I purposely did not watch last night’s contests between Boston and Miami at eight and then LA and Dallas at 10:30. But I couldn’t avoid hearing the results as I turned on the radio this morning. Nevertheless, I will dissect the competitive playground that is known as the NBA’s Western Conference. We all know about the Lakers’ moves during the summer and how San Antonio continues to get older every year. But how will it all play out?
- LOS ANGELES LAKERS (2012 RECORD 41-25, LOST TO OKLAHOMA CITY IN CONFERENCE SEMIS 1-4)
It is popular opinion that the Lakers offseason moves, namely acquiring center Dwight Howard from the Orlando Magic, would put them at the top of the Pacific, as well as the West itself. I’m going to have to agree with that thinking. Kobe Bryant still has a few great years left and with a perfect complement in the backcourt in Steve Nash, he could have a historic season even at age 34. Nash is an assist machine and Kobe will do what he does best: score. However, if Kobe can’t do this, he has, quite possibly, the best frontcourt in Pau Gasol and the aforementioned Howard. Meta World Peace can now fill in the cracks and play lockdown defense; two things he excels at during this phase of his career. The Lakers are definitely going for it all this year but don’t expect this high level of play to continue for more than 3 years down the road.
- LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS (2012 RECORD 40-26, LOST TO SAN ANTONIO IN CONFERENCE SEMIS 0-4)
What a difference a year can make! The evolution of Blake Griffin from a dunk showcase player to a serious 20-10 threat has payed off tremendously for the Clippers. A fallen franchise had the best winning percentage in franchise history last year and can definitely compete for another playoff spot again. Its a given that the Lakers have this division wrapped up but in regards of playoff positioning, the Clips are right in the hunt for home court advantage in the first round. As for the roster, Chris Paul is spending his prime in LA and is still taking pointers from former Piston Chauncey Billups. But beyond those marquee names, the roster doesn’t wow me. However, Philadelphia’s didn’t either and they still won a playoff series.
- GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS (2012 RECORD 23-43, DID NOT MAKE PLAYOFFS)
Golden State has an interesting roster, almost a poor man’s Oklahoma City roster in terms of marquee former college players. Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, Stephen Curry, and Draymond Green all had successful college careers but have yet to produce any NBA stardom. However, I honestly don’t think this is a team of busts. All of these players are relatively young and have had personal success in the past. Captained by savvy veteran power forward David Lee, this team should definitely improve and move up a notch in the division standings. Heck, this team could be one slam dunk draft pick from competing with the Clippers.
- PHOENIX SUNS (2012 RECORD 33-33, DID NOT MAKE PLAYOFFS)
The Suns took a couple serious steps back this summer with the loss of Steve Nash, who’s now Kobe’s best friend, and Grant Hill, who also is in LA and could quite possibly be Blake Griffin’s best friend (maybe not). What’s left on the team is nothing to really get excited about. Shannon Brown, Jared Dudley, and Wesley Johnson are just some of the names on this grab bag of a team. In a divisional scope, they could fight with Golden State for the third spot or they could bottom out and have a “pathetic-off” with Sacramento. The result is a mystery but one that leaves even Suns fans wondering “Who cares?”
- SACRAMENTO KINGS (2012 RECORD 22-44, DID NOT MAKE PLAYOFFS)
This could quite possibly be one of the saddest examples of a franchise in sports. Sacramento hasn’t been significant since the days of Chris Webber and Mike Bibby battling Kobe, Shaq, and Robert Horry in the playoffs, way back in the day. I like the names on this roster, I really do. Jimmer Fredette (yes, the Jimmer!), Tyreke Evans, and Thomas Robinson are all on this team. However, when you’re team is captained by Demarcus Cousins (A.K.A. Rasheed Wallace Jr), it doesn’t look good when you step out on the court. What makes this sad is that Sacramento has a true love for their basketball team yet there’s been talk in the League about moving them out of the Californian capital. I would hope that they could turn it around sometime soon but with a stacked conference, it doesn’t look like this situation will change anytime soon.
- OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER (2012 RECORD 47-19, LOST TO MIAMI IN NBA FINALS 1-4)
While my attention has drifted since the Pistons stopped be relevant, I’ll admit, that I didn’t totally stop paying attention to the NBA. I remember watching Kevin Durant dominate at Texas and win the Naismith Award as the first freshman ever. I watch him join the Supersonics as a rookie and figure himself out. So imagine last June when, Durant stepped onto the court in the NBA Finals, I was naturally excited for him. But it wasn’t just for him. In all of sports, Sam Presti is one of the smartest men in terms of constructing a team and it was evident last June. Durant is supported by Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, and newly acquired Kevin Martin. This team exudes youth but now has the experience to win a championship, as well as the Western Conference.
- DENVER NUGGETS (2012 RECORD 38-28, LOST TO LA LAKERS IN FIRST ROUND 3-4)
Denver is going to finish the season in second place, partly because of point guard Andre Miller. Miller is an ageless wonder (36 years old) who still plays like he’s 26. He’s the perfect contrast to future floor general, Ty Lawson and will definitely help this team in the Xs and Os. However, Miller will have a little help in newly acquired guard Andre Iguodala. The two Andres will help lead this team to a second place finish, mostly because this is another division that isn’t extremely competitive. Based on their playoff performance last year, they could take a serious contender to the brink or maybe beyond.
- MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES (2012 RECORD 26-40, DID NOT MAKE PLAYOFFS)
I’m predicting a huge culture change in Minnesota and it will begin and end with established star Kevin Love. Minnesota gives me the same vibe that Oklahoma City did when they began to construct a winning team. Love is joined by the Spanish Pete Maravich, Ricky Rubio who is a talented, deadly quick player who can change any game with his assists. Second year forward Derrick Williams should improve and surprisingly explosive guard Chase Budinger should give a jolt off the bench. There’s a lot of unknown players on this team but let’s be honest, did the NBA know most of the Thunder before they achieved success?
- UTAH JAZZ (2012 RECORD 36-30, LOST TO SAN ANTONIO IN FIRST ROUND 0-4)
While Utah has decent experience in this tough division, they’re roster is made up of veteran role players. From Gordon Hayward, Paul Millsap, and Devin Harris to Al Jefferson, Raja Bell, and Josh Howard, any of these players could be traded to fill the gap on a team like the Lakers, Celtics, Thunder, or Heat. What that means, essentially, is that this won’t produce winning basketball. Hayward and Jefferson are probably the best players on the team but when Paul Millsap lines up at the 4, you’re gonna have a bad time. Despite making a playoff appearance last year, there’s a reason they got swept.
- PORTLAND TRAILBLAZERS (2012 RECORD 28-38, DID NOT MAKE PLAYOFFS)
Portland is stuck in a rut, much like Sacramento. While I don’t see the team going anywhere, unlike the Kings, there is very little to debate about on this team. The unquestioned leader would be power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, who could start on many contending teams. Beyond that, this team is going absolutely nowhere. Poor drafts in recent years have doomed the team and veterans wouldn’t even be decent role players on any other team. Joel Pryzbilla needs to retire. Nolan Smith is playing on one of the only teams that would possibly think of him as a rebuilding piece. The rest are nobodys. Portland will also be looking to calculate their chances of winning the first overall pick in the Lottery.
- SAN ANTONIO SPURS (2012 RECORD 50-16, LOST TO OKLAHOMA CITY IN CONFERENCE FINALS 2-4)
The day Tim Duncan retires will be the day that the Spurs dynasty ends. While San Antonio hasn’t brought home a title since 2007, they’ve remained competitive in a tougher and tougher Western Conference. Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker are still the Big 3 in Texas and can think on the same wavelengths. GM Peter Holt has done an excellent job in drafting younger role players to help his veterans. DeJuan Blair plays bigger than 6’7″ at center and cleans up missed shots by Gary Neal and Cory Joseph. This roster can compete in the West but needs to hold up for an entire season. Duncan, Ginobili, and Parker have only a few years left but this could still be a successful one.
- DALLAS MAVERICKS (2012 RECORD 36-30, LOST TO OKLAHOMA CITY IN FIRST ROUND 0-4)
Dallas has a talented roster, once again highlighted by point forward Dirk Nowitzki. In what looks like a NBA 2K3 fantasy lineup, Dallas has useful veterans in Shawn Marion, Elton Brand, Vince Carter, and Chris Kaman, a lineup that can compete with the best of them. Dallas is not quite as old as San Antonio but until someone knocks the Spurs out for good, the Mavs will be in second place.
- HOUSTON ROCKETS (2012 RECORD 34-32, DID NOT MAKE PLAYOFFS)
An influx of new talent and new faces on this team will ultimately result in a better showing this season. Jeremy Lin is now a Rocket and if he gets over being sick like he was in New York, Linsanity will continue in Texas. However, he is not alone! In the latest of blockbusters, Houston nabbed Thunder sixth man, James Harden last week. Both players can light up the scoreboard and will provide an instant upgrade over the likes of Kevin Martin. This should be an exciting season in Houston as they try to chase the upper echelon of the Texas Triangle, in San Antonio and Dallas.
- MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES (2012 RECORD 41-25, LOST TO LA CLIPPERS IN FIRST ROUND 3-4)
Memphis has been another feel good story in the West, in addition to Oklahoma City and the Clippers. The Grizzlies could’ve had a second crack at the Spurs if they weren’t foiled by Blake Griffin and the Clips. However, Houston bolstering its offense this offseason by acquiring Jeremy Lin and James Harden. Rudy Gay has evolved into the leader of this team and Zach Randolph is finally becoming the player everyone thought he was going to be. With underrated players like Jerryd Bayless and Marreese Speights, Memphis can compete for one of the final playoff spots but its going to be that much harder with Houston being a drastically improved team.
- NEW ORLEANS HORNETS (2012 RECORD 21-45, DID NOT MAKE PLAYOFFS)
As much as New Orleans would like to think that by adding one of the most accomplished players to yet play in the NBA (Anthony Davis), that they would have a drastic improvement in wins. Sorry, Hornets but the “Unibrow” isn’t going to stop the bleeding, at least on his own. While I don’t doubt that the number one overall pick’s mere presence is going to change something, New Orleans is still going to run guys like Greivis Vazquez, Hakim Warrick, and Ryan Anderson out there. As high as Austin Rivers’ draft stock was, I think its going to be a year in the school of hard knocks for Rivers. He left at least a year too early and this season could actually have an adverse effect on his development. Either way, its going to be another year in the Lottery for the Hornets.
WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS: LA LAKERS VS OKLAHOMA CITY
EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS: MIAMI VS BOSTON
NBA FINALS: LA LAKERS VS MIAMI
NBA CHAMPIONS: LA LAKERS IN 7