NBA Western Conference Preview

Yesterday I previewed the JV, now it’s time for the varsity. Yes, despite KG, Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis and Zach Randolph all moving east this summer, the balance of power is still in the west (and a has a particular southwest feel this year).

15.Minnesota Timberwolves
This is pretty much a lost season for this team. They’ve turned over more than half their roster, their most experience returning player is Mark Madsen, and they lack a proven go-to-guy at pretty much every position. Now, if each of the high-ceiling guys on their team (Al Jefferson, Gerald Green, Randy Foye, etc.) reach their potential, this will be a very good team in two or three years. This year, they’ll be lucky to win 25 games.

14. Portland Trail Blazers
Writing about this team makes me sad. I really wanted to see Greg Oden play this year. Oh well, think of ‘07-08 as a do-over year, Blazers fans. Next season is your real season.

13. Seattle SuperSonics
Kevin Durant sprained his ankle in a preseason game last week, which I like to think was a sign from the basketball gods that Sonics fans were getting a little too giddy about having Durant while Oden was hurt. Just a reminder Seattle, KD has a fragile build. He could go down real quick. (Oh, and also, Seattle fans, don’t forget, you won’t have this team within 3 years, so enjoy KD while you can.)

12. Los Angeles Clippers
Shawn Livingston: might never play again. Elton Brand: out for at least 4 months after Achilles’ surgery. Chris Kamen: still Chris Kamen, minus the goofy hair. This is pretty much what we came to expect from the Clippers in the 80s and 90s. Sorry.

11. Sacramento Kings
I could write something insightful about the development of Kevin Martin, or Mike Bibby’s injury, or the need to move Ron Artest, but I need to cover something else here. Reggie Theus is coaching in the NBA. His first “coaching job” was playing the role of Coach Bill Fuller in the NBC Saturday Morning sitcom “Hang Time”. This would be like the Magic hiring Martin Lawrence off the strength of his performance in “Rebound” or the Grizzlies hiring Nick Nolte because he was so convincing in “Blue Chips”. I don’t care if Reggie Theus was a good NBA player and a decent college coach. He coached a fictional high school team whose star player was a girl! He should not be coaching in the NBA!

10. Golden State Warriors
I loved them last year. You loved them last year. Hell, anyone who wasn’t a Mavericks fan fell in love with their playoff run. But let’s be real. They barely made the postseason last year (postseason=one word), then they traded a key offensive contributor (Jason Richardson) for a guy who probably won’t get much run this year (Brandan Wright). Could Marco Belinelli step up and take Richardson’s points? Sure, why not. Will it happen? I’m guessing no.

9. New Orleans Hornets
They’re back in New Orleans full-time this year, and they have to be praying they get a full season out of Peja Stojakovic, who barely played at all last year after signing a huge free-agent deal. I’d really like to see more from this team, if only to raise the profile of Chris Paul, the NBA’s most unknown superstar, but they just don’t have all the pieces.

8. Los Angeles Lakers
(I originally wrote something here that might have said some awful things about Kobe Bryant. I thought better of even posting that, so I replaced it with this lame paragraph. I feel the Lakers will finish 8th and lose in the first round. I hate Kobe Bryant. Please, just go away.)

7. Memphis Grizzlies
That’s right. Don’t forget, before the Pau Gasol injury and the tank-a-thon last year, they were a pretty consistent playoff team in the West (though they’ve never won a playoff game). Gasol is healthy this year, and they brought in his buddy Juan Carlos Navarro, who is the best international point guard prospect, maybe ever.

6.Utah Jazz
(Remember those awful things I deleted about Kobe Bryant before you could read them? Well, everything I could write about Carlos Boozer would be 10 times worse. So, um, I’ll just say, I think the Andrei Kirilenko situation will end up being a distraction at some point. Also, it’s worth noting that this team right here is the cutoff between East and West -- meaning I think the 8 best teams in the NBA are the Top 6 in the West and the Top 2 in the East).

5. Houston Rockets
I really think the Rockets are the 4th best team in the West, not 5th, but I’m doing this based on playoff seeding, and so the Rockets get screwed. If things shake out the way I see them, then Houston will have home-court in the first round (just like last year). Yao and T-Mac are a great one-two punch, and I think Stevie Franchise will be rejuvenated in Houston (plus they don’t need 35 minutes a game out of him).

4. Denver Nuggets
Speaking of great one-two punches, Denver should be getting a full season out of ‘Melo and A.I. Toss in the front court rotation of Marcus Camby, Nene and Kenyon Martin (if he’s finally healthy) and this is a pretty loaded team.

3. Dallas Mavericks
This team is due to take a step back, after back-to-back crushing playoff defeats. Also, part of me thinks that they’ll give less than their all in the regular season, not wanting to tire themselves out for the playoffs (this has become known as the “LeBron Approach” after what happened last year).

2. Phoenix Suns
I really wanted to put them in the first spot. But here’s the thing. They have exactly ZERO frontcourt depth. Trading Kurt Thomas was obviously a needed financial move for them, but it kills them up front. I read somewhere last week, some columnist suggested that at this point, they should trade Amare for Kobe and just run the entire game and try to score 150 points. I don’t know if that would work, but it’d be damn fun to watch.

1. San Antonio Spurs
I hate this team so much. But, damn, they’re good. That’s all I have to say. I’ll have more in my playoff preview later this week.