For the past five or so years now, the West has been the better of the two conferences and by a good margin. That gap has closed quickly. The biggest move this off-season was Dwight Howard to the Rockets which now makes Houston a perennial title contender for years to come right? Not so fast. Here is how the West will be won:
8. Los Angeles Lakers
To tank or not to tank? That is the real question. The Lakers have big aspirations for the 2014 season with half the leagues superstars becoming free agents, but what about this season? It could be ugly, especially early on without Kobe for about a month or two. Pau Gasol and Steve Nash will have to hold down the fort. Once the Mamba gets back, expect plenty of 40 plus games as he’ll try to carry this team on his back like he has for the past decade. If worst comes to worst and the Lakers are a lottery ball club, expect the NBA lottery conspiracy theory to be in full force as the Lakers could possibly land the next chosen one, Andrew Wiggins.
7. Portland Trailblazers
Many have the Timberwolves here, and I completely disagree. Ricky Rubio has to stay healthy in order for this team to have a chance at the playoffs for the first time since ’04, and even then I’m worried about the depth. Meanwhile, Portland is doing all the right things and drafting the right people like C.J. McCollum who will be the steal of this years draft even though he’ll be out with a broken foot for the first part of the season. ROY Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge will carry this team to the playoffs if they stay healthy.
6. Memphis Grizzlies
I’m still confused why Memphis let Lionel Hollins go. A man who takes you, a mid-market team without a real superstar to the Western Conference finals apparently doesn’t meet standards in Memphis. Still the Grizz have Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Mike Conley to rely on and that still make this team dangerous come the postseason.
5. Golden State Warriors
The Warriors are one of the most fun teams to watch in the league and most credit goes to the man at the point in Steph Curry. Add Andre Iguodala and this team is going to be explosive in the open court. Yet I do believe the losses of Carl Landry and Jarrett jack will hurt this team more than AI helps. Even so, the young and talented Warriors will once again put up a ton of points and Curry will be a legit MVP contender if this team is able to seed higher.
4. Houston Rockets
Dwight has the key to the city and the key to the Rockets returning to the Finals again. Alongside James Harden this team (who led the league in 3 pt. attempts last season) will still put up plenty of points just at a slower pace. Chandler Parsons who established himself as a swing-man with range last season will be the X-Factor moving forward. Expect Dwight play at an MVP level as he is now fully healthy from multiple back and shoulder injuries he suffered a year ago.
3. San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs are still one of the best teams in the league and it will show come playoff time. But Manu, Tony and Timmy are still old and Pop isn’t worried about where they will place at the end of the regular season compared to the health and rest of the big three come the postseason. Expect more of the same out of Kawhi Leonard as he was spectacular in the Finals a year ago. The Spurs also added a piece in Marco Belinelli to their bench to cope with the loss of sharpshooter Gary Neal.
2. Oklahoma City Thunder
This is the year Kevin Durant will win his first MVP. Russell Westbrook will follow the steps of his friend Derrick Rose and take his sweet time coming back from knee surgery which means KD will do everything and then some for the Thunder. The loss of Kevin Martin hurts, but Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb will flourish with Durant demanding double teams all night long. He may average 35 points a game until Westbrook comes back. If there is one certainty in OKC, KD will be a man on a mission this season.
1. Los Angeles Clippers
Doc Rivers was the most important add this off-season for any team. He walks into a picture perfect situation in LA. The leagues best true point guard in Chris Paul and the leagues most explosive big man in Blake Griffin. Doc brings a no-nonsense attitude along with him, eliminating the “Lob City” and “happy-go-lucky” environment this team once had. From here on out, if the Clippers want respect in LA, they’ll need a banner of their own in Staples Center. Yeah, it’s weird putting the Clippers at the top of the West. Oh, how times are changing.