DAR Sports: The Growing Competition In The NBA Western Conference

By @TrueGodImmortal

The NBA is as lopsided as it's been in a long time. The Eastern Conference has great players like John Wall, Kyrie Irving, Isaiah Thomas, and of course LeBron James, but the teams don't feel stacked or extremely competitive besides Cleveland and possibly Boston (if Gordon Hayward signs... he might have signed or stayed with Utah by the time you read this article). The fact remains that the East wasn't as competitive as the West last year, and guess what? That's gotten worse. The East lost three of their All Stars in Jimmy Butler, Paul George, and Paul Millsap, and the only true All Star who could venture over into the East is Gordon Hayward, and that doesn't shift the balance too much. Still, while the East got weaker, the West got stronger. With next season shaping up to be one of the most competitive seasons ever in the Western Conference, it's time to take a look at the changes over in the West. Let's get into it.

*Minnesota Timberwolves 

-This team was initially set to be a contender in the next few years, but they've adopted a win now mentality after one of the most head scratching trades landed Jimmy Butler in Minnesota. With an All NBA and All Star guy now on their team, the Wolves have some veteran savvy to help guide them. Jeff Teague joining the team was also a good look for their future plans and Taj Gibson heading to Minnesota to reunite with Coach Thibs and Jimmy Butler is the Bulls reunion I never knew I wanted to see. Minnesota has an entirely different team in many ways than they did last year, but the question remains, will it work. Wiggins and Karl Anthony Towns step into near Wolves veteran roles as the loss of Ricky Rubio could hurt the team more than you'd realize. While I think Wiggins and Towns are a few years from reaching their full potential, Teague has probably hit the highest height he could have, so the fate of the Wolves success really rests on Jimmy Butler. The biggest issue here is that in a Thibs directed offense with guys who aren't known to be true shooters, the Wolves might not have enough fire power to go toe to toe with the Rockets, the Spurs, and definitely not the Warriors. Will the Wolves make the playoffs for the first time in a while? It's certainly possible, but I don't see them going further than the first round or at best, the 2nd round. Once these guys have some more playoff experience under their belt in the coming years, watch out. They might be the next team up.

*New Orleans Pelicans 

-Is this team really a contender? Probably not. However, the truth of the matter is that they just locked Jrue Holiday in and they have Demarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis together. It's a possibility that they don't work together and one of them leaves, but if I'm the Pelicans I work hard to keep the new Twin Towers together and hope they add a few pieces. With a few pieces added to the team around two versatile big men and one of the top 6 players in the game (AD), the Pelicans can be a contender for a 6th or 7th seed in the West.

*Denver Nuggets 

-The Nuggets made a huge move in bringing in Paul Millsap, and with him being able to get in the post alongside Jokic, who is emerging as a star for them, and they have a solid team that surrounds as well. Are the Nuggets a lock for the playoffs? Not at all, but with Millsap and a rejuvenated team alongside Jokic, we could see them fighting for that 7th or 8th seed. They aren't a top contender, but they should be better than last year.

*Utah Jazz

-It's quite surprising when you look at the Jazz. They could lose Gordon Hayward and George Hill and still manage to be a competitive team. If Hayward and Hill both leave, they definitely fall in the rankings, but it's possible that they could still make a run for the playoffs. After locking up Joe Ingles and bringing in Ricky Rubio, alongside Rudy Gobert working to improve, the Jazz could still be in contention for a playoff spot. If Hayward leaves, it's still possible, but there's a smaller chance for them. For Utah, you have to hope Hayward stays, but their hopes aren't completely dashed if he doesn't.

*Los Angeles Lakers 

-Are the Lakers playoff bound? Not a chance. Will they be exciting to watch? That is highly possible. With some new draft picks alongside the opportunity to dump off the Mozgov contract, the Lakers have given the keys to the vehicle to Lonzo Ball. After unsuccessful attempts to get Paul George who has let it be known he would rather play for the Lakers, the purple and gold brand have been trying to set themselves up to continue to grow their young team. The possible addition of George Hill to start at the 2 would be solid having Clarkson come off the bench and the growth of Julius Randle and Brandon Ingram could end up being a development that changes the landscape of the team. If they can all grow together and bring in Paul George and another big name next season, they could very well become top contenders in the West. Only time will tell.

*Houston Rockets 

-If anyone emerged as more of a contender than expected, it's Houston. There's just one issue. The two stars of the team and infamous for their playoff failures. James Harden has had moments where he didn't show up in pivotal games, and Chris Paul once blew a 3-1 lead in the playoffs with the Clippers.... to the Rockets. The Rockets have brought Nene and added PJ Tucker, but these are older players well into their 30s who are on the decline. Nene will be 35 this year, PJ will be 33, and both are 10 plus years in the game of basketball, and the same can be said for Chris Paul, who will turn 33 in 2018 during his 13th NBA season. Keep in mind, in the battles of the point guards, Steph and the Warriors have come out on top almost every time and Steph has put CP3 through pain over the last 3 seasons. With Steph getting more aggressive and CP3 slowly declining, it's hard to see this putting them over the hump but a run at the second seed seems very possible.

*Los Angeles Clippers 

-The Clippers are a sleeper team for a few reasons. Minus the becoming of Austin Rivers, on paper, the Clippers don't look too bad. Sure, they lost Chris Paul, but the consolation prize wasn't too bad. They added one of the best defensive guards (he was better defensively than CP3 last season IMO) in Patrick Beverly, a 2017 sixth man of the year candidate in Lou Williams, a young prospect in Sam Dekker, and they have Blake Griffin back as well as Deandre Jordan still in tow in the post. Could the Clippers miss the playoffs? It's possible, but a healthy Clippers team could do some damage in the West during the regular season and contend for the 6th to 8th seed.

*San Antonio Spurs 

-The Spurs haven't made many moves, but the truth is, they might not need to make many. They're still better than a majority of the teams in the West and the reason is simple: the system. The undefeated Pop system allows them to slow down the pace and their defense is top tier. Kawhi Leonard is set to be a top MVP candidate yet again, but with Lamarcus Aldridge wants out of San Antonio and that could be an issue with their chemistry going into the next season. Only time will tell how well this team will do, but they're still a top West team regardless.

*Oklahoma City Thunder 

-Russell Westbrook is the MVP. He's changed the narrative of his career by having a record season that will not be rivaled this coming season because he once again has some help. In a shocking move, Paul George was traded to OKC and will play next to Russ, which improves their chances for the playoffs. With this lineup now including the duo of PG and Russ, there are two leaders on the court together who should work well. The team was a solid defensive team last year and with the addition of PG, the defense will likely get better. I could see the Thunder making a run for the third or fourth seed if they stay healthy and can explode on defenses with the 1-2 attack of Russ and PG. Whether Russ and PG both stay beyond this year? That remains to be seen.

*Golden State Warriors 

-The defending champions and the clear favorites heading into next season. With Steph Curry now on a max contract, Kevin Durant finally having a taste of championship gold, Shaun Livingston, David West, and Andre Iguodala all set to return with Javale McGee expressing a desire to come back as well, the Warriors seem primed to make a splash on the court in the 2017-2018 season. Let's be honest: all of the Western Conference posturing is designed to provide a challenge to the Warriors, and although it pulls all of these teams closer, the core of the Warriors is still the best combination in the NBA. The Warriors can bring in a number of veterans and young guys with high basketball NBA to fill out their bench and there are lot of names rumored to join the squad, the most notable names being Vince Carter and Nick Young. Both can produce points if needed and both seem focused on winning. If they both join the team, both are veterans that can contribute and fill in the roles that guys without that experience like McAdoo and Looney can't. Add that to the fact that they received Jordan Bell in the draft, and you have one hell of a squad heading into the season. Are the Warriors guaranteed to repeat next season? Not exactly. But if this team stays healthy, can add enough pieces to their bench, and improve even more defensively? Who can beat them in a 7 game series? No one really. That's a dangerous threat for the next few years.



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