NBA Western Conference Preview

  1. Memphis Grizzlies

Biggest Addition: Ja Morant

Biggest Departure: Mike Conley

In recent years the Grizzlies have started their slow process of a rebuild. Last year they were a solid defensive until all around, and that should continue this year, but they have a lot of work to do on the offensive end. They lack a true go-to scorer, but rookie Ja Morant should add some consistency on that end of the ball. If Josh Jackson can get his career back on track the trio of Morant, Jaren Jackson, and Josh Jackson could be quite the formidable grouping in the next few years.

Projected Record: 30-52

  1. Phoenix Suns

Biggest Addition: Ricky Rubio

Biggest Departure: Josh Jackson, by default

The Suns are another team that if we’re being frank, have sucked recently. I believe there should be some optimism about this team though. They have drafted well the last couple of years outside of Deandre Aytonabove Luka Doncic. They brought in Cam Johnson, who can act as a spot-up shooter outside of Devin Booker and a quality point man in Ricky Rubio. The Suns have a few years until they are considered playoff contenders, but they are moving in the right direction and should continue to improve compared to last season.

Projected Record: 32-50

  1. Sacramento Kings 

Biggest Addition: Luke Walton?

Biggest Departure: Nobody Significant

The Kings are an okay young team. I love De’AaronFox and think he can be a legitimate star, but I’m not sure if this is the year that he can carry the Kings organization on his back into the playoffs. The western conference seems too crowded in order for the Kings to be a relevant playoff contender. The Kings will probably grow to dislike the Harrison Barnes contract sooner rather than later. They are similar to teams like Phoenix and Memphis in the sense that they are loaded with young talent and are moving towards the future, but likely can’t contend right away. Fox, Bagley, and Hield are all very talented ballplayers, but it’s hard to think of a situation where this team makes a playoff run.

Projected Record: 33-49

  1. Minnesota Timberwolves

Biggest Addition: Nobody significant.

Biggest Departure: D’Angelo Russell

Okay, D’Angelo Russell was never on the Timberwolves, but it was rumored in the offseason they had all but signed Russell until he ultimately signed with the Golden State Warriors. The Timberwolves are another very average team. They are not good enough to make the playoffs, or if they did, they would likely be a first-round exit, but they are also not bad enough to tank. The bigger question for this team is whether Karl Anthony Towns is a player that can lead a franchise towards a championship. As of now, it does not seem likely, and they did not add anybody that would push them in a different direction.

Projected Record: 36-46

  1. Oklahoma City Thunder

Biggest Addition: Chris Paul

Biggest Departure: Russell Westbrook

For now, Chris Paul remains on the Oklahoma City thunder. This is not something that I think can be said by the end of the year. I think Chris Paul will get traded sooner rather than later, most likely to the Miami heat. Overall, there isn’t really isn’t anything special about this team, they have some solid young players, but they’re moving towards a rebuild. What the thunder should probably do is trade a bunch of their assets for high draft picks. There is no reason got the thunder should hold on to their better players outside of young, emerging guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. There is no reason to hold on to Chris Paul, Steven Adams, and Danilo Gallinari if you can swap them for draft picks and build around Gilgeous-Alexander.

Projected Record: 37-45

  1. New Orleans Pelicans

Biggest Addition: Zion Williamson

Biggest Departure: Anthony Davis

The Pelicans got rid of a top-five talent who didn’t want to be in New Orleans by trading Anthony Davis and replace him with a potential generational talent in Zion Williamson. They also added all the Lakers’ depth this offseason and getting sharpshooting J.J. Redickall to surround a top pick. This is a team that if the basketball gods permit Zion to stay healthy, they are built to contend for a playoff spot now and in the future. Now, with the question of health, Zion is expected to miss the first 6-8 weeks of the season since having surgery to repair a torn meniscus. I love this kid so much that I hope this is just a minor setback to an overall incredible career. Zion seems to be the type of player that just makes the league better. He attacks the rim like he was shot out of a canon and became must-watch TV at Duke, he will do the same if a healthy NBA player. Because of his injury, I think it is enough to barely keep them out of the playoffs this year.

Projected Record: 40-42

  1. San Antonio Spurs

Biggest Addition: A healthy Dejounte Murray

Biggest Departure: Davis Bertans

Ah, my beloved Spurs. They had a good year last year all things considered. They lost their franchise player, Kawhi Leonard in a trade and a week before the season Dejounte Murray was lost for the season because human knees are garbage. They won 48 games, finished the season 15-5, and went toe to toe with a great Denver Nuggets team. There is no real reason to think they should regress a ton, but I do. I feel every team above them on this list has added a ton of talent, but the Spurs haven’t. Now maybe this will be a reverse jinx and they’ll rattle off 48 wins again and maybe win a playoff series, but then again maybe this is the end of an incredible run. I have learned in my years as a Spurs fan to never count them out, and I think they will continue to be competitive, but making the playoffs in this western conference will be difficult. This is not a sign that they need to rebuild, but retool for the future and a lottery pick will expedite that.

Projected Record: 43-39

  1. Portland Trail Blazers

Biggest Addition: Hassan Whiteside

Biggest Departure: Jusuf Nurkic for most of this season

I’m not sure that a team’s championship window has closed quite as quickly as the Blazers has since last season. This team is still talented, and if Nurkic never goes down, it is not so far-fetched to think they might win it all. They still have an elite backcourt of Lillard and McCollum, but it felt that Nurkic was the glue that held everything together and it is not clear if Whiteside can act as that role on this team. The outlook on this team can flip quickly if they can somehow swing a trade for former All-Star Kevin Love, but right now that seems unlikely. I’m going to sound like a broken record soon, but the teams around Portland in the west added too much talent all while they decided to run it back with the relatively same team.

Projected Record: 43-39

  1. Dallas Mavericks

Biggest Addition: Kristaps Porzingis

Biggest Departure: Dirk Nowitzki

The Dallas Mavericks are another team in the west that is built to contend for the future, but they also have a shot to play spoiler to some top tier teams now. Last year, they were one of the more surprising teams until the All-Star break. Post All-Star they posted a 7-18 record that squandered any chance of making a run for the playoffs. This year, they will have a full team with Porzingis actually playing. Even though he was on the team last year, he has yet to log a minute for the team. They also are entering the second season on Luka Doncic, who was incredible his rookie season and looks like he will only further develop his game with more experience. If healthy, the Mavericks could have two of the top five foreign players in the NBA. This team is young, has two potential All-Stars and one of the more underrated coaches in the league with Rick Carlisle.

Projected Record: 46-36

  1. Los Angeles Lakers

Biggest Addition: Anthony Davis

Biggest Departure: Their entire depth and future talent

I’ll admit it, I am probably underselling the Lakers a little bit here. They have some top tier talent on this roster with LeBron James and Anthony Davis. They have some solid surrounding pieces with Kyle Kuzma once he returns from injury, a resurgent Dwight Howard, Danny Green, and JaVale McGee. This team is not short of veteran experience, and they should fully expect to cruise into the playoffs. I think they will give James and Davis load management down the stretch and that will lead to the middle of the pack type of record. This team is improved from last year, and if they are healthy, they should be a legitimate threat for a title.

Projected Record: 46-36

  1. Golden State Warriors

Biggest Addition: D’Angelo Russell

Biggest Departure: Kevin Durant

Can we please pump the brake on the drastic downfall of the Warriors? Yes, they lost Kevin Durant, and they lost Klay Thompson for the year. Those are two All-Stars out of the lineup, but they added one of the most improved players over the last few years in D’Angelo Russell, and they still have one of the best shooters to ever play basketball in Steph Curry. Are they going to rifle off 55 plus wins like in previous years? Probably not. Are they going to flounder and not be relevant in the west? Also unlikely. This team still has a ton of talent up and down the roster and will continue to be a threat in the west. Curry will probably have a usage percent in the forties and I’m excited to see that. He will probably be a contender for the scoring title because of the lack of help and it will be one of the ma stories throughout the season.

Projected Record: 50-32

  1. Denver Nuggets

Biggest Addition: Michael Porter Jr. and a healthy back

Biggest Departure: Nobody significant

The Denver Nuggets were one of the biggest surprise teams in the NBA last season. They went from missing the playoffs by one game to the second seed in the west, and nobody saw it coming. They are led by one of the best big men and most fun players to watch in Nikola Jokic and have surrounded their franchise centerpiece with competent talent. They will also welcome back rookie Michael Porter Jr. which if he remains healthy will be a dark horse for Rookie of the Year and add some depth with their scoring options. This team is set up for success with a solid young core, great coaching, a tremendous front office, and now cap flexibility after the restructured contract of Paul Millsap, but there is a reason that they aren’t higher on this list. The inconsistent play of Jamal Murray is a concern for me. In years past there are some nights he looks like a perennial All-Star, but then there are nights where he should come off the bench. If he can develop a more consistent overall game, the Nuggets will be a top-two team in the west again.

Projected Record: 50-32

  1. Utah Jazz

Biggest Addition: Mike Conley

Biggest Departure: Nobody significant

The Jazz made all the right moves this offense. They were already a prominent threat to be a top-four seed in the west led by emerging star Donovan Mitchell, and they have quickly built around him. Mike Conley is maybe the best player to never make an All-Star game. Conley is widely considered one of the best teammates across the league and will bring a much-needed leader to this team. They also added shooter Bojan Bogdanovic, who will add more depth on the bench alongside Joe Ingles. They are still a very competent defensive unit and have only improved offensively. If there was ever a time for the Utah Jazz to win a title, this might be their moment.

Projected Record: 51-31

  1. Los Angeles Clippers

Biggest Addition: Kawhi Leonard

Biggest Departure: Danilo Gallinari

If the Clippers just traded for Paul George, this offseason would have been one of the more successful offseason in the league. They also went out and signed reigning Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard. This team will be scary good on the defensive end. You have two of the best two-way players and perimeter defenders in the last twenty years in Leonard and George, Patrick Beverley is a great defender, and Montrezl Harrell rounds out the defense. This team on paper should be considered the favorite to win it all and for good reason. The only concern that people should have with them is their lack of depth compared to other teams. I like some benches like Denver and Utah a little more, but the Clippers still feel a little more complete and should be title favorites over the next few years.

Projected Record: 53-29

  1. Houston Rockets

Biggest Addition: Russell Westbrook

Biggest Departure: Chris Paul

The Rockets were one of the harder teams to rank in the west. Having not seen what Harden and Westbrook in today’s NBA can do made this a hard team to assess, so I went with the best-case scenario. Both Harden and Westbrook are prolific scorers, but anytime to stars of this magnitude the question has to be asked, can they coexist? If they can coexist, they will be a serious threat to win the NBA title. They kept most of the supporting role players they had with Chris Paul on the team, so with two players in their prime, or right on the outside of their prime they are a very complete team and should be able to run with the best of them, while continuing their presence as one of the top 10 or 15 defensive teams in the NBA. This team could be something special, but they could also implode with two alphas on the same team, I think they will resemble the first choice.

Projected Record: 55-27

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