|The Spurs are the defending champions. But will the be the|
best in the West this coming season?
Later this month, the NBA season will be underway. So let's look at how I ... the Sportz Assassin ... see the Western Conference unfolding.
1-OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
Good: Kevin Durant is coming off an MVP season. OKC is coming off a season where Russell Westbrook missed a lot of time due to injury and Serge Ibaka missed key games in the postseason. Anthony Morrow was added to help stretch defenses.
Bad: Thabo Sefalosha is gone and he was their premiere perimeter defender. As good was the Thunder have been, the core have been to just one Finals. With KD's free agency looming, will there be some weirdness among the team?
2-SAN ANTONIO SPURS
Good: They are defending champs who have been to the Finals two straight years. They know what they are doing.
Bad: They are all a year older and that motivation of letting a title slip away from them isn't there anymore.
3-LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
Good: The Donald Sterling mess has been resolved so not only is that storyline not hanging over their head, but they went from a cheap owner to one that wants to make good on his hefty investment.
Bad: They lost some depth and they haven't really added that "it" role guy to help bring it all together.
Good: The Mavs are a talented bunch that added Chandler Parsons and Raymond Felton. There is a lot of depth with guys like Devin Harris, Jameer Nelson, Al-Farouq Aminu and Brandan Wright coming off the bench.
Bad: But is Felton right to lead this offense? And is this team too old? It is starting Dirk Nowitzki and Tyson Chandler in the power spots.
5-PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS
Good: The Blazers finally took that step as a contender last season. They may not be in the league of the Thunder, Spurs and Clippers just yet, but they aren't that far off. LaMarcus Aldridge became a star last season and Damian Lillard has pulled into the national spotlight. They've added depth with Steve Blake, Chris Kaman via free agency and C.J. McCollum coming off injury.
Bad: Like I said, is this team talented enough to dethrone the teams above them?
Good: The Grizz really improved as the season went along and as they got healthier. They also added Vince Carter who, in the late part of his career, has become a great role guy and leader.
Bad: How much does Vince have left? They hope something because Tayshaun Prince didn't give them much a year ago. Do the Grizz have that punch to get past the top three or four teams in this conference?
Good: Well, Dwight Howard and James Harden are back in the fold. They added Trevor Ariza and James Terry
Bad: This team had a rough offseason. Not only did they swing and miss on Chris Bosh, the dealt Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik away to make the Bosh deal work and they let the Mavs out-maneuver them for Chandler Parsons. They did get Ariza, but is he the right fit?
8-GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
Good: Despite all the rumors, the Warriors return their core that has made them a consistent playoff team. They are also pretty healthy -- right now.
Bad: They dumped Mark Jackson for head coaching rookie Steve Kerr to lead them. Nothing against Kerr, but is he the man to advance this franchise past the elite in the West? Especially when they did nothing to really upgrade the roster.
9-NEW ORLEANS PELICANS
Good: Anthony Davis is establishing himself as one of the premiere big men in the league. With Omer Asik now in N'Awlins, that frontline is stout defensively which should help Davis be able to perform better on offense.
Bad: The perimeter is still iffy. Guys like Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans and Eric Gordon have their moments but all can come undone (or in Holiday's case, coming off injury). The bench is filled with guys like Austin Rivers, Russ Smith and The Jimmer so you really don't know what you're gonna get.
Good: This team came out of nowhere to challenge for a playoff spot last year. There is a lot of young talent and some good coaching going on in Arizona. If guys like Alex Len, T.J. Warren, Archie Goodwin and Tyler Ennis can play above their experience, they could sneak into the postseason.
Bad: The Eric Bledsoe situation needs to get resolved and there isn't much star power on this team outside of him. There is a ton of youth on this team that could cost them a few games that keep them out of the playoffs.
Good: Ty Lawson and Kenneth Faried are budding stars with Faried's time on Team USA sure to help him even more. Aaron Afflalo is back and better than he was when he left Denver a couple of years ago.
Bad: This is essentially the exact same team they had last season, plus Afflalo.
12-LOS ANGELES LAKERS
Good: Kobe Bryant is back and with a chip on his shoulder. They have a coach that the players and fans have rallied around in Byron Scott. They also have their first exciting rookie since Andrew Bynum in Julius Randle.
Bad: This is a Frankenstein team made up of guys they could sign in the very short term. And are Carlos Boozer, Jeremy Lin and Ed Davis enough to make any playoff run? Plus this team didn't win much last season yet Jordan Hill, Nick Young and Wesley Johnson were resigned for another try.
Good: DeMarcus Cousins got some valuable experience with Team USA. Rudy Gay is still pretty good and there are some nice young pieces to develop.
Bad: But will those young pieces develop? They let Isiah Thomas bolt in favor of Darren Collison which was odd. They really need Ben McLemore to break out this season.
Good: Andrew Wiggins is the future of the franchise and a year ago he was treated as the next coming of LeBron James. Despite losing Kevin Love, the cupboard isn't bare right now. Ricky Rubio, Wiggins, Nikola Pekovic and Anthony Bennett form a nice young group.
Bad: Love is gone and he is a bona-fide star. While there are a lot of young pieces, they are in different spots in their career and all have a lot to prove. Is Bennett a bust? Is Rubio anything more than a neat passer? What is Wiggins' ceiling?
Good: Gordon Hayward is back. And as you usually hear from me at the bottom of these rankings, they have some young talent. I like Dante Exum and Rodney Hood and they could get some big minutes this season.
Bad: They paid a lot to bring Hayward back to Salt Lake City. He'll be the star on a team that is just so young. Enes Kanter needs to really step it up.