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Power-Ranking the NBA Western Conference

Power-Ranking the NBA Western Conference

A way-too-early look at how the 2013-2014 NBA Western Conference is stacking up

July is still an exciting time in the NBA. The NBA Draft is still fresh and all the trades and free agency signings happen all at once. Plenty more to come but here’s how each team is shaking out.
15. PHOENIX SUNS

Dragic, Gortat and Scola need more help to keep the Suns from being the West's worst team next year.

Dragic, Gortat and Scola need more help to keep the Suns from being the West’s worst team next year.

PG – Eric Bledsoe
SG – Goran Dragic
SF – Caron Butler
PF – Luis Scola
C – Marcin Gortat
Key reserves: Shannon Brown, Alex Len, Michael Beasley, Markieff Morris.
Head coach: Jeff Hornacek

Phoenix has a good 1-2 punch in the backcourt, and maybe Alex Len turns into something special. But this is a franchise that feels 1-2 years away from even thinking about the playoffs. Rookie coach Jeff Hornacek will have the challenge of balancing some past-their-prime-but-still-good veterans with his younger, floundering mid-first-round draftees. I imagine the front office would like to trade away Luis Scola and/or Michael Beasley to give them more flexibility.

 

14. UTAH JAZZ

It's now-or-never time for Gordon Hayward to show some leadership.

It’s now-or-never time for Gordon Hayward to show some leadership.

PG – Trey Burke
SG – Alec Burks
SF – Gordon Hayward
PF – Derrick Favors
C – Enes Kanter
Key reserves: Brandon Rush, Richard Jefferson, Jeremy Evans, Rudy Gobert.
Head coach: Tyrone Corbin

After riding his veterans for two years to the eighth and then ninth spot in the West respectively, Ty Corbin has now been given a roster where the focus will be on the development of his lottery picks. Hayward and Favors are now entering their fourth years in the NBA, and the Jazz would like to know just how good these guys can be before offering them new contracts. Kanter and Burks are entering their third years, and Trey Burke’s a promising rookie who’s joined the team at the right time. If they lose, no big deal, because the Jazz have two first-rounders next year, but if they win, it means the young guys are as good as they’d originally hoped.

 

13. SACRAMENTO KINGS

Jimmer and DMC are two peas in a pod in a crazy man's fantasy.

Jimmer and DMC are two peas in a pod in a crazy man’s fantasy.

PG – Greivis Vasquez
SG – Ben McLemore
SF – Luc Mbah a Moute
PF – Jason Thompson
C – DeMarcus Cousins
Key Reserves: Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Thornton, Chuck Hayes, Jimmer Fredette.
Head coach: Michael Malone

The Kings are a team famous for selfish play, but they have enough talent that if Mike Malone’s a good coach, they could actually be a factor this year. Vasquez is a solid, reliable point guard who can share time with the much-improved Isaiah Thomas, Ben McLemore fell into their lap in the draft, and LMaM’s a good makes-his-teammates-better veteran added to the mix. DMC’s still a headcase, but his talent’s undeniable. Now if the Kings could figure out how to move John Salmons, they’d be in great shape.

 

12. DALLAS MAVERICKS

Rick Carlisle helpfully shows a referee where he can go.

Rick Carlisle helpfully shows a referee where he can go.

PG – Jose Calderon
SG – Monta Ellis
SF – Shawn Marion
PF – Dirk Nowitzki
C – Samuel Dalembert
Key Reserves: Vince Carter, Gal Mekel, Shane Larkin, Wayne Ellington
Head coach: Rick Carlisle

Swing-and-a-miss for Deron Williams, then swing-and-a-miss for Dwight Howard, and the Mavs have Monta Ellis to show for it. Mavs fans everywhere need a collective hug right about now.

There are still some players to add – Devin Harris may rejoin his old team after all – but it’s such a hodgepodge roster, I can’t tell if they’re tanking or trying to give Dirk a chance at the 8th seed during the final year of his contract.  Carlisle’s going to have to do his best coaching ever if he really wants them to make the playoffs.

 

11. NEW ORLEANS PELICANS

PG – Jrue Holiday
SG – Eric Gordon
SF – Tyreke Evans
PF – Ryan Anderson
C – Anthony Davis
Key Reserves: Jason Smith, Anthony Morrow, Al-Farouq Aminu, Jeff Withey
Head coach: Monty Williams

The front-office made some bold moves to declare that they really want to make the playoffs this year. If Eric Gordon buys in and stays healthy, they can do it. They have their point guard of the future (Jrue), the Unibrow is no longer a rookie, and they have decent depth on the bench. Now is Monty the right coach?

 

10. LOS ANGELES LAKERS

PG – Steve Nash
SG – Kobe Bryant
SF – Wesley Johnson
PF – Pau Gasol
C – Chris Kaman
Key Reserves: Steve Blake, Nick Young, Jordan Hill, Robert Sacre
Head coach: Mike D’Antoni

The cupboard is bare in Lakerland. Pau Gasol is still a really good player, and Kobe expects to play most if not all of the season, but we saw cracks in the core of the Lakers this off-season. Kobe’s modelled his career after Michael Jordan, but one thing I’ve noticed with MJ: all of his ex-teammates love him. You can’t say the same with Kobe, and at this stage in his career, fewer and fewer players want to play with him, even if it means not joining the vaulted Lakers. Few players want to help Kobe tie MJ with six rings. Jimmy Buss is not Jerry Buss, Mike D’Antoni is not Phil Jackson, and the Lakers are going to be bad next year. But in 2014, only Nash and Sacre are under contract and the Lakers can pursue whoever they want. Kobe will want to be re-signed. Will the Lakers do it, or will they realize like with Peyton Manning and the Colts that it’s best for both sides if he moves on?

 

9. MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES

PG – Ricky Rubio
SG – Kevin Martin
SF – Derrick Williams
PF – Kevin Love
C – Nikola Pekovic
Key Reserves: Shabazz Muhammad, Chase Budinger, JJ Barea, Corey Brewer
Head coach: Rick Adelman

Kevin Love got his long-desired shooter in Kevin Martin. Now if they can just stay healthy, which is the story every year with the T-Wolves, they have a good team. They could have used AK47 another year, but now is the time for Derrick Williams to step up and show he was worth the #2 pick.

 

8. PORTLAND TRAILBLAZERS

PG – Damien Lillard
SG – Wesley Matthews
SF – Nicolas Batum
PF – LaMarcus Aldridge
C – Robin Lopez
Key Reserves: CJ McCollum, Thomas Robinson, Meyers Leonard, Allen Crabbe
Head coach: Terry Stotts

I expect this year to be the one where the Blazers get back into the playoffs. They got the combo guard they wanted in CJ McCollum, and they got their backup forward for peanuts in Thomas Robinson. And whatever they get from them will be gravy, because they already have a solid starting five. LMA’s grumbled he wants to go to a bigger-market team, but nothing solves problems like winning.

 

7. DENVER NUGGETS

PG – Ty Lawson
SG – Randy Foye
SF – Danilo Gallinari
PF – Kenneth Faried
C – JaVale McGee
Key Reserves: Wilson Chandler, Andre Miller, Evan Fournier, Darrell Arthur
Head coach: Brian Shaw

They are going to take significant hits. The Exec of the Year and the Coach of the Year are both gone, and Andre Iguodala brought a lot to that team. He and Kosta Koufos helped hide a lot of defensive sins by their teammates. “Now what?” seems to be the question. Brian Shaw’s supposed to be a good coach, but he’ll have growing pains, but they’re not going to be as good as they were last year.

 

6. MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES

PG – Mike Conley
SG – Tony Allen
SF – Tayshaun Prince
PF – Zack Randolph
C – Marc Gasol
Key Reserves: Ed Davis, Jerryd Bayless, Kosta Koufos, Quincy Pondexter
Head coach: David Joerger

They’ve been able to keep the core together, but they inexplicably changed coaches. Joerger’s a hire-from-within, so hopefully he can maintain a lot of what worked for them last year, but they still slip a bit in my eyes.

 

5. GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS

PG – Steph Curry
SG – Klay Thompson
SF – Andre Iguodala
PF – David Lee
C – Andrew Bogut
Key Reserves: Harrison Barnes, Marreese Speights, Festus Ezeli, Nemanja Nedovic
Head coach: Mark Jackson

The Jazz did the Warriors a gigantic favor by helping them get better in the short run. If the Warriors stay healthy, you could argue they’ll be contenders. For the WCF at least. But Steph Curry and David Lee and Andrew Bogut all have a history of injuries. The addition of Iguodala will be huge for them, though they will miss Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry.

 

4. HOUSTON ROCKETS

PG – Jeremy Lin
SG – James Harden
SF – Chandler Parsons
PF – Omer Asik
C – Dwight Howard
Key Reserves: Terrence Jones, Omri Casspi, Patrick Beverley, Francisco Garcia
Head coach: Kevin McHale

Dwight Howard finally gets to play for a team he chose, and he already has an All-Star running mate in James Harden, and a fun supporting cast. Now it’ll be a question of making Asik comfortable in his new role, or if they pursue a trade.

 

3. OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER

PG – Russell Westbrook
SG – Thabo Sefolosha
SF – Kevin Durant
PF – Serge Ibaka
C – Kendrick Perkins
Key Reserves: Nick Collison, Jeremy Lamb, Reggie Jackson, Steven Adams
Head coach: Scott Brooks

They have Westbrook returning, and he will cover up many of their problems. Weirdly enough, they have to depend on Jeremy Lamb showing stark improvements if they want to make it past the second round next year.

 

2. LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS

PG – Chris Paul
SG – JJ Redick
SF – Jared Dudley
PF – Blake Griffin
C – DeAndre Jordan
Key Reserves: Jamal Crawford, Reggie Bullock, Matt Barnes, Darren Collison
Head coach: Doc Rivers

Doc has a ring to show he knows how to coach talent, and the Clippers have talent. It’s been a long long time since a team won the Finals where their point guard was the best player, but CP3 hopes to turn that around. Redick and Dudley will spread the floor to make room for more Griffin and Jordan dunks. I peg them as the most credible challenger to the Spurs this year. Of course, I’m sure I said the same thing about the Lakers last year and hated myself for it.

 

1. SAN ANTONIO SPURS

PG – Tony Parker
SG – Danny Green
SF – Kawhi Leonard
PF – Tim Duncan
C – Tiago Splitter
Key Reserves: Manu Ginobili, Marco Bellinelli, Boris Diaw, Matt Bonner
Head coach: Gregg Popovich

They stay #1 until someone knocks them off. Manu’s age definitely showed in the playoffs, but Tony Parker was one last-second 3-pointer miss away from being the NBA Finals MVP and bringing home the trophy after Game 6. Duncan’s Aquafina bottles of fountain-of-youth water are paying off, and Marco Bellinelli is another one of those pieces that should thrive in Pops’ system. And who knows how much better Kawhi Leonard can be?

About John English

John studied journalism at UVU and put that to good use by writing for free for blogs on a part-time basis. Money well spent. He became an avid Jazz fan since moving to Utah in 1989. Also a fan of the NFL and BYU football.
  • Gordon Walker

    The love affair the media has with the Clippers is rather amusing. They are not the number two seed and it’s not even close. It can also be argued that last season was the swan song for the Spurs. OKC, Golden State, maybe Houston (all depends on which Howard shows up and whether he stays healthy) and possibly Memphis (such good D they can’t be ignored) are all better teams. Houston is a huge wild card. They could finish anywhere from 1st to 6th. I find it unlikely the Clippers do any better in terms of getting past the first round of the playoffs than they did last year.