The NBA Season starts TODAY and I can’t wait! Shout out to Bart Scott. It promises to be another exciting season as we’ve had player move here and there. There’s been a lot of chirping from all over the League. We’ll get to see how it all plays out over the next 8 months. Today I’ll layout the moves made in the NBA’s Western Conference and share a few thoughts on each team. The teams are listed in the order in which they finished at the end of the 2015-2016 regular season. At the end I’ll list who I think the 8 playoff teams will be.
Golden State Warriors – Hard to imagine that the team with the best regular season record in NBA history, first ever unanimous MVP, and 3 All NBA performers would get better but they did. After blowing a 3-1 lead in the 2016 NBA Finals to Cleveland; the Warriors went and signed Kevin Durant. GSW also brought in Zaza Pachulia and David West. As expected Harrison Barnes left the team and Andrew Bogut was traded away. The Warriors are the favorites to win the championship. We’ll see if they can seal the deal this season.
San Antonio Spurs – The Spurs had an excellent season but got trounced in the playoffs by OKC. As a result we saw the retirement of legendary power Forward Tim Duncan. Boris Diaw was traded to Utah for a future 2nd round draft pick. The Spurs signed Pau Gasol as a replacement for Duncan. It’ll be interesting to see how Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge play together. They also signed David Lee. Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker are back but look for Patty Mills to see his role increase. We’ll get to see if Kawhi Leonard can shoulder the load this season. Keep an eye on Aldridge to see if he remains happy in San Antonio.
Oklahoma City Thunder – You’d have to be very unfamiliar with the NBA to not know that they lost one of the best players in the current era. Kevin Durant got tired of Russell Westbrook and went to Golden State over the summer. Golden State knocked them out of the 2016 Playoffs. OKC blew a 3-1 series lead and the rest is history. Serge Ibaka was traded on Draft Day for Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova, and Domantas Sabonis(11th pick of 2016 NBA Draft). Westbrook signed a contract extension but the Thunder will need to lock up big man Steven Adams too. The Thunder will fall in the West without KD…we’re just not sure how far.
Los Angeles Clippers – The Clippers were the 4th best team in the Western Conference but got bounced in the First Round by Portland after injuries to Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. The core of the Clippers roster is still the same. They still don’t have a small forward to rely on as Paul Pierce revealed that he’s finally retiring at season’s end. Doc Rivers gave new contracts to Wesley Johnson, Jamal Crawford, Luc Mbah a Moute and his son Austin. Mo Speights, Brandon Bass, and Raymond Felton joined the team via free agency. They drafted Brice Johnson – who will be out with a herniated disc in his lower back – and Diamond Stone. This is a make or break season for the Clippers. If they don’t reach the Western Conference Finals this season then it’s time for some players to move on.
Portland Trail Blazers – Portland had an unexpected run to the Playoffs after a slow start last season. Terry Stotts was able to get his squad to the 2nd Round before they bowed out to Golden State in 5 games. Dame Lillard leads the way sidekick C.J. McCollum. McCollum rode his Most Improved Player Award – season to a new contract. Portland also resigned Maurice Harkless, Meyers Leonard and Allen Crabbe. Crabbe was given a whopping 4 year – $75 million dollar deal. Evan Turner joined from Boston and Festus Ezeli from Golden State. Unfortunately Festus is out with a knee injury and his return is unknown. Expect a big season from Lillard as the Blazers will look to ride their successful wave.
Dallas Mavericks – Dallas had an average season that concluded by getting thumped by OKC in the Playoffs. Dirk Nowitzki got a 2 year – $50 Million dollar deal over the summer. Harrison Barnes signed with the team and Andrew Bogut joined via trade. The Mavs resigned Dwight Powell and Deron Williams too. Seth Curry and Quincy Acy were some under the radar signings. No clue what to expect in Dallas. On paper it doesn’t look exciting.
Memphis Grizzlies – After being torn apart by injuries last season the Grizzlies hope to have better luck. As it stands today, they’re off to a bad start with a list of players injured. New Head Coach David Fizdale will have his work cut out for him. Memphis gave Mike Conley a max deal over the summer and signed Chandler Parsons. Zach Randolph will come off the bench and seems to be OK with that idea. It’s hard out here for a pimp. Good luck Memphis.
Houston Rockets – Squeaked into the Playoffs after a season full of turmoil. They exited the Playoffs quickly. Dwight Howard is gone and the team hopes to have better chemistry. Mike D’Antoni takes over as coach and they want to get up and down the court. Free agency saw the addition of – two former New Orleans Pelicans – Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson. James Harden restructured his contract and hopes to get back to the level of play he displayed in the 2014-2015 season. Nene joined Houston and Michael Beasley was traded to Milwaukee for Tyler Ennis. Houston will score a lot but not sure how much they’ll defend.
Utah Jazz – Utah is an up and coming team that was close to making the Playoffs last season. The Jazz ended their season giving up 60 points to Kobe Bryant in his final game. In hopes of making the Playoffs, Utah brought in some veteran players via free agency and trades. They acquired Joe Johnson and Boris Diaw via free agency. Utah was able to bring in George Hill via a 3 – team trade. The Jazz will be without Alec Burks(knee) and Gordon Heyward(finger) to start the season. Derrick Favors, Rodney Hood, and Diaw are also battling injuries. Big man Rudy Gobert is poised for a breakout season and 2nd year player Trey Lyles is ready to show his vast skills. The Jazz will bring Dante Exum along slowly as he continues to recover from ACL injury.
Sacramento Kings – Boogie Cousins is excited about new head coach Dave Joerger who joins them after his time in Memphis. During a Draft Day trade the Kings picked up Bogdan Bogdanovic, Skal Labissiere, Georgios Papagiannis and a 2020 2nd round draft pick from Phoenix. They signed an array of wing players after trading away Marco Belinelli to Charlotte. Those players are Arron Afflalo, Anthony Tolliver, Matt Barnes, and Garrett Temple. The Kings also signed point guard Ty Lawson after Rajon Rondo left town. Rudy Gay and Ben McLemore are both looking to play their way out of Sacramento. The team’s management still leaves a lot to be desired. But many fans are hoping the new arena is a sign of new things to come.
Denver Nuggets – The Nuggets are another team that I’m not sure where they’re going. They have some young talented players – Will Barton, Gary Harris, and Emmanuel Mudiay – but do they have enough veterans to balance out the squad. Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari have battled injuries. Kenneth Faried has been rumored to be on the trade block but still remains in Denver. Rookie Jamal Murray will be looking to score buckets and get teammates involved. The Nuggets will fall into a funk again this season and struggle to make progress.
New Orleans Pelicans – How many games will Anthony Davis play? Start there and you’ll get an idea of what kind of season the Pelicans will have. In his 4 year career, Davis has never played more than 68 games. That season marked career high statistics for AD and coincided with New Orleans making a playoff appearance. Jrue Holiday is out after his wife gave birth to their child before having brain surgery. Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon left the team via free agency but some new players arrived in return. The Pelicans drafted Buddy Hield and Cheick Diallo. The team acquired Solomon Hill, Langston Galloway, E’Twaun Moore, Terrence Jones, and Lance Stephenson in free agency. With Holiday out, Tim Frazier and Galloway will need to step up. And as I stated above, Anthony Davis needs to stay healthy and on the court if New Orleans wants to be in the Playoff race.
Minnesota Timberwolves – Minnesota jumped from “cool team to watch” to “cool team expected to make the Playoffs” when they hired Tom Thibodeau to be Head Coach. Thibodeau will have a team full of young players to choose from. Most notably the last two Rookie of the Year Award winners, Karl Anthony-Towns(2015-2016) and Andrew Wiggins(2014-2015). In the 1st round of the 2016 NBA Draft Minnesota selected Kris Dunn. Dunn was a prolific scorer in college but he’ll be expected to distribute more in the NBA. The Timberwolves also bring back Shabazz Muhammad, high flying Zach LaVine, and Ricky Rubio. Nikola Pekovic will be out all season due to an Achilles injury. That means Gorgui Dieng and Adrien Payne will have to step up. Minnesota brought in Brandon Rush, Cole Aldrich, and Jordan Hill over the summer. The Timberwolves will improve but not enough to make the Playoffs. They’re still missing a few veteran pieces.
Phoenix Suns – The valley of the sun was very hot last season after team chemistry and injuries caused things to go awry. Jeff Hornacek was replaced by Earl Watson. The Suns will lean on their guards to carry the load. They’ll need Eric Bledsoe to stay healthy after he only played 31 games last season. Brandon Knight had a decent season while he was healthy but that was for only 52 games. Devin Booker was the lone bright star for the team. Booker started in 51 of the 76 games he started in and posted 13.8 points/game, 2.6 assists/game, and 2.5 rebounds/game to earn a spot on the NBA Rookie 1st Team. T.J. Warren was solid last season and Alex Len showed flashes of what he can do. P.J. Tucker, Tyson Chandler, and Leandro Barbosa are all seasoned vets but that won’t be enough to move the Suns up in the West.
Los Angeles Lakers – Kobe is gone but the Lakers now have Luke Walton as Head Coach. The Lakers won’t win much but they’ll be fun to watch. Walton will have the team playing at a pace that suits the team. The team re-signed Jordan Clarkson and brought in Luol Deng, Timofey Mozgov, Metta World Peace, and Thomas Robinson via free agency. They drafted the skinny but talented Brandon Ingram 2nd overall in the 2016 NBA Draft. D’Angelo Russell should thrive the most in this new style of play. Julius Randle will see his role increase while Nick Young and Lou Williams will still be able to get up a decent number of shots each game. The Lakers will reach the 24.5 wins mark but that’s about it.
Western Conference Playoff Predictions (in order):
Golden State Warriors
Los Angeles Clippers
San Antonio Spurs
Portland Trail Blazers
Oklahoma City Thunder
Close but no cigar: Sacramento, Dallas, New Orleans, and Minnesota
Rookie of the Year – Buddy Heild, New Orleans Pelicans
Most Improved – Jabari Parker, Milwaukee Bucks
Defensive Player of the Year – Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
6th Man of the Year – Norman Powell, Toronto Raptors
Most Valuable Player – Paul George, Indiana Pacers
All stats, rosters, team transactions and more courtesy of http://www.basketball-reference.com/