NBA IS BACK TONIGHT! Get excited and make sure you know who ended up where with Part 2 of our NBA Season Previews.
We finish up with the much-vaunted Western Conference. This year may include a couple upstarts, but you’ll have to read on to find out who we think makes the leap. If you missed Part 1 (Eastern Conference) you can check it out here.
Los Angeles Clippers
2015/2016 Record: 53-29, Lost in first round to Portland
Projected Starters: PG Chris Paul, SG JJ Reddick, SF Paul Pierce, PF Blake Griffin, C Deandre Jordan
Offseason Changes: New year, same story for the Clippers. After their season was ruined by injuries they brought the same top eight players back only adding veteran forward Marreese Speights to their bench. There are always rumors surrounding this team that they hate each other, that the rest of the league hates them and whispers that Doc Rivers is the least liked coach around the league. Despite all that they are a really good team when healthy and have given the Warriors some great games over the last few seasons.
Season Outlook: The Clippers could sleepwalk through the season and will still end up with one of the top three seeds in the Western conference. It’s hard to say a team that could win 60 games doesn’t have a chance at winning the title, but that is sort of the case here. Anything can happen in the playoffs obviously and if the Warriors were to suffer a major injury that could change things, but that is really their best chance at reaching the finals.
Hot Take Prediction: The Clippers finally reach the Western Conference Finals! After the nightmare of the last two seasons of playoff injuries and completely blowing the series against Houston two years ago the Clippers finally get the monkey off their backs. And here’s another prediction for you, they actually give the Warriors a run for their money taking the Western Finals to a hard fought six games. After a few years of shooting themselves in the foot during the playoffs and now the Warriors apparent dynasty this Clippers team could go down as one of the better teams in recent memory to never reach the finals. – Randy Haines
Golden State Warriors
2015/2016 Record: 73-9, Lost to the Cavaliers in the Finals 😦
Projected Starters: PG Steph Curry, SG Klay Thompson, SF Kevin Durant, PF Draymond Green, C Zaza Pachulia
Offseason Changes: Have you been living under a rock for the last six months? Have you tuned into ESPN at least one time since July? Do you go outside and speak with other human beings? If the answer really is no, go read this and come back. Done? Okay, so KEVIN FREAKING DURANT IS PLAYING FOR THE WARRIORS THIS SEASON. That all REALLY HAPPENED. Incredible. Outside of KD coming to the Bay, the Warriors added Pachulia, David West, JaVale McGee, Damian Jones, and Patrick McCaw. That contingent will have to replace Andrew Bogut, Harrison Barnes, Festus Ezeli, Leandro Barbosa, and Marreese Speights, all of whom left this offseason.
Season Outlook: Great. The Warriors season outlook is pretty damn great. They already look like they’re having fun in the preseason, Kevin Durant seems to have slid in with few problems, and the biggest single obstacle to another record-breaking season will be themselves. Draymond Green will be the biggest litmus test, since the lead up to tip off tonight has been filled with various rumors about just how close the team is to telling him to chill out. It’s well known Green and Head Coach Steve Kerr got into it last season, but many chalked it up to the pressures of trying to break the single season win record. Now, out from under that particular pressure, it remains to be seen whether Green can play competitively without risking the team chemistry and success. There is also criticism and doubt about chemistry in crunch time of close games. Who shoots? KD? Klay? Steph? Ever the optimist, I think most teams would sell their souls to have that same problem.
Hot Take Prediction: The Warriors run out to a lead in the West, cruising behind a rejuvenated Curry and a free-styling Durant. They don’t push to break any records, instead safely resting guys during back-to-backs. They win the Western Conference regular season anyway and take home the championship without playing more than five games in a series. – Jordan Curet
2015/2016 Record: 33-49, Missed playoffs
Projected Starters: PG Darren Collison, SG Arron Afflalo, SF Rudy Gay, PF Willie Cauley-Stein, C Demarcus Cousins
Offseason Changes: Poor Boogie. Nothing this team does really makes any sense at all and they are now on what seems like their 27th head coach since the Kings drafted Cousins. They added Arron Afflalo who is a nice player, but doesn’t really move the needle in terms of expected wins for this team. They made the correct decision in letting go of Rajon Rondo who hasn’t played defense since Obama’s first term in office, but also took two big men in the draft when they already have two other competent big men on the roster outside of Cousins. Boogie was not pleased by this.
Season Outlook: The Kings will be moving into their new arena this season which is fun and will keep the fans excited until about Christmas time. Outside of that there is really nothing to look forward to unless you like watching Cousins throw fits on a nightly basis. Sacramento has also done nothing substantial with their draft picks as of late and really have nothing to look forward to especially in the backcourt. Unless Ben Mclemore can finally reach his potential (Which to this point in his career doesn’t seem likely) there really is nothing outside of Cousins about this team to be excited about for the future. Poor Boogie.
Hot Take Prediction: Once every two weeks during the season you will hear a new juicy trade rumor about Boogie Cousins, but when it’s all said and done he will stay in Sacramento much to the dismay of everyone who loves basketball. The Kings will get their 35 or so wins this season and Vlade Divac will make at least one head scratching trade before it’s all said and done. Poor Boogie. – RH
2015/2016 Record: 23-59, Missed the Playoffs
Projected Starters: PG Eric Bledsoe, SG Devin Booker, SF T.J. Warren, PF Jared Dudley, C Tyson Chandler
Offseason Changes: The Suns wisely drafted Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss in the first round of the draft, as well as Tyler Ulis. All three players made the final roster and will be part of the youth movement in Phoenix. However, they also need time to develop, which means that Leandro Barbosa and Dudley, both acquired in the offseason, should see some heavy minutes early on.
Season Outlook: This will be an interesting season for the Suns as they lean on their young players. Booker and Warren will look to put their name on the team this season and if Chriss and Bender can get going, the Suns will certainly be poised for success for several years to come. Right now, though, they play in the West where every team is a buzzsaw and to expect their win total to rise dramatically would be asking too much. If everything broke right, this team could conceivably compete for the last playoff spot but more likely will find themselves on the outside looking in by late November. That’s okay though, it will give time for the young guys to see meaningful minutes early and often, with an eye towards the 2017 season.
Hot Take Prediction: The Suns will be involved in an incredible trade before the deadline, either shipping several players out because they need to bottom out or because they are sniffing the playoffs and want to make a push for the last spot. Devin Booker has an outstanding season and Warren brings back the old school mid-range game. – JC
Los Angeles Lakers
2015/2016 Record: 17-65, Missed Playoffs
Projected Starters: PG D’Angelo Russell, G Jordan Clarkson, SF Luol Deng, PF Julius Randle, C Timofey Mozgov
Offseason Changes: You probably missed it, but did you know Kobe Bryant retired? Crazy. Now that the Black Mamba has slithered off into the sunset, the Lakers can start their full rebuild. They had a great jump start to that by winning the 2nd pick in the NBA Draft and drafting Duke freshman superstar Brandon Ingram. Ingram projects to be a future all star and has Kevin Durant-like length and shooting skills. The Lakers also acquired veterans Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov. Deng was good pickup to mentor Ingram and the rest of the young Lakers, while Mozgov might have been the biggest overpay of the offseason. The biggest move of the offseason might have been their coaching change. Out goes 1980’s three point hating Byron Scott and in comes young, cool Luke Walton. The LA club scene loves this move.
Season Outlook: Look, the Lakers will be pretty bad again this year. The team should be slightly better than last season, especially without Kobe shooting 25 times a game, and it will be fun to watch the young studs like Ingram, snapchat aficionado Russell, and Randle. The growing pains will be strong though, so don’t expect Staples Center to be rumbling come April, at least for the Purple and Gold. The best case scenario for this team is to avoid injuries, lose a ton of games, and get one more young stud next offseason before they make a young Thunder or Wolves like run in 2018. The worst case scenario is a knee jerk trade to bring in more overrated veterans and getting rid of their young guys too soon.
Hot Take Prediction: The Lakers win only 20 games this season, but the young players show flashes of greatness. Brandon Ingram wins Rookie of the Year and looks like a future perennial All Star. D’Angelo Russell takes his game to the next level and avoids any social media fallout. Nick Young makes ups with both D’Angelo AND Iggy by midseason, leading to a celebrity wedding next offseason, with Russell serving as his best man. A Hollywood ending. – Nick Bair
San Antonio Spurs
2015/2016 Record: 67-15, Lost to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference Semifinals
Projected Starters: PG Tony Parker, SG Danny Green, SF Kawhi Leonard, PF LaMarcus Aldridge, C Pau Gasol
Offseason Changes: Goodbye Timmy (sobs uncontrollably). Hello Pau (still sobbing, but Pau is cool). Goodbye Boris (cries into espresso). What an emotional offseason for Spurs’ fans. For the first time in 20 years, Tim Duncan won’t be walking onto the court. While his minutes and play were down last year, he was still the heart and soul of the team. You just don’t replace the best power forward of all time very easily. Getting a veteran like Pau Gasol to fill his shoes was a great pickup. He will seamlessly fit into the Spurs international style of play and keep the offense flowing. Otherwise, most of the core of a 67 win team is back again this year as they try to keep up with Golden State.
Season Outlook: As usual, the Spurs are one of the favorites to win the Western Conference and the Finals this year. While the Warriors made a super team in the offseason by adding Kevin Durant, the Spurs didn’t make big changes to their team except for subbing in Gasol for Duncan. The biggest win for the Spurs in the offseason might have been that Durant left the Thunder, taking away one of their peskiest rivals in the West. Now it looks like a two team race between San Antonio and Golden State, with both teams focusing more on being healthy and ready for the playoffs, than on the regular season. For the Spurs, can they get more out of their point guard play this year? Parker is on the downside of his career and looked overwhelmed by Russell Westbrook in the playoffs. Also, Danny Green needs to get his stroke back and Aldridge needs to take his role to the next level now that Duncan is gone. Kawhi will keep doing Kawhi things, and hopefully we see him get even better (if that is possible). Barring injury, the Spurs will go deep into the playoffs and we’ll see if they can crack the code on the new look Warriors.
Hot Take Prediction: The Spurs win 74 games, beat the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals, and then beat LeBron and the Cavs in the Finals. Coach Pop and Manu retire after the year, and they join Timmy in the Caribbean, sipping wine and playing Dungeons & Dragons. Kawhi, of course, wins MVP. Go Spurs Go! – NB
New Orleans Pelicans
2015/2016 Record: 30-52, Missed playoffs
Projected Starters: PG Jrue Holiday, SG Tyreke Evans, SF Dante Cunningham, PF Omer Asik, C Anthony Davis
Offseason Changes: This past offseason saw the Pelicans do a whole lot of nothing to put more talent around their franchise player Anthony Davis. They drafted sharpshooter Buddy Hield in the first round and I like Hield’s potential, but what can you really expect from him right away? Anthony Davis is on the verge of becoming the Andrew Luck of the NBA. A transcendent talent whose front office appears to have no clue what they are doing and have failed to put any real talent around him.
Season Outlook: The season hasn’t even started yet and the two best players after Davis are already unavailable. Tyreke Evans will miss at least the first month of the season recovering from knee surgery and point guard Jrue Holiday is out indefinitely to be with his wife (Our thoughts go out to the Holiday family). If the Pelicans are to have any chance of returning to the playoffs they will need Davis to not only stay healthy, but to play at an MVP level.
Hot Take Prediction: The Pelicans will be a doormat in the Western Conference this season and finish with the second worst record in the conference. As great as Anthony Davis is he has had major issues staying healthy as he has played no more than 68 games in the last three seasons. If that trend continues this New Orleans team has no real shot at making the playoffs and you could argue they are the worst team in the league when Davis is out. Poor Brow. – RH
2015/2016 Record: 41-41, Lost to the Warriors in the First Round
Projected Starters: PG Patrick Beverley (when healthy), SG James Harden, F Trevor Ariza, F Ryan Anderson, C Clint Capela.
Offseason Changes: The Rockets made several moves this offseason, most notably not re-signing Dwight Howard. In addition, Josh Smith, Jason Terry, and Terrence Jones all left in free agency. To fill out the roster, Houston signed Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon, and Nene Hilario. The biggest change, outside of Howard, is the swap at Head Coach, where Mike D’Antoni will bring his patented offense to blend with James Harden’s talents.
Season Outlook: This might be a fun team to watch this season, as D’Antoni’s offense ought to go perfectly with Harden’s strengths. If the offense moves fast, most of the team can shoot from anywhere and the Rockets could break the record for threes attempted. Another thing to keep an eye on is the bench, where the team should be deeper than the past couple of years. K.J McDaniels, Nene, Sam Dekker, Montrezl Harrell, and others offer up scoring and athleticism. It will be interesting to see how deep D’Antoni goes regularly as the year goes on. The biggest issue remains the defense, where Harden is notoriously bad. He often was shielded by the tenacious Beverley, but he will begin the season injured and is expected to be out a minimum of three weeks. That means Harden, and the rest of the team, will have to stay motivated on that end of the court.
Hot Take Prediction: I think the Rockets can make a push for the fourth playoff spot if they can be average on the defensive end. They ought to be a tough out for any team and I can see them advancing to the Western Conference Semifinals, but losing to either the Clippers or Warriors. At least they signed Harden to a long term deal! – JC
2015/2016 Record: 42-40, Lost in first round to San Antonio
Projected Starters: PG Mike Conley, SG Tony Allen, SF Chandler Parsons, PF JaMychal Green, C Marc Gasol
Offseason Changes: There was a brief period of time this offseason where it looked as if both Mike Conley and Marc Gasol could be on the way out in Memphis. They both stayed put however and now have a new friend in free agent swingman Chandler Parsons. Parsons is a welcome addition to a team that has always struggled to maintain consistent offense. It was also recently announced that veteran big man Zach Randolph would come off the bench this season in an attempt to help out a punchless bench unit.
Season Outlook: Health is a common theme around the league but it really is the main factor for this Memphis team. Gasol played in just 52 games last season and Parsons has missed more than 15 games each of the last two seasons. If those two players can stay relatively healthy this is a team that should make the playoffs and have a different dynamic on offense with the addition of Parsons. If the injury bug bites Memphis this season they could be on the outside looking in as young teams like Utah and Minnesota looked poised to make a jump in the conference standings.
Hot Take Prediction: This could end up looking foolish quickly, but I do not have the Grizzlies as a playoff team this season. Outside of Conley there are a lot of health questions about the other key players on this roster. If the trio of Gasol, Parsons and Randolph stay healthy I could see this team getting as high as the fourth seed in the West. Recent history however says this group will struggle to stay healthy and it will end up costing them a trip back to the postseason. – RH
2015/2016 Record: 42-40, Lost to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference Quarterfinals
Projected Starters: PG Deron Williams, SG Wesley Matthews, SF Harrison Barnes, PF Dirk Nowitzki, C Andrew Bogut
Offseason Changes: The good news: the Mavs pick up two starters from a 73 win team last year! The bad news: one is old, injury prone, and past his prime, while the other is just plain trash. Those two players are of course Andrew Bogut and Harrison Barnes. Both were let go by Golden State to make room for Kevin Durant, and Dallas wasted no time in bringing them to town. Barnes has been solid in the regular season, but was dreadful in last year’s playoffs. We’ll see if he can change that tune in Dallas now that he is not the fourth, fifth, or sixth best option on his team. Bogut is still a quality defender and team leader, but his best basketball is behind him. Both should still make solid contributions and Risk Carlisle will try to work his magic to get the most out of them.
Season Outlook: The Mavericks are the epitome of mediocrity as Dirk rides into the twilight of his career. For a few years now, they have fought into the bottom of the playoffs, only to be left with an early exit and no lottery pick to show for it. As usual, Mark Cuban and the front office have tried to fill their team with veterans which will keep the team decent, but their ceiling is still only a first round playoff exit this season. Wesley Matthews should be better this year as he is now fully recovered from his Achilles injury. As mentioned, Barnes and Bogut are both good players and we will see how Dallas deploys them his year. Dirk will still do some Dirk things and the team will be very well coached. Business as usual in Big D.
Hot Take Prediction: Harrison Barnes is still trash and Dallas immediately regrets paying him top dollar. The veteran roster is plagued by minor injuries all year, but Rick Carlisle masterfully squeezes 45 wins out of the roster to earn yet another playoff berth. Dirk retires at the end of the season and Mark Cuban begins laying out his plans to President in 2020. – NB
2015/2016 Record: 33-49, Missed the Playoffs
Projected Starters: PG Emmanuel Mudiay, SG Gary Harris, SF Danilo Gallinari, PF Nikola Jokic, C Jusuf Nurkic
Offseason Changes: Denver had a relatively quiet offseason, knowing they have plenty of young talent already on the books. Their biggest move was drafting Jamal Murray, one of the top prospects out of Kentucky. On the flip side, D.J. Augustin left Denver for the warmer weather in Orlando, clearing the way for Murray to receive playing time early.
Season Outlook: The Nuggets are not tracking to be anywhere near the playoffs this year, which is unfortunate since Kenneth Faried is losing valuable productive years. This is a relatively young team that will be physical down low and hope that Mudiay, Harris, and Murray take a jump to the next level. Like Phoenix, the Nuggets are waiting to see what their young guns will be and hope to be competitive as the older teams potentially fade.
Hot Take Prediction: Denver has an up and down season, but Mudiay impresses alongside Murray as the hot new backcourt in the league. We’ll also see a midseason trade to send Faried to a team that can use his skills now, as opposed to wasting away on a team without true playoff ambition. Denver continues to build with the assets and looks to be competitive in 2017. – JC
2015/2016 Record: 55-27, Lost in conference finals to Golden State
Projected Starters: PG Russell Westbrook, SG Victor Oladipo, SF Andre Roberson, PF Enes Kanter, C Steven Adams
Offseason Changes: Offseason changes? Yeah there was just a few with this team. Everyone has already talked enough about KD going to the Warriors this offseason, it’s tough for a franchise like the Thunder to have their championship hopes crushed just like that, but it happened and Russell Westbrook is left to pick up the pieces. The Thunder made what I think is a really nice trade by dealing Serge Ibaka whose numbers had been slowly declining and was in the last year of his deal for young guard Victor Oladipo and first round selection Domantas Sabonis. This deal will be overlooked for obvious reasons, but this was a step in the right direction for the Thunder being able to compete in the post KD era.
Season Outlook: Russell Westbrook finds himself in a similar situation to the one he was in during the 2014-15 season, trying to carry the Thunder to the postseason without Kevin Durant. I actually think this version of the Thunder is slightly better than the 2015 version that Westbrook was forced to carry. During late February and early March of that season the OKC point guard was putting up close to a triple-double every night and while that could happen again this season, Westbrook should have learned from that season he cannot completely carry a team to the playoffs in the West. The real question for this team will be if Russell actually learned any lessons at all from the second half of that season when his Thunder came up just short of the playoffs.
Hot Take Prediction: Russell Westbrook wins the league MVP this season flirting with a triple-double seemingly every night and leading OKC back to the playoffs. I selfishly picked the Thunder to finish as the eighth seed because who doesn’t want to see an OKC/Warriors first round series? If Westbrook doesn’t get ejected from half the games in that series he will almost certainly average a triple-double for the series and win at least one game by himself. Newly acquired guard Victor Oladipo shines in his new situation and receives some most improved player votes at seasons end. Once the Thunder are eliminated from postseason contention Westbrook will waste no time in resigning with the Thunder as having his own team that is the only pro sports franchise in a city is the perfect situation for the MVP. – RH
2015/2016 Record: 40-42, Missed Playoffs
Projected Starters: PG George Hill, SG Rodney Hood, SF Gordon Hayward, PF Derrick Favors, C Rudy Gobert
Offseason Changes: The Jazz brought in a trio of solid veterans, Joe Johnson, George Hill, and Boris Diaw, this offseason to add to an already talented roster. Veteran swingman Joe Johnson will give them a nice scoring option off the bench. The ever underrated George Hill will slot right into the starting point guard role and help direct the Jazz offense. Most importantly, my man Boris Diaw comes to town. He will add his famous espresso machine to the locker room and destroy opposing defenses with his unexplainable basketball abilities.
Season Outlook: This is a big year for the Jazz. Expectations are pretty high after they just missed out on the playoffs last year. Not only should Utah make the playoffs, many speculators think they could compete for a top four seed in the West. To do this, they will need great play from their solid young starting lineup. Gordon Hayward needs to get healthy and dominant games with his offensive abilities. Big men Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert need to continue to play phenomenal interior defense and Rodney Hood needs to take his game to the next level. Combine that with their deep, veteran bench, and it could be a recipe for a memorable season in Salt Lake City.
Hot Take Prediction: The Jazz get off to a slow start and all of the pundits who picked them as a sleeper immediately abandon ship. Once Hayward is fully healthy, the team starts rolling and their season changes when they beat the Golden State Warriors at home on December 8th. From there, they stay competitive all season and finish in the top 5 in the West. Utah wins their first playoff series before kindly bowing out to the Warriors. – NB
Portland Trail Blazers
2015/2016 Record: 44-38, Lost to the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Semifinals
Projected Starters: PG Damian Lillard, SG CJ McCollum, SF Maurice Harkless, PF Al-Farouq Aminu, C Mason Plumlee
Offseason Changes: The Blazers made a couple of offseason signings to bolster their bench by picking up Evan Turner and Festus Ezeli. Evan Turner played his best NBA basketball in Boston, and it will be curious to see if he can repeat that success in Portland, or if he will go back to his enigmatic play from most of his career. Ezeli of course comes from the Warriors’ bench and could be a nice bargain for the Blazers. He does have knee issues, but if he can get over that, he will immensely help their front line.
Season Outlook: The Blazers outperformed their preseason expectations more than any other team last season by winning 44 games and pushing the Warriors in the second round of the playoffs. Can Portland continue that success this year and build on that season? Or will this roster regress to the mean and take a step back? I think the latter is the more likely case, as this team is built on the back of Dame and the other guards. If anything happens to Lillard, or McCollum for that matter, this team will sink quickly in a fairly deep Western Conference. The Blazers should finish somewhere between the 5 seed and 10 seed this season.
Hot Take Prediction: The Blazers struggle way more this season than expected and are fighting all year for a playoff spot. Lillard has relatively rough year and McCollum looks like a one year wonder at the other guard spot. The Blazers only win 35 games and get passed in the Northwest division by the Jazz, T’Wolves, and Thunder. – NB
2015/2016 Record: 16-66, Missed the Playoffs
Projected Starters: PG Ricky Rubio, SG Zach LaVine, SF Brandon Rush, PF Gorgui Dieng, C Karl Anthony Towns
Offseason Changes: Outside of #KD2theBay, one of the biggest signings this offseason was the Wolves hiring Tom Thibodeau to oversee the project in Minnesota. There’s a lot excitement around Thibs shaping this young squad and installing his defensive principles in a team that includes the incredible athleticism of Andrew Wiggins, LaVine and Towns. If they buy in, this could easily be the best defensive team this season. In addition, the Wolves brought in Cole Aldrich, Jordan Hill and Brandon Rush in free agency and drafted stud collegiate standout Kris Dunn.
Season Outlook: This is a team that has all of the potential and positivity in the world heading into the 2016-2017 season. Many have them slated to break into the cutthroat West, land a playoff spot, and push one of the top teams in the first round. KAT could very well be the next big thing in the NBA and has shown glimpses of All-World talent. As if that weren’t enough, Wiggins and LaVine are continually getting better and the ceiling could easily be regular All-Stars for both of them. Lastly, Dunn is a defense first beast and Thibs offers the perfect coach for his NBA development. There are some other fun sprinkles in Tyus Jones, Ricky Rubio, and the surrounding pieces. Unfortunately, the floor for group is a low one, not only missing the playoffs but ending up with two guys (Wiggins and Dunn) who never fully develop into what is needed for a stable competitive team.
Hot Take Prediction: The Wolves make the playoffs and push their first round opponent to seven games. Thibs wins Coach of the Year. KAT is included at the All-Star game and Wiggins receives third team All-NBA honors. Lastly, Dunn and Jones show they can play and push Rubio for minutes and the Timberwolves move on from Ricky this offseason.
Photo Credit – Scribblings/Sean O’Leary