It is no secret that the Western Conference has been regarded in the highest standard over the past several years, and that is most certainly the case again this year. If you take away a miracle tip rebound from Chris Bosh to Ray Allen for an ever-so-fitting clutch 3-pointer, the West has reigned supreme without much debate. The parity in the Western Conference is unparalleled, as any team that qualifies for the playoffs has a chance to bring home the Larry O’Brien trophy at the season’s culmination. After the entire Western Conference witnessed one of the most impressive NBA Finals showings in recent history, the importance of a stellar offseason was the most important agenda item for any team hoping to claim the 2015 NBA Championship. Between Donald Sterling fighting for his life to keep the Clippers and the Kevin Love saga, the Western Conference offseason entertainment was at its prime.
Now that the dust has settled, let’s take a look at the preseason outlook of the Western Conference contenders:
San Antonio Spurs: You would have thought Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich would have rode off into the sunset after their stellar showing in the 2014 NBA Championship, where the Spurs averaged 53% shooting from the field and allowed just under 92 points per game. But just like that, the Spurs re-signed Patty Mills and Boris Diaw while convincing Tim Duncan to return for a shot at the repeat. With the same dominating squad returning in its entirety, the San Antonio Spurs deserve the top contender mark in the Western Conference until proven otherwise.
Oklahoma City Thunder- The Oklahoma City Thunder were quiet this offseason, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. The only shakeups in the roster resulted from the departures of Thabo Sefolosha and Caron Butler in free agency, which they covered up with the signing of Anthony Morrow. Whenever you have a three-headed monster like Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka you will always have a chance to take home the crown. My problem with the Thunder is their inability to run productive offensive sets down the stretch of close games. Durant and Westbrook led the playoffs last year in points and assists respectively, and still fell short of reaching the NBA Finals. If the Thunder can find a way to utilize their talent more efficiently down the stretch of games, there is nobody that can stop them.
L.A. Clippers- The Clippers took stage, front and center, in the NBA Offseason Soap Opera. Between Donald Sterling fighting for continued ownership, Steve Ballmer throwing down $2 billion dollars for an NBA franchise, and Doc Rivers getting inked to a 5-year extension, the Clippers maintained the spotlight for the majority of the summer. The acquisition of Spencer Hawes will give the Clippers a center that they can trust to play with a lead late in the fourth quarter. DeAndre Jordan shot 42.8% from the free throw line last year, making him a huge target late in games, which essentially took one of their most valuable players off the court. Having the ability to sub in Hawes, a 78.2% free throw shooter last year, into the game will help them tremendously. Another year of chemistry building with Griffin, Paul, and Rivers could be just what this team needs to reach the next level everyone in Clipperland has been waiting for.
Dallas Mavericks- Once again the Dallas Mavericks took a swing at a top-tier free agent and came up empty-handed. However, this time around it feels much more like a victory as they were able to steal away Chandler Parsons from their in-state rival while managing to secure an imposing defensive stopper in the post that they have been yearning for ever since their 2011 Championship. The Mavericks traded away Jose Calderon in a deal that netted them Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton, giving them the elusive post presence they were looking for. Meanwhile, the Mavs were able to sign Dirk to a 3-year deal for $25 million, allowing them to offer Chandler Parsons an amount the Houston Rockets just could not match. Coming off an impressive postseason performance, the Mavericks have high hopes for the 2014-2015 season.
Golden State Warriors- Coming off a loss to the L.A. Clippers in the playoffs, Warrior management decided to cut ties with Mark Jackson despite one of the most compelling and competitive series in the 2014 NBA Playoffs. Mark Jackson made his players believe they could win any game and held them accountable for their mistakes. Despite the rifts with management, Mark Jackson will be missed this season for the Golden State Warriors. On a positive note, Klay Thompson was not dealt, keeping the “splash bothers” together in full force. Having that lethal combination on the court at the same time gives the Warriors the ability to spread the defense and open up lanes for other players on offense. Not to mention, with the snap of a finger, they can make up a 10-point deficit. I can’t help but think they have the ability to contend this year in the stacked Western Conference despite their ability to lure any marquee free agents to Oakland.
Houston Rockets- The Houston Rockets were involved in a lot of talks this offseason, but don’t have anything to show for it. Losing out on Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh illuminated the mistake of passing up a team option on Chandler Parsons for $965,000 next season. While they were able to land Trevor Ariza for $8 million dollars a year, they end up paying a lesser player eight times the amount they could be paying Chandler Parsons. Anyway you spin it; the offseason was a huge bust for the Houston Rockets. The only hope they have this season is if the year of chemistry built between Dwight Howard and James Harden pays off exponentially.
Portland Trailblazers- Portland has a solid core of guys with Batum, Lillard, and Aldridge, but the supporting cast leaves much to be desired. Landing Chris Kaman gives them some depth in the frontcourt to go with Robin Lopez, but their lack of depth elsewhere is quite a hindrance. With Aldridge playing out his final year of his contract, the future in Portland is foggy. The Trailblazers have an admirable organization and run an incredible program, which will allow them to contend in the West. For them to take the next step, some depth is much-needed.
Memphis Grizzlies- They stayed very quiet this offseason, but that has become their mantra. They bring a special type of offensive and defensive tenacity to the court, which makes them a very dangerous team. The combination of bruising strength and pesky persistence from Tony Allen, Mike Conley, Marc Gasol, and Zach Randolph has led the Grizzlies to four straight playoff appearances. The addition of Vince Carter gives them someone who can create their own shot, something the Grizzlies have lacked since the departure of Rudy Gay. Though the Grizzlies stand tall, their lack of depth will be their Achilles heal come playoff time.
Phoenix Suns- Jeff Hornacek did an incredible job with his youthful Suns last year, and this year I expect to be no different. Acquiring ACC Player of the Year T.J. Warren, ACC All-Freshman teamer Tyler Ennis, and Isaiah Thomas gives them some more firepower to try to take on the daunting challenges the Western Conference brings. Last year proved to be just a little too much for the Suns, but with a year of competitive experience under their belts, they are looking for a playoff berth this year. I do expect the Suns to narrowly miss the playoffs again this year, but I would not be shocked if they snuck in as the 8th seed.
L.A. Lakers- I would be amiss if I did not mention the Lakers in a Western Conference preview article. With that being said, their offseason was flat-out pathetic. For years they have viewed Pau Gasol as a weak link in their armor, so what do they decide to do? Sign the lesser version of Pau Gasol, Carlos Boozer. And if that isn’t enough, they re-signed virtually all of the players that led them to such a lousy season last year. At least Kobe will be back.
The key to a stellar fantasy season lies in understanding the true values of each team and what makes them successful. As the season continues to draw closer, we will dive deeper into the finer details of bringing home a fantasy championship. Welcome back to basketball season!
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This week Jeff Nelson will be joining us for week one of the regular season. We will be discussing match ups and players on both offense & defense to either avoid or to play. Jeff is a High School defensive backs coach in the Lehigh Valley of PA. You can call in at 646.915.8596, listen live online, bluetooth in your car, or listen to the podcast. You can download the podcast on I-Tunes or Google Play stores.