With Kevin Durant’s decision to leave for Golden State, and many other free agent decisions having already been made, it seems like a good time to decipher the West.
(We did this exercise last July in the East, and it can be a dicey endeavor – the Bucks and Bulls looked great on paper, but both were injured-riddled and missed the postseason.)
Here’s a way-too-early read on the West:
1. Warriors. Set the over/under for wins at 74? Not even joking. Curry, Klay, Draymond and Kevin Durant is the best collection of talent on a team since the 1992 Dream Team. Four of the 15 best players in the NBA. If everyone is healthy, I don’t see how this isn’t a 70-win team.
2. Spurs. Duncan is back. Ginobili is back. They won’t really matter, as neither was a factor in the series against the Thunder. Adding Pau Gasol might help, but as we saw with David West, it’s not a given. They didn’t get better on the perimeter in the short term, though 1st round pick Dejounte Murray will be a player in a few years.
3. Blazers. As I wrote after they were finished fighting Golden State in the 2nd round, it feels like Portland has a Warriors-lite roster. Top 4 backcourt in the NBA, added versatile Evan Turner (though because he doesn’t shoot 3-pointers well, I’m not sure how valuable he’ll be late in games). If they can keep Crabbe and Harkless, and Vonleh becomes the player many think he can be, 55 wins is entirely possible.
4. Clippers. Maybe I’m just down on them because of the injuries and the playoff collapses. As usual: Good team. Experienced. Three legit stars. Will win 50 games. But aging, the bench is thin, and unless they get the #3 seed, forget about the Western Conference finals.
5. Thunder. Oladpio-for-Ibaka is anyone’s guess. Yes, they’re better on the perimeter. But they lost two starters, including the 3rd best player in the NBA. Oladipo has never been to the playoffs, and shot 34 percent on 3’s in the regular season. Ibaka, on many fewer attempts, did make 44 percent from deep in the playoffs. Two years ago, Durant was hurt. Played 27 games. The Thunder missed the playoffs.
6. Grizzlies. Chandler Parsons is the shooter they’ve never had with this core. I’m not sure what Gasol (31) and Randolph (34) have left in the tank. Mike Conley is the highest paid player in the league, so the pressure will be on have his best season and have Memphis contend in the West.
7. Timberwolves. A year or two away. But on the rise, for sure. Best under 25 roster in the NBA. Great coach. Towns, Wiggins Dunn and LaVine. Could have used the trade for Jimmy Butler, because they need a veteran – or at least someone slightly older – to be a leader, but hey, they still have 40-year old KG!
8. Jazz. Exum will be back, but he’ll probably back up George Hill. Love Hayward, Lyles is on the rise, Gobert will probably start at center, and Favors is only 24-years old. If the Wolves weren’t so young and enticing, people would be talking about the Jazz a little more.