For the last number of years the Grizzlies have been one of the toughest outs in the playoffs and a team that seems to always be just one piece away from contending for the championship.
That one piece has always been shooting and the Grizz paid a king’s ransom to acquire just that in the form of Chandler Parsons. Troy Daniels can offer some shooting as well.
The Grizzlies will assume their usual role in the NBA. A very pesky, hard-nosed defensive team that everyone hates to play, but a team that still needs more shooting and more of a scoring punch. Chandler Parsons is an overpaid, but necessary commodity that the Grizzlies cannot live without, but there is still more that needs to be added to this roster.
With an assortment of youth warming the bench, the Grizz may be able to package a few rookies such as Wayne Selden in an effort to get a couple more shooting options.
3) Los Angeles Clippers
- Projected Starting Line up: PG: Chris Paul SG: J.J. Redick SF: Wesley Johnson PF: Blake Griffin C: DeAndre Jordan
Once again Chris Paul is entrusted in leading a team that is nearing its expiration date to the Western Conference Finals, something neither Chris Paul nor the Clippers have ever seen. Since the turn of the century, only two teams have never made it into the Western Conference Finals, those teams being the New Orleans Pelicans and the Clippers – both teams that had or currently have Chris Paul as their centrepiece.
What can the Clippers do this year that can get them over the hump? DeAndre Jordan still cannot hit free throws; Chris Paul is not the type of player that can take over an entire series, especially against an elite team like the Spurs or the Warriors. Can Blake Griffin take another step forward?
All these questions will need to be answered in the postseason, but the issues that do not look serious over the span of a regular season will become glaring problems in the post season when the NBA’s top teams come rolling into town for a seven game series.
When top teams can adjust in a playoff series to everything the opposition has to offer that will be when the Clippers will fail to reach the top of the Western Conference ladder.
2) San Antonio Spurs
- Projected Starting Line up: PG: Tony Parker SG: Danny Green SF: Kawhi Leonard PF: LaMarcus Aldridge C: Pau Gasol
The Tim Duncan era has come to a close in San Antonio, but the greatness that comes with the San Antonio Spurs continues. Led by Gregg Popovich, the Spurs will continue being one of the top three teams in basketball with the addition of Pau Gasol as Tim Duncan’s replacement.
Tony Parker, Patty Mills, Danny Green and Manu Ginobili are still around, so are the new stars of the franchise, LaMarcus Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard. With another year of Kyle Anderson, this may be the time for the former UCLA swingman to come into his own on the NBA level and fill in the shoes left behind by Boris Diaw.
The Spurs are also planning on experimenting with David Lee and if any coach can get the best out of his players, it’s Coach Pop. The point remains; the Spurs are still one of the most dangerous teams in all of basketball and are one of the three teams that can conceivably win the chip.
1) Golden State Warriors
- Projected Starting Line up: PG: Stephen Curry SG: Klay Thompson SF: Kevin Durant PF: Draymond Green C: Zaza Pachulia
Lastly, the Golden State Warriors, the prematurely anointed NBA Champions of the 2016/17 season. The team that won the Kevin Durant sweepstake as well as the team that was just one win away from repeating as NBA Champions back in June.
If you can believe it, there is one missing ingredient on this team and that is rim protection and if anything, that is one aspect that opponents can take advantage of. With Zaza Pachulia and David West, the Warriors will be very exposed in the paint, but then again, the Warriors will gladly trade two-point for three.
The Warriors seem to be the clear cut pick to win the NBA Championship, but of course, there are 82-regular season games left to play and a lot of things can happen over the span of an NBA season!