The Western Conference has been the far superior conference in the NBA for quite some time, and while the Eastern Conference has seemingly improved this summer, it still won’t hold a candle to the West. The West was loaded this past year and will be even more compelling next year thanks to the huge moves that have gone down the last few days.
The first big splash came when DeAndre Jordan decided to spurn the Los Angeles Clippers for the Dallas Mavericks. Apparently sick of playing in the shadow of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, Jordan takes his talents to an intriguing but flawed Mavericks squad. The four-man group of Jordan, Dirk Nowitzki, Chandler Parsons and Wesley Matthews looks really darn good on paper, but questions remain. How will Dirk look at age 37? Will Parsons and Matthews be able to recover from their major injuries? Can Jordan excel without Paul at the helm?
On the note of Jordan and Paul, Dallas is still seeking an upgrade at point guard. Jeremy Lin would be a good option there, but it’s still hard to see the Mavericks as a legitimate title contender no matter who signs at point guard, and the same thing can be said of the Clippers without Jordan. The talk of the Clippers missing the playoffs is a bit overstated because of the presence of Paul and Griffin, but there will be a step back. There’s no quality center on the roster and zero frontcourt depth, so we’ll likely see Los Angeles attempt to play small quite a bit, no matter who’s acquired in the coming days.
While the Mavericks made their big move on July 3, they were upstaged by the San Antonio Spurs on July 4. That’s when LaMarcus Aldridge agreed to join the Spurs, possibly vaulting them back to the top of the West. San Antonio was able to snare Aldridge without losing Danny Green, and the big man will take over as the star in the frontcourt when Tim Duncan retires.
Of course, the Spurs will have plenty of competition at the top of the West. Let us not forget about the defending champion Golden State Warriors, who just finished off a historic campaign and will bring back all of the key members of the roster. There’s no reason to expect the Warriors to take much of a step back, so they won’t relinquish their crown without a fight.
Then there’s the Oklahoma City Thunder. Last season was a huge disappointment thanks to the plethora of injuries to the entire roster, but if Kevin Durant comes back strong and the core stays healthy, Oklahoma City will be right there at the top of the West under new head coach Billy Donovan. And you’d have to think KD will come back with a vengeance after last year’s lost season.
Looking at the next tier of teams, there’s still plenty to like. The Houston Rockets still have James Harden and Dwight Howard, plus some stellar supporting pieces. The Memphis Grizzlies are expected to bring Marc Gasol back and shouldn’t be going anywhere. You figure the Mavericks and Clippers fit somewhere in here as well.
Then there are the up-and-coming teams like the New Orleans Pelicans and Utah Jazz. The Pelicans have a superstar in Anthony Davis and a solid supporting cast that’s looking to grow together. The Utah Jazz had the best defense in the league after the All-Star break and should only improve as their young core develops. The Phoenix Suns came in second in the Aldridge sweepstakes, but did add Tyson Chandler and have an intriguing young backcourt.
Even the bottom of the conference has some good storylines. The Blazers are almost certainly headed to the lottery after losing four of their five starters from last season, but they still have Damian Lillard and a lot of talented young pieces. The Sacramento Kings will be fascinating to watch, whether they’re surprisingly good or an epic train wreck. The Minnesota Timberwolves have Andrew Wiggins and the No. 1 pick in Karl-Anthony Towns. The Los Angeles Lakers just traded for Roy Hibbert and have quality young talent in D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle. The Denver Nuggets have a new head coach and might look to blow up their roster.
Basically, the Western Conference is going to once again be a whole heck of a lot of fun next season. Hopefully the Eastern Conference starts catching up soon.