NBA Western Conference Preview


Analyzing the other half of the NBA, Ryan Stolz posits his predictions for the 13-14 season.

The Eastern Conference has dominated the West, winning the past two NBA titles. Nevertheless, the Western Conference has made some big off-season moves looking to put them back on top. With the season just around the corner, I make my Western Conference picks below:


15. Phoenix Suns  (23-59)

The Suns have not recorded a winning season in three years and the future does not look much brighter. Entering complete rebuilding mode a year ago, the Suns begin this season with a roster full of non-marquee players and not one player over the age of 30. Recently hired coach Jeff Hornacek inherits a team destined to finish last, and there isn’t much he can do about it.

14. Sacramento Kings (25-57)

A team that has been in turmoil for the past three years has surprisingly done nothing to help the franchise get better this past off-season. The ownership situation has still not been resolved, with the team still considering a move to Seattle. The Kings look like the one sports franchise in which it has become obvious that the ownership cares so much about income, and so little about winning. A year ago, the Kings traded a rising star, Thomas Robinson, for minimal return — a move looked at as one to dump his contract. This year should be nothing different for the Kings as the team has already taken a step back before the season begins.

13. Dallas Mavericks (30-52)

The Mavericks are really feeling the effects of letting players go in hopes of luring in big name free agents. Three years ago, after winning the NBA title, Dallas let go many key players (including star center, Tyson Chandler) in hopes to lure in big name free agents. This strategy has gone completely to bust and Dallas has not captured a single big name free agent. Deron Williams stayed with Brooklyn, Dwight Howard went to Houston, and Andre Iquadola went to Golden State, leaving Dallas with nothing but underachieving role players. Dallas did sign O.J. Mayo in the off-season and with Dirk Nowzitzki still around, Dallas might surprise viewers this year. Nonetheless, don’t expect anything big from big D this year.
12. Los Angeles Lakers (33-49)

The Lakers are the West’s biggest question mark heading into the season. With the constant drama of Dwight Howard finally out of LA, it remains to be seen if this team can put winning ahead of the spotlight. It also remains unknown when Kobe Bryant will be ready for action. Coming off an ACL tear, it is not clear when Bryant will be medically cleared to play. But, it would surprise nobody if he came back much quicker than expected. If Bryant comes back healthy, and the entire team performs to their full capability, this team could easily slip into one of the last playoff spots.

11. Portland Trailblazers (35-47)

The 6th youngest team in the NBA, the Portland Trailblazers have done very little to improve their young squad this past offseason. Portland will enter the 2013-14 season with an identical starting lineup to the previous year. The only thing that could have possibly aided this Trailblazer roster is time itself. Portland has one of the best young point guards in the league in Damian Liliard. Liliard had a marvelous rookie season, and the time he has spent in the NBA has made him a more mature and more seasoned player. The Trailblazers power forward, Lamarcus Aldridge, is one of the rising stars in the game and is entering the prime of his career. Two years from now, look for the Trailblazers to be in the thick of things for the Western Conference — just not this year.

10. Utah Jazz (38-43)

The Utah Jazz were a contender for the 8th and final playoff spot last year, and this year viewers can expect much of the same. The Jazz were involved in a blockbuster trade over the summer, but the components the Jazz received were just huge contracts to help out other teams. The Jazz looked as if they found their future Point Guard through the draft in Trey Burke. But Burke was injured in preseason play and will now miss the first 2-3 months of the season.  This Jazz team, like Portland, needs time to mature and grow as a unit.

9. Minnesota Timberwolves (41-41)

The Minnesota Timberwolves are a team that could have easily have been in the playoffs last year if it weren’t for one problem: injuries. Every year, it seems as if there are teams which could go deep if it weren’t for injuries, and that was the Timberwolves last season. Their biggest injury was to Power Forward Kevin Love. Love has the potential to be a top 10 player in the NBA if he can stay healthy.  Look for Minnesota to push for the final playoff spot, depending on the health of the roster.

8. New Orleans Pelicans (44-38)

Formerly the Hornets, the Pelicans enter this season with a roster that can contend with most teams out there. After making a trade on draft night to acquire Jrue Holiday, their point guard of the future, New Orleans has all-star caliber player at four out of five positions. The key for this Pelicans team to make the playoffs is seeing how well they gel together. As was evident with the Lakers last year, it takes more than just star players to produce a playoff team: it takes chemistry. If the Pelicans have it, then they can certainly make a run at the playoffs.

7. Memphis Grizzlies (47-35)

The Grizzlies surprised many people last year by making a deep run into the playoffs, beating Oklahoma City, but then losing in the Conference Finals. Yet this Grizzlies team played their entire first half of the season with all-star Rudy Gay. Gay was traded at the half way point and Memphis had to play their postseason without him, hurting them in the long run. I think the absence of Gay from the Grizzlies for a full season will catch up with the Grizzlies and hurt their record.

6. Denver Nuggets (48-34)

This is a Nuggets team that did themselves no favors this offseason. Denver made no improvements in the NBA draft, and, most importantly, lost their all-star Shooting Guard Andre Iguodala to their Western Conference rival, Golden State. Denver still has the pieces they received from the Carmelo Anthony trade years back, and still has the components to contend. They just are not as big of a threat as they were a year ago.

5. Houston Rockets (50-32)

The Houston Rockets had the biggest offseason in the NBA, signing the best free agent out there — center, Dwight Howard. Howard made his decision to leave LA and join Houston because he figured this was his best chance to win a title. Howard in Houston now has many believing the Rockets have a big-3 to contend with the best of them in Jeremy Lin, James Harden, and Howard. The biggest obstacle will be the Rockets adjusting to Howard’s style of play, and I think this will hold them back to begin the season.

4. Golden State Warriors (54-28)

The Warriors, like the Rockets, also had a phenomenal offseason by adding the best guard in free agency, Andre Iguodala. The Warriors made some noise last post season yet fell short due to inexperience. With an experienced roster coming into the season Golden State has what it takes to make it to the Conference Finals

3. San Antonio Spurs (55-27)

The Spurs are the one team in the NBA that everybody knows as long as their core pieces are together, they will be threats. With three superstars all above the age of 30, and two of them above the age of 35 many people would expect the Spurs to regress. But, somehow this team coached by one of the best finds a way to get it done year after year. But, the high paced offenses of top teams will hurt the Spurs in the postseason and lead to their demise.

2. Los Angeles Clippers (58-24)

The Clippers made very few changes when it came to their roster over the offseason. The biggest change for this Clippers team came with the guy calling the shots. The Clippers pulled off a huge trade, swapping for hall of fame coach, Doc Rivers. Rivers led the Celtics to two NBA finals appearances and has the pieces in Los Angeles to get this team back on top.

1. Oklahoma City Thunder (60-22)

No surprises here as the Thunder are above and beyond the rest of the Western Conference. The Thunder have the best duo of any team in the West, and they show no signs of regress as they head into this season. The only question mark is when Star Point Guard, Russell Westbrook will heal from a torn ACL, but even if it takes him a while the Thunder still have the best player in the entire Western Conference, Kevin Durant, to shoulder the load.